This matchup featured two of the most memorable postseason homers of the ‘80s. Ozzie Smith’s to win game 5 in St. Louis is more famous, perhaps simply because of Jack Buck’s call of it, but Jack Clark’s in L.A. to turn a 5-4 ninth inning deficit into a 7-5 lead won the series for the Cardinals. Here, from the Sacramento Bee, is a story covering Clark’s homer:
The home run began to rise and appeared destined to leave Greater Los Angeles. Pedro Guerrero, the Dodgers left fielder, took only one step to chase. He stopped, dropped to his knees, hunched over.
‘It was from the pain in my heart,’ Guerrero said.
Launching the baseball into one magnificent arc Wednesday afternoon, Jack Clark sent the Dodgers to their knees and the Cardinals to Cloud Nine, commonly known as the 1985 World Series.
The scorebook will list it as a Clark three-run home run in the ninth inning off Tom Niedenfuer, giving the Cardinals a 7-5 victory in Game Six of the National League Championship Series….
‘Before the playoffs began, people said, ‘As Tom Niedenfuer goes, the Dodgers will win or lose’,’ Niedenfuer said. ‘I didn’t do my job. I feel responsible for the Dodgers losing.’
The Cardinals won the last three games without the major-league’s best base stealer, Vince Coleman. They scored 22 runs without Coleman.
‘I don’t know where you guys (media) have been,’ said center fielder Willie McGee. ‘We have been doing this all year. It’s just that no one noticed.’
Most of all, the 1985 NL playoffs will have one imprint on it – Jack Clark majestically meeting baseball with bat on Oct. 16 the darkening afternoon.
‘It felt like the gold medal,’ Clark said.
It felt like tin to Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who decided to pitch to Clark with first base open.
‘After he hit the homer, everybody in the world knew we should have walked him,’ Lasorda said. ‘After he hit it, even my mother knew we should have walked him. I’m going to go now and jump off a bridge. That’s what I ought to do.’
The game came to Clark with enough emotion of its own. The Dodgers opened with single runs in the first and second innings off Cardinals starter Joaquin Andujar. The first was an RBI single from Bill Madlock, playing with a possible broken thumb.
The Cardinals moved within one run when Andujar of all people doubled off L.A. starter Orel Hershiser and scored on Tommy Herr’s single in the third.
The Dodgers went ahead, 4-1 in the fifth, when Madlock whacked a two-run homer. Mariano Duncan scored ahead of Madlock – but only because Andujar lost Duncan’s grounder in the sun for an error.
In the seventh, the Cardinals made their first real statement of the game. They tied the game with three runs, chasing Hershiser. Willie McGee had a two-run single. Ozzie Smith – the playoff MVP who had won Game Five with a ninth-inning homer off Niedenfuer – smoked a triple off the right-hander to score the tying run.
Then, just as courageously, the Dodgers went ahead, 5-4, when Mike Marshall lofted – and it was a real loft – a ball over the glove of Cardinal right fielder Andy Van Slyke and over the fence for a home run. ‘I gave the team a one-run lead with three outs to go,’ Marshall said. ‘But the Cardinals had the top of their order coming and you never know what’s going to happen.’
Niedenfuer struck out his first batter, pinch-hitter Cesar Cedeno. McGee singled to left and stole second base. Smith walked. Herr then moved over both runners with a ground out, pitcher-to-first.
Up stepped Clark, the only bona fide home run threat on the Cardinals. First base was open. Van Slyke, an .091 hitter in the playoffs, followed Clark.
‘I was getting ready to hit, anticipating they were going to walk Clark,’ Van Slyke said.
‘The rule is not to let the man who can beat you with one swing do it,’ Clark said.
Lasorda conferred with Niedenfuer. They agreed to pitch to Clark.
‘What we were going to do is get ahead of him in the count and then pitch carefully,’ Niedenfuer said. ‘Then, if we walked him, no big deal.’
As Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia crouched to give the sign, Herr was beside himself. ‘I couldn’t believe they would do that,’ Herr said. ‘I still can’t figure it out. They had been pitching around Clark the entire playoffs (five walks).’
The first and only pitch was a fastball. ‘I had struck out Clark in the seventh on three sliders,’ Niedenfuer said. ‘I was hoping to sneak a fastball by him.’
‘I was surprised it was such a good pitch,’ said Clark, who hit 22 homers this season.
The swing and the arc silenced the Dodgers and the 55,208 fans who were watching. The ball landed three-quarters of the way up the stands in left field. A conservative estimate placed the distance at 430 feet.
‘The only chance I had was if it had hit the blimp and fallen back down on the field,’ Niedenfuer said. ‘He must have hit the ball 500 feet.’
‘It was a serious laser beam,’ Van Slyke said. ‘It was Star Wars. Ronald Reagan would have been proud of that homer.’
‘They took a chance and got burnt,’ Herr said.
Clark didn’t watch the flight of the ball. Instead, he dropped his bat and looked into the Cardinal dugout. ‘Jack was saying to us, ‘Hey boys, I just got the big fly (homer)’,’ said St. Louis third baseman Terry Pendleton. ‘Jack let us know it was out when he didn’t look. Amazing. He just dropped his bat.’
‘How would you feel?’ Niedenfuer said. ‘That’s the same question you asked the other day. This is not the highlight of my career by any means.
‘At least I can say he hit my best pitch. He didn’t hit a knuckler. But it felt like a knockout punch to me. It took all the energy out of me. I don’t even know now what Van Slyke did. Pop-up? I didn’t know.
