In a pivotal Easter weekend showdown with the Mets, the Cardinals proved to the reigning World Series champions they wouldn’t be intimidated, even when the Redbirds _ and their best pitcher _ got a bad break.
Looking to re-establish themselves as contenders, the Cardinals swept a three-game series from the Mets 30 years ago in April 1987.
The glory of that achievement was marred, however, when Cardinals ace John Tudor broke a bone below his right knee in a freak dugout collision with Mets catcher Barry Lyons on Easter Sunday.
“We got a sweep, but the broom broke,” Cardinals trainer Gene Gieselmann said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
With Tudor projected to be sidelined for three months, it appeared the Cardinals’ chances of dethroning the Mets had been damaged.
Instead, the Cardinals pulled together and, with Tudor’s help down the stretch, won their third National League pennant in six years.
In 1986, the Mets had a 108-54 record, finishing 28.5 games ahead of the Cardinals in the NL East, and went on to win the pennant and World Series championship. The Mets won eight of nine games in St. Louis against the Cardinals that season.
The April 17-19 series was the Mets’ first visit to St. Louis in 1987 and the Cardinals wanted to send an early message that they wouldn’t be pushovers.
Tudor started the series opener on April 17 and got the win in a 4-3 Cardinals victory. In the fifth inning, with the Mets ahead, 3-2, Tudor started the comeback with a single off Bob Ojeda. Tommy Herr put the Cardinals in front, 4-3, with a two-run single. Ricky Horton pitched three scoreless innings in relief of Tudor for the save. Boxscore
Herr delivered another key blow in the second game of the series on April 18. After the Cardinals got a run in the bottom of the ninth to tie the score at 8-8, Herr hit a grand slam off Jesse Orosco with two outs in the 10th, lifting St. Louis to a 12-8 triumph. Boxscore
The Easter Sunday pitching matchup on April 19 in the series finale was Greg Mathews for the Cardinals against Sid Fernandez.
In the third, with the Cardinals ahead, 1-0, St. Louis slugger Jack Clark lofted a pop fly that carried toward the home team dugout.
Lyons, making his first start of the season in place of Gary Carter, who was getting a day off, gave chase, barreling full steam in pursuit of the ball.
Looking skyward, Lyons kept running hard as he neared the Cardinals’ dugout.
“I thought I had a play on it, but the ball was right in the sun and I couldn’t judge where I was,” Lyons told the Post-Dispatch.
Tudor and teammates were standing on the first step of the dugout. As his teammates scattered, Tudor reached out to try to prevent Lyons from tumbling down the steps and onto the dugout floor.
“I tried to catch him,” Tudor said. “I don’t know what the hell he was thinking about. He never even broke stride. If I wasn’t there, I don’t know what would have happened to him.
“I got up on the first step, expecting him to slide. Most catchers come in and slide and you can stop them … He never stopped. When I tried to sidestep him, he took me that way. He kind of pinned me. He caught my foot _ and hip _ against the bench. The bottom of my foot was against the bench.”
The collision snapped Tudor’s right tibia bone. Lyons was unhurt. Video
The ball, uncatchable, landed several rows into the stands.
Said Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog: “Nobody thought Barry was coming in. There wasn’t any play. The Easter Bunny couldn’t have caught that ball _ and he can jump.”
Tudor was taken to a hospital and his right leg was placed in a cast.
The Cardinals went on to win the game, 4-2, completing the sweep. Boxscore
“You look at the three games they won and I think the deciding factor in all of them was defense,” said Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson. “… They’re probably the best defensive ball club in baseball. They are going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
A force that would be without Tudor until August.
“Now we’ll see how good I can manage,” Herzog said.
When Tudor returned to the lineup Aug. 1 for a start against the Pirates, the resilient Cardinals were in first place in the NL East at 62-39, four games in front of the Expos and 6.5 ahead of the Mets.
Tudor won eight of nine decisions after he returned, finishing with a 10-2 record for the season.
The last of those wins came on Oct. 2 when Tudor faced Lyons for the first time since Easter. Lyons singled twice in two at-bats against Tudor _ “He hit two changeups that I hung. Bad pitches,” Tudor said _ but the Cardinals won, 3-2. Boxscore
St. Louis finished the regular season atop the NL East at 95-67, three ahead of the runner-up Mets, and clinched the pennant by winning four of seven in the NL Championship Series against the Giants.