Fighting demons and split-fingered sinkers, Ray Lankford experienced the extremes of baseball’s highs and lows, all in one memorable game.
In a stunning reversal, he redeemed himself in his final two at-bats of the game, clubbing a two-run home run that tied the score in the 11th and, two innings later, producing a walkoff game-winning single.
Sammy Sosa hit a two-run home run off Cardinals reliever Rich Croushore in the top of the ninth, tying the score at 5-5. In the bottom half of the inning, reliever Terry Mulholland struck out Lankford. It was Lankford’s fifth strikeout of the game, tying the Cardinals’ single-game record established by Richie Allen against the Phillies on May 24, 1970. Boxscore
Lankford also had struck out three times against starter Mark Clark, the former Cardinal, and once against Felix Heredia. With each strikeout, the boos increased.
“It was the worst,” Lankford told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the experience. “The first couple of at-bats I was swinging like I was clueless.”
In the 11th, pinch-hitter Tyler Houston hit a two-run home run off Curtis King, giving the Cubs a 7-5 lead. Manager Jim Riggleman brought in Rod Beck (who would record 51 saves in 1998) to pitch the bottom half of the inning.
With two outs and Brian Jordan on first base, Lankford came to bat against Beck. Longtime rivals, Lankford knew Beck would deliver his best pitch, the split-fingered sinker. “There are not a lot of secrets with Lankford and me,” Beck said to the Arlington Heights Daily Herald. “We’ve faced each other a lot.”
Lankford, a left-handed batter, swung at a splitter away and lifted the ball toward the opposite field. “I thought I had him off-balance,” Beck said.
The ball carried over the left-field wall for a two-run home run, tying the score at 7-7. “I was surprised it went out,” said Beck.
Each team scored a run in the 12th. After the Cubs were held scoreless in the 13th by Bobby Witt, the Cardinals loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom half of the inning against Dave Stevens.
Now it was Lankford’s turn to bat again.
Riggleman, looking to keep a ground ball in the infield. moved center fielder Lance Johnson directly in front of the second base bag as a fifth infielder.
Stevens got ahead on the count, 1-and-2, against Lankford, who tried to fight off thoughts of a sixth strikeout. ‘With two strikes, I said, ‘Ray, come on now. Put the ball in play,’ ” Lankford told St. Louis writer Rick Hummel.
Lankford swung at the next pitch and hit a hard grounder to the right side of the infield. Johnson dived to his left and second baseman Mickey Morandini dived to his right. The ball eluded both.
Lankford’s walkoff RBI-single gave the Cardinals a 9-8 victory. Boxscore
Said a joyful Lankford: “I was able to go out there and fight all of those demons off.”