Most Memorable Opening Days In Cardinal History #4: April 9, 1985
We are counting down to opening day with a look at the top ten most memorable opening days in Cardinal history. You can access all of these stories by CLICKING HERE.
The Cardinals stumbled into New York to start the 1985 season after enduring the double body blows of a disastrous 1984 campaign and a horrendous offseason. Left without a solid power hitter or another quality starter behind Joaquin Andujar, the ’84 Cardinals limped to a third-place finish. Following the season, the Cardinals sat on their hands and watched Ted Turner back up the Brinks truck and steal away All-Star closer Bruce Sutter to Atlanta. The 1985 team looked like a potential mess.
The Cardinals attempted to address their holes with some hopeful acquisitions. For power, general manager Dal Maxville signed San Francisco slugger Jack Clark for a then-impressive sum of $1.5MM. Clark, just 29 at the time, had the kind of big bat and fearsome presence missing in Cardinal red since Ted Simmons left town. To bolster the pitching, manager Whitey Herzog keenly lobbied to sign lefthander John Tudor from Pittsburgh. Pundits mewled over the moves, labeling them wishful thinking.
But the move that drew the most attention that offseason happened just before opening day, when the Cardinals announced that journeyman reliever Neil Allen would replace the Cardinals’ iconic split-fingered specialist as their closer. Cardinal fans balked at the move, which they considered arrogant as much as they considered Allen unworthy of Sutter’s crown. This opening day would prove those suspicions to be painfully true.
The undisputed ace of the Cardinals’ staff strode out to the mound in front of 46,781 hostile New York fans at Shea Stadium. The always-colorful Joaquin Andujar, gold chains tangled over his puffed-out chest, was a twenty-game winner in ’84. He was the obvious and perfect choice to start the season’s opening game against a Mets team known for their swagger and bravado.
It didn’t take long for the hungry and powerful Mets lineup to dig into Andujar. The Mets scored a run while loading the bases in the first, and then scored a second run on a bases-loaded walk coaxed from a clearly-rattled Andujar (who, admittedly, would become rattled if the wind changed direction; he was the eighties version of Jaime Garcia). Newcomer Jack Clark ripped one of his patented laser-beam home runs off of sophomore sensation Dwight Gooden in the second to bring the Cards back to within one run.
The score stayed that way until the top of the third, when the retooled Cardinal offense (later nicknamed Whiteyball) made its first appearance. Ozzie Smith singled and Tommy Herr doubled while Gooden was distracted by Smith on first. Clark walked. Then, with the bases loaded, Gooden tossed a passed ball, allowing the speedy Smith to score and tie the game.
But Joaquin couldn’t hold back the Mets in the bottom of the third. George Foster greeted Andujar’s first pitch with a booming home run. Then, an inning later, the Mets struck again – a single and an error by Andujar allowed the infamous Keith Hernandez to bat with two outs, and he stroked a perfect single to score another run. The Mets added yet another run in the fifth on a single and a double. The Mets were winning 5-2 just as Gooden was finding his comfort zone on the mound. It looked like a tough opening day at this point.
But the pesky ’85 Cardinals offense began to chip away at Gooden and his imposing fastball. Three singles sandwiched around a groundout led to two runs in the top of the seventh and knocked Gooden out of the game. The Cardinals’ bullpen-by-committee then took over, holding the Mets in place while the Cardinals attempted to get a tying run across in two innings.
Their moment came in the ninth. Willie McGee started the rally with a one-out single. As McGee was still dealing with an injury at the time, Herzog elected to pinch run Ivan DeJesus in McGee’s place. Lonnie Smith was hit by a pitch, moving DeJesus into scoring position. Herr singled, but not far enough to get DeJesus home. Instead, the Cardinals had the bases loaded and just one out. Terry Pendleton struck out (a rarity for him), leaving the Cardinals’ lone hope resting on the big bat of newcomer Clark.
Clark stood over home plate like a lumberjack, his tree-like bat waving like an angry cat’s tail. Mets reliever Doug Sisk had to feel the pressure of thousands of rattled New Yorkers howling with anger and screaming for blood. In this situation, the best a pitcher can do is put the ball over the plate and hope the batter misuses it. However, Sisk didn’t do that. Fearful of the dangerous Clark, Sisk instead walked in the tying run. Shea Stadium erupted in boos.
Given a new lease on life, Herzog called on his newly-minted closer Allen to hold the Mets and get into position to earn a win. This was a risky call for Herzog given Allen’s flat fastball and the Mets’ ravenous fastball-hitting lineup. However, this was Herzog’s arrogant “we don’t need Sutter” moment, and he motioned for Allen out of the pen.
Allen’s first inning as closer wasn’t pretty, but it worked. After a single, a walk, and an error, Allen found himself with the bases loaded and two outs. Fortunately Allen induced a flyball to center to end the threat and send the game into extra innings.
After the Cardinals made little noise in the tenth, Herzog made the calculation to send Allen back out for a second inning despite his obvious problems in the ninth. Allen had been a starter in parts of his career, so multiple innings were not a concern. But Allen only managed to record one out before strapping 31 year-old Gary Carter stepped to the plate. Carter, like Clark for the Cardinals, was starting his first game for his new team after a long tenure somewhere else (in Carter’s case, the Montreal Expos). Carter entered Mets lore when he slashed Allen’s first pitch deep into the dark New York sky for a game-winning home run.
Cardinal fans and media were quick to pounce on Allen, who spent the first half of the ’85 season attempting to live down this awful game. In May, Herzog made the move to reduce Allen from the closer’s role, choosing instead to form the famous Bullpen By Committee anchored by Jeff Lahti (and later by Todd Worrell). Herzog’s quick instincts proved season-saving, as the Cardinals rebounded from a sluggish start to tear through the National League and win 101 games and the pennant.
Despite the gut-wrenching loss, the seeds of domination were already sprouting even from the first game. This Cardinal team relentlessly pursued its opponents, often outrunning and out-defending them until they surrendered. Andujar would recover to win 21 games, combining with John Tudor’s 21 wins to become the first pair of Cardinals pitcher to reach 20 wins since 1943.
And between these two teams, this first game was just the beginning of a hostile, desperate, and memorable pennant race. But it would be this Cardinal team, all of its parts finally in place, that would run all the way to a bad call in the ninth inning of a fateful World Series appearance that still resonates in Cardinal Nation today.