The strike year of 1981 hadn’t gone well in Pittsburgh After a decade of contending teams, including a recent World Series title in 1979, the Pirates were looking to get back in the hunt. For the most part, they did. But an August fade set a tone that the 1980s would not be as positive for Steel City baseball as the 1970s had been.
The 1982 Pittsburgh Pirates were keyed by an offense that ranked second in the National League in runs scored, and that’s even with rightfielder Dave Parker continuing his Pittsburgh decline. Parker’s stat line was a .330 on-base percentage/.447 slugging percentage—certainly not bad, but a far cry from the MVP year he’d produced four years earlier. Fortunately for the Pirates, other players stepped up.
Bill Madlock was one of the most consistent contact hitters in baseball and the third baseman hit .319 in 1982, with a stat line of .368/.488. On the other side of the infield, Jason Thompson posted a .391/.511 line, with 31 home runs. Mike Easler’s stat line was similar to Parker’s–.337/.436, although in Easler’s case it wasn’t a letdown.
Pittsburgh turned to a rookie at second base and Johnny Ray hit .281, finishing a close second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Steve Sax in Los Angeles. Tony Pena was a good young catcher. And centerfielder Omar Moreno didn’t get on base much, but when he did things happened—Moreno stole sixty bags in 1982. Lee Lacy provided veteran help off the bench, getting nearly 400 plate appearances and posting a .369 OBP.
Pitching was where the Pirates ran into problems. Of the top three starters, only John Candelaria had a good year, going 12-7 with 2.94 ERA. Rick Rhoden and Don Robinson were each good pitchers generally and each made 30-plus starts. But in 1982, they both had ERAs on the wrong side of 4. A pretty good bullpen, led by Kent Tekulve, Rod Scurry and Manny Sarmiento couldn’t cover for a rotation that was shaky four days out of five.
Pittsburgh opened the season in St. Louis with an 11-7 win. Ray had three hits, including a home run, to set the tone for his rookie year. The following day, the Pirates rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the eighth to take a 6-5 lead. Enrique Romo out of the bullpen and got the first two batters out. Then a walk, triple and single beat him 7-6.
That sudden turn of events was the trigger to a poor start. The Pirates lost seven of their first ten, including two more to the Cardinals a week and a half later. By Memorial Day, Pittsburgh was 18-26 and in last place. They were staring at 10-game deficit in the old NL East, a division that included the Cardinals and Cubs, along with current members in the Mets, Phillies and Montreal Expos (today’s Washington Nationals).
The month of June saw Pittsburgh slowly stabilize. On June 21, they were 28-33, in fifth place and now within 7 ½ games. But they were coming off losing three out of four to Philadelphia and there was no sign of a turnaround. But it was then that the Pirates got hot.
They won 16 of their last 23 games prior to the All-Star break. That included a 6-2 mark against defending NL East champ Montreal. And it got Pittsburgh back in the race. They were 44-40 at the break and just 2 ½ games back. The Cards and Phils were tied for first, with the Expos four games off the pace. It was a hot four-team race and the Pirates were squarely in the middle of it.
Three straight losses in Houston right out of the break cooled Pittsburgh down, but they were still in the hunt when they began the jam-packed week of August 9. The week began with a doubleheader in Philadelphia to kick off a four-game set. It would end on Sunday with a doubleheader at home against St. Louis, concluding a five-game series. Nine games against two key rivals. A pennant race moment had arrived in Pittsburgh.
The Pirates took a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning in the opener of Monday’s twilight doubleheader (where the first game began about 5 PM). Tekulve couldn’t hold the lead and lost 4-3. Easler bailed his team out in the nightcap, driving in four runs for a 9-6 win that salvaged a split.
Sarmiento got a start on Tuesday and was hit hard in a 9-5 loss. It was up to Rhoden in the finale. He pitched well, battling the Phils’ Dick Ruthven and a 1-1 tie was taken into the eighth. With one out and the bases loaded, Rhoden finally had to be removed. Tekulve couldn’t save him, giving up three runs in the 4-1 loss.
The week was off to a bad start, but it wasn’t even half over, as St. Louis came to old Three Rivers Stadium. The Pittsburgh bats fell silent in the opener, mustering only five hits off the Cards’ Joaquin Andujar in a 3-2 loss. Easler again stepped up, delivering three hits on Friday night and leading the way to a 7-4 win.
Pittsburgh was 2-4 on this key stretch as three games on Saturday and Sunday awaited. The week wasn’t going to be what they’d hoped, but just winning a couple games would at least buy them another chance later on. Instead, they wasted a good outing from Candelaria on Saturday and lost 4-1. And the pitching problems were on full display in the Sunday doubleheader, giving up a combined 17 runs in two more losses.
By the time the week was over, the Pirates’ were seven games off the pace and at 60-57 were barely over .500. But they didn’t throw in the towel. The latter half of August saw Pittsburgh push their record back to 72-64 and crawl within 4 ½ games of the lead. It was still a four-team race on Labor Day.
As the NFL season opened up under threat of a strike, the Pirates took two of three at home from the Phils and nudged to within 3 ½ games. Then Pittsburgh lost five of their next eight. This happened in conjunction with the Cardinals ripping off eight straight wins. The pennant race was all but over. To make matters worse for the good people of Pittsburgh, the NFL went out on strike and stayed there until mid-November. It was not a good September in 1982 at the confluence of the Three Rivers.
The Pirates finished the year 84-78, in fourth place. It was a winning year, it was better than the 1981 disaster and it provided some legitimate pennant race excitement. But it wasn’t what this franchise had gotten used to in the previous decade.
The 1982 baseball season has some hidden gems in MLB history. The final day of the regular season produced an epic head-to-head battle. Game 5 of the American League Championship Series—then the decisive game, in this era of best-of-five LCS play—produced a similar dramatic ending. A future Hall of Fame manager made his first appearance on the October stage. And none of the teams involved in any of the above ultimately won the World Series. Here’s the rundown…
*The Milwaukee Brewers won a memorable winner-take-all regular season finale with the Baltimore Orioles after both teams had caught the Boston Red Sox from behind after slow starts. The Brewers then won an equally memorable Game 5 of the ALCS against the California Angels. Both are games that should rank much higher in the conventional list of baseball’s great moments.
*Joe Torre was mostly known for his playing days and less for his five unsuccessful years managing the New York Mets. Torre took over the Atlanta Braves in 1982, and backed by an MVP year from centerfielder Dale Murphy, the Braves won an exciting NL West race on the last day of the season. It was Torre’s first appearance in the postseason and it certainly wouldn’t be his last.
*Atlanta’s victory in the NL West came about because of a memorable Dodgers-Giants finale, both teams that were in the race to the end. The rivals took turns ousting each other on Saturday and Sunday and added fuel to the bitterness of their longstanding rivalry.
But it was not the Braves or the Brewers that ultimately won the World Series and not the three-way races in the AL East or NL West that ultimately told the story of the 1982 baseball season.
The St. Louis Cardinals didn’t play with the same drama—of the four division winners, they were the one who clinched with a little bit of room to spare. The Cards swept the Braves in a drama-free NLCS. The drama finally came in the World Series, when St. Louis survived Milwaukee in an exciting seven-game battle.
This blog compilation contains the stories of the eight most important teams of the 1982 MLB season—the four division winners, along with the Orioles/Red Sox in the AL East and Dodgers/Giants in the NL West. These are followed by game-by-game narratives of the ALCS, NLCS and World Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals have become a regular in the National League Championship Series, advancing to this round nine times from 2000-14. The Atlanta Braves would also become an NLCS regular with nine trips of their own between 1991-2001. But at the 1982 NLCS these two future powers were relative newcomers to a playoff round only its 14th year. The Cardinals were in the NLCS for the first time ever and the Braves for the first time since the inaugural LCS year of 1969.
You can read more about the regular season paths the Cardinals and Braves took to the playoffs and about the years enjoyed by their key players, at the links below. This article focuses squarely on the games of the 1982 NLCS.
Both teams were led by Hall of Fame managers. St. Louis’ Whitey Herzog had established himself in Kansas City, reaching the ALCS each year from 1976-78 and then turning around St. Louis. Meanwhile, Joe Torre was just starting to build the managerial chops that would come to full fruition in the Bronx fourteen years later, as he led Atlanta.
LCS play was best-of-five through 1984 and homefield was determined by a rotation system. The Cardinals would host the first two games and the Braves would get the balance of the series at home.
Game 1 on Wednesday might have been seen as an ominous foreshadowing for Atlanta. Veteran knuckleballer Phil Niekro threw four shutout innings when the rains came and washed the night away. Had this happened today, play would likely have just resumed in the fifth inning. In the more antiquated world of 1982, MLB rigidly adhered to regular season policy, even in the playoffs.
Had the Braves gotten three more outs, it would have been an official game. Because it wasn’t, the four innings were wiped off the books and Game 1 started fresh on Thursday night. Pascual Perez pitched for Atlanta against St. Louis’ Bob Forsch.
Both pitchers cruised through the first two innings perfectly. The Cards broke through in the third when Willie McGee led off with a triple and then scored on a sac fly from Ozzie Smith. In the top of the sixth, the Braves got a leadoff single from Claudell Washington. But he was promptly wiped out on a stolen base attempt by catcher Darrell Porter. It was a signature moment when the game decisively swung.
St. Louis came up in the bottom of the sixth and broke Game 1 open. Lonnie Smith, Keith Hernandez and George Hendricks led off with consecutive singles, making the score 2-0 with runners on first and second. Torre came to get Perez and gave the ball to reliever Steve Bedrosian, a pitcher who had a bright future ahead of him.
Bedrosian’s future was better than his immediate present. He walked Porter, then gave up consecutive singles to McGee and Ozzie Smith. It was now 4-0, the bases were still loaded and Forsch helped the cause with a sac fly. With two outs, third baseman Ken Oberkfell knocked in another run. It was 6-0 by the time the inning was over. Forsch cruised home, the Cards tacked on another run and won 7-0.
Another day of rain pushed Game 2 to Saturday night and wiped out the travel day originally scheduled. The teams would leave this game and go immediately to Atlanta for a four-games-in-four-days that qualifies as grueling in the postseason.
