1987 NLCS: The First Cards-Giants October Battle

In the 21st century, the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants are arguably baseball’s two pre-eminent franchises. They’ve combined for seven National League pennants and four World Series titles. On three occasions (2002, 2012 & 2014) they’ve gone head-to-head in the postseason. That wasn’t the case when they met in the 1987 NLCS and staged an exciting seven-game series.

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You can read more about the paths each team took to its respective division title at the links below. This article will focus exclusively on the games of the 1987 NLCS. 


St. Louis already had two recent pennants, in 1982 and 1985 and won the World Series in ‘82. San Francisco was making its first postseason appearance in sixteen years. The Cardinals had homefield, due to the rotation system that existed then, but they were also down a big bat—power-hitting first baseman Jack Clark was out.

The NLCS opened on a Tuesday night with Giant veteran Rick Reuschel facing Cardinal lefty Greg Mathews and it didn’t take long for San Francisco to get rolling and for the impact of Clark’s injury to show up. His replacement, Dan Driessen, a veteran of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, made a first-inning error. It was followed by a base hit from Kevin Mitchell, productive outs from Jeffrey Leonard and Candy Maldonado and a quick 1-0 Giants’ lead.

St. Louis tied it up in the bottom of the second with an RBI single from Vince Coleman, driving in Tony Pena, who had singled and been bunted up by Mathews. The seesaw continue in the fourth. Leonard homered for the Giants, but the Cards answered with a leadoff triple from Ozzie Smith and a two-out single from Willie McGee picking up the run after two failed attempts threatened to kill the inning.

It was still 2-2 in the sixth, when St. Louis broke through. Driessen doubled with one out. The speedy McGee beat out an infield hit. Terry Pendleton and Curt Ford each singled and it was now 3-2 with the bases loaded and one out. Reuschel got Pena to pop out and was poised to escape the inning. St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog even seemed to indicate as much in letting Mathews bat for himself .Instead, Mathews singled to center, drove in two runs and gave himself a comfortable 5-2 lead.

San Francisco made one last rally in the eighth. Robby Thompson drew a one-out walk and Herzog turned to his closer, Todd Worrell. With two outs, Leonard singled and Maldonado doubled, making it 5-3 with the tying runs on second and third. Herzog yanked Worrell with San Francisco’s great lefty hitter Will Clark coming to the plate. Lefthander Ken Dayley was summoned from the pen and got Clark to fly to right. The ninth ended without incident and the Cardinals had taken Game 1.

A battle of lefthanders, San Francisco’s Dave Dravecky and John Tudor for St. Louis was on tap for the following afternoon. Clark quickly made amends for coming up short in Game 1, hitting a two-run blast in the second. Leonard homered in the fourth and Dravecky had a 3-0 lead.

Each team missed opportunities in the middle innings. In the bottom of the fourth, Ozzie Smith walked and Tom Herr singled to start the inning. Dravecky got flyouts from Pendleton and McGee to keep the shutout. In the top of the fifth, Jose Uribe doubled for the Giants and when Dravecky laid down his bunt, he beat out…but Uribe got hung up between third and home was foolishly picked off. In the top of the sixth, San Francisco put runners on first and second with one out, but Tudor was able to get Clark.

So the game stayed 3-0 into the eighth and both starting pitchers remained in the game. San Francisco got a rally going with singles from Leonard and Maldonado and a successful sac bunt from Eddie Milner. Clark was intentionally walked and Tudor struck out catcher Bob Melvin (the current Oakland A’s manager). Tudor was ready to escape again when the unthinkable happened—Ozzie, a future Hall of Fame shortstop because of his defensive prowess, booted a groundball. Two runs came in. San Francisco’s base-running foibles continued and it was Clark’s turn to get hung up between third and home. But the damage was done and the score was 5-0. Dravecky closed a two-hit shutout to even the series.

After a travel day, Game 3 was on Friday at old Candlestick Park and the Giants came out fast against Cardinal starter Joe Magrane. In the bottom of the second, Chili Davis doubled, Clark singled, Bob Brenly doubled and it was quickly 2-0 with no one out. Uribe’s sac fly moved Brenly to third where he scored in a wild pitch. One inning later, Leonard blasted a solo shot and it was 4-zip.

San Francisco was ready to add to the lead in the fifth when they loaded the bases with one out. Davis popped out to short and the rally ended. Even though Giant starter Atlee Hammaker was rolling, it would prove to be a costly missed opportunity.

St. Louis started making it hurt in the sixth. With one out, Ozzie Smith singled to right. Jim Lindeman, a right-handed bat in at first base with the lefthanded Hammaker on the mound, homered. It was 4-2 and we had a ballgame.

The Cardinals kept coming in the seventh. Jose Oquendo singled and chased Hammaker. Don Robinson, a key member of the staff for the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates championship team came on, but couldn’t hold the lead. Ford singled. Driessen batted in the pitcher’s spot and singled. Lance Johnson came on to pinch-run and stole second. Coleman singled and St. Louis now led 5-4.

Nor was the inning over. Craig Lefferts came out of the Giant bullpen, but Ozzie beat him with a bunt base hit. After a successful sacrifice from Herr, Lindemann came through again with a sac fly. The Cardinals had a 6-4 lead. That extra run—along with the one the Giants missed in the fifth proved to be the difference. San Francisco got a pinch-hit home run from Harry Spilman, but it ended 6-5 with Worrell pitching the last three innings.

