Thursday, October 16, 2014

October 16, 1985 - Clark's 3-Run 9th-Inning Blast Sends Cards to World Series

Wednesday, October 16, 1985 - Game 6 - NLCS vs Los Angeles Dodgers - At Dodger Stadium - Attendance:  55,208 - Starting Pitchers:  Joaquin Andujar vs Orel Hershiser

The Cardinals are trailing, 5-4, with two on and two out in the top of the ninth-inning.  Ozzie Smith is on second - Willie McGee on third.  The next scheduled hitter is Jack Clark - aka "Jack the Ripper".  Andy Van Slyke - aka "Van Strike" - is on deck.

Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda has a decision to make:  With first base open, should he instruct reliever Tom Niedenfuer to intentionally walk Clark to face Van Slyke?  Lasorda's decision is captured by lip-readers from coast to coast watching the game on NBC:  "Pitch to the son of a bitch!"

At this moment, millions of Cardinal fans watching the broadcast are leaning forward in anticipation of what is about to transpire on Niedenfuer's very first pitch - a fastball, right down the middle:  Jack rips it deep into the left field bleachers.  Dodgers' left fielder Pedro Guerrero - a demonstrative slugger who can't believe what he just saw - slams his glove to the ground as the ball zooms a hundred or so feet over his head.

The instant Clark makes contact with the ball, millions of Cardinal fans watching the broadcast leap
for joy - knowing that ball is long gone.  No doubt some of those fans, who may have been taking an extended lunch hour to watch the game at a nearby sports bar, have caused quite a commotion by accidentally knocking over the little table where they are sitting - and with it, whatever is left of the burger, fries and coke that sits atop that tabletop.  Broken glass and stoneware litter the area as Clark slowly makes his triumphant trip around the bases - no doubt oblivious to the property damage his swing inadvertently incurred.

Complete strangers, sharing an allegiance to St Louis Cardinal baseball are sharing high-fives, as an assortment of harried bus boys are busy sweeping the area of the carnage, making little attempt to hide their contempt for such reckless customer behavior.  The waitress hovers over the culprit asking with feigned concern for his well-being - implying that all this extra work deserves extra compensation - and rightfully so.

As the NBC camera relentlessly fixates on the distraught Tommy Lasorda in the Dodgers' dugout - the pained expression on his face reveals what's he's now asking himself:  "Why didn't we walk that son of a bitch?"  Lasorda's trembling hand smooths down his white mat of hair which has suddenly gotten even whiter in just a few seconds.  Even those who despise Lasorda's tiresome "Dodger Blue" mantra feel some measure of compassion - if only for a split second - for this man after making what was a blatant tactical error.  Of course, Lasorda would never admit it - but anyone with any knowledge of baseball would be able to see through the facade.

The Cardinals had survived a start by their least reliable pitcher over the past several weeks - Joaquin Andujar:  6 IP - 6 H - 4 R - 2 ER - 2 BB - 3 SO - 1 HR - Although two of the runs he coughed up were "unearned", they came as a direct result of Andujar's own defensive miscue.

In typical Andujar fashion, his greatest contribution to Cardinal victory came while batting in the third inning, down 2-0 already.  Leading-off the inning, Andujar doubled and eventually scored from third base on Tommy Herr's two-out single.

The Cardinals were even rougher on Dodger starter Orel Heshiser:  6.1 IP - 9 H - 4 R - 4 ER - 1 BB - 1 SO.  Still, Hershiser was in line for the win, had Niedenfuer avoided calamity for the second straight game:  2.2 IP - 3 H - 3 R - 3 ER - 2 BB - 3 SO - 1 HR

Earning the win was rookie Todd Worrell, despite giving up a tie-breaking home run to Mike Marshall in the eighth-inning:  2 IP - 2 H - 1 R - 1 ER - 2 BB - 2 SO - 1 HR

The Cardinals had to put together a bit of seventh-inning magic to forge that tie to begin with.  Trailing 4-1, both Darrell Porter and Tito Landrum singled off a tiring Hershiser to start the inning.  Pinch hitting for Andujar - Steve Braun - moved both runners up with a ground ball to the right side.  Then Willie McGee - an unsung hero in this game - singled in both runners to make it a 4-3 game.

Lasorda then brought in the guy who gave up Ozzie's "Go Crazy, Folks" home run in Game Five - Tom Niedenfuer - who was forced to face his nemesis once again - with similar results.  Ozzie lined one off the base of right field wall - just missing a home run by a few feet.  The ball rattled around in the corner long enough for Ozzie to cruise into third, as McGee easily scored the tying run, to make it a 4-4 game.

Niedenfuer then walked Herr intentionally to set up a potential double play with Clark due up next.  However, Clark struck out - as did Van Slyke to end the threat.  After Marshall's eighth-inning home run over the right field fence gave LA a 5-4 lead, Niedenfuer's heroics came to an abrupt halt with the iconic Jack Clark blast deep into the Southern California early-autumn afternoon haze.

Getting his second postseason save was Ken Dayley, who retired the shell-shocked Dodgers in order in the bottom of the ninth:  1 IP - 0 H - 0 R - 0 BB - 2 SO

Heading into the World Series, the Cardinals were huge favorites to win their second world championship in four seasons - but for a variety of reasons, that didn't come to pass.  Their opponents - the Kansas City Royals - won the last three games - to not only capture their only championship in franchise history.  They also started quite a postseason winning streak, in the process.  With eight straight postseason victories in 2014, their overall streak has now reached eleven in a row - an unsustainable streak that will in all likelihood end with a World Series defeat.

The odds-on favorite to oppose the Cinderella Royals are now the San Francisco Giants, who lead the Cardinals three games to one in the NLCS.  The Cardinals have never recovered from such a deficit to win any best-of-seven postseason series.  In fact three out of the four times they trailed by such a margin, they lost Game Five (1943 World Series, 2000 NLCS & 2002 NLCS).  The one time they staved-off elimination in Game Five happened in the 2005 NLCS - when Albert Pujols hit his iconic three-run home run in Houston to extend the series for a Game Six showdown in St Louis.

No fairy tale ending there - as the Cardinals were bounced out of the postseason by those wild card Astros in the last game ever played at Busch Stadium II.

But wouldn't it be fitting, if the Cardinals could turn the tables on the Giants - who overcame a three games to one deficit to the wild card Cardinals two years ago - en route to a World Series sweep of the Detroit Tigers?  Besides, the Cardinals have a 29-year-old score to settle with that Royals team.

If they can somehow salvage Game Five in San Francisco...anything's possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment