Today’s Postseason Series From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is the 1987 World Series.
The Cardinals rebounded from a down 1986 season to have the best record in the National League. A typical Whitey Herzog team, the Cards relied on getting on base (led the league in OBP) and running like hell. They stole 248 bases in 1987, 50 more than any other team. While only hitting 94 homeruns, they did have one power source. Jack Clark, brought over in a 1985 trade with the Giants, led the league in walks, OBP, slugging, OPS, and OPS+ along with 35 homeruns. This combination led St. Louis to the second most runs in the league, a league-leading 644 walks, 49 triples, and a .378 slugging percentage. The pitching staff was a middle of the pack (fifth in ERA), led by Danny Cox and John Tudor. Not that W-L records mean anything, but the bullpen had three guys with eight or more wins and four guys with 10+ decisions. They ran out quickly, and had a 9-game lead at the All-Star break. They hung on, playing .500 ball through September and October, but a weekend series in New York in mid-September made the biggest difference. Trailing on Friday night, the Cardinals scored three in the ninth to tie the game and then two in the tenth to win it. They took Saturday’s game 8-1 and that opened things up enough as St. Louis beat out the Mets by three games. In the NLCS they came back from 3-2 down to win the final two in St. Louis and take the series in seven games.
But the Cardinals won without their power threat. Jack Clark sprained his ankle in September and was off of the postseason roster.*
*-Injuries were typical for Clark. Only three times in 18 seasons did he manage to play 150 games.
The Twins, on the other hand, were not a particularly good team. Up to that point they were 477-603 in the 1980’s and were so-so in 1987. On the morning of September 1 they were only six games over .500, but had a one game lead in the particularly weak AL West. The held on, despite losing their last five games of the season. Overall they were outscored, but managed an 85-77 record. They didn’t do anything particularly well, either. Despite having Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett in the lineup they ranked just eighth in runs. Their leadoff hitter Dan Gladden had a .312 OBP. They stole 113 bases but were caught 65 times for a paltry 63% success rate. Yes they did hit 196 homeruns, but they called the Metrodome the “Homerdome” for a reason. They also gave up 210 homeruns. Their staff featured a 36-year old Bert Blyleven and a 42-year old Joe Niekro. Their closer was Jeff Reardon, who blew 10 saves and managed an 8-8 record out of the pen. Overall their bullpen allowed 41% of their inherited runners to score. And despite having the best fielding percentage in the league, their catchers only threw out 21% of would be base stealers. In the ALCS they beat the 98-win Tigers in five games, riding 22 extra base hits against the ancient Tigers staff and reaching their first Fall Classic since 1965.
Game 1 was the first ever World Series game played indoors. The Cardinals took the early lead with a run off of Frank Viola in the second. It remained 1-0 until the bottom of the fourth. Gary Gaetti led off a string of four straight singles, the fourth from Kent Hrbek giving the Twins a 2-1 lead. A walkd to Steve Lombardozzi chased starter Joe Magrane in favor of veteran Bob Forsch. Catcher Tim Laudner greeted Forsch with a single to score another run. Then Dan Gladden (who had hit a grand total of 24 homeruns in his first five seasons and 74 overall in 11 seasons) hit a 1-2 pitch into the left field seats. It was the first grand slam in a World Series since 1970 when of all people, pitcher Dave McNally, hit one for the Orioles against the Reds. Lombardozzi added a two-run shot and Gladden would tack on another with a double and that was all Viola needed. He went eight innings without walking a batter, striking out five and surrendering five hits and the Twins took Game 1 10-1.
Game 2 was more Minnesota offense. Gaetti homered off of Danny Cox in the second, and then in the fourth they got rolling again. Puckett and Hrbek had a pair of one-out singles and Gaetti walked to load the bases. Randy Bush then doubled into the right field corner to make the score 3-0. After Tom Brunansky was intentionally walked and a fly out, Laudner singled home two more as Bush slid in ahead of Vince Coleman’s throw. Then after a controversial call on a check swing, Gladden lined a single into left and Cox’s night was through. Greg Gagne then added a bloop RBI double and it was 7-0 Twins. They would add a run and shut down a potential rally late and held on for an 8-4 win and a 2-0 series lead.
Game 3 moved the series to St. Louis, but Minnesota still looked to be in charge. After five scoreless innings John Tudor issued a pair of one-out walks and with two out Tom Brunansky blooped a single into right center for 1-0 lead. It stayed 1-0 through the top of the seventh. Jose Oquendo led off the bottom half of the seventh with a single off of reliever Juan Berenguer. Tony Pena then fought off a couple of foul balls before singling to right center. Then Herzog pinch hit for John Tudor with Terry Pendleton, who bunted the runners over (44 points). Vince Coleman then doubled past a diving Gaetti down the third base line, scoring both runs and giving the Cardinals the lead. Coleman stole third on the very next pitch (which was REALLY close, as in he was out) and then Ozzie Smith singled to right and the Cardinals had a 3-1 lead. Todd Worrell came in and shut down the Twins and the Cardinals were back in the World Series.
Game 4 started innocently as both teams went in order. Both teams threatened in the second, but didn’t get a run home. Then in the top of the third Greg Gagne (career .684 OPS) led off with a homerun to give the Twins the early lead. The Cardinals came back to tie it in the bottom half when Clark’s replacement Jim Lindeman singled home Ozzie with two outs. It wouldn’t stay tied for long. In the bottom of the fourth Tony Pena led off with a walk and Oquendo singled to put men on the corners with nobody out and . . .
OK, let’s take a moment to reflect on the career of one Tom Lawless.
Lawless was a 17th round pick of the Reds in 1978. After putting up some modest numbers in the minors and 103 games between the Reds and Expos he was a Player To Be Named Later for Mickey Mahler. Overall he played 343 games, mostly at second and third base. He posted a .521 OPS and a 47 OPS+ for his career. His slugging percentage of .258 is two points higher than Harmon Killebrew’s batting average. Up to the moment of reflection here he had hit one major league homerun, in Atlanta (AKA the Launching Pad) off of Ken Dayley in 1984. In the 1987 season he was 2 for 25 with 3 walks 0 RBI and 5 strikeouts. In his first at bat of this game he struck out looking. So we have enough of a build up to how crazy this can be.
Tom Lawless stepped up and launched an 0-1 pitch over the head of Gladden and over the fence for a 3-run homerun, and provided one of the funniest bat flips of all time. Al Michaels replied “Did we really see that?!?!?!”.
The Cardinals added three more runs in the inning and the game was essentially done. The Cardinals took the game 7-2 and evened the series.
The pivotal Game 5 set Bert Blyleven and Danny Cox. The Cardinals threatened in the third but failed to score. They got two on with one out in the fifth, but Blyleven got Danny Cox to miss a squeeze attempt with a pitchout (one of the worst bunt attempts you’ll ever see) and had Oquendo hung up to dry to escape the inning.
The Cardinals came right back in the sixth and let their speed take over. Vince Coleman beat out an infield single when Hrbek couldn’t handle the grounder cleanly. Ozzie then attempted to bunt Coleman over (29 points), but Blyleven rushed and couldn’t handle it cleanly, allowing both men to reach safely. Tommy Herr flied out and then Coleman and Smith stole third and second respectively. Blyleven then intentionally walked Dan Driessen and got Willie McGee looking. Blyleven looked like he might get out of it, but Curt Ford lined a 2-1 pitch right back up the box for a 2-run single and a 2-0 lead. Then Oquendo hit a bouncer towards short, but Gagne couldn’t handle it and it went for an error, allowing Driessen to score and make it 3-0. The Cards came right back in the seventh when Colman drew a one out walk off of reliever Keith Atherton and a balk moved him to second. Atherton was relieved mid-at-bat for Jeff Reardon. Coleman immediately stole third off of Reardon. With the infield pulled in Ozzie was able get a grounder just past Lombardozzi at second for an RBI infield single and a 4-0 lead.
