Top 5 Cardinals Big Game Pitchers


This posting is dedicated to Ray DeRousse of STL Cardinals Baseball for his recent reply to a UCB roundtable question.

There just hasn’t been a competitor like [Chris] Carpenter in a Cardinal uniform since [Bob] Gibson, and I love the guy for it. My dream would be to see Carp’s statue outside Busch, or an honorary retirement of his number. To me, he’s one of the greatest Cards I’ve had the pleasure of watching in my lifetime 

If there was any lingering doubt, Carpenter’s performance in September and especially in the postseason should silence all naysayers.   There have been many great pitchers come through the Cardinals system in the last half century, but very few were able to step up to the big game like Carpenter and Gibson.  But, and there’s always a but, we shouldn’t forget a trio of hurlers from the 80s that were every bit as big game as these two.   The scary thing, all three were in the rotation at the same time.

Joaquin Andujar (68-53, 3.33 ERA over 5 seasons, 3-0 in 1982 postseason)

Once the players returned from the 1981 strike, Joaquin Andujar found himself in a new location, being traded from the Houston Astros to the St. Louis Cardinals.   After a rough relief appearance in what can only be considered a second spring training, Andujar caught fire and won 6 of his 7 decisions to finish the season.   Rarely has a player turned around his career in such a short span, but it was more than that.   Something magical had just happened, and we would enjoy watching Andujar for the next four seasons.

If you did not see Andujar pitch down the stretch for the Cardinals in 1982, you might look back at his statistics and be rather unimpressed.   Don’t be fooled, it was some of the best pitching we had seen in St. Louis since ….. cue Ray’s comment ….. Bob Gibson.   Just like Carpenter’s 2011 season, Andujar wasn’t getting any run support and his common stats didn’t reflect how good a season he was having.   Also like Carpenter in 2011 (and Gibson in 1964), Andujar just picked up his game when the team needed it the most.  From August 12th to the end of the regular season, Andujar posted a 7-0 record, and the Cardinals were 10-1 in those 11 starts.  His ERA over that period dropped to a miniscule 1.64.   One way to combat lack of run support is to throw shutouts, and he threw 2 of them, including a brilliant 1-0 victory over Montreal.   For comparison, Carpenter went 5-1 with a 2.68 ERA over the same period in 2011, and he also threw a pair of shutouts.

Andujar got the start in Game One of the NLCS, a best of five against the Atlanta Braves.   With the braves leading 1-0 after four innings, the rains came and the game was called and replayed the next night.   Bob Forsch would pitch a gem in the makeup game.  Andujar would get a start in the decisive Game Three and pitch into the seventh inning.  Bruce Sutter would close out the win and the Cardinals would move on to face the Brewers in the World Series.

As for big game credentials, all you need to do is look at what he did in the World Series.   With the Cardinals and Brewers splitting the first two, Andujar took the mound for Game Three in Milwaukee and held the Brewers scoreless until the seventh inning.   At that point, he was throwing a 2 hit shutout.   Former Cardinal, Ted Simmons, would get the third hit, but it was a sharp line drive that bounced once off the hard infield turf and then struck Andujar in the right knee.   Andujar went down and was writhing in agony as fans and players watched for several tense moments.   He was eventually carried off the field and the initial prognosis indicated he was done for the series.   The Cardinals bullpen protected the lead for the final 8 outs and Andujar got the win, but it was a bittersweet victory knowing that we would not see him again in 1982.

Not so fast.   After John Stuper pitched the game of his life to force a Game Seven, manager Whitey Herzog had a tough decision about who to start in the final game of the series.   Dave La Point had pitched well in Game Four and could have started on three days rest.  Bob Forsch had gone deep into Game Five but would be on only two days, so he was out.   Unbelievably, it was Andujar that would take the ball and pitch his heart out for seven innings.   It wasn’t pretty, and it was clear from the first inning that he was having trouble putting weight on his right leg, causing him to throw across his body.   But he battled, and battled and battled.    Perhaps energized by some great defensive plays, most notably a throw by George Hendrick that squelched a Brewers rally, Andujar gutted it out for seven innings, just long enough for his team to finally give him the run support he’d been lacking in the regular season.   Bruce Sutter would pitch two perfect innings to close out the World Series Championship, but it was Andujar coming up big that made it possible.

Control issues combined with a general clubhouse funk made 1983 a hard year on Andujar, be he rebounded nicely with a 20-14 record in 1984.   The 20 wins would lead the league as would his 4 shutouts and 261 1/3 innings.   He would finish fourth in Cy Young voting and earn a Gold Glove.

