There is an old adage in baseball: it doesn't take speed to steal a base, just the courage to run combined with the wisdom of when not to. Sometimes, it just takes a little bit of luck.
The 1982 season was somewhat of a mirror image of 1964. It was the Cardinals, under new manager and general manager, Whitey Herzog, that jumped out to an early lead, and the Phillies playing catch up. Catch up they did, and Herzog’s retooled Redbirds spent some time looking up at Philadelphia in the standings. Since the end of June, these two teams had played cat and mouse, with neither getting a substantial lead over the other.
That brings us to August 22, and the finale of a three game series with the San Francisco Giants. The teams had split the previous two. The Cardinals had gotten out to a big lead in the opener, but a huge 7 run inning by the Giants turned things around very quickly. Five different pitchers were used in the inning, and none of them were effective, including Bruce Sutter, who would eventually take the loss. The second game would be much like the first, with the Cardinals running out to another early lead, and hanging on by a thread in the late innings. This time Sutter was good, and the Cardinals squeaked out a win.
The finale would feature two of the best young pitchers in the game, Joaquin Andujar for the Cardinals and Atlee Hammaker for the Giants.
For the third time in the series, the Cardinals would jump out to an early lead. Back to back doubles by George Hendrick and Gene Tenace in the second inning lead to the first Cardinals run. Silent George would be part of the next scoring opportunity when he singled ahead of a Willie McGee 2 run homer.
Meanwhile Andujar was crusing, and heading into the sixth inning. On his way to the mound, he must have picked up the wrong ball, stepped on a base line or violated some other pitching taboo, because he was just shelled. It came out of nowhere, totally unexpected. For the third time in the series, Whitey Herzog had to make an early call to his bullpen. John Martin managed to get out of trouble, but the damage had been done. What was once a 3-0 lead had been turned into a 4-3 deficit. Not again.
Both Martin and Doug Bair were great in relief of Andujar, and kept the score at 4-3, hoping for a late inning comeback. Before we get to that, there was one play in the 8th inning that on any other night would have gone by without notice. Steve Braun, pinch hitting for Gene Tenace, delivers a 2 out single. Herzog decides to pinch run for Braun, and uses a backup catcher by the name of Glenn Brummer.
Yes, you know what’s coming, don’t you ? Patience. We’re not there yet.
Facing the Giants closer in the ninth inning and trailing by a run, Ozzie Smith starts things off by striking out. Greg Minton then hits David Green with a pitch. That would turn out to be a big mistake because Green was one of the fastest men on the Cardinals roster. Don’t let that giant frame fool you – Green could fly. And he did, stealing second base and putting the tying run in scoring position. Tommy Herr would fail to drive in Green. That brought the pitcher’s spot up to the plate. Whitey Herzog goes to his bench for Ken Oberkfell, and Obie comes through big. He rips a line drive that splits the outfielders and the ball goes all the way to the wall. Green scores easily, and Oberkfell ends up at second base with a double. He was stranded there, but now his team had another chance.
Extra innings – free baseball.
Jim Kaat takes over in the tenth inning, and struggles. The huge crowd all exhale in unison when Kaat induces an inning ending double play, stranding a runner in scoring position. That was close! The veteran lefty looks better in the eleventh inning when he gets two quick outs, but a double by Milt May causes Herzog to go to his bullpen again, this time for the hard throwing Jeff Lahti. Lahti is shaky at first, but gets out of trouble, preventing May from scoring. That too was close. Too close.
Meanwhile the Cardinals are getting absolutely nowhere with the new Giants reliever, Gary Lavelle. Guys would get on base, steal their way into scoring position, but nobody was able to get that key hit.
All of this comes into play as the Cardinals head into the bottom of the 12th inning. It is a brutally hot August afternoon, and Jeff Lahti is now spent. Not only that, the Redbirds bullpen looks terribly empty. It is now or never.
With one out, Glenn Brummer singles. Willie McGee follows that with a single. Brummer stops at second base on the play. Julio Gonzalez pops out for the second out of the inning. That brings Ozzie Smith to the plate. If this were 1987, we might expect a big hit from the Wizard, but this is still 1982 and Ozzie was not much of a threat. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be productive, and he is. He hits a slow roller and there is no play on the speeding Smith.
The bases are loaded, but there are two outs.
David Green is the next batter, but he’s not the focus of our story. Glenn Brummer, now standing on third base is. He notices something about Lavelle, something only a catcher might see. When working from the stretch, Lavelle has a very high leg kick, and that slows down his delivery to the plate. He’s also a left hander, which means a runner on third base can take a huge lead. Brummer tells Chuck Hiller, the Cardinals third base coach, of his plan. Those were the only two people on the planet that knew what was coming, and neither man tipped their hand.
Brummer waits until an 0-2 delivery. Being a catcher, he knew the pitch would would be something away, probably off-speed. A waste pitch. That increased his odds of success. A straight steal of home plate in that situation would be the last thing anybody would expect. With a giant lead, Brummer breaks when Lavelle goes into the stretch. Thanks to that high leg kick, and a ton of luck, Brummer beats the pitch and slides safely into home with the game winner. Brummer is lucky David Green caught him out of the corner of his eye because the big man stepped aside just as Brummer hit the batters box in his slide.
The huge crowd erupts, and shouting can be heard in houses throughout the Gateway City. The Cardinals win, 5-4 on a walk-off straight steal of home plate. Even now, 29 years later, we still look back at that Sunday afternoon game and smile as if we are listening to it on the radio for the first time.
But let’s not forget the importance of that game. Philadelphia had already won their game, and the Cardinals needed this win badly to stay two ahead of the Phillies. This was not a fluke, or one off entertaining win. Brummer knew that they needed to win, that his reliever was on fumes, and there was little help left in the bullpen. It was a heady play, and we would see many such plays throughout the tenure of Whitey Herzog. We would not see Brummer steal many more bases, and certainly none as exciting or as important as this one.