One month after being released and having to return to the minor leagues to prove his worth as a pitcher, Ray Burris joined the Cardinals and showed them his bat was as valuable as his arm.
Thirty years ago, in May 1986, Burris joined Dizzy Dean of the 1936 Cardinals as the only Redbirds pitchers to produce three RBI or more in consecutive games.
In 2016, Adam Wainwright matched the feats of Dean and Burris. Wainwright had three RBI for the Cardinals in their 11-4 victory over the Diamondbacks on April 27, 2016. Boxscore In the next game in which he batted, May 2, 2016, against the Phillies, Wainwright again had three RBI in a 10-3 Cardinals triumph. Boxscore
Eighty years earlier, Dean drove in three runs for the Cardinals in their 8-5 victory over the Braves on July 26, 1936. Boxscore In the next game in which he batted, July 31, 1936, against the Dodgers, Dean again had three RBI in an 8-6 Cardinals triumph. Boxscore
Like Bob Gibson and Bob Forsch, Dean and Wainwright are considered to be among the best-hitting Cardinals pitchers.
Burris didn’t have that kind of reputation. His performance was most unexpected.
Burris, 35, was released by the Brewers on April 1, 1986. The Cardinals signed him 10 days later and assigned him to Class AAA Louisville. He last had pitched in the minor leagues in 1974.
After producing a 1-1 record and 2.41 ERA in four starts for Louisville, Burris was called up to the Cardinals. “We got him because he can throw strikes,” St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog said to United Press International.
Burris, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound right-hander, was the starting pitcher in his Cardinals debut against the Giants on May 10, 1986, at St. Louis.
In the second inning, with the bases loaded and one out, Burris came to bat in the big leagues for the first time since 1983 when he was in the National League with the Expos. His career batting average was .152.
Facing Giants starter Roger Mason, Burris swung at the first pitch, a ball down and in, and pulled it along the left-field line for a three-run double.
“Because I was having control troubles, I thought he’d be taking,” Mason said to the Sacramento Bee. “I was wrong.”
Burris: “I swing if the ball is in the vicinity of the plate … I guess it’s just hacking.”
Herzog: “I might bat Burris cleanup. It was nice to see that double.”
Burris pitched seven innings, departing to a standing ovation from the Saturday night crowd of 44,795, and got the win in a 6-3 Cardinals victory. Boxscore
“He’s just a crafty guy,” said Giants catcher Bob Brenly. “He takes off a little on a pitch, then puts it back on.”
The next game in which Burris batted was in a start on May 24, 1986, against the Braves at St. Louis.
Just like in his Cardinals debut, Burris batted in the second inning with the bases loaded. Again, he doubled along the left-field line, sending a shot past third baseman Ken Oberkfell for a three-run double off starter David Palmer.
“What I could have done was gotten ahead of him and made him hit my pitch,” Palmer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Instead, I got behind him and had to come in with one. He hit it where he should have hit it.”
Burris: “It was a flashback. It’s all a dream and I’m glad it’s happening … How can you explain it? I’m no Jack Clark.”
Herzog: “I think my pitchers are leading the team in RBI. Burris is doing the job at the plate.”
In the fifth, Burris produced his fourth RBI of the game, a run-scoring single off Duane Ward.
“The ball just keeps hitting my bat,” Burris said.
Burris pitched six innings and got the win in a 9-5 Cardinals triumph. Boxscore
After winning his first two decisions for the Cardinals, Burris lost five of his next seven.
He was 4-5 with a 5.60 ERA in 23 appearances, including 10 starts, when the Cardinals released him on Aug. 27, 1986.
Burris produced a .148 batting mark (4-for-27) for the Cardinals, with three doubles and seven RBI.
Previously: Dizzy Dean’s dazzling RBI season for Cardinals