He saved the best for 1985, and it was a spectacular start to the season.   By the All Star break, whispers of Andujar winning 30 games was spreading around major league baseball about as quickly as rumors about the upcoming drug investigations and possible suspensions.    At the All Star break, Andujar’s record was 15-4 and he seemed nearly unbeatable.   All of that would change on July 26 when he pitched 11 innings against the Padres on a sore shoulder.   Whether it was the upcoming Grand Jury indictments or the shoulder injury, Andujar would never be the same.   He would lose six of his last eight decisions and his ERA over that period would be a whopping 5.75.    He was ineffective in two starts in the NLCS and one in the World Series.

If we can step aside from the spectre of the Pittsburgh Drug Trial for a moment and look at the body of Andujar’s work, we will find a competitor that was every bit a big game player as Bob Gibson or Chris Carpenter.

John Tudor (62-26, 2.52 ERA over five seasons,  5-4 in the postseason)

It is easy to forget that John Tudor pitched a brilliant game in his Cardinals debut.   For the second time in two games, Neil Allen melted down against his former club and cost the Cardinals two very important games in the standings.   Tudor would struggle from that point on, until turning the corner on June 3.   From June 3 to the end of the regular season, Tudor was amazing.   No, he was beyond amazing, it was a historic performance.   How about a 20-1 record with an ERA of 1.37.   It rivaled the best seasons from Sandy Koufax (1963, 1964 and 1966) and Bob Gibson’s record setting 1968.   Other than Pedro Martinez in 2000, no pitcher has come close to the domination that Tudor displayed in 1985.  14 complete games, 10 shutouts (including 4 plus another 9 inning no run effort in September).

OK, a great season, but big game ?   You betcha.

After losing a heartbreaker in Game One of the NLCS, he came back and threw a gem in Game Four, a 12-2 win in the now infamous “tarp” game.    If Jack Clark had not ended the NLCS with his dramatic Game Six three run homer, Tudor would have been back on the mound for a Game Seven.

Instead, he got the start in Game One of the World Series in Kansas City and he threw a gem.   He would allow a single run in the second inning and then it was nothing but zeros until Todd Worrell took over in the seventh.

Tudor got his next start in Game Four and he threw a complete game 5 hit shutout, striking out 8 Royals in a 3-0 win.   It was a heartbreaking loss for Bud Black and the Royals, but Tudor was as methodical as Arnold Schwartzenegger’s Terminator character as he retired Royals batter after Royals batter.    The win would give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead in the series.

Unfortunately, there was a Game Seven and it did not go well for Tudor and the Cardinals.   Troubles with Don Denkinger’s strike zone led to lots of hitters counts and the Royals made Tudor pay for his inability to hit the strike zone.   He had similar trouble in the first game with Denkinger behind the plate as well.  Regardless, Tudor collected two of the three Cardinals wins in the series, and his reputation as a staff ace was cemented.

After another solid season in 1986, the Cardinals looked to John Tudor to anchor a young pitching staff that included a pair of lefties, Joe Magrane and Greg Mathews.   Tragedy struck in early April when Barry Lyons of the Mets slid into the Cardinals dugout while trying to catch a foul ball.   When the players scattered to give Lyons some room, they left Tudor unprotected and Lyons hit him, breaking his leg.  Tudor would miss the next 3 months of the season.

Whitey Herzog manged Tudor’s innings carefully when he returned in August, but the Cardinals ace lefty surprised everybody by posting a 10-1 record in those last 2 months of the season.   The Cardinals needed every one of those victories as the once potent bats had suddenly fallen silent and the 10 game mid-season lead evaporated quickly.

Tudor and San Francisco’s Dave Dravecky would hook up twice in the NLCS.   Dravecky pitched a gem in Game Two, a two hit shutout.   Tudor returned the favor in Game Six, a must win for the Cardinals.   He took a six hit shutout into the eighth inning and Ken Dayley and Todd Worrell retired the final five batters in this amazing 1-0 shutout.  It would force a decisive Game Seven, but we have to wait just a moment before we talk about that one.

After getting pummeled in the first two games of the 1987 World Series, John Tudor took the mound for Game Three.   It was a must win game for the Cardinals as a loss would put them down 3-0 in the series.  Tudor responded with another brilliant outing, allowing just 1 run on four hits over seven innings.    That win turned things around for the Cardinals as they won the next two games at home, hoping to steal just one game in Minnesota.

