10,000 days since Ozzie Smith’s walkoff NLCS homer

10,000 days ago, one of the most memorable postseason homers of all time took place. Certainly, it was one of the least likely postseason homers of all time. It was 10,000 days ago that the Cardinals won a game over the Dodgers in the NLCS on a walk-off homer by, of all people, Ozzie Smith.

Obviously, Smith was a great player and a noncontroversial selection to the Hall of Fame, an honor he received on his first BBWAA ballot, but he went in for his defensive prowess, not his offensive ability.

Oh, he wasn’t totally useless on offense. He had speed and stole over 500 bases in his career, and he could draw his share of walks. He hit .262 for his career, which isn’t very good but also isn’t too bad for the era, especially not for a shortstop. But when you say “not for a shortstop” we’re bringing back defense to justify his offense.

At any rate, the biggest hole in Smith’s game was power. He didn’t have any. In his career, he had a half-dozen seasons as a starting shortstop during which he didn’t hit any homers. In Smith’s entire 10,778 plate appearances regular-season career, he smacked just 28 homers, one every 385 plate appearances. That’s only slightly better than Juan Pierre. Not surprisingly, none of those homers was a walk-off, game-winning shot.

At least none of his regular-season homers were. But that’s just what makes what happened on Oct. 14, 1985, that much more incredible. The series was tied two games apiece, but the Cardinals needed the win more than L.A. After all, the next two games would be in Dodger Stadium, giving them the advantage. And a freak injury had just sidelined star St. Louis speedster Vince Coleman; he’d been run over by the tarp machine the day before.

Early on, St. Louis went for blood, scoring two runs in the first before making any outs. Leadoff man Willie McGee walked and then Smith did likewise, just in time for second baseman Tom Herr to double them both in.

After that, however, Dodgers starting pitcher Fernando Valenzuela settled in nicely. Though he had control problems, he blanked the Cardinals batters inning after inning. Meanwhile, the Dodgers tied it up on a two-run homer by Bill Madlock.

It was still 2-2 entering the ninth inning. For the first time all day, the Dodgers had a new pitcher. Valenzuela had done well, but he was tiring, and the top of the order was due up for St. Louis.

Now pitching was Dodgers fireman Tom Niedenfuer. He’d had a stellar season, winning seven games and saving 19 others with a 2.71 ERA. In a sign of how it was a different game back then, Niedenfuer had thrown over 100 innings. He fanned a batter an inning while walking one man every fourth frame. Oh, and he was hard to go deep against, allowing just six homers in his 106.1 frames.

So when he retired McGee with a harmless pop-up for the first out, it looked like the game would go into extra innings. But hey, maybe Smith could get on base, steal second and come home on a single by Herr. That was the most likely pro-Cardinals outcome.

Instead, Smith connected on a 1-2 pitch and it went deep to right, past the warning track, over the wall and—incredibly—into the stands. Smith had won the game in the least Ozzie-ish manner possible. In fact, he wouldn’t hit another homer until May 31, 1988. Yes, not until three seasons later.

St. Louis would win Game Six as well to claim the pennant. But that game provided no moment as memorable as Ozzie Smith’s walk-off home run. And that moment was 10,000 days ago.

Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate either their “day-versary” or anniversary. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.

Day-versaries

1,000 days since St. Louis signs free agent Randy Winn.

2,000 days since Cincinnati’s Phil Dumatrait becomes the sixth pitcher to allow three homers in one outing without getting a single out. The Reds lose, 10-5, to the Brewers. Milwaukee begins the game with back-to-back-to-back homers, the first time that’s ever happened.

3,000 days since the White Sox trade Carlos Lee to the Brewers for Scott Podsednik and two other players.

3,000 days since the Phillies claim Shane Victorino in the Rule 5 draft from the Dodgers.

5,000 days since Larry Walker homers for the fifth straight game.

9,000 days since the 10,000th homer in Giants franchise history. Mike Aldrete hits it.

10,000 days since former ballplayer and manager Ossie Bluege dies.

20,000 days since Cleveland releases former star pitcher Mike Garcia.

Anniversaries

1855 Paul Hines, star outfielder and one of the first players to top 1,000 career hits, is born.

1886 Boston sells pitcher Jim Whitney to Kansas City (which is a major league team at the time).

1903 Tom Loftus, chair of baseball’s Rules Committee, decrees that the pitcher’s mound may be no higher than 15 inches.

1910 Baseball’s National Commission, the pre-commissioner top power in the game, prohibits giving prizes to players on World Series-winning teams. This won’t stick and instead prize money for winners develops over time.

1914 Harry Caray, famous baseball announcer, is born.

1919 The A’s trade Charlie Jamieson, Elmer Myers and Larry Gardner to the Indians for Braggo Roth. Though a terrific hitter, Roth was an insufferable teammate. Mack would trade him away after 48 games. Despite his abilities, Roth would last just eight years in the majors, playing for almost every American League team and being dumped by all of them. Gardner and Jamieson each give the Indians a few good years at third and in the outfield, respectively. Myers is a serviceable innings-eater. In all, Cleveland got far more from this trade.

1936 Frenchy Bordagaray shows up in spring training with a van dyke beard and handlebar mustache. He’s ordered to cut it, as baseball will feature no facial hear until the 1972 Mustache Gang. The facial hair is also what gives him his nickname, “Frenchy.”

