Monday, June 3, 1985 - John Tudor felt confident going into this game with the Houston Astros, although his last start, in Atlanta, hadn't gone so well. For that matter, the entire season hadn't gone so well for the taciturn Tudor. In his latest six innings of futility, he had been hit hard - five runs on eight hits - losing to the Braves, 5-3. With just one win against seven losses, Tudor had hit rock bottom.
A buddy of his, who happened to be watching the game on Braves' Super Station WTBS, also happened to discover a subtle flaw in Tudor's delivery. One phone call later, Tudor had been enlightened. Now, he could hardly wait for his next start.
Nolan Ryan was Tudor's mound opponent for this game at Busch Stadium II, as a crowd of just 18,891 filed through the turnstiles - an indication that the Cardinal fan base hadn't bought into how good this team really was. They were about to find out, right off the bat.
After Tudor retired the Astros in order in the first-inning, the Cardinals went to work in the bottom half. Vince Coleman coaxed a walk out of Ryan, then wasted no time in stealing second with Willie McGee at the plate. Willie then beat out an infield hit, as Coleman moved to third. With Tommy Herr batting, McGee took off for second, but was nailed for the first out of the inning. Ryan - a bit wild tonight - walked the patient Herr. With cleanup hitter Jack Clark batting, Coleman decided to surprise the whole world by stealing home. Not to be outdone, Herr then stole second and advanced to third as the throw from the catcher skipped into center field. Clark, probably a bit distracted by all the activity on the bases, struck out; but Andy Van Slyke picked up the two-out RBI with a double down the right field line. The next hitter, Terry Pendleton popped up to the first baseman as Van Slyke became the first Cardinal base runner in the inning to not attempt a stolen base.
The Cardinals tacked on two more runs in the third, when McGee singled with one out, then scored on Herr's double. With Clark batting, Ryan uncorked a wild pitch, moving Herr to third. After Clark popped out to the first baseman in foul territory, Van Slyke once again delivered a two-out run-scoring hit - a single to center. Pendleton flew out to left to end the inning, but Tudor now had a comfortable 4-0 lead to work with.
After Houston failed to score in the fifth-inning, St Louis broke the game wide open in the bottom half. Coleman led off with a single, but this time was nailed trying to steal second. McGee, who had already been thrown out stealing in the first-inning, decided to give it another try, after lining a single to center. He made it this time, then came around to score on Herr's base hit to right. Before Herr had a chance to do anything funny, Clark deposited a Ryan fastball into the left field bleachers. Van Slyke then got his third straight hit, advanced to second on a two-out walk to Ozzie Smith - which ended Ryan's nightmarish outing - then scored the fourth and final run of the inning when Tom Nieto greeted new pitcher Bill Dawley with a base hit to center.
Tudor may have lost his concentration with that eight-nothing lead as he faced the Astros in the sixth-inning. A walk and two singles had a run in for Houston, with runners at the corners with nobody out. At that point, Tudor was replaced by Ken Dayley, who had some issues of his own in the inning, as the Astros scored four runs - two of which were unearned. He went on to pitch the final four innings, securing an eventual 9-5 win with his fifth save of the season.
Things got a little sloppy at the end of this game, but Tudor was now on track, really for the first time all season. In his next start against the Mets at Shea Stadium, there would be no momentary lapses in concentration. He'd win a 1-0 thriller over Dwight Gooden - the first of a league-leading ten shutouts he'd bag in '85. After that dreadful 1-7 start, and some helpful advice from an old friend, Tudor would become the best left-handed pitcher in baseball, winning 20 out his next 21 decisions.
As for this game, it was pretty obvious the Cardinals were a running team. They stole four bases, got caught stealing three times. Even Tudor tried to steal a bag - unsuccessfully. The '85 Cardinals were a team built for speed. They would run whenever they had a chance to run, which was just about anytime they got on base. They would wreck havoc on the bases, causing the opposition to get out of sync - make bad throws, mishandle otherwise routine plays.
The strategy worked to perfection tonight. It undoubtedly affected Nolan Ryan's game - his concentration. In short, these runnin' Redbirds ran Ryan ragged tonight. They were just getting started. After this game, the Cardinals (25-23) were still a fourth-place team in the National League East - still 5 games behind the New York Mets. After tonight, however, St Louis would post the best record in baseball - 76-38 - a .667 winning percentage - good enough for a division title.
Not bad for a team universally picked to finish last by all the baseball experts.