If Tommy Lasorda had ordered Tom Niedenfuer to intentionally walk Jack Clark in the ninth inning of Game 6 in the National League Championship Series, Brian Harper likely would have been facing Jerry Reuss with the outcome on the line.
On Oct. 16, 1985, Clark cracked a first-pitch fastball from Niedenfuer for a three-run home run, erasing a 5-4 Dodgers lead and carrying the Cardinals into the World Series with a 7-5 pennant-clinching victory at Los Angeles.
“After he hits the home run, even my wife knows I should have walked him,” Lasorda told the Daily Breeze of Torrance, Calif.
Jay Johnstone, a Dodgers reserve outfielder, wrote in his postseason column for the Daily News of Los Angeles that “Tommy, in fact, was going to walk him. Then he changed his mind.”
Andy Van Slyke, a left-handed batter, was on deck when Clark stepped to the plate against Niedenfuer.
“I was looking into the Dodgers dugout, waiting for Tommy to put up four fingers,” Van Slyke told reporters.
“If you were Tommy Lasorda, wouldn’t you rather pitch to me than to Jack Clark?”
Not, it turns out, if the pitcher is a right-hander, such as Niedenfuer.
If Clark had been walked intentionally, Lasorda intended to have a left-hander face Van Slyke. The left-hander the Dodgers had warming in the bullpen was Reuss, a starter who had began his career with St. Louis.
In his book “White Rat: A Life in Baseball,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said, “If Tommy walks Clark and brings in a lefty to pitch to Andy, I would have countered with Brian Harper, the only right-handed pinch-hitter I had left.”
Harper, a utility player, had batted .250 with no home runs in 43 games for the 1985 Cardinals.
In a rebuke of Lasorda, Herzog said, “I would rather let Brian Harper try to beat me than Jack Clark.”
Watching from the dugout, Harper was preparing for the chance to bat with the bases loaded. “Even when they pitched to Jack, I figured they would pitch around him,” Harper told the Daily Breeze.
Clark agreed, saying, “When they decided to pitch to me … I didn’t expect to get a pitch to hit.”
Cat and mouse
Niedenfuer was thinking the same. In the seventh inning, with the score tied at 4-4 and Cardinals runners on first and third, Niedenfuer had struck out Clark on sliders.
So, when Clark came to bat in the ninth, “I figured he wouldn’t be looking for a fastball,” Niedenfuer said.
Niedenfuer’s assumption had merit. In his book “You’re Missin’ a Great Game,” Herzog called Clark “the greatest fastball hitter of his era,” but added that the slugger “took more heaters for strikes than any player I’ve ever seen.”
Said Herzog: “Jack Clark might have been the worst guesser I ever saw. He terrified people as a fastball hitter, but he took the wrong message from that. He believed nobody _ nobody _ would ever throw him a fastball. So he never sat on his best pitch. Jack would stand there waiting for the curve and … those pitchers would sneak heaters right by him.”
Knowing this, Niedenfuer said he intended to start Clark with a fastball on the outside part of the strike zone and then, ahead on the count, try to get Clark to chase subsequent pitches outside the zone.
There were, however, two problems with this approach:
_ “I was looking for a fastball,” Clark said to the Daily News.
_ The fastball Niedenfuer delivered wasn’t on the outside corner. Instead, it was in the middle of the plate, about belt high.
Clark swung at the pitch and lifted a drive deep into the left-field bleachers.
“The only hope was that it would hit the Goodyear blimp and fall straight down,” Niedenfuer told Knight-Ridder Newspapers.
Said Clark: “It was the biggest, furthest, most important hit of my career.” Video
It also was the only home run Clark would hit in 47 career postseason at-bats. Boxscore