1940 Larry Brown, infielder who primarily played for the 1960s Indians, is born.

1941 Former big league catcher Ivey Wingo dies at age 50.

1943 The Browns trade catcher Rick Ferrell to Washington for cash and Tony Giuliani, who refuses to report. The Senators will replace Giuliani in the trade with Gene Moore.

1947 The Brooklyn Catholic Youth Organization announces mass boycotts of the Dodgers to protest Leo Durocher’s “undermining moral training of youth.”

1949 The Browns move to evict the Cardinals from Sportsman’s Park in hopes of getting a rent increase from their tenant.

1954 Ted Williams breaks his collarbone.

1956 Ed Heusser, wartime pitcher who led the NL with a 2.38 ERA in 1944, dies at age 46.

1957 Johnny Ray, second baseman, is born. With the Pirates, he led the league in doubles two straight seasons, and then later as an Angel made the All-Star team in 1988.

1962 Mark Gardner, innings-eating pitcher, is born.

1963 Irish Meusel dies at age 69. He led the NL in RBIs in 1923 with 125.

1965 Del Webb sells his remaining 10 percent share in the Yankees to CBS for $1.4 million. CBS now owns 90 percent of the club, with Danny Topping holding the remainder.

1965 The St. Louis Cardinals sign amateur free agent Willie Montanez.

1969 Mickey Mantle announces he is retiring from baseball.

1972 Omar Daal is born. He went 4-19 in 2000 with the Diamondbacks and Phillies. (He was traded midseason with several players for Curt Schilling). He actually made two starts after losing No. 19 but managed to avoid another loss.

1974 Larry Doyle, Deadball Era star infielder, dies at age 87. In 1915, he led the NL in hits, doubles, and batting average. He also led the league in triples in 1911 and hits in 1909.

1976 With no collective bargaining agreement in place, baseball owners lock out the players from spring training.

1976 Rube Foster dies at age 88. He was a Red Sox pitcher during their 1910s heyday, most notably going 19-7 in 1915 and then tossing two complete-game victories in the World Series, including in the championship-clinching Game Five.

1978 Ken Harvey is born. The first baseman represented the 2004 Royals in the All-Star game, but he played just 12 games after that season.

1988 Starting pitcher Trevor Cahill is born.

1990 Creepy Crespi dies at age 72. He wasn’t much of a player, but he had one of the game’s most memorable names.

1993 George Steinbrenner resumes his role running the Yankees, as his banning over the Dave Winfield incidents are now over.

1993 The Expos signs amateur free agent Vladimir Guerrero.

1994 Leonard Coleman is elected NL president, replacing Bill White.

1994 The White Sox sign free agent pitcher Scott Sanderson.

1994 Joe Tipton dies at age 74. He was a backup catcher most famous for being traded straight up by the A’s to the White Sox for a young Nellie Fox.

1995 Baseball has its first exhibition game with replacement players. California Angels replacements take on the Arizona State University team.

1997 Monte Kennedy, pitcher, dies at age 74. As a rookie in 1946, he led the NL in base on balls issued with 116.

2002 The Red Sox fire GM Dan Duquette. Mike Port serves as interim GM.

2002 Giants star second baseman Jeff Kent injuries himself, supposedly while “washing his truck.” That’s what he wants people to believe. It turns out that he really hurt himself doing stunts on his motorcycle, something that could nullify his lucrative contract with the Giants (but the team opts not to deal too harshly with him).

2004 The Yankees release Aaron Boone.

2005 A deal is reached to allow for the construction of 1,790 new bleacher seats at Wrigley Field, with construction beginning after the season.

2011 MLB appoints John Thorn the official historian of the game. Thorn replaces Jerome Holtzman, who served from 1999 until his death in 2008.

2011 Wally Yonamine, the first American-born player to play ball in Japan, dies at age 85.

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Comments

  1. Gene said...

    Ahem.  Game six provided no moment as memorable?  Well, that’s technically true, I suppose, but it certainly had a memorable moment, namely, Lasorda deciding to pitch to Jack Clark with 2 on and 1st base open.  Which led to a majestic Clark home run that won the series for the Cardinals.  I was living in SF at the time, and I’ll tell you that in the minds of Giants fans, their former hero Clark’s bomb against the hated Dodgers was in fact the most memorable highlight of that series.

    Also, I’m not completely sure about this, but I seem to remember that Ozzie up to that point had NEVER homered left-handed, which made his bomb even less likely.  And of course, another great aspect of that for Cardinals’ fans was Jack Buck’s classice “Go crazy, folks, go crazy” call on Ozzie’s HR.

  2. Chris J. said...

    Gene – you’re right.  It was Smith’s first ever homer lefty.  I forgot that bit.  Thanks for the correction.

  3. Todd said...

    From yesterday: “But the part most people remember about the 1985 NLCS isn’t the games, though, it’s the bizarre injury to Vince Coleman.”

    I’m glad to see you’re rectifying your mistake today.

  4. Mark said...

    You write of the ball going into the stands, but I believe it bounced off a facade and back onto the field. The Dodgers were unsure that it was a homer and threw the ball back into the infield and made a move to tag Smith.

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