It has been three years since the Whitey Herzog managed St. Louis Cardinals shocked the baseball world by beating the seemingly invincible Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series. While those Cardinals were labeled as the Running Rabbits, they were a balanced lineup compared to what Herzog had to work with in 1985.
Injuries and poor performance created an unproductive platoon situation at catcher between Darrell Porter and Tom Nieto. Jack Clark had replaced Keith Hernandez, and what he gave up in batting average, he more than made up in power. A young switch hitting Terry Pendleton was the new third baseman but had yet to match Ken Oberkfell’s offensive production. He would prove his worth many times in the 1987 season, but that was still two years in the future. Andy van Slyke was the new right fielder, and while a defensive star, his offensive numbers were a big step down from his predecessor, George Hendrick.
There were a few notable upgrades though. If Lonnie Smith had been a catalyst at the top of the 1982 batting order, Vince Coleman was a like a herd of charging buffalo. He was a light hitter and susceptible to striking out, but when he did get on base, exciting things happened. And they happened quickly. Coleman’s 110 stolen bases terrorized pitchers and catchers throughout the National League and led to a Cardinals trademark of scoring a first inning run without the benefit of a hit. The other notable improvement was in the pitching staff, both starters and the bullpen. With two 21 game winners at the top of the rotation, and Danny Cox not far behind with 18 wins, the Cardinals seemed well equipped to play a short series but unlikely to be able to withstand the tests of a long season. What seemed like a liability when the season started, suddenly became one of the most feared bullpens with the emergence of Todd Worrell to complement one of the best lefties in the game, Ken Dayley.
The Cardinals had battled the heavily favored New York Mets all season long. Thanks to the amazing 19-1 turnaround from John Tudor, the Cards outlasted the Mets and won the division by 3 games with an unbelievable record of 101-61. Thanks to the season long fight, this Cardinals team learned how to win – in every way imaginable.
In the National League Championship Series, just expanded to a best of seven format, the Cardinals would face the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even though the Cardinals had won 6 more games than the boys from Hollywood, the Dodgers were heavily favored in the series. The Cardinals were supposed to be just a speed bump on the Dodger’s road to the World Series.
As the series opened in Los Angeles, it appeared that the experts might be right. The Dodgers won the first two games rather convincingly. Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser seemed to be invincible, and their bullpen didn’t even break a sweat.
The series moved to Busch Stadium and the Cardinals hung on to win game 3. The Cardinals got to Bob Welch early and a combination of Danny Cox, Rick Horton, Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley kept the Dodgers at bay.
This brings us to a Sunday night game on October 13, 1985. Every one of the 53,000 in attendance knew the importance of this game. A win and the series is tied. A loss with as many as two games to be played in Los Angeles would be a very difficult hill to climb. It was now or never time for the Cardinals.
Whitey Herzog would call on game 1 loser, John Tudor. Even though he took the loss, the lefty had pitched well in the game, and there was no reason to think he would not be able to do so again tonight. In the first of a series of questionable managerial decisions from Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers would counter with former Cardinal and St. Louis native, Jerry Reuss. Reuss had some success in Los Angeles, and while not a top of the rotation guy, he was a solid fourth starter.
Cardinal fans were way more engaged in this game, and it had little to do with it being the pivotal game in the series. Expectations had been high when Ruess broke in with the the Cardinals in 1970. The tall blonde lefty had been a star in high school and had suddenly become an ace at AAA Tulsa. His fortunes with the Cardinals were much different as moments of brilliance were overshadowed by struggles with the strike zone. We had hoped for a second Steve Carlton, but those wishes would not be granted. As Ruess enjoyed success with the Pirates and Dodgers, our desire to see the Cardinals beat him increased. Since this was the 17th season for Ruess, there was a lot of frustration that needed to be released.
That would happen in a big way in the second inning. After a scoreless first inning, Jack Clark and super sub Cesar Cedeno would lead off the home half of the second inning with singles. Tito Landrum, filling in for an injured Vince Coleman, would single Clark home. The Dodgers made a huge defensive error in letting Pedro Guerrero’s throw go to the plate as it allowed both Cedeno and Landrum to take the extra base. That turned out to be significant when Terry Pendleton grounds out to second base in what would have been an easy double play. The Dodgers only had one play, retiring Pendleton, and the Cardinals would score their second run of the inning. Light hitting Tom Nieto would walk in front of ninth place hitter John Tudor. The Dodgers hoped for an inning ending double play and an end to the rally. The Cardinals sensed that this was an opportunity to break the game wide open. Forget the Ozzie Smith “go crazy folks” home run in game five and the three run Jack Clark bomb to win the series in game six, what happened next was the play of the series.
It was not if, but when would Herzog would put on the squeeze play. Aggressive base running is what got the Cardinals this far, and it would have to carry them to the World series. Everybody in the stadium knew it was coming. The Dodgers were certainly expecting it. Everyone except Ruess. With Landrum running from third, Tudor lays down the bunt and Ruess is unable to field it and everybody was safe. The Cardinals had a three run lead, had been given another out, and the Dodgers were clearly rattled. This is when the Cardinals really poured it on, ending the post season career of Jerry Reuss.
In a rare productive out, leadoff hitter Willie McGee would hit an opposite field line drive which would allow Tom Nieto to move up to third base. That turned out to be important as Ozzie Smith followed that with a ground ball deep in the hole at short which scored Nieto. Tommy Herr followed that with a single, scoring Tudor. That would be all for Ruess and the Cardinals fans gave him a sarcastic ovation as he left the field. Future Cardinal Rick Honeycutt would come in to try to end the rally. Honeycutt was the fifth starter who was sort of an odd man out in a short series. He would face four hitters and fail to retire any of them. Jack Clark would single, Cesar Cedeno would walk, and both Tito Landrum and Terry Pendleton would get their second RBIs of the inning with singles. Both Landrum and Clark were 2-2 in the inning. Tommy Lasorda would go to his third pitcher of the inning, the right hander Bobby Castillo. With a blowout in the making, Castillo was going to be in the game for a long time so that the Dodgers didn’t wear out their bullpen in case they were needed tomorrow afternoon. Castillo finally gets the last out by striking out Tom Nieto to end the inning, but not before the Cardinals had a 9-0 lead. With John Tudor pitching, it might as well have been 200-0.
And John Tudor did not disappoint as he pitched seven strong innings, allowing just three hits. The lone blemish was a home run by Bill Madlock to lead off the seventh inning. Tudor would be lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh, saving him for a possible return in game seven, if needed. Rick Horton and Bill Campbell each pitched an inning to seal the 12-2 victory, and the once overmatched Cardinals were beginning to look like National League champions. That would come later with two dramatic late inning home runs, but Cardinal fans knew that with this victory, the series was all but over.