Niekro was back on the mound for Atlanta, while Herzog turned to John Stuper. And the Cardinals kept their momentum going with a quick run in the bottom of the first. Hernandez walked, took third on a single by Lonnie Smith and scored on a wild pitch.
Atlanta finally scored their first officially recognized run of the NLCS in the third. Bruce Benedict worked a leadoff walk and was bunted up by Niekro. With two outs, shortstop Rafael Ramirez singled him in and then an error in centerfield by McGee kept Ramirez running. He didn’t stop running until he had an inside-the-park-home run (albeit one officially scored as a single) and the Braves had a 2-1 lead.
Niekro escaped a jam in the fourth when the Cardinals got a man to third with none out. The old knuckleballer struck out Hendricks and McGee and ultimately escaped. The Braves had some momentum now and added to the lead in the fifth. Glenn Hubbard singled, went to third on a double by Benedict and Niekro was doing it all—the pitcher hit a sac fly for a 3-1 lead.
St. Louis got a run back in the sixth when Hernandez singled and scored on an RBI double from Porter. Hendricks beat out an infield hit and even though Porter couldn’t move up, the Cards were poised to tie the game. After a McGee strikeout, Ozzie Smith singled to right. But Washington came up throwing and gunned down Porter at the plate, keeping the game at 3-2.
Atlanta missed a big chance when they put runners on first and second with none out. Cleanup hitter Bob Horner struck out and then Dale Murphy, NL MVP, tried to steal third and was caught. The rally died and it stayed a one-run game.
Gene Garber was now on in relief for Atlanta and with one out in the eighth, issued a walk to Porter. Hendrick singled, putting runners at the corners and a productive groundball out from McGee tied the game. Garber was back on the mound in the ninth and no more successful. He gave up a leadoff single to David Green, who was bunted up and then scored on a game-winning hit by Oberkfell.
It was a disheartening sequence of four days for Atlanta. They’d had an early lead in one game that got washed out and a late lead in another game that they’d blown. Niekro had to especially frustrated after his stellar work. All it added up to was that St. Louis was one win from a pennant and Atlanta was going home needing to win three straight.
Game 3 on Sunday night proved to be anticlimactic. St. Louis jumped Atlanta starter Rick Camp early. In the top of the second, Hernandez singled, Porter walked, Hendricks knocked in a run with a single and McGee slashed a two-run triple. Ozzie Smith finished it off with a base hit for a quick 4-0 lead. St. Louis added to the lead in the fifth with a leadoff double from second baseman Tom Herr and a two-out base hit from Hernandez.
Joaquin Andujar was rolling on the mound for St. Louis. Atlanta didn’t seriously threaten until the bottom of the seventh. Washington and Horner singled to put me on the corners. But Andujar got Chris Chambliss to ground into a double play. It might have scored on a run through the backdoor, but it killed a potential big inning. Because Murphy singled, moved up on a wild pitch and scored on a Hubbard single. But Herzog summoned his great closer, Bruce Sutter, to kill the threat and keep the game at 5-2.
McGee tacked on one more run for St. Louis with a ninth-inning home run. Sutter set down all seven batters he faced. Chambliss, who had ended the 1976 ALCS for the Yankees when he hit a ninth-inning walkoff home run, ended this one in less dramatic fashion. A flyout to leftfield sent the Cardinals to their first World Series since 1968.
Porter was named NLCS MVP. He went 5-for-9 with three doubles, was a part of important rallies and his throwing out of Washington in Game 1 was a series turning point, to the extent there can be one in a three-game sweep. He was a worthy choice, although you could make a good argument for Ozzie Smith (also 5-for-9), along with Hernandez (4-for-12 and an instigator of key rallies). Sutter also threw 4 1/3 innings of perfect baseball and had won Game 2.
There was success in the future for Atlanta and Torre, but not together. After a good 1983 season where the Braves contended to the final weekend, they fell off the radar. Torre did not return to the playoffs until he began his great run with the Yankees in 1996. The Braves didn’t make it back to the playoffs until Bobby Cox led them in 1991.
St. Louis had a lot of good times ahead. In the immediate future, they beat the Milwaukee Brewers to win a good seven-game World Series. In the short-term future, the Cardinals won two more National League pennants for Herzog in 1985 and 1987. And in the long-term future they’ve become the model baseball franchise.
The centennial season of the Giants franchise was one to remember. It wasn’t a championship team or even a pennant winner, like they’d enjoyed in the New York days. It wasn’t a dynasty like they would later experience in San Francisco. But the 1982 San Francisco Giants nearly put on one a stretch drive to rival their 1951 New York counterparts before coming up just short. And even then, the Giants still made sure to jam a knife in their archrival.
San Francisco had struggled since winning the NL West in 1971. The ensuing ten years had seen just three winning seasons. They brought on Frank Robinson as manager and he produced one of those plus-.500 years in 1981, going 56-55 in a strike-shortened year. In 1982, Robinson’s team continued to improve.
There were aging, but proud vets on the right side of the infield. Reggie Smith had been a star with both the Red Sox and Dodgers and the 37-year-old first baseman showed he could still produce, with a stat lie of .364 on-base percentage/.470 slugging percentage in 1982. Second baseman Joe Morgan, a two-time NL MVP with Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine was now 38-years-old. But he still batted .289 and with his patience at the plate, drew 85 walks on top of it to finish with an on-base percentage of .400.
A rising star was in right field, where 26-year-old Jack Clark hit 27 home runs, drove in 103 runs and finished with a.372 OBP. Third baseman Tom O’Malley finished with a .350 OBP at the age of 21. Two other young players were still in the developing process, but centerfielder Chili Davis and left fielder Jeffrey Leonard would be in the majors for years to come.
Overall, the offense was still less than the sum of its parts. In spite of finishing fourth in OBP and fifth in slugging percentage, they were only eighth in runs scored. The reason was mostly low batting averages—the patience at the plate produced runners, but the lack of hits meant they often died on the basepaths. That put the burden on the pitching staff, an area of the team that had been subject to a massive makeover in the offseason.
Vida Blue was a Bay Area legend, mostly with Oakland on their great teams of the early 1970s, but also with San Francisco. He was traded for young starters Atlee Hammer and Renie Martin in a deal that included six players total. An outfielder, Jerry Martin, was dealt for two more starters, Bill Laskey and Rich Gale.
These two trades were the highlights of an offseason that saw nine deals (along with adding Smith on the free agent market). The result was a rotation that was four-fifths now. And while they weren’t great, there was respectability.
Laskey had the best year, going 13-12 with a 3.14 ERA. Hammaker was steady, winning twelve games and posting an ERA of 4.11. Gale’s ERA was tolerable at 4.23, though the record was poor at 7-14. Martin was the most up-and-down, going 7-10 with a 4.65 ERA. But it was enough for a bullpen that was good and unusually deep in an era where teams relied more heavily on their starters.
Greg Minton saved 30 games—a big number in that era—and finished with a buck-83 ERA. Fred Breining did a mix of relief and starting and logged 143 innings with a 3.08 ERA. Al Holland, who would make a name for himself as a closer in Philadelphia, pitched 129 innings and posted a 3.33 ERA. Jim Barr was in the same ballpark at 128 innings and 3.29 ERA. And Gary Lavelle threw over 100 innings himself with a sparkling 2.67 ERA.
Much like their championship teams that were still three decades into the future, this San Francisco bullpen was tough to rally against and they could keep a game close if a starter failed.
The season started poorly, with 10 losses in 15 games against fellow NL West teams. To make matters worse, Atlanta (in the NL West, along with Cincinnati prior to the realignment of 1994) got off to a blazing start. On Memorial Day, the Giants were 21-28 and in fifth place. They played marginally better in the first part of summer, but were still 42-46 at the All-Star break and eleven games behind the Braves.
When San Francisco lost five of their first seven games out of the break and fell 13 ½ games back, there was zero reason to expect a surge. Although a historian might have noted that the legendary 1951 New York Giants had also been 13 ½ back in July before beginning the pennant drive that ended with Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round The World.”
These Giants got hot at this point in the year too. They reeled off ten wins in eleven games in the early part of August. This stretch was capped off by an 8-6 win in twelve innings over the Braves when Smith won it with a walkoff home run. San Francisco beat Atlanta five times in six tries and the lead was quickly cut to four games.
The gains were given back quickly though, with ten losses in fourteen games against NL East teams to close August. San Francisco finally stopped the bleeding with a big sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, who would ultimately win the World Series. In the first two games, the Giants rallied in the ninth inning, including one that ended when Clark hit a three-run walkoff bomb off the great Cardinal closer Bruce Sutter with two outs to get a 5-4 victory. Breining completed the sweep a 5-1 win in the finale.
On Labor Day though, even with San Francisco above .500 at 69-67, there were still seven games out and in fourth place. San Diego, Los Angeles and Atlanta, in ascending order, were all ahead of the Giants.
Two critical games with Atlanta began the stretch drive. San Francisco won the opener 8-2, scoring all their runs in the final three innings. Another 3-2 win, keyed by home runs from Smith and Davis, cut the margin to five games. San Francisco kept playing well, winning five of seven over Cincinnati and San Diego. The Giants moved past the Padres into third place, but were still stuck at 5 ½ games out with two weeks to go. It looked like the surge had crested.
But the following weekend, San Francisco delivered the blow they needed. They went to Los Angeles for a three-game set. They won the opener 3-2 on a key eighth-inning RBI from Darrell Evans, a 35-year-old reserve who was reliable all year and finished with a .360 OBP. On Saturday, Morgan had three hits, including the game-winning RBI in a 5-4 win. And the finale was another 3-2 win with Evans again getting the biggest hit, a two-run home run.
Atlanta was struggling and the result was that San Francisco entered the final week of play just one game out, tied with Los Angeles for second place. And the Giants would get to play both the Braves and Dodgers in the last week.
Monday and Tuesday saw Atlanta in the Bay Area for a two-game set. In a critical stumble, San Francisco’s starting pitching failed them. They lost 7-0 and 8-3 as Martin and Laskey were rocked. They were able to win two straight over Houston, including a stunning 7-6 win after trailing 5-zip going into the seventh inning.
The rally kept the season alive as neither the Braves nor Dodgers could take control. The last weekend still had San Francisco and Los Angeles tied for a second, one game back of Atlanta. And the Dodgers-Giants rivalry would get another chapter as the teams met in old Candlestick Park for the last three games. The Braves would be further downstate in San Diego.