Minnesota tried to get back into it in the eighth. Gladden led off with a single. Then, with Terry Pendleton playing deep, Gagne bunted down the third base line for an infield hit. Puckett flew out on the first pitch then Herzog went to his bullpen. Ken Dayley got Hrbek to fly out and Herzog went to his pen again, this time for his closer Todd Worrell. That idea nearly backfired when Gary Gaetti lined a shot to the wall in center. Willie McGee couldn’t quite handle it, and it went for a 2-run triple. Worrell got out of that jam and avoided another one in the ninth, where two walks brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the form of Don Baylor. But Baylor could only muster a pop-up to Tommy Herr and the series was on its way back to Minneapolis with the Cardinals needing only one more win.
The Cardinals jumped out right away in Game 6 as a first inning homerun from Tommy Herr gave St. Louis the early 1-0 lead. The Twins took the lead in the bottom half when Gladden tripled down the right field line and scored on Puckett’s single, then Puckett scored on Don Baylor’s single. Jose Oquendo singled in Terry Pendleton in the second to tie it.
Dan Dreissen led off the fourth with a double off the hefty bag in right. McGee then lined a single up the middle and went to second when Driessened hesitated and Puckett overshot his cutoff man. Terry Pendleton then hit a weak bouncer that Hrbek couldn’t make a quick enough play on and turned into an infield single and the Cardinals had the lead. Oquendo added a sac fly to give the Cards a 4-2 lead. The Cardinals added another run in the fifth and the lead was 5-2.
An interesting moment in the top of the fourth. ABC showed Herzog’s response to possibly pulling John Tudor early since he was going on short rest. Herzog actually said he was “shootin’ dice” a bit. Hmmm . . .
In the bottom of the bottom of the fifth Kirby Puckett led off with a single up the box. Gary Gaetti then doubled to left and when Vince Coleman slipped on the track Puckett came around to score. Don Baylor then homered into the left field seats. A Brunansky single chased Tudor (early). Lombardozzi then singled and an interesting play happened. Brunansky – never to be confused with Usain Bolt – tried to score from second and McGee’s throw home pulled Tony Pena slightly off the plate. Brunansky scored, but if the play happened today he would’ve automatically been safe since Pena was blocking it. It should’ve been called back then, but by that point as long as the catcher didn’t pull a gun and threaten the runner they could do whatever they felt like.
The Cardinals went down in order in the sixth and then the Twins went back to work. Gagne led off with an infield single off of home plate (those who remember the Metrodome also remembers how those bouncers would never come down). Bob Forsch then came on and walked Puckett on four pitches. A past ball on Tony Pena’s part moved the runners up (honestly, Forsch missed his target by a country mile), but Gaetti to pop out. They intentionally walked Baylor . . .
Intresting strategy here. I know Whitey’s in the Hall of Fame and his teams won a lot. But let’s think about this . . .
- Bob Forsch is right handed. So is Don Baylor.
- Baylor had batted about 50 times in the six weeks leading up to this game.
- Yes, the walk does set up the double play, but it also loads the bases
- Which means you have nowhere to put another batter.
Forsch got Brunansky to pop out (somehow it wasn’t an infield fly rule), then he went to his lefty to get another lefty. Ken Dayley came in and Kent Hrbek lined his first pitch over the the 408 ft. sign in straight away center for a grand slam. That was the first homerun Dayley had given up to a lefty in over two years. The game was effectively over. The series was tied and for the fourth time in five years the World Series was going to a Game 7.
Neither team scored in the top of the first, but three straight singles to lead off the second got the Cardinals on the board against Frank Viola. They would add another run and it was 2-0. The Twins attempted to get the game tied in the bottom half. Don Baylor was hit by a pitch for the 3,423rd time in his career (first in the postseason), then Brunansky singled and after a strikeout from Hrbek, Tim Laudner singled to left field. Baylor tried to score and while Coleman’s beat the runner, the tag was high. Naturally, Dave Phillips called him out (but it was closer than the fans would’ve made you believe). They did get one run, though, to cut the lead in half.
