Monday, May 26, 2014

This Day in St Louis Cardinals History - May 20, 1985 - May 21, 1988 - The Best & Worst of Joaquin Andujar

Monday, May 20, 1985 - After winning the 1982 World Series, the St Louis Cardinals had fallen on hard times.  After fading miserably in September of '83, the Cardinals never regained consciousness in '84; then, after losing relief ace Bruce Sutter to free agency prior to the '85 season, it was a widely held notion that the comatose Cardinals were on life support - on their way to a dead-last finish in the NL East.  To this point in the season, St Louis had done little to dispel that notion, playing sub-.500 ball since Opening Day.

The journey up to .500 and above began in earnest on this night, with the Atlanta Braves - Sutter's new employer -  in town for the first time this season.  A paid crowd of 25,112 at Busch Stadium II had little time to ponder their reaction if the likable World Series hero from '82 happened to make an appearance in this game.  By the third-inning, the Braves were already down 5-0 with Cards' ace Joaquin Andujar in complete control.  A save situation wouldn't be happening tonight, for either side.

The Redbirds were anything but dead birds tonight, pounding out 16 hits in scoring a season-high 14 runs for the second time in the last five days.  Leading the assault on Braves pitching was Willie McGee with three hits - including a home run - five RBI and three runs scored; Terry Pendleton with three more RBI and two runs scored; and Andy Van Slyke who also had a home run and three RBI.  In fact, every position player had at least one hit tonight.  But this team's forte was the stolen base.  On this particular night, the Runnin' Redbirds stole five bags, including two by the rookie left fielder, Vince Coleman - on his way to 110.

In the meantime, Joaquin Andujar continued his superb pitching with a complete game six-hit shutout, improving to 7-1 on the young season.  The Braves used four pitchers in this debacle, starting with Zane Smith (2-3) who gave up those five quick runs to get an early exit.  His replacement actually fared even worse (Craig McMurtry), yielding a half dozen runs before being relieved of duty.

After this win, the Cardinals were still two games under .500 (17-19), but they'd complete a momentum-building three-game sweep of Atlanta to start them on the road to the top of the division; and beyond.

Saturday, May 21, 1988 -  In the world of major league baseball, three seasons can bring about dramatic change.  Just three years and one day after shutting out the Atlanta Braves, Joaquin Andujar was back with his original team - the Houston Astros - relegated to bullpen duty, with rapidly diminishing skills.  This would be his final big league season, as well as his final mound appearance in St Louis - the town that embraced his zany antics during his five-year stint with the Cardinals.  This farewell didn't go so well for the self-proclaimed "tough Dominican".

The defending National League champion St Louis Cardinals still drew large crowds, as 47,320 packed into Busch Stadium II to see the action between the Cards and Astros.  The pitching match-up - Randy O'Neal for St Louis and Danny Darwin for Houston - didn't exactly bring evoke memories of Gibson vs Seaver from twenty years ago (May 6, 1968, to be exact).  Except for some reason, this game drew 35,000 more fans out to the old ballpark.  Maybe it was Bob Horner Bobble Head Night?  Ouch.

Once again, Jack Clark's replacement at first base for the Cardinals did nothing to help his team win.  And the fans would soon be getting restless over the oft-injured Horner's continued lack of production; especially since the guy that walked away - Clark - was healthy and still hitting a lot of home runs for his new team - the New York Yankees.

This game itself had a vintage feel to it initially, with Vince Coleman scoring a run in his first two plate appearances to stake the Cards to a quick 2-0 lead.  The Astros cut the deficit in half on a fourth-inning Alan Ashby run-scoring double.  Houston would then take the lead in the top of the sixth-inning in a bizarre way.  So bizarre in fact, it may not have ever happened in major league history - before or since.

Here's the scenario:  Houston has runners on first and second with two out.  The batter - Allan Ashby - swings and misses on strike three.  But it's a wild pitch.  Everybody's safe, as the bases are now loaded.  The next batter - Jim Pankovits - scores all three runners with a double.  Astros now lead 4-2, as the 47,320 fans are wondering if anybody's ever hit a three-run double immediately following a wild pitch strikeout of the previous batter that loaded the bases to begin with.

Undaunted, with Ozzie Smith on base in the bottom of the sixth, Tom Brunansky hits one into the left field bleachers to tie the game, 4-4.  Darwin pitched one more inning for the Astros, giving up just the four runs on six hits.  O'Neal survived long enough to record one out in the eighth-inning before his exit.  He too, yielded just the four runs, but on eleven hits and that crazy wild pitch strikeout (one of just two strikeouts) that he wishes he had back.

This game was to be decided by the bullpens.  Ken Dayley relieved O'Neal with one out in the eighth, avoided trouble, then worked a scoreless ninth-inning.  Veteran mainstay Bob Forsch would take care of the Astros for the next two innings.

For Houston, three relievers - Agosto, Anderson, and Smith - allowed nary a hit for their three combined innings of work, setting the stage for Andujar's farewell appearance in the Gateway City.

McGee started his old teammate's demise by reaching safely when second baseman Jim Pankovits - previously a hero for Houston - booted his grounder.   Obviously distracted by this unfortunate situation, Andujar pays little attention to the speedy McGee at first, who immediately steals second.  Andujar then retires Brunansky on a come-backer to the mound, as Willie has to stay at second .  The next hitter - Curt Ford - is intentionally walked to set up a potential double play with Tony Pena coming up to the plate.  That strategy is quickly foiled when McGee and Ford execute a successful double steal.

Now, with runners on second and third and just one out, Andujar elects to pitch to Pena with first base open.  That didn't work out so well, either.  Pena blasts a three-run home run to left field, ending the game, just like that.  Cardinals 7 - Astros 4 (11 innings).

The pitchers of record, Bob Forsch (4-3) and Joaquin Andujar (0-1) - teammates on that World Championship Cardinal team of '82 - were both nearing the end of the road.  On August 31, 1988, Forsch would be dealt to these same Houston Astros, ending his 15-year tenure with St Louis - a one-time 20-game winner with two no-hitters to his credit.  He'd retire the following season.  For Andujar - a two-time 20-game winner with the Cardinals - 1988 would be his final season.

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