There would be no reprise of 1951. Even though Breining pitched very well on Friday night and was in a scoreless duel in the eighth inning, the Dodgers got a grand slam while the Giants only mustered three hits in a 4-0 loss. The Braves won, putting San Francisco’s back to the wall. And when Martin was crushed early on Saturday in a 15-2 loss, the pennant drive was over.
It was a disappointment, but in this rivalry, playing spoiler has always meant at least a little something. And San Francisco did the job so well on Sunday that the first memories of this season are what happened on the final day. Atlanta was still up a game on Los Angeles, but had fallen behind 5-1 in San Diego. The door was open for the Dodgers as the game in Candlestick went to the seventh inning tied 2-2.
Morgan, who made an entire Hall of Fame career of great moments, authored another one right here. He ripped a three-run homer down the line in rightfield. The Giants had a 5-3 win that tasted even sweeter when the Braves loss held up—San Francisco had at least denied their archrivals a chance for a second straight World Series title.
That was the good news. The bad news is that the progress of the 1982 San Francisco Giants did not continue. They immediately regressed with three straight losing seasons and Robinson was gone. Finally, in 1987 they made it back to the NLCS and in 1989 they again reached the World Series.
The 1982 Los Angeles Dodgers were the latest in a string of excellent teams put out by manager Tom Lasorda. Since taking over in 1977, the manager had won three National League pennants, gone to a one-game playoff another time and won his first World Series title the year before in 1981. The ’82 edition competed all the way to the season’s final day before just missing another chance.
Pitching defined the Dodgers and they were anchored by three starters who combined to start 110 games. Fernando Valenzuela followed up his 1981 Cy Young season with an ’82 performance that included 19 wins, a 2.87 ERA and 285 innings pitched. Bob Welch was a 16-game winner with a 3.36 ERA. And Jerry Reuss, the veteran lefty, won 18 games and posted an ERA of 3.11.
The bullpen was deep and balanced. Steve Howe was the closer, though in an age that saw a lot of complete games that only added up to 13 saves. Even so, Howe logged nearly 100 innings and finished with 2.08 ERA. Dave Stewart, a future star as a starter (albeit primarily in Oakland) was building his career with a mix of relief work and spot starting. Stewart went 9-8 with a 3.81 ERA in 146 innings.
Terry Forster provided veteran help with a 3.04 ERA and 22-year-old Tom Niedenfuer, who would eventually become the closer, worked 69 innings with a 2.71 ERA.
The staff’s only problem was a lack of rotation depth and the decline of 32-year-old Burt Hooton was the most obvious symptom. Hooton, who had been MVP of the 1981 NLCS the previous October, only made 21 starts and went 4-7 with a 4.03 ERA.
Los Angeles could also hit, ranking fourth in the National League in runs scored. In spite of playing in expansive, pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, they were second in the league in home runs. The best player was right fielder Pedro Guerrero, who finished with a stat line of .378 on-base percentage/.536 slugging percentage, along with 32 home runs and 100 RBI. Dusty Baker, on the opposite side of the outfield wasn’t far behind at .361/.458 with 23 home runs and 88 RBI.
Third baseman Ron Cey, the 34-year-old mainstay and hero of the 1981 World Series triumph, hit 24 home runs and drove in 79 runs. Rick Monday, who hit the home run that secured the decisive game of the 1981 NLCS, came off the bench and in 254 at-bats posted a .372/.481 stat line.
Other key contributors included 33-year-old shortstop Bill Russell, who put up a .357 on-base percentage, and young centerfielder Ken Landreaux and his .341 OBP. And even though first baseman Steve Garvey, long one of the bulwarks of the attack, showed clear signs of decline with a pedestrian .301/.418 stat line, he still drove in 86 runs.
The Dodgers had been characterized by tremendous continuity under Lasorda, but 1982 also saw the first changes into the previously stable lineup. Veteran catcher Steve Yeager was displaced by 22-year-old Mike Scioscia. And the infield was broken up. Davey Lopes, a beloved second baseman, had joined Garvey-Russell-Cey in one of the best infield quartets in baseball history. Lopes was traded to Oakland in the offseason to pave the way for rookie Steve Sax.
Both moves proved to be the right ones. Scioscia didn’t hit much in 1982 but he began the process of growing into one of the best game managers in baseball behind the plate and turned into a mainstay himself. And Sax began a solid career with a 1982 marked by 49 stolen bases and NL Rookie of the Year honors.
Los Angeles started slowly, losing four straight in San Diego and beginning 6-8. That, in of itself, wasn’t too much of a problem but the Atlanta Braves (who, along with the Cincinnati Reds were in the NL West prior to 1994 when the leagues moved from two divisions to three and expanded the playoffs) got off to a blazing start. The Dodgers were in a quick 7 ½ game hole.
Streakiness would define this team though. They won four straight in Montreal, a rematch of the previous year’s NLCS and followed it up with a sweep of Philadelphia, another contender. By Memorial Day, Los Angeles had stabilized with a record of 24-24. They were in third place. Atlanta had cooled down, so the deficit was only four games, with San Diego nestled in between.
In early June, the streaks turned on the Dodgers. They hosted the Braves for a three-game series and lost all three. Los Angeles fell as far as 8 ½ games out. Then they turned it back around, winning 10 of 13 in a road trip against division foes, including a series win over Atlanta. At the All-Star break, the Dodgers were 46-42, still in third place, though the deficit was now seven games.
A middling performance out of the break, losing seven of thirteen and falling ten games back, seemed to indicate that this was not going to be LA’s year. Then, in a year of streaks, the most stunning one dramatically changed the face of the NL West race.
The Dodgers went to Atlanta for four games. Los Angeles started by sweeping a doubleheader, scoring 18 runs in the process. Valenzuela threw a complete-game shutout in the third game. Baker homered twice in the finale keying a 9-4 win and completing the series sweep.
Nor was Los Angeles done streaking. Atlanta came west for a four-game series starting on August 5. The Dodgers trailed the opener 2-1 in the ninth, were able to tie the game on an error and won it in the 10th on a Cey sac fly. On August 6, they trailed 4-3 in the ninth and used two errors and a walk to score twice and win again.
In the third game, it was the Dodgers’ turn to blow a lead, giving up a 6-4 lead in the ninth. But they still won it in the 11th when Baker singled, stole second and scored on a base hit by outfielder Mike Marshall. Welch was brilliant in the finale, throwing eight shutout innings and Niedenfuer slammed the door on a 2-0 win.
The Dodgers had beaten the Braves eight straight times. The NL West margin had suddenly shrunk to a game and a half. Atlanta kept reeling, Los Angeles kept surging and the Dodgers were plus-four games by August 18.
Los Angeles was the veteran team with the decorated postseason pedigree. Atlanta was the young up-and-comer. This is where the standard script would tell us the Dodgers just took over the race and rolled on home. But the 1982 NL West race was anything but standard.
Atlanta’s streakiness in 1982 made Los Angeles look like a model of consistency. And when the Dodgers cooled off just a bit and went through a 7-8 stretch, the Braves stormed back. On Labor Day, Los Angeles was 75-62 and again 1 ½ games out. San Diego was in third at 5 ½ games out while San Francisco was off the radar in fourth place.
The Padres began to fade in September, thanks in no small part to the Dodgers sweeping their SoCal rival. In the two weeks after Labor Day, the Dodgers went 10-3, took over first place and built up a 2 ½ game lead. It looked like a two-team race with the defending champs again in command.
Are you ready for another plot twist? The Giants suddenly came barreling down the stretch. In this same post-Labor Day period they had chipped to within five games and passed San Diego. And on the week of September 20-26, the Dodgers lost two to the Padres and then suffered a weekend series sweep at the hands of the Giants—in Los Angeles, no less.
The Braves didn’t take advantage, so the result was a three-team race going into the final week. Los Angeles was 85-70, up one game on both Atlanta and San Francisco.
And the Dodgers kept losing. They dropped two straight at home to the woeful Reds. The Braves slipped into first place on the strength of beating the Giants two straight.
Los Angeles and Atlanta went head-to-head for two games in Dodger Stadium on Wednesday and Thursday. LA wasted a good outing from Valenzuela and lost 4-3 in twelve innings when Forster gave up two runs. They recovered and kept their season alive by winning 10-3 on Thursday. Garvey delivered three hits and Baker hit a back-breaking double that helped the break the game open in a five-run seventh inning.
Going into the final weekend, it was Atlanta by a game with Los Angeles and San Francisco tied for second. And it would be a showdown finale—the Dodgers and Giants were head-to-head in San Francisco, while the Braves had to travel to face a Padres team that might have faded, but was still dangerous.
Reuss took the ball for the Friday opener. He was brilliant and he had to be, because it was a scoreless tie in the eighth inning. Monday showed his penchant for the clutch home run hadn’t been left behind in Montreal the previous October, when hit a grand slam. The Dodgers won 4-0, but the Braves answered with a win by the same score in San Diego.
The LA offense unloaded on Saturday and eliminated San Francisco. Sax and Russell got three hits apiece, with Landreaux, Cey and Scioscia all homering. The final was 15-2. But still no help from San Diego, where Atlanta won 4-2.
Sunday was high tension. The finale in San Francisco was tied 2-2 in the seventh inning. In San Diego, the Padres had jumped the Braves for five runs in the fifth and led 5-1, so the door was open for LA to set up a Monday afternoon playoff game for the NL West title.
But the long and storied Dodgers-Giants rivalry that includes tales from both coasts, got another installment here. Joe Morgan, who had long tormented Los Angeles as a member of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, did it again as a member of the Giants. He hit a three-run blast in the bottom of the seventh off Forster. The game ended 5-3. Atlanta’s loss went to waste. Los Angeles’ bid for another postseason trip was finished.
In one sense, 1982 continued the end of an era, that being the breakup of the veteran core. The Dodgers parted ways with Garvey and Cey in the offseason. But in a bigger sense, the machine kept rolling—Los Angeles returned to the top of the NL West in 1983, again in 1985 and won another World Series in 1988.
Earl Weaver had become a legend in Baltimore since he became the manager of the Orioles in 1968. The ensuing fourteen years had seen five 100-win seasons, six AL East titles, four American League pennants and a World Series title. The 1982 Baltimore Orioles were his last real ride. They were an excellent team who produced a memorable season, and came within one win of making it epic.
