The 1985 MLB season was one of the best ever. Three of major league baseball’s four divisions had races that came down the final week and all three were settled with head-to-head series in an era where there was no wild-card cushion. And the postseason? The playoffs saw both LCS winners lose the first two games and then roar back. The World Series that featured a big geographic rivalry went the full seven games, replete with game-winning hits, disputed calls and a nationally televised meltdown.
TheSportsNotebook.com has a series of articles that cover the following…
*The Kansas City Royals saw a decade of consistent postseason experience finally translate into a World Series title. They won it all, but it was never easy—comebacks in the AL West race, the ALCS and the World Series were all necessary.
*Whitey Herzog’s St. Louis Cardinals were the October foil for the Royals in the all-Missouri I-70 Series. The Cardinals were the best team in baseball during the regular season, winning 101 games and surviving an excellent division race with the New York Mets.
*The Toronto Blue Jays had come into existence in 1977 and after steady improvement they made 1985 their year, with an AL East title. Although a race that looked like it was on the bag on a couple different occasions got very interesting before it was over.
*The Los Angeles Dodgers, after a poor 1984 season, had a comeback year for Tom Lasorda. The Dodgers were the only team to clinch a division title before the final weekend of the season, thanks to a big year from third baseman Pedro Guerrero and the pitching of Orel Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela.
*The California Angels had fallen off the map since their 1982 playoff appearance. The Angels had a veteran lineup and they brought a veteran manager—Gene Mauch—back to manage the team. The results were instantly positive, but the ending was disappointing as the Angels let a division lead slip away in the face of the Kansas City charge.
*And how about the Big Apple? The Mets and Yankees contended to the final Saturday of the season. Dwight Gooden had one of the great pitching seasons of all-time for the Mets. Billy Martin returned to manage the Yanks, what would prove to be his last rodeo in the Bronx.
*Kansas City and St. Louis each dug holes in the ALCS & NLCS respectively, and each rallied. The Royals won three straight, including the last two on the road. The Cardinals relied on consecutive games with big home runs, from Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark to close the pennant.
*And finally we come to the World Series itself. The Royals lost the first two games at home and ultimately fell behind 3-1 in the series. Their ultimate rally to win it all is most remembered by a dramatic Game 6. They got help from an infamous umpire’s call, cashed it in and then the Cardinals came unglued—both on the field and with their tempers—for the national audience.
The following ten articles tell you the stories of the four division winners, the three runner-ups and go game-by-game through all three postseason series. Together, they tell the story of a special baseball season through the eyes of its best teams.
Two dramatic home runs punctuated the 1985 NLCS between the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers. The broadcast call of one is remembered in a lot of baseball montages to this day—and that wasn’t even the home run that won the pennant. Another dramatic shot was the final big blow of a competitive six-game series.
MLB expanded the LCS format to a best-of-seven in 1985, after going best-of-five in this round since its inception in 1969. The Dodgers held homefield advantage in the 2-3-2 format by virtue of a rotation system between the divisions.
A great pitching matchup between John Tudor for St. Louis and Fernando Valenzuela for Los Angeles opened the series and the game was scoreless into the fourth. Bill Madlock reached on an error in the fourth, stole second and scored on a single by Pedro Guerrero. In the sixth, the Dodgers opened up some breathing room, again with Madlock in the middle of it.
The veteran third baseman doubled with one out. After Guerrero was intentionally walked, Mike Scioscia hit a two-out RBI single that moved Guerrero to third. A bunt single scored another run, and a double by Steve Sax brought Scioscia around for a commanding 4-0 lead.
St. Louis rallied in the seventh, with singles from Terry Pendleton, Ozzie Smith and Tito Landrum to bring one run with only one out and the tying run at the plate. The Dodgers brought in closer Tom Niedenfuer, who promptly got a double play ball. Inning over, and for all practical purposes, game over. Los Angeles won 4-1.
The following night the Dodgers had 19-game winner Orel Hershiser, in his first October appearance, facing Joaquin Andujar, who had been a key hero of the 1982 World Series for the Cardinals.
Hershiser looked vulnerable early, allowing speedy Vince Coleman and Willie McGee to each base in the first inning. Scioscia bailed his pitcher out by gunning both runners trying to steal.
The Cards were able to pick up a run in the third, with McGee singled, moving up to second after a walk and then coming all the way around on a wild pitch. But it didn’t long for the Dodgers to have an answer in their own half of the third.
Sax singled with one out and a bad pickoff throw sent him all the way to third. Hershiser helped his own cause with a game-tying single. With two outs, Ken Landreaux ripped a double that scored a run and then he came around on a base hit by Madlock. The Dodgers got two more in the fourth when Scioscia bunted his way on and Greg Brock homered. In the fifth, a Landreaux double and RBI single from Mike Marshall made the score 6-1 and it was all but over.
Madlock and Guerrero drove in add-on runs, and the Cards added a meaningless run in the ninth, as Hershiser closed out the complete-game 8-2 rout. The series went to the Midwest for the weekend with Los Angeles in firm command.
On Saturday afternoon, St. Louis turned to 18-game winner Danny Cox against Los Angeles’ Bob Welch. The Dodgers had a chance to quickly put pressure on the Cardinals when Landreaux doubled in the first and there were runners on second and third with no one out. Then Cox got Madlock, got a break when Marshall’s line drive found the glove of Ozzie Smith and the Dodgers failed to score. It’s not unreasonable to look back and say that this missed chance was the big turning point of the 1985 NLCS.
