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.