Eddie Murray was the engine of the offense and the 26-year-old future Hall of Famer finished with a .391 on-base percentage/.549 slugging percentage, while hitting 32 home runs with 110 RBI. He was joined by a rookie named Cal Ripken Jr., who hit 28 home runs and drove in 93 runs. The room for Ripken had been created by trading veteran third baseman Doug DeCinces and releasing another vet, defensive wizard Mark Belanger.
The leftfield spot was a platoon that, if you could combine the two players, could have been the MVP. John Lowenstein posted a .415/.602 stat line, while Gary Roenicke put up .392/.499. The two players combined for 45 home runs and 140 RBI.
Veteran catcher Rick Dempsey finished with a respectable .339 OBP and second baseman Rich Dauer was in the same neighborhood at .337. Third baseman Glenn Gulliver was called up in July and down the stretch his OBP was .363. They provided solid support, but the disappointments in the offense was the decline in production from centerfielder and leadoff man Al Bumbry, along with 35-year-old designated hitter Ken Singleton.
The offense still finished fifth in the league in runs scored. The bigger disappointment was the pitching staff. Long an Oriole hallmark, the staff finished eighth in the American League in ERA and depth was a real problem. Tippy Martinez, Sammy Stewart and Storm Davis had decent years out of the bullpen and in spot-starting duty, but none were anything special.
The rotation relied overwhelmingly on four arms, none of whom was great in 1982. Dennis Martinez was the workhorse, with 252 innings, but a pedestrian 4.21 ERA. Mike Flanagan, the Cy Young winneri n 1979 had an okay 15-11 record with a 3.97 ERA. Scott McGregor, the lefty with pinpoint control, had a good career, but his 4.61 ERA in ’82 wasn’t one of his better years. Only the aging Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, who went 15-5 with a 3.13 ERA was really steady. And these four pitchers combined to make 143 starts.
Weaver announced in March that 1982 would be his last season. Any motivational effect from the announcement was certainly delayed—the Orioles started the season 2-10 and though they stabilized after that, were still under .500 at 22-24 on Memorial Day. The good news was that first-place Boston was not seen as a long-term contender and the AL East’s preseason favorite, the Milwaukee Brewers, were also flailing at 22-23 and had made a managerial change
It’s also worth noting that just prior to Memorial Day, Ripken sat out the second game of a doubleheader. By the time he missed another game, Cal Ripken Jr. had set the new major league for consecutive games played and gone down in history as “The Iron Man.”
Baltimore swept three straight in Milwaukee in early June, starting a strong run of play against AL East rivals. The Orioles took four of five in two series with the Yankees. Baltimore won five of seven against Detroit. By the All-Star break they were 44-38, in third place and within 3 ½ games of the Red Sox.
The surge continued after the All-Star break. The Orioles won 10 of 13 games against AL West teams before it came to an end when they lost four straight in Kansas City to a good Royals team, scoring just seven runs in the process. It set the table for a rocky first part of August where Baltimore went through a 5-8 road trip.
On August 24, Weaver’s last stretch drive began in earnest. It was the first game home in Memorial Stadium after the tough road trip. The Orioles and Blue Jays were tied 3-3 in the ninth. Baltimore had the bases loaded, two outs and catcher Joe Nolan hit a walkoff grand slam. It triggered a 12-1 run to Labor Day. The Orioles were three games back of the Brewers, with the Red Sox having slipped to third, four games out.
Over the next two weeks Boston fell by the wayside and the race narrowed to Baltimore and Milwaukee with a week and a half left. The teams would play seven times in the final ten games, starting with a three-game series in the Midwest on the penultimate weekend and then closing with four games in Memorial Stadium.
The Orioles were still three games out when this stretch started on a Friday night in Milwaukee. Baltimore came out attacking and scored four times in the top of the first, with a three-run homer by Lowenstein being the big blow. But Flanagan had nothing. He had given the lead back by the end of the third inning and a five-run fourth blew the game open for the Brewers. The Orioles lost 15-6.
Undaunted, Baltimore came out against eventual Cy Young winner Pete Vuckovich and again unloaded for four runs in the first inning. Again they got a three-run blast, this time from Murray. And Palmer made this one stand up with a complete-game four-hitter in a 7-2 win.
The Orioles continued to play well in the Sunday finale. Dauer and outfielder Dan Ford had three hits apiece to lead an attack that pounded out 13 hits. Murray homered again. The Martinez boys got it done on the mound, with Dennis working into the eighth and Tippy getting the final four outs. The 5-2 win pulled Baltimore to within two games entering the final week.
In what proved to be a crucial slip, the Orioles lost two of three in Detroit, while Milwaukee won two of three in Boston. The division margin was back to three games. So Earl’s last homestand was simple—sweep all four and win the AL East. Lose once and be out.
The series started with twilight doubleheader beginning shortly after 5 PM. Baltimore continued their pattern of attacking Milwaukee pitching early. They were up 5-1 on Vuckovich after four inning. Dauer again had a three-hit game and Singleton homered. The final was 8-3. It was just as easy in the nightcap. The Orioles got three runs in the first, with Murray going deep for a two-run blast. Storm Davis tossed a complete-game six-hitter and the final was 7-1.
Baltimore’s fans were smelling the kill. They were bringing brooms and the chants of “Sweep! Sweep!” reverberated throughout the stadium locals still affectionately call “The House On 33rd Street.” The Oriole hitters again gave the fans plenty to cheer about. Murray drilled an RBI double in the first inning and led the way to a quick 3-0 lead.
This time the Brewers rallied to tie it 3-3 in the fourth and Weaver pulled McGregor early. Sammy Stewart settled everything down. He threw 5 2/3 innings of two-hit baseball, while the Baltimore offense blasted forward undeterred. They grabbed four runs in their own half of the fourth, pulling back away as quickly as the game had become tied and the final was 11-3.
The Orioles were surging and the Brewers were collapsing. The brooms were back out in force for Sunday’s nationally televised finale on ABC. Palmer was on the mound. Milwaukee had their own future Hall of Famer with over 300 career wins in Don Sutton. It was one of the truly memorable showdowns in MLB history just on that basis and Weaver’s swan song only added to the drama.
Palmer just didn’t meet the moment in this case—or more accurately, the Brewers’ MVP shortstop Robin Yount did. He homered twice and tripled. Milwaukee led 5-1 in the eighth when Baltimore made one last push. They scored once and had runners on first and third.
Nolan laced a line drive into left field that looked destined for extra bases and likely two more runs. The Brewers’ Ben Ogilvie made a spectacular sliding catch in the corner. The comeback had been turned back and Milwaukee tacked on five runs in the ninth to make sure.
Baltimore fans made sure the moment was still one of the truly great ones in baseball lore. In spite of the loss, they rose to their feet in a roaring ovation for their team and especially their manager. Milwaukee skipper Harvey Kuenn came out to congratulate Weaver. The crowd roared their approval and their love for Weaver. ABC’s Howard Cosell, as cynical as they come, was overwhelmed by the moment. It was what sports, in its finest moments, is supposed to be about.
The Braves had known only brief moments of success since moving to Atlanta for the 1966 season. They won the old NL West in 1969, but then fell off the radar. 1974 was a bright spot—the team won 88 games and Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. But that was the exception, rather than the rule, as losing season followed losing season. The 1982 Atlanta Braves got back to October—and they did with a then-unproven manager named Joe Torre.
Torre had managed the New York Mets from 1977-81, mostly without success. At the same time, Atlanta was being managed by someone else who had a bright future ahead of him, and in Atlanta no less—Bobby Cox. But Cox was young, the Braves weren’t very good and he would have to first prove himself in Toronto before returning south. In fairness to Cox, his last Atlanta team in 1981 was modestly respectable in a strike-shortened year, as he handed the reins to Torre.
Atlanta would produce a potent offense in 1982, the best in the National League. Dale Murphy, the 26-year-old centerfielder had a .378 on-base percentage, hit 36 home runs and produced 109 RBI, on his way to the first of back-to-back NL MVP awards. Bob Horner hit behind Murphy in the lineup, and Horner finished with a .350 OBP, 32 home runs and 97 RBI.
Chris Chambliss, a hero of the New York Yankees’ pennant teams in the late 1970s, played first base and hit 20 home runs. It was a top-heavy lineup—Claudell Washington, the rightfielder who finished with a modest .330 OBP—was the only other notable contributor, but it was enough to score runs.
And runs were needed, because the pitching wasn’t very good. In a 12-team National League, the Braves were 10th in ERA. Phil Niekro, the 43-year-old knuckleballer was solid, going 17-4 with a 3.61 ERA and working 234 innings. But no one else in the season-opening rotation finished with an ERA under 4.
Rick Mahler and Bob Walk were mediocre, and Ken Dayley was the same in spot starts. The Braves made a good move to pick up Pascual Perez in June, and his 11 starts with a 3.06 ERA provided a needed lift. Torre also made good use of the bullpen—Gene Garber saved 30 games and worked 119 innings, while Steve Bedrosian posted a 2.42 ERA.
Atlanta captured the attention of the nation to start the season. All their home games were broadcast on the TBS network and in a time when cable was first developing, the Braves were a rare “national” team. And they started the year by winning the first 13 games. Then they lost five in a row, setting the tone for a streaky year. Their lead in the NL West was still five games on May 21, when a 1-6 stretch cut it to a game and a half by the end of May.
June started well, with 12 wins in 15 games, including a sweep of the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers on the road. The Braves got their division lead back to 4 ½ games by the Fourth of July, when they lost of four of six to end the first half. Atlanta went into the All-Star break at 51-33, up two games on the San Diego Padres and plus seven on Los Angeles.
The Braves came flying out of the break, went 10-4 and built their lead up to nine games. On July 29, they were flying high, completing a four-game sweep of the Padres where they scored 31 runs in the four games. Then Los Angeles came to town next and it all fell apart with breathtaking speed.
The Dodgers swept a doubleheader to start the series, and then took two more. The Braves went west for a return trip, and suffered another four-game sweep. The nine-game lead of July 29 had stunningly turned into a half-game deficit to LA by August 10. In total, the Braves lost 15 of 16 and by August 18, they were four games out and sinking fast.