In the bottom of the first, Coleman singled and quickly stole second. McGee drew a walk, and a bad pickoff throw cost two bases, as Coleman scored and McGee took third. After there was one out, Pendleton’s productive groundball out made it 2-0.
St. Louis speed forced more mistakes in the second inning. Coleman singled, and when Scisocia tried to pick him off, the ball skipped away and Coleman took third. McGee singled him home. Even though McGee was caught stealing, Tom Herr followed with a home run and a 4-0 lead.
Los Angeles’ bullpen quieted St. Louis down, and the Dodgers got a run in the fourth on consecutive doubles from Guerrero and Marshall, but Marshall died on third with less than two outs.
In the seventh, Sax singled, moved up on a groundout and scored on a two-out hit from Landreaux. Cox departed, having done his job and a bullpen-by-committee of Ricky Horton, Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley closed out the 4-2 win.
On Sunday night, everyone tuned in to Game 4 to find out that the biggest news happened in the pregame warmups. In a bizarre incident, a runaway tarp had run over the leg of Coleman while he was stretching. The Rookie of the Year, who had stolen 110 bases at the top of the lineup, was gone for the duration of the postseason.
It certainly didn’t matter much in this game. Dodger veteran Jerry Reuss was on the mound and had nothing. In the second inning, the Cardinals hit seven singles, drew two walks, and along with one error, they scored nine times. Landrum had the biggest night, with four hits and 3 RBIs, while Jack Clark and Pendleton drove in three apiece. Tudor pitched on three days’ rest and coasted to a 12-2 win.
Monday afternoon brought the pivotal Game 5 and this series most memorable moments were ahead. Valenzuela was on the hill for LA, while St. Louis hoped 36-year-old Bob Forsch could match up.
The Cards got on the board quickly, with McGee and Ozzie Smith drawing walks, and then scoring on a Herr double. Another bad pickoff throw put Herr on third, but Clark lined out, and Valenzuela struck out Cesar Cedeno, enabling the Dodger lefty to escape with the score 2-0. Valenzuela escaped again, when Pendleton doubled and got to third with one out. Fernando struck out McGee to key the escape.
Those missed chances loomed large, as Valenzuela settled down and worked eight innings, not allowing another run. Los Angeles tied it up in the fourth when Landreaux’s single was followed by a Madlock home run. The game was tied 2-2 when the ninth inning arrived.
Niedenfuer was on the mound for the Dodgers when Ozzie Smith came to the plate. The shortstop was not known for his offense and certainly not his power. This afternoon, he launched a shot toward rightfield. It cleared the fence. The Cardinals won 3-2 and radio announcer Jack Buck shouted “Go crazy folks! Go crazy!” It’s that line that continues to live on in baseball montages today.
Los Angeles still had two games at home and Hershiser on the mound for Game 6, in a rematch with Andujar. The Dodgers grabbed the early lead. Mariano Duncan led off the home half of the first with a double and scored on another big hit by Madlock. In the second, after Brock drew a walk, both Hershiser and Duncan singled and it was 2-0.
Andujar got himself back in the game when he doubled in the top of the third and then scored on Herr’s two-out single. But Madlock kept haunting the Cardinals. After Los Angeles got a manufactured run on an error, stolen base and two productive outs, Madlock gave a run the easy way—he homered and it was 4-1.
St. Louis finally cracked Hershiser in the seventh. Darrell Porter and Landrum singled, then moved up on a groundball and scored on a single by McGee. Ozzie Smith lashed a triple and the game was tied 4-4. Niedenfuer came on and kept the game tied by striking out Clark and Andy Van Slyke.
Los Angeles looked ready to take the lead right back in their own half of the seventh when Duncan hit a leadoff triple. Worrell, a young reliever with a good fastball got Landreaux to pop out and after an intentional walk, Worrell solved the riddle of Madlock—he got him to hit into an inning-ending double play. But when Marshall homered to start the bottom of the eighth, it looked like we were still heading for a Game 7.
Niedenfuer was still on the mound for the ninth. With one out, McGee singled and stole second. Ozzie drew a walk. Herr grounded out, both runners moving up. With two outs and an open base, it was assumed that Los Angeles manager Tom Lasorda would intentionally walk Clark, the only home run threat in the St. Louis lineup.
Clark also had a deserved reputation for clutch hitting. But on the flip side, it was only a one-run game, and Van Slyke was a productive hitter himself—one who had good plate discipline in a spot where a walk would also tie it. I understand the argument both ways, and if it were up to me, I’d have pitched to Clark—who had struck out his previous at-bat against Niedenfuer.
It’s debatable what was crushed harder—Lasorda for his decision to pitch to Clark, or the ball that Clark hit. A no-doubt-about-it blast to left field gave St. Louis a 7-5 lead. The crowd was stunned, and Dayley closed the bottom of the ninth in order. The Cardinals had completed the turnaround to win the pennant.
The Cardinals kept their momentum going when the World Series began against the in-state rival Kansas City Royals. St. Louis won three of the first four. But when they dropped Game 5 at home it gave Kansas City new life. The Cardinals got within three outs of a title in Game 6, but a rally jumpstarted by an infamous umpire’s call turned them back. In Game 7, St. Louis simply fell apart at the seams.
The Dodgers would take a step back in 1986 and 1987, but a return to October wasn’t far off. In 1988, they again won the NL West. And this time, they would be on the right side of historic home runs. They got a dramatic one in the NLCS that turned the tide in that series and one of the most famous walk-off homers in history keyed their ultimate World Series win in 1988.