‘I know one thing. Nobody will be able to find me tomorrow.’
Lasorda didn’t dodge the truth -‘Nobody feels worse in the entire United States right now than Tom Niedenfuer.’
After the game, Lasorda had a closed door meeting with his team. He cried in front of his players.
‘When I saw Tommy cry,’ said first baseman Enos Cabell, ‘I couldn’t stop myself. Tommy made me cry.’
Russ White of The Orlando Sentinel added:
Nine times in the series Tom Lasorda, the roly-poly Dodgers manager, ordered intentional walks, and nine times the strategy was correct. Nine times Lasorda’s pitcher got the next man out.
There was no 10th time because Lasorda told Niedenfuer to go at Clark and not around him. ”I wasn’t sure what they would do,” Clark said. ”With first base open the time before, they decided to pitch to me and struck me out. ”I guess they thought they could do it again,” he said. ”When I knew they were coming at me, I looked for a fastball, and I had only one real intention — to make contact. I was not looking for a home run. Just contact.
”It’s funny, but sometimes the whole key to hitting a home run is the smooth swing for contact not the big, big, home-run swing. I hit this one that way, and it’s the biggest and farthest home run I ever hit, the best home run in my life.”
As for the Ozzie Smith homer to get the Cardinals the 3-2 series lead, the Torrance (California) Daily Breeze asked:
How are you handling the news that Ozzie Smith beat the Dodgers , 3-2, Monday with a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning?
The blast, which is the result of a left-handed swing, was hit late in the afternoon. It’s even later for the Dodgers. They now trail the Cardinals, three wins to two, in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.
Smith, you see, is not one of baseball’s heavyweights, not at 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds. To say he hits home runs infrequently is a monumental understatement. When he hit six this past season, he came within one of his total for seven previous years in the major leagues. He once went three years (1979-81 with the San Diego Padres) without hitting a home run.
One more not-so-minor point — all of Smith’s 13 home runs in the major leagues had come from the right side of the plate. A switch hitter, he was oh-for-career in home runs from the left side.
Now you expect to learn that Smith, basking in the glory of the moment, told of how this is a dream-come-true, not only for himself but for all the little guys of the world.
Again, guess again.
“When I was younger, I would dream of hitting home runs,” he said. “But not any more. I have to deal with reality.”
Reality in this situation, with one out in the bottom of the ninth and 6-foot-5, 225-pound Tom Niedenfuer throwing his 92-95 miles-per-hour fastballs, was Smith finding a way to get his bat in the way of the baseball.
This game was loaded with ironic twists.
Smith hitting a left-handed home run is bad enough from the standpoint of the Dodgers. But the reason he was penciled in second in the batting order rather than his customary eighth goes back to Sunday and what they now identify in St. Louis as the “Killer Tarp” story.
Vince Coleman, the regular No. 2 hitter, was injured Sunday when run over by the mechanized contraption that rolls and unrolls the tarp they use to cover the infield when it rains.
Tito Landrum came off the bench to fill in for Coleman. He had four hits and three runs batted in Sunday as the Cardinals evened the series.
When Landrum came back to earth Monday, going hitless, it was Smith, batting in Coleman’s No. 2 slot, who won the game with his bat.
Coleman is the MVn-P — the Most Valuable non-Player — for the Cardinals.
Another ironic point is that Smith is paid $2 million a year to win games with his glove. He helped the Cards lose the opener when he could not make a big play on a grounder hit by Bill Madlock.
It is additionally ironic that the Dodgers lose on a home run. The power game is one area where they have a clear-cut edge over the Cardinals.
Yet another irony is that Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela has had great difficulty of late finishing what he starts. As underwhelming as he was in this game, setting a championship series record with eight walks, he was tough enough to pitch seven scoreless innings after giving up two runs in the first.
The Dodger bullpen beyond Niedenfuer is suspect. Thus it is ironic that when the Dodgers have the opportunity to rest him for three days after he pitches in the opener, saving that game for Valenzuela, he becomes the losing pitcher.
It is ironic that the St. Louis bullpen, which was supposed to become an arson squad when Bruce Sutter took his hike to Georgia, has been a tower of strength for the Cardinals in this series.
But back to Smith. The little fella did not just stand there meekly in the ninth trying to poke the ball into a hole somewhere. He was aggressive. He was trying to pull the ball down the line.
Pull the ball down the line? Could it be that he had become so excited that he was trying to pull the ball out of the park?
“No,” he said quickly. “I was trying to get on base. I was trying to get something started. I was trying to get a double.”
A couple of notes: Tom Niedenfuer somehow escaped becoming infamous as a postseason goat reliever in the way that Donnie Moore, Bob Stanley, and Dennis Eckersley would in the next few years. I would be surprised if many fans younger than 25, even Dodger fans, know who he is. There is the curiosity of Hershiser, who became a Dodgers postseason legend in ’88, losing a three-run lead in the seventh when the Dodgers were in a position to go into a seventh game at home. Notice, too, that Niedenfuer, after entering the game in the seventh and allowing Smith’s tying triple, was still there in the ninth to allow Clark’s two-out homer: he got six outs in a row before the Cardinals winning rally began. Niedenfuer would wind up his MLB career in 1990 with the Cardinals (of course).
Also, the Dodgers and Cardinals are two of the great National League franchises, were probably the two best N.L. teams of the ’80s, and have also met in the playoffs in 2004 and 2009, but this ’85 series is their only memorable one.