25 years ago today, one of the wildest games of the 1980s took place. It’s a contest that will forever be known as The Jose Oquendo Game, after the Cardinals utility infielder who played such a key role in it.
On May 14, 1988, Oquendo and the Cardinals hosted the Atlanta Braves. It would prove to be a game that just wouldn’t die.
Early on it looked like it would be a good day for St. Louis. The Cardinals jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead, but things wouldn’t keep going that way. Instead, in the top of the fourth the Braves rallied for four runs against Cardinals pitcher Cris Carpenter and took the lead. They wouldn’t get to keep it for long, as St. Louis pushed a pair of runs across in the bottom of the frame. In fact, the Cardinals chased Braves starting pitcher Zane Smith from the game with just four innings pitched.
This would prove to be a day you didn’t want to lose your starter early.
After four offense-fueled innings, the game’s pace shifted. The pitchers took over, and the game remained 5-4 Cardinals until the seventh, when the Braves pushed Carpenter out of the game and tied it, 5-5.
With a tie score in the late innings, both teams could safely assume the next run would win it. That would be correct—but no one could foresee how long it would take to get that next run across the plate.
St. Louis nearly put it away in the eighth when Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee belted back-to-back singles to lead the inning. Alas, they stranded Smith on third. In the ninth the Cardinals had a pair of one-out singles, but again couldn’t score the run.
One of those ninth inning singles came from Jose Oquendo. He had just entered the game to replace first baseman Bob Horner. Well, technically Oquendo replaced relief pitcher Ken Dayley, but that was just part of a double switch. No one would ever think to have Oquendo pitch, right? Sure position players sometimes pitch in games, but only in garbage time in blowouts, not late in a tie game. It would take some really bizarre circumstances to get Oquendo on the mound. …. Not that I’m foreshadowing anything. …
The game entered extra frames, but neither team could get someone home. In a sign of the year, the umpires called both teams for balks—one on St. Louis’ Todd Worrell in the 11th and another on Atlanta’s Rick Mahler in the 12th. This was the year of the balk—the league wanted a crackdown on that arcane rule. Neither balk led to a run scoring.
As the game churned on, a key question emerged: Who was going to pitch? At a certain point in time, the bullpen runs out of arms. Atlanta, whose starting pitcher left earlier, ran into this problem first. The Braves’ solution was to bring in starting pitcher Mahler in the 12th and see how long he could hold up.
St. Louis should’ve had a deeper bullpen because its starter went longer, but the Cardinals had a problem. Whitey Herzog blew through two relievers in the seventh, when Atlanta tied the game. He had a third man last just one inning before pulling him in the double switch that brought Oquendo in the game.
Ace reliever Todd Worrell lasted three full innings, allowing just one hit and a walk, but Herzog pulled him for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 11th. On came veteran Bob Forsch, who could go a long time, but Herzog yanked him for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 14th.
This was the ninth straight game the Cardinals played a game. Just two days earlier, they’d been in a 13-12 contest that used up his bullpen. The day before that the Cardinals played in a 16-inning marathon, with the bullpen throwing 10 innings. His staff was fried. When Herzog pulled Forsch, he had no relievers left to use.
Okay, do the best you can. Herzog called on Randy O’Neal. He’d been the starting pitcher in that 16-inning game on May 11. He threw six innings that day, and couldn’t pitch much here—but he could pitch some, right? Herzog’s basic approach was to try to win the game in each inning. There’s no point worrying about the 17th inning when it’s the 10th—and how often do games go that long anyway?
O’Neal pitched one scoreless inning, and that’s all he could give. Herzog was out of relievers, and he was out of starting pitchers who could fill the gap. Time to get creative.
That’s when he called on Oquendo. No, he wasn’t a pitcher. Yes, he was an infielder. But he had the best stuff of any position player available, so to the mound went Oquendo. Oh-kay then.
Oh, and there was one other odd little wrinkle. Because Herzog had used so many players as pinch-hitters or in double switches or whatever, when Oquendo shifted from first base to the mound, Herzog had no one to put on first. He wasn’t just out of pitchers—he was also out of position players.
Time to stay creative. Herzog moved Duane Walker, who had been playing in left, to first. In left he put Jose DeLeon—a starting pitcher. Yes, that’s right—Herzog put a pitcher in left, and a utility player on the mound.
You see, DeLeon was the starting pitcher the day before. He threw 8.2 innings, and so was far too tired in the arm to take the hill today. So that’s why Oquendo was on the mound instead.
Of Herzog’s remaining starting pitchers, he figured DeLeon would be the best bet in the bat and in the field. Not that Herzog wanted to risk DeLeon doing anything in the field. He kept switching DeLeon with right fielder Tom Brunansky. If a lefty was at the plate, he put Brunansky in right and DeLeon in left. When a righty was up, flip them. By the end of the day, DeLeon’s defensive assignment would read like this: LF-RF-LF-RF-LF-RF-LF-RF-LF-RF-LF-RF.