It remained 2-1 until the fifth when Gagne bounced a ball towards first. The first baseman Jim Lindeman broke late for the ball and threw behind the pitcher Joe Magrane. In shades of two years earlier, it appeared that Magrane brushed his back foot across the base before Gagne tagged it, but the Gagne was called safe by Lee Weyer. Magrane was replaced by Danny Cox and Kirby Puckett launched his first pitch into the right center gap for a double to tie the game. The Twins proceeded to run themselves out of the inning. First, after Gaetti drew a walk Cox’s first pitch to Don Baylor was in the dirt, neither runner got a good jump on it and despite that Puckett tried to take third and was nailed. Gaetti took second and then Baylor singled to left. Gaetti tried to score, but Coleman threw a bullet and catcher Steve Lake held on during the collision at home to keep the game tied.
OK, ready for some more umpiring troubles? Good. Let’s go to the sixth . . .
Tommy Herr reached with a one out single. With a full count on the hitter Lindeman, Viola threw to first. Now, this was a balk, but it wasn’t called, so Herr was caught in a rundown. On his way back to first Kent Hrbek stayed in the base path, which is clearly illegal, missed the throw from Lombardozzi and interfered with Herr. This of course was missed. Then, Viola – who did the only thing right on this play by backing up Hrbek – was late on tagging Herr if he tagged him at all. So you had:
- A runner getting picked off in a spot when he has to make sure the pitcher goes to the plate,
- A missed balk call by the umpire,
- A second baseman holding onto the ball too long and throwing late and into the base path,
- A first baseman standing right in the base path without the ball and interfering with the runner,
- A pitcher late on a tag that may have been flat out missed, AND
- The umpire blowing his third call of the PLAY (and fourth of the game) by calling the runner out instead of awarding him second base.
Lee Weyer, this Bud’s for you!
Anyway, in the bottom of the sixth Brunansky and Hrbek both walked to lead off. After Laudner’s 40-point bunt attempt failed he instead fouled out, 35-year old Roy Smalley drew a third walk to load the bases. After Gladden struck out swinging (on a ball in the dirt . . . in St. Paul), Greg Gagne a bouncer down the third base line. Tom Lawless made a great stop, but couldn’t get enough on the throw to first and it was an infield single and a 3-2 lead for the Twins. Puckett struck out to end the rally, but the Twins had the lead.
Viola would pitch around a one out double from Pena in the seventh, and set the side down in order in the eighth. In the bottom of the eighth Laudner had a one out single and with two out scored from first when Dan Gladden doubled to the ally in right center and Steve Lake couldn’t handle Herr’s relay throw home (otherwise he was out by about the distance from Minneapolis to St. Louis; this was not a classic Game 7), to make if 4-2.
Jeff Reardon got Herr to fly out to center. Then he got Curt Ford to pop out to third. And when he got Willie McGee to bounce out to third, the Twins had won their first World Championship since moving the the Twin Cities back in 1961.
This was also the first time ever in World Series history where all seven games were won by the home team. Frank Viola was named the MVP because . . . well, someone had to win it.
But the part that really stands out is just how many homeruns were hit by guys who weren’t homerun hitters:
Gladden (averaged a homerun every 60.8 at-bats)
Lawless (three total career homers including his one here)
Gagne (homered every 50.1 at-bats)
Lombardozzi (once every 63.2 AB’s)
Herr (a homer ever 191 at-bats)
Laudner (the Babe Ruth of this list; one every 26.5 at-bats)
Don Baylor (38-years old; hadn’t homered with the Twins)
That’s seven of the nine homeruns hit. You can expect Baylor’s, I guess, but really, how unlikely were all of these?
The Twins would be back four years later as Hrbek would be involved in another controversy at first base. The Cardinals would have to wait almost two decades to be back in the World Series.