August 1, 1985 – The most exciting play I've ever seen. Period.


St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago.

Yeah, when I posted my Top 10 Memories from 1985, I knew I’d miss a couple.  This one was originally on the list, but I couldn’t recall the details of the particular play and didn’t want to make up something because it sounded cool.   As I was watching the documentary “1985: A Heck of a Year”, I found it.  And yes, it was just as bizarre as I recalled – but seeing it again after 25 years was unbelievable.

Here’s the setup.

Vince Coleman leads off against the Cubs starter Scott Sanderson with a single.  Willie McGee follows that with a walk.  With Tommy Herr batting left handed against the right handed Sanderson, McGee and Coleman go on a double steal.  This is such a low percentage play with the catcher having an unobstructed line of sight to the third baseman, but with Vince Coleman, rules of thumb were pretty much thrown out the window.

Coleman slides into third base Lou Brock style, meaning a late and very hard slide.  He beats the throw but Cubs third baseman Ron Cey thinks he’s out and takes a couple of steps towards the shortstop, looking at the umpire.  Coleman overslides the base pretty badly.  When Cey realizes that Coleman is safe, but off the base, he starts moving to tag Coleman.  Coleman reacts quickly and breaks for home, getting into a rundown.   The idea here is that since Coleman is out, he can at least delay the play long enough for McGee to get to third base.  That would have worked fine, except the Cubs forgot to cycle in another defender behind catcher Jody Davis.  When Davis throws the ball back to Cey, there is nobody between Coleman and home plate.  Coleman scoots home on the play, scoring the first run of the game.  McGee never stopped running, so when Cey looked down all frustrated by their defensive blunder, McGee slides safely into third base behind him.

This gave the official scorer fits.  How do you score this particular play ?  There was no errant throw, nobody dropped the ball (literally, as Leon Durham should have covered home after the Davis throw) so while there was a mental error, in the baseball sense, no error can be given.  The proper scoring is that Coleman stole two bases on the play.  McGee is also credited with a clean steal of second base, with no play.  Since he continued running while Coleman was in the rundown, McGee is also awarded a second stolen base for reaching third safely.

So there you have it.  One pitch, four stolen bases.   I’ve looked through a lot of baseball history and can find no record of this happening before, and it certainly hasn’t happened since.

Oh, what about the game ?  The Cubs would jump out to a huge lead, but the Cardinals would inch their way back.  The game would go into extra innings and a rare bullpen failure by Ken Dayley would give the Cubs the win.  It didn’t matter as the Cardinals were cruising at this point in the season. They were in first place, beating just about everybody they played.   The Mets were the last hurdle to postseason, and they would take care of that in a bit over a month.

One play, 4 stolen bases.  You tell me these weren’t the most exciting group of Cardinals you’ve ever seen, or read about.

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