St. Louis kept their momentum rolling into the early innings of Saturday night’s Game 4. They peppered starter Mike Krukow with consecutive one-out singles from Ford, Pena, Cox and Coleman. It was 2-0 before Krukow got a break—a line drive off Ozzie’s bat went right at Thompson at second base and resulted in a quick double play.

Cox pitched out of a third inning jam, striking out Leonard and Clark with two men aboard. It was the middle innings when the Giants got to the Cardinal starter. Thompson hit a solo home run in the fourth. In the fifth, after a two-out double from Mitchell, Leonard went deep yet again. It was enough for Krukow—he and Cox both went the distance and San Francisco got a little insurance. Brenly, the future manager of the champion 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks and later TV analyst—hit an eighth-inning home run. The 4-2 final again tied up this NLCS.

Game 5 was a 1:30 PM local start and a Reuschel-Mathews rematch from the opener. Coleman opened the game with a double and came in to score after a bunt from Ozzie and a sac fly from Herr. San Francisco had an immediate answer, with Thompson working a walk, stealing second and scoring on a base hit from Mitchell.

The seesaw continued in the third. St. Louis got consecutive singles from Pena and Mathews, who continued to do damage with his bat. Coleman put down a bunt, but as one of the fastest men in the game, he legged it out. Ozzie produced a run with a sac fly, but the inning died when Herr grounded into a double play. After grinding out that run, the Cardinals watched Mitchell tie it up on one swing in the bottom of the inning.

St. Louis reclaimed the lead in the fourth when Pendleton hit a two-out triple and then scored on an error by Reuschel. Herzog, hoping to get a shutdown inning, went to his bullpen early and summoned veteran Bob Forsch, a former starter who had been in the rotation for the 1982 championship season.

The move didn’t work. Chili Davis and Clark singled, Brenly drew a walk and Uribe’s single scored two and gave the Giants a 4-3 lead. Uribe took second on a throw home and there were still runners on second and third with none out. Mike Aldrete came on to bat for Reuschel and picked up another run with a sac fly. Uribe stole third, but it proved unnecessary when Thompson tripled. It was 6-3 and might have been worse, had Mitchell not popped out and Leonard struck out.

This time not adding on didn’t hurt San Francisco. Joe Price came on in relief and was nothing short of brilliant. He pitched five innings of one-hit ball, nailed down the 6-3 win and put his team on the verge of a pennant as the series went back to St. Louis.

But the Giant bats went cold at the wrong time—or the Cardinal pitchers were locked in at the right time, whichever way you want to look at it. Dravecky and Tudor faced off again in Game 6 and it was a brilliant pitcher’s duel. The Giants missed a chance with two on and one out in the second when Uribe lined out to center, but the big missed opportunity came in the fifth.

The Cards had taken a 1-0 lead thanks to a second-inning triple from Pendleton and a sac fly from Oquendo. In the fifth, Melvin and Uribe singled. Dravecky was called on to bunt, but he failed to sacrifice and the inning died. It was the only thing Dravecky did wrong in his two starts. If he gets the bunt down and San Francisco wins, the lefty is probably named series MVP. As it was, Tudor went 7 1/3 innings, Worrell and Dayley got the last five outs and the game ended 1-0.

It had only been three years since MLB made the League Championship Series a best-of-seven rather than best-of-five. 1987 was the first time the National League went to a Game 7. It proved to another night to watch Cardinal pitching dominate, this time with Cox.

Cox was staked to a quick lead. In the second inning, Pendleton, Pena and McGee hit consecutive one-out singles off Hammaker to make it 1-0. Oquendo then ripped a three-run blast and it was 4-0. The Giants threatened in each of the next three innings, but all three times grounded into double plays. In the bottom of the sixth, St. Louis put it away. Scott Garrelts, on in relief, walked three straight batters after two were out. Herr singled to bring in two more runs.

The game ended 6-0. Cox went the distance, scattering eight singles. St. Louis had delivered two successive shutouts to win their third National League pennant in six years.

San Francisco’s offensive collapse is what makes the selection of Leonard as the NLCS MVP a little tough to swallow. The numbers were there—Leonard was 10-for-24 with four home runs, five RBI and five runs scored. But he wasn’t the only Giant bat who contributed—Clark went 9-for-25 and Dravecky pitched two fantastic games. While I’m all for honoring a player from the losing team if he’s truly the best, Leonard didn’t carry the Giants and he disappeared with everyone else in the final two games.

One of thing helping Leonard is that there were no obvious candidates on the St. Louis side. Tony Pena had the best overall offensive performance, going 8-for-21. Cox had a 2.12 ERA in his two starts, while Tudor’s was spiffy 1.76…but they had each lost one of those starts. Even allowing for the weakness of these resumes, I’d have still picked Tudor on the ground that his shutout was absolutely needed on a night when the offense got only one run and the team was facing elimination.

St. Louis went on to play its third seven-game World Series in the last six years, each one against an American League opponent from the Midwest. This time it was the Twins and Minnesota would win it.

In spite of an anticlimactic ending, the Cardinals-Giants battle at the 1987 NLCS was still excellent baseball and it was the prelude to some big battles that would start fifteen years later.