Thursday, October 3, 1985 - At Busch Stadium II (Danny Cox - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent: New York Mets (Rick Aguilera - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance: 47,720
It wasn't a postseason game, although it certainly felt like one. One the Cardinals really needed to win - and they did - sparked by Vince Coleman's two-out two-run fourth-inning single, the Redbirds salvaged the final game of this crucial three-game series with the Mets, by a final score of 4-3.
After dropping the first two games on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Cardinals suddenly found themselves with a scant one-game lead over New York, heading into Thursday's action. Another loss would create a tie between the two fierce NL East rivals - with just three games remaining to be played. As far as manager Whitey Herzog was concerned, that would be a revolting development.
Former Cardinal Keith Hernandez, who was dispatched to New York a couple of seasons ago, was going to do everything in his power to ruin Herzog's postseason party - and he nearly pulled it off. His first-inning single off Danny Cox scored Mookie Wilson from second base, to stake Rick Aguilera to a quick 1-0 lead. For Hernandez, the fun was just beginning.
Up to this point in the series, the Cardinals weren't having any fun at all - until they pushed a second-inning run across to tie the game at one run apiece. Terry Pendleton drew a one-out walk, then advanced all the way to third when Aguilera uncorked a very wild pitch with Darrell Porter batting. Porter eventually walked, as well - bringing Ozzie Smith to the plate. His ground ball to second resulted in a force out - but no double play - as Pendleton scored the first run for the Redbirds.
With the score still knotted at one run apiece, Porter started another one-out rally in the fourth-inning with his second free pass of the game. Ozzie followed with a base hit, advancing Porter to second. Next up - Danny Cox - not a particularly good hitting pitcher - was able to lay down a nice sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position for Vince Coleman - who came through with a base hit to center field to give St Louis its first lead of the game: 3-1.
Hernandez knocked in another run in the fifth-inning - scoring Wally Backman from third base with a double - cutting the lead down to a single run, with the dangerous Gary Carter threatening to force a tie - or worse - give the Mets the lead. Cox got his man, and the Redbirds still had the lead - but it was a precarious lead.
After Cox worked a scoreless sixth-inning - striking out the side (the only strike outs he recorded in the game) the Cardinals tacked on a crucial insurance run in their half of the inning. With one out, Ozzie singled - then with Danny Cox batting, Aguilera balked - advancing the Wizard into scoring position - but Cox struck out. Coleman kept the inning alive with another single to left field, but the ball was hit so hard Smith had to stop at third, as the throw from left fielder George Foster was a good one - probably good enough to nail even the speedy Cardinal shortstop at the plate.
Next up - Willie McGee - on his way to a batting title and Most Valuable Player Award - scored Ozzie with a base hit of his own - plating the fourth, and final St Louis run.
With a two-run lead to protect, Herzog went to the bullpen - bringing in Ken Dayley - the first of four St Louis relievers - to start the seventh-inning. After yielding a two-out hit, Worrell was summoned to get the final out - and he did.
The Mets weren't quite finished, however, Facing Worrell in the eighth-inning, Darryl Strawberry led-off with a double, then advanced to third on Porter's passed ball. Worrell got Foster to wave at a third strike, but Howard Johnson brought the Mets another run closer with a single to right field. Ricky Horton was summoned from the bullpen to face Ray Knight - retiring him on a fly ball to McGee - then striking out future long-time Twins manager Ron Gardenhire - who in 2014 is out of a job again.
Horton got the first two Mets batters in the top of the ninth, but Hernandez kept the inning alive with his fifth straight hit - forcing Herzog to bring in Jeff Lahti for the save. Lahti did his job successfully for the 19th time this season - retiring Carter on a fly ball to Andy Van Slyke in right field - to give Danny Cox (18-9) the biggest win of his career.
With that final putout, the Cardinals were back on top by two games over the relentless Mets - reducing the magic number to clinch their second division title to two games. The official clincher would happen in Saturday's win over the Cubs, but for all intents and purposes, this was the one that sealed the deal for the Redbirds.
In the meantime, October would prove to be quite an exciting month for the Cardinals.