Oquendo nearly lost the game right away, though. The first batter he faced, Ken Griffey Sr., doubled. After an intentional walk, a single by Ozzie Virgil threatened to end the game. Griffey pushed past third and on to home, but Brunansky threw him out at the plate. Given a new lease on life, Oquendo got the next two batters out to end the inning.
He allowed another single in the 17th, but survived without any real danger. He issued a pair of two-out walks in the 18th, but Ron Gant’s line drive was snared by third baseman Tom Lawless to end the inning.
Meanwhile, Mahler was having a hell of a game for himself. Heading into the 18th, he’d already pitched six innings in relief—and surrendered just two meager singles and a pair of walks, one of them intentional walk.
But in the 18th, St. Louis finally staged a rally against Mahler. First, Brunansky hit an infield single to third, and an error by third baseman Ken Oberkfell let him advance to second. Lawless tried to bunt Brunansky to third, but Mahler fumbled the bunt and everyone was safe on to the second error of the inning. Brunansky was just 90 feet from victory—and there were still no outs. Incredibly, Jose Oquendo was about to post a victory.
However, half the Cardinals players were weak hitting backups, and one was due up right now: catcher Steve Lake. He grounded weakly to third. Oberkfell made sure to check Brunansky and then threw to first for the first out, with Lawless advancing to second.
Next, Atlanta walked Luis Alicea. It’s not listed as an intentional walk, but it’s not a bad time to give out a base on balls, as the run is meaningless and now there is a force at every base.
Up next, Duane Walkermashed a hard hit liner—but a horribly placed one. Shortstop Andres Thomas caught it and before you could say “on to the 19th inning” he threw to third to double off Brunansky, who’d been running on contact. Mahler survived. But how much longer could Oquendo?
Turns out that a fourth inning was too much for St. Louis to ask of its utility man. Though he got two of the first three batters out, he issued two walks and a wild pitch. Up came Griffey, the man who nearly ended the game about an hour earlier. This time he didn’t hit a single, but bopped a double to bring home in both runners.
Mahler had an easy 1-2-3 inning to close it out. It was one of the best relief stints of the era: eight scoreless innings with just three hits and three walks (two intentional) for the win. Atlanta won, 7-5—but St. Louis had put up a brave effort in that game from a quarter century ago.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
1,000 days since the Cubs trade Derrek Lee to the Braves.
2,000 days since the Angels sign free agent center fielder Torii Hunter.
3,000 days since Kerry Konrad, who won a contest to name Boston’s Fleet Center Arena whatever he wants it to be for a day, says he wants to call it the Derek Jeter Center. Eventually he’ll be talked into a compromise: the Jimmy Fund Center.
4,000 days since Bobby Abreu belts his 100th home run.
6,000 days since the Red Sox sign free agent pitcher Bret Saberhagen, whose career is nearly over.
6,000 days since the Marlins sign free agent pitcher Alex Fernandez.
8,000 days since the Giants release pitcher Rick Reuschel.
8,000 days since Tom Glavine sets a personal best by fanning 12 in one outing.
15,000 days since the A’s sign what’s left of veteran pitcher Joe Horlen.
30,000 days since the Reds select Edd Roush off of waivers from the Giants. He’ll return to the team where he became a star.
1878 James L. Wilkinson, Hall of Fame owner of Negro Leagues’ Kansas City Monarchs, is born.
1881 Ed Walsh, Hall of Fame iron man White Sox pitcher, is born.
1890 Hall of Fame Negro League scout Alex Pompez is born.
1896 Jake Stenzel becomes first Pirate ever to tally six hits in one game.
1896 Dave Foutz appears in his last game. He was a pitcher who was good enough at hitting to double as a position player.
1899 Earle Combs, Hall of Famer who played center field for the 1927 Murders Row Yankees, is born.
1911 The Cleveland Indians play their first0-ever Sunday home game.
1912 Major league debut: Herb Pennock, arguably the least-deserving Hall of Famer ever voted in by the BBWAA.
1913 Walter Johnson runs his scoreless-inning streak to a then-record 56 innings before a run in the fourth inning ends it.
1914 White Sox hurler Jim Scott throws a no-hitter through nine innings but allows two hits and a run in the 10th, losing the game 1-0 to Washington.
1916 Rogers Hornsby hits his first home run, an inside-the-park shot.
1918 Sunday baseball is legalized in Washington, D.C.
1920 Walter Johnson wins his 300th game. He’s the 10th member of the club, with a record of 300-194.
1920 Hall of Fame spitballer Burleigh Grimes has probably the best game of his career, setting personal bests in Game Score (102) and innings pitched. His line: 14 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K in a complete-game victory as Dodgers beat Cardinals, 5-1 (14). Opposing pitcher Marv Goodwin also goes the distance, though his line isn’t as good (though three of the runs allowed are unearned).