In this year of streaks, Torre’s Braves had an answer. A 13-2 run got them back into first place and on September 8 they hosted the Dodgers for a two-game set. And the Atlanta bats were ready. Washington and Rafael Ramirez, the 1-2 hitters in the order combined for nine hits in the opener. The game was tied 11-11 in the 10th, when Washington, Ramirez and Murphy all singled in succession off Dodger closer Steve Howe to win the game.
Atlanta tore apart LA’s Fernando Valenzuela, the 1981 NL Cy Young winner the next day. Horner, Glenn Hubbard and Bruce Benedict all homered in a 10-3 win. The Braves concluded the series with a game and a half lead.
Both Atlanta and Los Angeles had another problem though—the San Francisco Giants were coming. After being left for dead, nine games out in early September, they were now lurking in the rearview mirror. Between September 13-22, when Atlanta managed to go 0-5 in two series against the last-place Houston Astros, the Giants snuck in and made it a three-way race. Atlanta would have to play both rivals in the season’s final week.
San Francisco and Atlanta met on the last Monday of the season and the Giants were within a game of first place. Niekro took the ball for the opener and delivered a two-hit shutout in a 7-0 win. In the finale, Washington and Royster combined for seven hits in an 8-3 win. The Giants weren’t dead, but the Braves had gotten a bit of breathing room. They went to Los Angeles leading the Dodgers by a game.
Wednesday’s game went 12 innings and Garber pitched four innings, as the Braves survived 4-3 and pulled even. But they lost on Thursday, as a game they trailed 5-3 in the seventh got away from Bedrosian and ended in a 10-3 loss. The lead was still one game. The Giants still had a shot, and they and the Dodgers would go head-to-head to end the year, while Atlanta was at San Diego.
Niekro continued to put the team on his 43-year-old back. He threw another complete-game gem, this one a three-hitter. And to underscore his stretch drive brilliance, he also hit a home run in a 4-0 win. The Dodgers beat the Giants by the same score. San Francisco was done, but Los Angeles was still breathing down Atlanta’s neck.
Bedrosian pitched three shutout innings out of the pen on Saturday, Chambliss homered and 4-2 win kept Atlanta in first. But the champagne had to wait, as Los Angeles crushed San Francisco 15-2. When Atlanta lost the finale 5-1, the door was open for the Dodgers to force a one-game playoff.
The Dodger-Giant finale became a part of baseball lore generally and that rivalry in particular. The game was tied 2-2 in the seventh, when Joe Morgan—a hero of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine and then with Houston’s 1980 NL West champs—hit a three-run shot with two outs. San Francisco won 5-2 and Atlanta was the division champ.
Atlanta faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCSand the season came to an end, as a superior Cardinal team won three straight in what was then a best-of-five round.
Even with the loss, the 1982 Atlanta Braves kept everyone interested all the way, in a crazy up-and-down year that went to the final day. And they brought Joe Torre to the October stage for the first time.
The 1982 California Angels did a lot of wheeling and dealing to get ready for the season. After winning the AL West in 1979, the team fell off the radar the next two years. Owner Gene Autry was hungry to get to his first World Series, so his front office went all-in, and it paid off with another division title.
California acquired 34-year-old catcher Bob Boone, a key component of the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies, who had won the World Series. They traded for Tim Foli, the shortstop who started for the Pittsburgh Pirates when they won it all in 1979. The Angels swung another deal for Doug DeCinces, a third baseman who helped the Baltimore Orioles win the American League pennant in ’79. California was not only adding veterans, they were adding winning veterans.
And no one was more associated with winning in October than Reggie Jackson. After five years with the New York Yankees and helping them win three pennants and two World Series—including being a Series hero in 1977—Reggie was on the free agent market prior to the 1982 season. California won the bidding war and brought Jackson west.
These new acquisitions joined a talented everyday lineup. Rod Carew was now 36-years-old at first base, but the best pure contact hitter of his generation could still produce, and he hit .319 in 1982. Brian Downing hit 28 home runs, playing left field and batting leadoff. Fred Lynn had a big year in centerfield, with a .374 on-base percentage/.517 slugging percentage. Bobby Grich was a good hitting second baseman, at .371/.449. And Don Baylor, the DH hit 24 home runs and drove in 98 runs.
It added up to the second-best offense in the American League. And though the pitching staff didn’t have a clear ace, they also finished second in the AL. Geoff Zahn won 18 game with a 3.73 ERA. Ken Forsch won 13 games, and along with Zahn he logged over 200 innings.
Manager Gene Mauch did a good job piecing together the rest of the rotation. He got 16 starts from Bruce Kison, another veteran of the ’79 Pirates, and Kison won 10 games. Steve Renko, a 37-year-old vet, finished 11-6, albeit with a 4.44 ERA. On the other end of the age spectrum, 21-year-old Mike Witt worked 179 innings and went 8-6 at a 3.51 ERA.
The bullpen was lacking in depth, with Andy Hassler and Luis Sanchez having good years, but no real closer ever emerging. Dave Goltz, a former starter, was respectable in middle relief. The staff as a whole was probably an arm short, and the aggressive front office made one more move—at the end of August, they added Tommy John to the rotation. John, who pitched for both the Dodgers and Yankees in their pennant runs over the previous six season, made seven starts for the Angels down the stretch and went 4-2.
California started 10-3 and led by as many as 2 ½ games in April. A stretch of games against the powers of the AL East, including the Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles, produced an 8-8 record and by the time Memorial Day arrived, the Angels were 29-16. They were a half-game back of the Chicago White Sox. The Kansas City Royals, the AL West’s consistent power at this time, were five back, and the Oakland A’s, who had won the division in 1981 were 7 ½ out.
The beginning of June was not kind to Mauch’s team, and they lost seven in a row, although it only cost them a game and a half in the standings. California then won 14 of 20 to again take a three-game lead. The beginning of July was another problem though—eight straight losses, before they righted the ship to sweep the Yankees three straight just prior to the All-Star break.
California went into the break at 49-37, up a game on the Royals, two on the White Sox and four on the surprising Seattle Mariners. Oakland had collapsed. The Angels came quickly out of the gate in the second half and got ahead by as many as four games. Then they lost four of five, and through August and leading up to Labor Day, they fluctuated from up two games to down two games in the AL West race.
The race had essentially narrowed to the Angels and Royals. Chicago was still lurking in early September, at 5 ½ back, while Seattle disappeared. The Angels won eight of thirteen and the White Sox finally faded. California hosted Kansas City on for a three-game set to open the season’s penultimate week, and the race was dead even.
Zahn took the ball on Monday and went toe-to-toe with reliable Kansas City lefty Larry Gura. Zahn worked eight innings, gave up just two runs and Foli hit a big home run in the fifth to break a 1-1 tie. The Angels won 3-2.
One night later it was Forsch and Royal workhorse Dennis Leonard battling. Carew delivered four hits, but the game was still tied 1-1 in the ninth. Kansas City went to their closer, Dan Quisenberry. Three straight singles, off the bats of Boone, Grich and pinch-hitter Daryl Sconiers won the game 2-1.
Wednesday’s finale saw both teams get the bats going. DeCinces homered twice and drove in four runs. Downing had three hits, including his own home run. Carew slapped two more hits. The 8-5 win completed the sweep and gave California a three-game lead with a week and a half left.
The lead was at two games going into the final weekend. California was hosting Texas, while Kansas City was at home against Oakland. Zahn threw a complete-game shutout on Friday night, to clinch a tie and, at worst a Monday playoff game. The Royals also won to keep the race alive.
On Saturday, the Angels trailed 4-3 in the fifth. Goltz came on out of the bullpen and worked 4.1 quality innings. Lynn hit a two-run shot, and with the come-from-behind 6-4 win, California was again the champions of the AL West.
California went on to face Milwaukee in the 1982 ALCS. The Angels won the first two games at home, of what was then a best-of-five round and it appeared that Autry’s long-sought World Series trip was finally at hand. Alas, it was not to be. The Angels lost three straight in Milwaukee, including a gut-wrenching Game 5.
The Angels drifted off the map for the next couple seasons, before returning to contention in 1985, losing a close AL West race to the eventual World Series champion Royals. California won the West in 1986 and again got to within one game of the World Series with three chances to clinch. They found a way to lose this ALCS, to the Boston Red Sox, in even more agonizing fashion than the one of 1982. Not until 2002, did the Angels finally reach the World Series and win it.
No team had ever lost the first two games of a League Championship Series and then rallied to win what was then a best-of-five round. The Milwaukee Brewers dug just such a hole against the California Angels in the 1982 ALCS. The Brewers made history, with three consecutive wins at home.
You can read more about the regular season paths the Brewers and Angels took to the playoffs and about the years enjoyed by their key players, at the links below. This article focuses squarely on the games of the 1982 ALCS.
California hosted the first two games and the ALCS began with both teams sending a pair of veteran lefties to the mound. The Angels sent out the accomplished sinkerball pitcher Tommy John, while the Brewers answered with gritty Mike Caldwell. It didn’t look for California to get after Caldwell—Brian Downing led off the first with a single, and after an error and wild pitch, Don Baylor picked up the game’s first run with a sac fly.
Milwaukee was loaded with power and showed it in the second. After a leadoff single from Ted Simmons, the big centerfielder, Gorman Thomas, went deep. The Brewers added another run in the third when Paul Molitor and Robin Yount each singled with one out and Cecil Cooper produced a productive ground ball for a 3-1 lead.
Caldwell couldn’t hold the lead, with Downing again leading off the inning and getting it started. He singled, then Doug DeCinces and Bobby Grich each did the same. Baylor then cleared the bases with a triple to make it 4-3, and came in to score on a groundball out by Reggie Jackson.
The Angels kept coming in the fourth. A leadoff single from Bob Boone chased Caldwell. A Molitor error was followed by a walk, and a two-run single from Baylor. It might have been worse, if not for a line drive double play off the bat of Jackson. The score was 7-3 and though California didn’t score again, John settled in and locked down the Brewers the rest of the way, with a complete-game seven-hitter.