Tudor would get the start in Game Six and take a 5-2 lead into the fifth inning when the Twins would get to Tudor.   The big blow was a two run Don Baylor home run.   With the score now tied at 5 runs each, Whitey Herzog went to his bullpen for Rick Horton, and that proved to be a mistake when Horton allowed Tom Brunansky to reach second base and score on a Steve Lombardozzi single.   To this day, I still wonder what would have happened if Herzog had left Tudor in the game.

In his five season in St. Louis, including his final year in 1990, John Tudor had a higher winning percentage than Bob Gibson, Joaquin Andujar and even Chris Carpenter.  The one difference was that Tudor never showed that competitive fire externally because his was a game of cool arrogance.   He would rock his head from the left to the right, as if he were having a hard time staying awake, and then deliver a pitch that was either sneaky fast or even more sneaky slow.   The most amazing thing about Tudor was the he was that successful throwing basically two pitches,  a fastball and a changeup.   The hitters knew what was coming and they still couldn’t do anything about it.

Danny Cox (57-57, 3.40 ERA over six seasons, 3-3 in the postseason)

That brings us to our fifth and final big time pitcher, and yes – he does have a .500 record.  Don’t let that fool you, if you needed a big game, Danny Cox was just as good as Bob Gibson, Chris Carpenter, John Tudor or Joaquin Andujar.  He might have been the best of the five.

Danny Cox was an imposing sight on the mound.   At 6ft 4in and 230 pounds, you might expect for him to be a hard throwing dominator.   He was actually quite the opposite.   He did throw hard early in his career, but he found great success when he just let players put the ball in play and let his gold glove defense get the outs.   Instead of overpowering hitters with a fastball, he developed a very good forkball that had the same arm motion as the heater, but the ball came in much slower and had a sharp tumble near the plate.  The result was that batters were unable to get the fat part of the bat on the ball.   Cox used it to perfection in the 1985 season when he posted an 18-9 record, allowing less than a hit per inning pitched.

Cox got just one start in the 1985 NLCS, but it was a good one.   He pitched into the seventh inning of Game Three and earned a win, allowing just two runs.  He did battle with control at times, but he kept the Dodgers offense off balance for most of the game.

His best postseason performances came in the 1985 World Series, but he had nothing to show for his heroic efforts.   In Game Two, Cox gave up a pair of runs in the fourth inning, but held the Royals scoreless until being lifted for a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth inning.  Ken Dayley would earn the win in relief when the Cardinals exploded for four runs in the top of the ninth inning.

Everybody remembers Game Six, the Don Denkinger game.  It should be remembered for the great pitching duel between Danny Cox and Charlie Liebrandt.    As in Game Two, Cox was lifted in the top of the eighth inning for a pinch hitter, and this time Brian Harper delivered with a single up the middle, scoring Terry Pendleton with the first run of the game.   Cox had pitched his team to within 6 outs of another World Series title, big game pitching indeed.   Unfortuantely, those six outs never came and Kansas City rallied for a pair of runs and a walk off win.

Cox’s big game reputation grew in 1987 when he faced the Montreal Expos on October 1.  With some members of the New York Mets in attendance, Cox dominated the Expos and cruised to a complete game 8-2 win.    That win gave the Cardinals their third NL East Title, and all the Mets could do was sit and watch their playoff hopes disappear.

The big right hander got two starts in the NLCS and pitched well in both.   He was on the losing side of Game Four but returned to pitch a complete game shutout in Game Seven.   Twice in two weeks, Cox had come up big when his team needed a win.   That is big game pitching.

Cox would get two more starts in the 1987 World Series.  He would get shelled in Minneapolis in Game Two but rebounded with a brilliant performance on short rest in Game Five.   He would pitch into the eighth inning, striking out six while allowing just a pair of runs.   He would earn the win, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 lead in the series.

He would make one more appearance in the 1987 World Series, in relief of Joe Magrane in Game Seven.   It might have been short rest or the intimidating playing conditions at the Metrodome, but he just was not as effective as he had been in St. Louis and he would take a hard luck loss in the decisive game.

Danny Cox doesn’t have the arsenal of pitches that Chris Carpenter, Bob Gibson or Joaquin Andujar have.   He didn’t scream on the mound, never pointed his finger at an opponent, nor did he have John Tudor’s cool, but Danny Cox consistently delivered in games when his team needed him.   Had it not been for a few freakish accidents followed by some severe elbow troubles, Cox’s career pitching numbers might have been closer to the other four big game pitchers.

