Thursday, August 27, 1981 - At Jack Murphy Stadium (Bob Forsch - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent: San Diego Padres (Rick Wise - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance: 7,056
George Hendrick drove in all three runs for the Cardinals - including a thirteenth-inning solo home run - to lift St Louis to a 3-2 win over the Padres. Jim Kaat (6-2) - the fifth pitcher used by manager Whitey Herzog - pitched 2.1 innings of scoreless relief to record the win.
Bob Forsch worked the first 7.2 innings - allowing just one run on five hits - but a blown save by Bruce Sutter gave the San Diego fans some bonus baseball in this strike-shortened debacle of a season.
Prior to receiving four innings of free baseball, the San Diego fans were blessed with the tearful reunion of former-Padres outfielder George Hendrick - who greeted the faithful gathering with a two-out third-inning double - scoring Tommy Herr and Ken Oberkfell with the first two runs of the game.
Padres starting pitcher - Rick Wise - the guy the Cardinals acquired before the '72 season in exchange for Steve Carlton - allowed just those two runs in his six innings of work. The San Diego bullpen - Boone, Lucas and Littlefield - took care of the next six innings of scoreless relief - until another former Cardinal hurler - John Curtis - entered the game in the thirteenth.
Before all that excitement, the eighth and ninth inning offensive outburst by the Padres lineup made it all possible.
Forsch was still working on a shutout with two out and a runner on third in the bottom of the eighth - when pinch hitter Randy Bass got San Diego on the board with a single to center - scoring Luis Salazar.
At that point, Herzog decided to bring in his well-rested closer - Bruce Sutter (all the players in major league baseball were well-rested - thanks to their two-month strike-inflicted summer vacation). Sutter struck out future teammate Ozzie Smith to end the inning - but trouble lurked ahead.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Gene Richards singled to left. Sutter then struck out Rupert Jones for the second out - but another former Cardinal - Terry Kennedy - singled to center - advancing Richards to third. Broderick Perkins then tied the game with another single to send the crowd into a post-strike frenzy. Free baseball! The fans were certainly getting their money's worth tonight.
Proving that the ninth inning was just a fluke, Sutter came back and pitched a scoreless tenth, before a new St Louis reliever - Bob Shirley - created more excitement in the eleventh.
Bob was a bit wild - walking the first two batters - Richards and Jones - before retiring a pinch hitter by the name of Gwosdz on a ground ball to third - advancing the runners to second and third.
Herzog then brought in Mark Littel - whose first order of business was an intentional walk to Perkins. With the bases loaded, there was no place to put Luis Salazar - so Littel struck him out.
Herzog made his final pitching change - as Jim Kaat was summoned to face Jim Lefebvre - and he got him on a force out at second base - to extend the free baseball for the unappreciative fans (by this time, they wanted to go home - savoring a Padres' victory).
After both teams failed to score in the twelfth-inning, St Louis seemed unlikely to score in the thirteenth - as Oberkfell grounded out and Keith Hernandez looked at a called third strike. But George Hendrick stepped up to the plate and whacked one into the nearly vacated left field bleachers - to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.
By the time one of the spectators meandered over to locate the home run ball from their former hero - Kaat retired the side in order - to preserve what seemed to be a very important win for the Cardinals (40-25) - who were in first place - 2.5 games ahead of Philadelphia.
The Redbirds would finish the season with a 59-43 record - the best overall record in the NL East - but not good enough to qualify for the postseason - because under the new rules for the strike-shortened debacle of a season - they finished "second" in each "half" (pre-strike and post-strike).
The Cardinals had company. The Cincinnati Reds had the best overall record in the National League - but they too failed to win either "half". That would be their last hurrah. Cincinnati was an aging team - in transition - spending the decade of the eighties in futility.
For the Cardinals, however, there would be redemption the following season - a world championship - followed by two more trips to the World Series in '85 and '87.
Strangely enough, the year they hit rock bottom - 1990 - was the year the Reds won it all - proving that success or failure in major league baseball can happen at a rapid pace. Just ask fans of the Boston Red Sox about that.