The St. Louis Cardinals had slipped after winning the World Series in 1982. Whitey Herzog’s team finished under .500 a year later and then were a distant third place in the NL East in 1984. Personnel changes followed—the Cardinals parted ways with closer Bruce Sutter, dealt a package of four players for power-hitting first baseman Jack Clark and traded key outfielder Lonnie Smith in May. Those moves, combined with a very big rookie outbreak and some good pitching put the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals back into the World Series.
Herzog had a young outfield and 23-year-old Vince Coleman electrified all of baseball with his play in left field and in the leadoff spot. Coleman won Rookie of the Year as he stole 110 bases and keyed a speed attack that saw St. Louis steal 314 bases as a team. To put it in perspective, that number not only led the league, but the margin over the second-best team was the same as the gap between the #2 and #11 teams.
Willie McGee, the 24-year-old centerfielder who had been a key part of the ’82 run, finished with a .384 on-base percentage/.503 slugging percentage, while stealing 56 bases of his own. McGee won the MVP award. Another young outfielder, Andy Van Slyke posted a stat line of .353/.439.
St. Louis didn’t have a conventional #3 hitter, as second baseman Tom Herr did not have home run power. But he made up for it by driving the ball in the alleys. With 38 doubles, and a .379 OBP, Herr was able to drive in 110 runs as he batted behind Coleman and McGee. Following Herr in the order was Clark, the true power bat in the lineup. Clark posted a .393/.502 stat line and hit 22 home runs.
Ozzie Smith continued to provide the best defense in baseball at the shortstop position, and “The Wizard”, as he was nicknamed, began to showcase an improved bat. The OBP was .355 and Ozzie swiped 31 bases. St. Louis not only stole bases, they got on base constantly, leading the NL in on-base percentage.
The pitching staff was anchored by a pair of 21-game winners, John Tudor and Joaquin Andujar. The latter was a mainstay and hero of the 1982 championship team. Tudor, at age 31, was a complete surprise, in his first year with the Cardinals.
He not only won 21 games, but finished with a 1.93 ERA and worked 275 innings. Any other year that wins you a Cy Young Award in a landslide. This year, with New York Mets ace Dwight Gooden having one of the great pitching seasons of all-time, it didn’t even get Tudor a first-place vote.
Andujar was also a workhorse, logging 269 innings with a 3.40 ERA. The rotation’s #3 starter, Danny Cox, went 18-9 with a 2.88 ERA, numbers that make you an ace a lot of places. Herzog filled out the rest of the starts with mediocre Kurt Kepshire and veteran Bob Forsch.
Sutter was gone from the bullpen, but a committee approach kept the late innings secure for St. Louis. Jeff Lahti saved 19 games with a 1.84 ERA, while Ricky Horton, Ken Dayley and 36-year-old Bill Campbell all had reliable seasons. Later in the year, Herzog called up hard-throwing Todd Worrell, who saved five games down the stretch with a 2.91 ERA.
The season did not start well, with four straight losses, including two in walkoff fashion at New York in the opening games with the Mets. The Cardinals lost four straight to the Montreal Expos and dug themselves a five-game hole by mid-April. But St. Louis stabilized, got back to .500 and on Memorial Day they were 21-20 and within 4 ½ games of the Chicago Cubs, who had captured the NL East in 1984. Nestled in between the Cubs and Cards were the Mets and Expos.
On June 7, St. Louis began to take off. They won three of four in old Shea Stadium over the Mets. That was a followed by a three-game sweep of the Cubs in Wrigley Field. St. Louis then swept both the Cubs and Mets when they made return visits to Busch Stadium. It was the most significant part of a 26-9 stretch that closed the first half. By the All-Star break, the Cardinals were 52-33 and leading the Mets by a 2 ½ games. The Expos were 4 ½ out and the Cubs were fading fast at 7 ½ out.
St. Louis and New York separated themselves from the pack through late July and August and on Labor Day, the Cards were still plus-two games on the Mets. By September 10, it was a dead heat and the teams met for a big three-game series in New York.
Cox pitched the Tuesday night opener and didn’t have it, giving up five runs in the first inning. The Cards nearly came all the way back, but lost 5-4. Tudor and Gooden went toe-to-toe in an epic battle on Wednesday, matching zeroes all the way through nine innings. Gooden left after nine, and St. Louis pinch-hitter Cesar Cedeno hit a solo home run. Tudor closed out the ten-inning 1-0 shutout win.
Andujar was hit hard early in the Thursday finale, giving up six runs in the first two innings. But, just like the in opener, the Cardinals stopped the bleeding and began chipping their way back. When McGee homered in the ninth it was tied 6-6. Unfortunately, the Mets grabbed a run in the ninth and had the win and the NL East lead.
Herzog once said that it’s usually more important to look at how a team plays coming out of a big series like this than it is to look at the series itself. And was that ever true in 1985. The Cardinals just picked up where they left off, sweeping the Cubs in Wrigley, sweeping the Pirates, sweeping Montreal and getting a full head of steam. Meanwhile, the Mets were up and down. When the season’s final week arrived, St. Louis held a commanding three-game lead.
There was still one more Mets-Cardinals battle, a three-game set in St. Louis to begin the final week. It was generally assumed that just one St. Louis win would all but salt away the division title.
Tudor did the unbelievable and again threw ten shutout innings in the series opener. This time it was Ron Darling matching him zero for zero, but this time the game lasted long enough for the Mets to get into the bullpen. Dayley gave up a solo home run to Darryl Strawberry in the 11th and St. Louis lost 1-0. Gooden beat Andujar 5-2 the next night and suddenly the St. Louis lead was down to a single game.
Cox pitched six good innings in the finale and Coleman came through offensively. The rookie delivered three hits and two RBIs, and the Cardinals survived with a 4-3 win. The lead was two games going into the final weekend.
St. Louis was hosting Chicago and in the opener, Forsch pitched eight strong innings, while Coleman had two hits and the Cardinals won 4-2. The Mets also won, but St. Louis was now assured of at least a one-game playoff and needed only one more win. They got it on Saturday. Appropriately, Tudor was on the mound and a 1-1 tie was broken when the Cards scored two runs in each of the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. With the 7-1 win, Herzog and St. Louis were returning to the postseason.
The opponent in the NLCS was the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cardinals were in serious trouble early, when Tudor and Andujar lost the first two games. But St. Louis first rallied to tie the series and then won it on two famous home runs. Ozzie broke a 2-2 tie to win Game 5, and then with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 6, Clark hit a three-run blast for a 7-5 win.
St. Louis didn’t have to travel far in the World Series. The Kansas City Royals won the American League pennant. The Cardinals won close games on the road in Games 1 & 2 and looked firmly in command, especially when Tudor threw a gem at home to win Game 4.
But that was the last St. Louis win of the season. They lost Game 5 at home, and then with a late lead in Game 6, an infamous umpire’s call set the stage for a Royal rally. And there’s no getting around the fact that St. Louis simply came undone at the seams in an embarrassing Game 7 loss.
It was an ugly ending, but it was a beautiful ride for the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals. They won 101 games, won a memorable division race and NLCS, produced the league MVP and a truly great pitching performance from Tudor.