Needing to win one of three games against the Mets to block them from taking a share of first place in the National League East, the Cardinals finally achieved the goal in the finale of an intense October series at St. Louis.
With the tension building after Mets wins in each of the first two games, the Cardinals got a one-run victory and held on to first place alone. Two days later, on Oct. 5, they clinched the division title with a win against the Cubs.
Here is a look at that critical Mets-Cardinals series:
The Oct. 1 game was scoreless through 10 innings. John Tudor, the Cardinals’ starter, pitched 10 shutout innings. Mets starter Ron Darling went nine innings and Jesse Orosco pitched the 10th.
In the 11th, Ken Dayley relieved Tudor and struck out the first two batters, Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter.
Darryl Strawberry batted next.
With the count 1-and-1, Dayley delivered a breaking pitch. Strawberry hit a towering drive that slammed into the scoreboard clock for a home run.
“He hit a curveball _ a hanging curveball,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog told Larry Harnly of The State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill. Video
In the Cardinals’ half of the 11th, Orosco struck out Willie McGee. The next batter, Tommy Herr, lofted a fly ball to shallow center. Mookie Wilson got a late jump and attempted a basket catch, but dropped the ball for a two-base error.
Brian Harper, pinch-hitting for Darrell Porter, grounded out to second, advancing Herr to third with two outs.
Orosco ended the drama by getting Ivan De Jesus, pinch-hitting for Andy Van Slyke, to fly out to Wilson, giving the Mets a 1-0 victory.
“Tell me,” Mets manager Davey Johnson asked reporters in discussing the Strawberry home run, “is the clock still working?” Boxscore
The pressure still was on the Mets, who trailed the Cardinals by two with five games remaining on Oct. 2.
The Mets responded to the challenge.
Starter Dwight Gooden went the distance. He allowed nine hits and issued four walks, but he struck out 10 and the Cardinals stranded 10.
The Mets scored five runs off Cardinals starter Joaquin Andujar and won, 5-2, slicing the St. Louis lead to one with four games to play.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals nearly rallied. Trailing 5-1, they scored a run and loaded the bases with two outs against Gooden.
“I knew he was tired and I knew it was draining him,” Johnson told reporters. “At the same time, I thought Gooden was our best bet. He bends a little, but he doesn’t break.”
The move nearly backfired.
Herr laced a line drive that was caught by second baseman Wally Backman, ending the game. Video
“When Herr first hit the ball, I thought it was going to be over Wally’s head,” Gooden said. “It was panic time.” Boxscore
After the Mets won Game 2 of the series, Davey Johnson said, “We’ve done what we had to do so far. We’ve got two-thirds of the job done. The pressure is on them now.”
If the Mets won the Oct. 3 series finale, completing the sweep, they’d be tied with the Cardinals and would have the momentum.
Instead, the Cardinals won, 4-3. Vince Coleman was 3-for-4 with two RBI. Ozzie Smith contributed two hits, two runs and a RBI. Starter Danny Cox held the Mets to two runs in six innings and the bullpen, especially Ricky Horton and Jeff Lahti, preserved the lead.
Horton retired the last two batters of the eighth and the first two batters of the ninth before Hernandez singled, representing the tying run. It was Hernandez’s fifth hit of the game.
“He broke his bat on the hit,” Horton told Harnly. “It was a fastball down and in. He makes a living on hitting good pitches.”
Lahti relieved and faced Carter. “We figured Carter might be looking for a slider,” Lahti said. “I asked (catcher) Darrell Porter what he wanted and he wanted a fastball. I go along with his suggestions.”
Lahti’s first pitch was a fastball away. Carter swung and drove a fly ball to right. Said Lahti: “When Carter hit it, I was screaming, ‘Catch it. Catch it.’ He’s beaten me to right field before.”
The ball carried to Van Slyke, who made the catch, ending the game and giving the first-place Cardinals a two-game lead with three to play. Boxscore
Said Herr of the Mets to the San Diego Union-Tribune: “They’re like the bowler who needed three strikes in the 10th (frame) to win. They got the first two, but they left the 10-pin standing on the third.”
On Oct. 4, the Cardinals beat the Cubs (Bob Forsch over Dennis Eckersley) and the Mets defeated the Expos, leaving St. Louis two ahead with two to play.
The Cardinals clinched on Oct. 5, beating the Cubs Boxscore while the Mets lost to the Expos.