Those are my top five (Gibson, Carpenter, Tudor, Andujar and Cox), who are yours ?  Let me know in the comments.

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7 Responses to Top 5 Cardinals Big Game Pitchers

  1. Ray DeRousse says:

    I appreciate the tip o’ the cap, buddy!

    Your arguments here do no sway me, however. Carpenter in the postseason is what? 9-2 with a 3.00 ERA. While I love Tudor and Andujar (mostly indifferent to Morris), they simply cannot compare to Carpenter in postseason appearances.

    Both Tudor and Andujar famously melted down in huge games in the World Series. Even when Carp has struggled in big games, he’s remained focused and kept the team close. And none of your examples have come up with anything like what Carp did to Philly in the final NLDS game.

    If we just focus on their postseason games, there isn’t a comparison in my mind. Not since Gibby have we had a pitcher who can dominate when we absolutely needed it like Carpenter.

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    • Fair enough, appreciate the comment.

      We are in complete agreement about Matt Morris. I put him in that first category of good to great pitchers that came through the system, but never thought of him as a big game guy. He’s in the same category as Nelson Briles, Bob Forsch, maybe the Benes Brothers.

      What’s interesting about this discussion is that you can end up with a James Burke’s Connections thing happening – that’s how I got to these three. Where I disagree with you just a little bit is with John Tudor. Looking back at his postseason, he only had two bad games – the unfortunate meltdown in Kansas City and the bad inning in Minneapolis. Other than that, he was pretty much throwing zeros. The game in Minneapolis, and Game Seven in Kansas City for that matter were no worse Carpenter’s Game Two of the NLDS in Philadelphia or Game One of the 2009 NLDS in Los Angeles. I don’t know if you remember the strike zone controversy in the KC game, but that was a big part of Tudor’s meltdown and Carpenter might have had a similar result – hard to say.

      Then if you let Tudor in the club, how can you not bring Danny Cox in as well ? I didn’t include it in the list because it was already getting long, but Cox stood on his head at the end of the ’85 season too. The Cards had lost 4 of their last 5 and their lead was down to a single game with four to play. Cox gave up an early run and turned to stone, held on long enough to win and get an important game back in the standings. That was a must win game, given how well the Mets were playing at the end.

      I also give Andujar a pass in ’85. He should not have been on the roster, he was hurt and had no business being on the mound. You could argue that he did that to himself with the Pittsburgh Drug trial hanging over his head and getting all crazy over Lamarr Hoyt, but if Whitey Herzog had any other options, we would still be marveling over Andujar’s 1982 postseason.

      A fun discussion, so I really appreciate you starting it 🙂

      Like

  2. Devon Young says:

    Man, those 80’s Cardinals went far with their pitching and defense and speed. They were so much fun to watch, and so dangerous to face. Game 7 of the ’82 series is the first baseball game I remember watching, and Andujar was on his game.

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    • Thanks for the comment, Devon. Wow, cutting your teeth on Game Seven of the ’82 series, what a way to start out as a Cardinals fan. It doesn’t get much better than that. Herzog’s teams something special, the way they played the speed game on that fast turf. They just had an operational tempo that few teams could match. It’s disappointing that they didn’t win more titles than they did, but it was a fun decade to be a Cardinals fan.

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  3. retrosimba says:

    Bob:

    Good post. Fans often get caught up in the moment and forget achievements of the past. Chris Carpenter is outstanding, But you are correct in pointing out the achievements of Andujar, Tudor and Cox since the Gibson era. I believe you should include Bob Forsch and Matt Morris as well.

    Also, a belated “thank you” for your support and kind words for my blog on your UCB Awards ballot.

    Mark Tomasik
    http://retrosimba.com

    Like

    • Thanks, Mark. I completely agree about getting caught up in the moment, especially when the moments are as special as they were this year. I don’t think it takes anything away from the accomplishments of Chris Carpenter to look back at Herzog’s big horses – they were something. I had thought about both Morris and Forsch, and can certainly make the case for both of them, more Forsch than Morris. You wonder how things might have been different had Gibson won that last game in 1974 or if John Fulgham or Silvio Martinez had been able to stay healthy. Would Forsch have had the same opportunities as Andujar, Tudor or Cox. He certainly had their competitiveness and I think many have forgotten how good he was early in his career.

      Please keep up the good work over at RetroSimba. I love your historical perspective, always a good read.

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  4. Pingback: Countdown to Cardinals: 30

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