Milwaukee turned to their 18-game winner Pete Vuckovich, who would win the Cy Young Award a month later. He faced Bruce Kison, a veteran of the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates championship team. Vuckovich was not sharp. In the second inning, he gave up a single to Fred Lynn, a double to Doug DeCinces and a two-run single to Tim Foli, another veteran of that ’79 Pirate team. One inning later, Jackson took Vuckovich deep. In the fourth, DeCinces walked, Grich singled and a Foli bunt set up a sac fly.
Meanwhile, Kison was containing the potent Milwaukee lineup. The Brewers broke through in the fifth when, with a man aboard, Molitor hit one to the wall in center, kept running and wound up with an inside-the-park home run. Both pitchers settled in though, and the Angels kept their 4-2 margin and seemed to have an ironclad grip on this ALCS.
After a day off, the teams flew to the Midwest and on a beautiful Friday afternoon in Milwaukee (at age 12, living in the city’s west suburbs, I was at this game), the Brewers sent veteran Don Sutton to the mound. Sutton had won a winner-take-all game for the AL East title in Baltimore the previous Sunday and now again held his team’s fate in his hands.
Sutton was ready, and so was California’s 18-game winner Geoff Zahn. The game was scoreless into the bottom of the fourth, when the Brewers broke through. Yount drew a walk to start the inning and Cooper doubled him home. Simmons singled and runners were on the corners. Thomas picked up another run with a sac fly. Ben Ogilvie singled to right and reset the bases with men on each corner. Don Money came up with a sac fly. The Brewers were renowned for their power, but good situational hitting in this inning gave Sutton a 3-0 lead.
Sutton got some insurance in the seventh when Money walked and Molitor hit a two-out home run. The insurance was needed, because the Angels rallied in the eighth. Boone started it with a solo blast. Rod Carew singled with one out. Consecutive doubles from Lynn and Baylor suddenly made it a 5-3 game and the tying run was at the plate.
Milwaukee manager Harvey Kuenn summoned Pete Ladd, the young arm thrust into the closer’s job after a September injury to Rollie Fingers, a future Hall of Fame reliever. Ladd was up to the moment, closing down the eighth, and retiring the side in order in the ninth. The Brewers were still alive.
I was back out at old County Stadium on Saturday, although the weather wasn’t as nice. It was a dank and cloudy afternoon, and the quality of play wasn’t nearly as good on the field. California put John back out on short rest.
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Manager Gene Mauch had a good 21-year-old righthander in Mike Witt, but decided to take his chances with John and Kison—both battle-tested playoff veterans—on short rest. It was a logical decision, but John didn’t have it, and his team did not play well behind him.
In the second inning, after a walk to Simmons and a one-out walk to Money, the California defense came undone. Mark Brouhard, a righthanded-hitting platoon hitter in to face John, singled to center. That scored one run, but Lynn came up throwing to third and threw it away. The scored another run. Brouhard kept running. One more throwing error brought him all the way around. For the second day in a row, the Brewers were up 3-0.
John continued to struggle in the fourth. With runners on first and second and one out, a wild pitch moved the runners up. After an intentional walk, another wild pitch brought in a run and put runners on second and third. A base hit from Jim Gantner made it 5-0 and John was pulled. A ground ball out by Molitor tacked on one more run before it was over.
Milwaukee’s #4 starter, the inconsistent Moose Haas, was on his game and not until the sixth did the Angels rally. A walk to Downing set up a two-out double from Lynn and California’s first run. But the Brewers immediately answered, with Brouhard doubling and then scoring on another RBI single from Gantner.
The Brewers were cruising, but just as had been the case on Friday, the eighth inning made it interesting. Base hits from Downing and Carew, then a walk to Lynn loaded the bases. Baylor came to the plate and hit a grand slam. In the blink of an eye, it was 7-5 and Slaton was summoned to preserve the lead.
Brouhard came up in the bottom of the eighth. A workmanlike reserve, he was already having the game of his life, and with a man aboard he sealed with a two-run blast that opened the lead back up. Slaton closed the door on the 9-5 win—the last out appropriately coming on a fly ball to Brouhard.
Sunday afternoon was another beautiful October day in Wisconsin (though I would be in front of the TV set rather than out at County for this one). The pitching matchup was another Kison-Vuckovich battle, as the Brewers brought out their own ace on short rest for Game 5.
For the second straight start though, Vuckovich was slow getting started. Downing greeted him with a double to start the game, and scored on a two-out hit from Lynn. Milwaukee also looked sloppy—prior to scoring, Downing had gotten to third base because Molitor threw errantly to second base after a line drive out, seeking a double play. And after Lynn’s single, he was able to take second on a throwing error from Ogilvie.
However sloppy, the game was still just 1-0 and Molitor started the Brewers’ own first inning with a double. He moved up on a grounder by Yount and scored on a sac fly from Simmons. Tie game.
Lynn was insanely hot during this ALCS and hit .611 for the series. In the third inning, he drilled another two-out RBI single, bringing in Boone. In the fourth, the Angels added another run. DeCinces doubled to start the inning and then Cooper booted a sac bunt attempt. A single by Boone made it 3-1, but Vuckovich got out of it with a double play ball off the bat of Grich.
Ogilvie was the everday leftfielder and back in the lineup today for Brouhard because a righthanded pitcher was on the mound. Ogilvie was also a terrific power hitter and he took Kison deep in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to 3-2.
It was there the score stayed through the middle innings. A California threat in the fifth was cut off when Jackson tried to go first-to-third on yet another single from Lynn, and Milwaukee rightfielder Charlie Moore threw Reggie out at third. Kison came out of the game after five innings, a curious decision in light of California’s lack of bullpen depth.
Luis Sanchez was still one of Mauch’s better relievers and he was on the mound in the seventh. With one out, Moore legged out an infield hit and Gantner singled to center. With two outs, Yount worked a walk. It brought Cooper to the plate.
The lefthanded-hitting Cooper slapped a line drive into left field. It seemed to hang in the air briefly, as though it might be playable for Downing. The TV cameras caught Cooper using his hands to try and will the ball down, in the same way Carlton Fisk had tried to wave his memorable 1975 World Series home run fair. It worked as well for Cooper as it had for Fisk. The ball dropped. Two runs scored and Milwaukee was ahead 4-3.
Bob McClure, the Brewers’ lefthanded option out of the pen got through the eighth and started the ninth. He quickly gave up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Ron Jackson. Each manager made moves. Mauch inserted pinch-runner Rob Wilfong and Kuenn went to Ladd.
A sacrifice bunt gave the top of the order two chances to tie the game. Downing grounded out to Molitor. Up next was Carew, the best pure contact hitter of his era. He slapped a hard ground ball to the left side. It went right at Yount, who made the play and the celebration was on in Milwaukee.
The Brewers came close to another celebration—they reached Game 7 of the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals. But after winner-take-all games to win the division and the ALCS, this one was a bridge too far and the Cards won the title.
It proved to be the last hurrah for Milwaukee. They faded down the stretch in 1983 and collapsed in 1984. California didn’t return to contention until 1985 or to the postseason until 1986, a year when they built upon a legacy of heartbreak that began in 1982, again losing three straight games where they had a chance to clinch.
The 1982 ALCS is an underappreciated gem in the treasure chest of MLB history. I don’t just say that because I had the good fortune to attend two games. It marked the first time a team won three straight must-win games to take a pennant, it produced an outstanding Game 5 and provided a memorable visual of Cooper willing his decisive hit to the ground. Let’s give this series its proper place in the history books.
It was the “Suds Series”, as the 1982 World Series brought together two of the great brewing cities in America, with the St. Louis Cardinals meeting the Milwaukee Brewers. And the Suds Series produced seven games, complete with good back-and-forth battles, as each team trailed the Series by a game at one point before rallying to take the lead. It was St. Louis who traded their beer for champagne in the end.
It was an ironic matchup for reasons behind a shared city heritage. The Brewers and Cardinals were just a year removed from a huge trade—prior to the 1981 season the teams completed a seven-player deal where the Brewers got a Hall of Fame closer Rollie Fingers and an All-Star catcher in Ted Simmons.
The Cardinals (who had Fingers only for a couple days in the offseason as a result of a trade with the San Diego Padres) didn’t fare quite as well, getting mostly well-regarded prospects that didn’t pan out, but that deal with the Padres had gotten them a defensive wizard at shortstop in Ozzie Smith.
You can read more about the regular season paths the Cardinals and Brewers took to the Fall Classic and about the years enjoyed by their key players, at the links below. This article focuses squarely on the games of the 1982 World Series.
The National League held homefield advantage by virtue of the rotation system that existed prior to 2003, and the trade-off was that American League rules were used throughout the Series—there would be a DH in all games.
Two veterans, Mike Caldwell for Milwaukee and Bob Forsch for St. Louis got the call, and Milwaukee wasted no time getting after Forsch in the first inning. With one out, the Brewers’ MVP shortstop Robin Yount singled and Cecil Cooper followed with a walk.
With two outs, an error by normally sure handed Cardinal first baseman Keith Hernandez let in a run. Then Gorman Thomas, a big burly slugger had an RBI in an atypical high—he beat out in an infield hit. Caldwell took the mound with a 2-0 lead.
The Brewer lefty was razor-sharp and his team kept after Forsch. In the top of the fourth, Charlie Moore doubled down the left field line, was bunted to third and scored on a single by Paul Molitor. One inning later, Simmons homered. In the sixth, Milwaukee broke it open. With two outs, Jim Gantner singled to right. Then Molitor singled to left. Yount looped a double down the rightfield line, it was 6-0 and all but over.
Milwaukee still added four more runs in the ninth inning. Molitor finished with a World Series record of five hits and Yount, who followed him in the lineup had four hits. Caldwell threw a complete-game three-hitter and the 10-0 road win put St. Louis in a quick hole.
The Brewers looked in command for another reason—they were turning to Don Sutton for Game 2, who had been outstanding since his acquisition at the end of August and delivered great outings in must-win spots in the regular season finale and in the ALCS.
Milwaukee staked Sutton to an early lead, getting after untested John Stuper. In the second inning, Molitor continued his hot hitting, with two-out double that scored Thomas. In the third, Molitor singled, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a RBI groundout from Yount. With two outs, Simmons homered again. It was 3-0 and St. Louis was in serious trouble.
But in the bottom of that third inning, the Cardinals finally awoke. Dane Iorg, in the lineup as the DH singled to right. He was replaced on the bases by speedy Willie McGee after a groundball forceout, and McGee stole second. A double by Tom Herr scored St. Louis’ first run of the Series, and Ken Oberkfell then drove in Herr with a single to cut the lead to 3-2.
Yount chased Stuper with a leadoff double in the top of the fifth. Jim Kaat, a crafty veteran and former starter in his prime came on, but Cooper greeted Kaat with an RBI single.
Two months earlier the specter of Fingers might have started to loom in this game as it went to the sixth inning. Closers regularly came in as early as the eighth inning at this time and in a game like this, the seventh was a possibility. But Fingers had been sidelined with an elbow injury at the beginning of September, an injury that would ultimately end his career. The prospect of turning to him with a lead or in a tie game was not something Milwaukee manager Harvey Kuenn had at his disposal.
At a tie game was exactly what we had by the end of six. Oberkfell singled and George Hendrick drew a two-out walk. Darrell Porter doubled into the left field corner to score both runs and it was 4-4.
In the bottom of the eighth, Milwaukee had lefty Bob McClure on the mound. He could not get two left-handed hitters, as Hernandez worked a walk and Porter singled. Pete Ladd, the righthander and nominal closer came in and issued consecutive walks to Lonnie Smith and Steve Braun and St. Louis was ahead 5-4.
The inning might have been worse, but a line drive out off the bat of McGee was followed by Braun being called out after getting hit with a batted ball by Ozzie Smith, what would have been an RBI single. When Molitor started the top of the ninth with a bunt single, it looked like the lack of an insurance run might be big. But Porter completed his big night by throwing out Molitor on a stolen base attempt and closer Bruce Sutter slammed the door.
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Milwaukee was alive for the first World Series games the city had seen in 25 years, when the Braves played there. This writer was living in the west suburbs and was at old County Stadium on a crisp, but pleasant Friday night. But for Brewer fans that night was anything but pleasant.
Pete Vuckovich was on the mound for Milwaukee and facing Joaquin Andujar for St. Louis. Both pitchers put up zeroes through four innings. It was Vuckovich, the Cy Young Award winner, that cracked first. In the fifth, Lonnie Smith doubled with one out. An error by Cooper was followed by a three-run blast from McGee, a pure contact hitter not known for his power.
McGee wasn’t done. In the seventh inning, after Lonnie Smith had tripled and scored, McGee homered again. Milwaukee got two runs back in the eighth, when Cooper hit a two-run shot. But St. Louis added an insurance in the ninth against Vuckovich, still in the game. In the bottom of the ninth, McGee completed his dream night by robbing Thomas of a home run and the game ended 6-2.
Milwaukee had its turn getting a one-game lead in the World Series and then immediately taking the lead the next game. Now it was St. Louis’ turn to come within a hair of putting a chokehold on the Series, only to let it slip away in Game 4.
Moose Haas was an inconsistent righthander on the mound for the Brewers, and the Cardinals got after him immediately. Oberkfell doubled with one out in the first and Hendrick singled with two outs to pick up the run. In the second, McGee got rolling again with a one-out single and stolen base. A walk and wild pitch set up second and third. Herr then lifted a fly ball to deep center. It not only scored one run, and it scored both. Ozzie Smith, on second base, never stopped running and it was 3-0. Before the inning was over, Oberkfell had walked, stolen second and scored on a Gantner error.
The teams traded runs in the bottom of the fifth and top of the sixth, finally chasing Haas with the score 5-1. Dave LaPoint, one of the pitchers Milwaukee had traded to St. Louis in the Fingers/Simmons deal was cruising along. He was into the seventh, got one out, and induced Ben Ogilvie to hit an easy ground ball to first base. And then, the roof fell on in the Cardinals.
LaPoint was covering first base on the grounder and simply dropped the ball. It was followed by a single from Don Money. With two outs, Gantner doubled to score one run. LaPoint came out and righty Doug Bair come in. He walked Molitor to load the bases, and Yount singled in two runs to cut the lead to 5-4. Runners were on first and third and Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog summoned Kaat to stop the bleeding. He couldn’t. Cooper singled to tie the game.
With runners on first and second, a wild pitch prompted Herzog to make another pitching change, this one in mid-batter. After an intentional walk to Simmons, Thomas—whose pop-out had started this inning—completed the rally with a two-run single to make it 7-5.
It was a stunning turn of events and the Brewer bullpen made it stand up. Jim Slaton worked two clean innings and McClure retired the last five batters to tie the World Series at two games apiece.
Caldwell and Forsch rematched their Game 1 meeting and this one was a much better game. The Brewers still got to Forsch quickly though. With one out in the first, consecutive singles from Yount and Cooper singled, an error on a pickoff throw moved both runners up. Simmons grounded out, but picked up the run and it was 1-0.
St. Louis finally solved Caldwell for a run in the third, when David Green—another player moved in the big trade between the teams—tripled and scored on a Hernandez double. Milwaukee immediately answered when Molitor walked, Yount doubled and Cooper picked up the run with a productive out.
Molitor was again in the middle of a rally in the bottom of the fifth. After Moore had doubled to start the inning, Molitor drove him in with a base hit. Caldwell wasn’t nearly as dominant as Game 1—he gave up 14 hits in this game—but the lefty was finding ways to work himself out of trouble and the game went to the seventh still 3-1.
The Smiths—Ozzie and Lonnie—started the top of the seventh with a walk and a single. With two outs, a Hendrick base hit cut the lead to 3-2. Yount promptly answered in the bottom of the frame with an opposite-field home run for a 4-2 lead. The Brewers added two more runs in the eighth. With runners on first and second, Moore and Gantner hit consecutive RBI singles and the cushion was 6-2.
Cushion was needed, because the Cardinals rallied in the ninth. Green and Hernandez hit successive one-out doubles, Hendrick singled and it was 6-4, chasing Caldwell and bringing in McClure. Porter singled. The lead run was at the plate in the person of McGee. McClure got him with a strikeout. Gene Tenace then hit the ball hard to left field, but it was an out and Milwaukee was now back in control of the World Series.
Sutton would get the chance to close out a title when the Series went back to St. Louis for the back end. But the future Hall of Famer just didn’t have it in Game 6. In the second inning, doubles by Iorg and Herr were sandwiched around a Yount error and the result was two St. Louis run. In the fourth, Hernandez singled, Porter homered, then Hernandez tripled and scored. It was 5-0 and the rout was on.
Stuper threw a four-hitter. Hernandez hit a two-run homer in the fifth and the Brewers fell completely apart in the sixth, as the Cardinals used five hits, two wild pitches and a walk to score six runs. Milwaukee avoided the shutout in the ninth, but that was their only bright spot in a 13-1 win for St. Louis.
Vuckovich and Andujar were on the mound, each with normal rest for Game 7. Once again, they both pitched well early and it was scoreless in the fourth when St. Louis picked up a run. McGee and Herr started the inning with singles, and then on an infield hit, McGee scored all the way from second.
After St. Louis manufactured a run, Milwaukee answered with one swing in the top of the fifth—Ogilvie homered to right. In the sixth, the Brewers took the lead. Gantner doubled, then Molitor laid down a bunt. Andujar came off the mound and fired an errant throw to first. It scored the lead run and put Molitor on second base, where he was able to score on a Yount infield hit and Cooper sac fly.
Trailing 3-1, the Cardinals came right back at Vuckovich in the bottom of the inning. With one out, the Smiths got it going. Ozzie singled and Lonnie doubled, setting up second and third. McClure was brought in for Vuckovich. A walk to Tenance loaded the bases, then successive singles from Hernandez and Hendrick made it 4-3.
Andujar gave way to Sutter in the eighth, and the Brewers couldn’t touch the St. Louis closer. The Cards still got two more runs in the bottom of the eighth, removing any drama from the ninth and Sutter closed out the 6-3 win and the World Series title for St. Louis.
Porter named Series MVP. The nicest thing I can say about this is that it’s one of the most poorly considered MVP votes in Series history. He had a notable night in Game 2, but for the Series he only hit .286 with an on-base percentage of .310. A far better choice would be Andujar, who beat the AL Cy Young Award winner twice, including in Game 7, and only gave up two runs in 13 innings of work.
The notable performers for Milwaukee were Molitor and Yount, who hit .355 and .414 respectively, along with Caldwell, who had the two wins and a 2.04 ERA and was only two outs short of a pair of complete games.
St. Louis and Milwaukee went in opposite directions in future years. The Cardinals returned to the World Series in 1985 and 1987, though they didn’t win it all again until 2006. The Brewers faded at the end of 1983 and collapsed in 1984. One organization produced perennial contenders and playoff teams, while the other only sporadically contended and didn’t even make postseason play again until 2008.
Their divergent paths ultimately re-united when Milwaukee was re-aligned into the National League for the 1998 season and the Brewers and Cardinals met in the 2011 NLCS.
The 1982 St. Louis Cardinals inherited the legacy of the National League’s proudest franchise, but one that was—relatively speaking—in a dry spell. After going to consecutive World Series in 1967-68 and winning one, this great baseball city had been quiet in October. Baseball expanded in 1969, the leagues split into two divisions each, but St. Louis didn’t win the new NL East.
It wasn’t as though the team was bad—there were seven winning seasons between 1969-81, and the 1981 team had the NL East’s best overall record—but the strike of that year caused a split-season formatand St. Louis didn’t finish first in either half. 1982 saw the Cardinals again paint their hometown red for October.
Whitey Herzog had managed the excellent teams that won division titles from 1976-78, and he switched Missouri locales in 1980, taking over the Cardinals midway through the season. Herzog brought an aggressive, running style to the offense and St. Louis was one of the most unique offensive teams in baseball in 1982.
The Cardinals were fifth in the National League in runs scored, and they did it without a single player hitting 20 home runs and only one batting over .300. St. Louis was, in one respect, the original Moneyball team—they did it with on-base percentage and just getting runners on base, at a time when taking a walk was still seen as something a little less than manly.
But in another important respect, the Cardinals were decidedly anti-Moneyball. The statistics-driven philosophy preaches against the stolen base, believing it a play that’s on the wrong side of the risk-reward equation. The Cardinals swiped 200 bases and led the National League.
Lonnie Smith, the team’s one .300 hitter, led the way with a .381 OBP and he stole 68 bases. Ozzie Smith, the defensive whiz at shortstop, had a .339 OBP and good speed. Second baseman Tom Herr and third baseman Ken Oberkfell were consistent at getting on base and centerfielder Willie McGee provided another great speed threat.
The middle of the lineup might not have had home run hitters, but that should not be mistaken with a lack of talent. Keith Hernandez, one of the best all-around first basemen of his day, had a .397 OBP. Rightfielder George Hendrick hit 19 home runs and drove in 104 runs. Darrell Porter, the catcher, hit 12 home runs and a .347 OBP. It wasn’t a conventional offense, but it was deep and they had a good manager overseeing everything.
St. Louis’ pitching was even better, ranking third in the National League in ERA. Joaquin Andujar won 15 games with a 2.47 ERA and logged 265 innings. Bob Forsch won 15 games with a 3.48 ERA. Pitchers ranging from Steve Mura to John Stuper and Dave LaPoint were steady in filling out the rest of the rotation. And in relief stood one of the great closers in the game at a time when that position was starting to really come into vogue—Bruce Sutter, with his split-fingered fastball, saved 36 games with a 2.90 ERA.
The Cardinals came out of the gate fast, with a 12-game winning streak in April, and they went 5-1 against the Philadelphia Phillies, who had won the NL East four of the previous six years, the World Series in 1980 and won one of the “halves” in 1981.
From mid-April to June 23, St. Louis stayed in first place, by as many as 4 ½ games. Along with the Phils, the Montreal Expos were in the hunt. Montreal had won the division in 1981 and with a slew of young talented players, led by catcher Gary Carter, were a popular pick to go the distance.
The three teams stayed fairly close together through the summer. St. Louis ranged anywhere from two games up to two games into early September. Then they won two important series that opened up the division.
On Labor Day, the Cardinals hosted the Expos to open a three-game series. St. Louis won two of the games, and both wins were by 1-0 counts. Their aces, Andujar and Forsch came up with complete-game wins. In mid-September, St. Louis won two of three in Philadelphia, again both wins being shutouts. Stuper and Sutter combined on a five-hit whitewashing and Andujar added another complete-game gem.
By September 17, St. Louis had a three-game led and they never looked back. They got up by as many as 6 ½ games and clinched the NL East on the Monday that began the regular season’s final week. The clinching win came in Montreal, representing a symbolic changing of the guard in the NL East.
The Atlanta Braves were the opponent in the National League Championship Series. The Braves were led by MVP centerfielder Dale Murphy, and they were managed by another legend in Joe Torre. The difference is, that unlike Herzog, Torre’s managerial skills were not yet recognized and wouldn’t be until he landed in New York for 1996.
St. Louis got an early break when their 1-0 deficit after four innings in Game 1 was wiped out by rain and they started fresh the next night. They took full advantage, winning Games 1 & 3 easily and rallying to win Game 2 on a walkoff single by Oberkfell. They swept what was then a best-of-five series.
Now it was time for the World Seriesand it would be an all-Midwest affair as the Cardinals played the Milwaukee Brewers, then in the American League. The Brewers were the polar opposite of St. Louis—Milwaukee was built on a fearsome power attack. St. Louis and Milwaukee played a compelling World Series. Each team got one blowout win, each team won a nail-biter and it went the full seven games. The Cardinals rallied from a two-run deficit in the sixth inning of Game 7 and brought the championship back to St. Louis.
The Cardinals have never gone away over the ensuing thirty-plus years. They won National League pennants in 1985 and 1987. They remained a relatively consistent contender, though it was 2004 before they got back to the World Series and 2006 when they won it again. Another championship came in 2011, with yet another pennant in 2013. It was 1982 that a 15-year drought ended and essentially ushered in the modern era of St. Louis Cardinals history.
The 1982 Milwaukee Brewers felt like they were coming into a must-win season, after reaching the expanded playoffs in the strike year of 1981, but losing to the New York Yankees. The Brewers were stacked with veterans, in the everyday lineup and in the rotation and if they were going to make the franchise’s first World Series it was now or never.
Milwaukee did it with a potent offense. They led the American League in runs scored and did by simply bashing home runs. The Brewers went deep 216 times and finished first in the AL in slugging percentage, making up for a more average #6 ranking in the league in on-base percentage
Cecil Cooper at first base, Ben Ogilvie in left field and Gorman Thomas in center all hit 30-plus homers. Ted Simmons, the veteran catcher hit 32. Even the leadoff hitter, Paul Molitor, popped 19. And Molitor was a great table-setter, with a .366 OPB and stealing 41 bases. If you got to the bottom of the order, second baseman Jim Gantner wasn’t exactly an easy out—he hit .295.
But no one was better than Robin Yount. The shortstop finished with an OBP of .379 and a slugging percentage of .578. Yount hit 29 home runs and produced 114 RBIs. His rangy defense was a big asset in the field, and he was a deserving winner of the AL MVP award.
The greatness of the lineup masked a pitching staff that was decent at best. The starting pitching had some good veterans at the top. Pete Vuckovich finished 18-6 with a 3.34 ERA and won the Cy Young Award, although that was as much the product of a relatively weak field.
Mike Caldwell won 17 games and finished with a 3.91 ERA. The rest of the rotation was a mishmash, with inconsistent veterans ranging from Moose Haas to Bob McClure to Doc Medich to Randy Lerch taking their turns on the mound. The bullpen was anchored by Rollie Fingers, who had won the MVP and Cy Young a year earlier. Fingers saved 29 games with a 2.60 ERA. Between Vuckovich, Caldwell, Fingers and the offense, the Brewers had enough to win games.
It didn’t start right away though. There was a five-game losing streak in mid-April. Then on May 10, the Brewers started a stretch where they lost 14 of 21 games to AL West opponents. On June 1, the day after Memorial Day, they were 23-24. In this must-win year, Milwaukee was in sixth place in an AL East that was then seven teams.
The only saving grace is that the division leaders—the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox—weren’t long-term contenders. But the Brewers were still seven games out and the front office fired manager Buck Rodgers. Harvey Kuenn, the batting coach, was elevated to take over. And the Brewer season turned around.
On June 10, Milwaukee started a stretch of 20-8 and the offense was nicknamed “Harvey’s Wallbangers” By the All-Star break, they were 48-35 and had pulled into a first-place tie with Boston. Detroit had faded, while the Baltimore Orioles—the more feared long-term threat—was within 3 ½ games.
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The Brewers stayed consistent through August, going 19-11 and arrived at Labor Day in first place with a three-game lead on the Orioles and were plus 3 ½ on the Red Sox. But the biggest news was developments in the pitching staff—one positive and one negative that took place as the calendar turned from August to September.
Fingers had been developing elbow problems and in early September he was sidelined. There was always reports he might make it back, but it never came and this injury effectively ended the career of the future Hall of Famer.
On a more positive note, help was on the way for the rotation. Milwaukee packaged up three prospects and sent them to the Houston Astros. In return came Don Sutton, a veteran of the excellent Los Angeles Dodgers teams in the late 1970. Sutton made seven starts for Milwaukee and went 4-1 with a 3.29 ERA.
And the Brewers needed the reinforcements because Baltimore was coming. The Red Sox faded in September and on the season’s penultimate weekend, Milwaukee was still holding a three-game lead, but there were seven games with the Orioles on deck in the ten days. It started with a three-game series in old County Stadium in Milwaukee.
Baltimore got to Sutton for four runs in the first inning of the opener, but Yount answered with a two-run blast in the bottom of the first. The Brewers tied it by the third, scored five times in the fourth and won 15-6. But on Saturday, the Orioles again grabbed four in the first and this time there was no comeback. Baltimore won the finale on Sunday and the Milwaukee lead was down to two games.
Milwaukee took two of three in Fenway Park, nudging the lead back to three games. They would close the season in Baltimore, a doubleheader on Friday and then on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. One win would clinch the AL East.
Memorial Stadium was a madhouse, with Baltimore fans waving brooms and chanting for a sweep. And the Brewers seemed ready to roll over in the face of it. On Friday, both Vuckovich and Caldwell fell behind early. Medich got rocked on Saturday. The Brewers lost the first three games by a combined 26-7.
It would come to one game, winner-take-all. This had happened only once before in baseball history, where a showdown came in the last game of the regular season—the 1949 race between the Red Sox and New York Yankees. The 1982 showdown was even better—two future Hall of Famers, Sutton and the Orioles’ Jim Palmer would be on the mound. And Baltimore’s legendary manager Earl Weaver had already announced his retirement at the end of the season. It was a lot for Milwaukee to overcome.
Enter Yount. He stepped in against Palmer in the first inning and took a solo home run the other way. Yount homered to center in the third, and in the eighth inning he tripled and scored. The Brewers clung to a 5-1 lead with Sutton pitching well.
Sutton then walked two batters and gave a hit in the bottom of the eighth, to cut the lead to 5-2. Joe Nolan came up to pinch hit with two outs and runners on the corners. Nolan laced a low line drive into the left field corner. It looked certain to score two more runs. Instead, Ogilvie went sliding feet first and made the catch, as his legs rolled up the wall that was on the right on top of the foul line.
The rally was turned back, and the Brewers scored five times in the top of the ninth. At last, the AL East title was put away. Milwaukee’s sense of drama didn’t stop in the 1982 ALCS. They met the California Angels and the Brewers dropped the first two games of what was then a best-of-five series. They rallied and won three in a row at home. The pennant was clinched in an epic Game 5, when Cooper hit a two-run single in the seventh inning to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 win.
The Fall Classicwas a “Suds Series”. The Brewers met the St. Louis Cardinals, meaning the two cities known for their brewing industries met. And the drama just rolled right on. Milwaukee won the first game, then fell behind 2-1 in games and looked dead in Game 4. They rallied in that game, then won Game 5. Now they looked in control, but lost Game 6. Alas, this time they had pushed themselves to the brink one too many times. St. Louis took Game 7 and the World Series.
1982 was the last hurrah for this edition of the Milwaukee Brewers. They stayed in contention through August in 1983 before fading in September. The team collapsed in 1984. There was a brief flirtation with contention in the late 1980s and early 1990s with some pretty good teams. But October baseball did not return to Milwaukee until 2008, when they had been switched into the National League.
The Brewers didn’t make it back to the LCS round until 2011…when St. Louis again got in their way. The search for the first World Series title in franchise history still continues.