1922 The Phillies win, giving them an all-time cumulative franchise record of 2,827-2,827. It’s the last time it’s ever been at .500. They’re now around 1,000 games under .500.
1924 It’s Babe Ruth day at Yankee Stadium. He gets the AL MVP Award, and the team’s first World Championship banner is unfurled. But the Browns win the game.
1927 An entire section of the Baker Bowl’s right field stands in Philadelphia collapses. Thankfully, only one person dies, but scores are injured. It could’ve been much worse, but it is still horrific.
1928 Jimmie Foxx hits the first of his 12 career walk-off home runs. It’s also his only pinch-hit walk-off home run. To this day, no one’s had 13 walk-offs in the regular season.
1928 John McGraw is hit by a car outside Wrigley Field while trying to hail a cab. He takes responsibility for it and doesn’t try to get the driver’s name.
1932 Earle Combs gives himself a nice birthday present. He celebrates his 33rd birthday by belting a lead off homer off veteran pitcher Sad Sam Jones. It’s the only leadoff homer Jones ever surrenders in 487 career starts.
1933 Al Simmons bangs out his 100th career triple.
1933 Hack Wilson lashes a walk-off grand slam, a pinch-hit one, too. Dodgers 8, Phillies 6.
1934 Lou Criger dies at age 62. He served as a big league catcher for 16 seasons.
1936 Dick Howser, the late Royals world champion manager, is born.
1936 Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey gets his 1,000th career hit.
1938 Enos Slaughter’s career is off to a nice start. Today he hits his second career home run, and it’s a walk-off homer.
1939 Charlie Gehringer hits his 500th double. He’s the 14th member of the club.
1939 On Mother’s Day, Mother and Father Feller come watch their son Bob pitch. They get more than they bargained for when a foul ball off the bat of Marv Owen catches Mother Feller flush in the face. She needs six stitches over her right eye.
1939 The Giants sign longtime Yankees star second baseman Tony Lazzeri.
1940 Jimmie Foxx hits arguably the longest home run in the history of Comiskey Park. It clears the left field roof.
1940 Brooklyn releases former star AL pitcher Wes Ferrell.
1941 Dizzy Dean retires. Technically, he pitches once more in 1947, but that’s just a gimmick. (As a broadcaster, he criticized the Browns, saying he could do better, so the team gave him a chance to prove it.)
1942 Cooperstown-bound first baseman Tony Perez is born.
1944 Stan Musial loses the ball in the sun, and it conks him on the head. Pepper Martin runs over to ask him if he’s okay and then asks if it’s okay that he laughs at Musial. Then he bursts out laughing. Can’t blame the guy, really.
1948 Dave LaRoche, a two-time All-Star reliever, is born.
1950 The Yankees farm out Billy Martin to the minors, but not before he argues with team boss George Weiss about it.
1950 Johnny Hopp gets six hits for the Pirates in one game, including two homers, as they top the Cubs, 16-9.
1952 Red Dooin dies at age 72. He served the Phillies first as catcher and then as manager.
1952 Bert Cunningham, 19th century pitcher, dies at age 86. He posted a pair of 20-win seasons, most notably a 28-15 mark with the 70-81 1898 Louisville Colonels.
1955 Long-lasting starting pitcher Dennis Martinez is born. He has a great nickname: El Presidente.
1958 The Kansas City A’s purchase Whitey Herzog from the Senators.
1959 Today is the worst known WPA game for Stan Musial: 0-for-3 with an RBI, two walks, a strikeout, a sacrifice hit, and a GIDP. WPA: -0.578 as Braves beat Cardinals, 8-7.
1961 The Indians win a great pitchers duel over the Orioles, 1-0 in 15 innings. The only run scores on a throwing error by Baltimore shortstop Jerry Adair. Ouch.
1963 Pat Borders, the eternal backup catcher, is born. He’ll play in a touch over 1,000 games in 17 seasons.
1964 Former batting champion Pete Runnels appears in his final game.
1965 Carl Yastrzemski hits for the cycle, going 5-for-5 with two home runs. He sets personal bests for total bases (14) and extra base hits (four). He also gets five RBIs.
1965 Joey Cora, infielder, is born.
1968 Don Drysdale begins his scoreless inning streak with the first of six consecutive complete-game shutouts.
1968 A young Nolan Ryan shows glimpses of his future as he fans 14 batters in a game, leading the Mets to a 3-2 win over the Reds.
1968 Veteran skipper Bill Rigney manages his 2,000th game. He’s 960-1,039 so far.
1972 Willie Mays first plays with the Mets.
1973 According to WPA, the best game for any player for the WAS/TEX franchise comes today when Toby Harrah goes 2-for-4 with two runs, a homer, three RBIs, and a walk for a 1.011 WPA. Texas 7, Twins 6.
1973 Yaz gets his first sacrifice hit in over six years and won’t have another for more than three seasons.
1975 Mets honcho M. Donald Grant fines player Cleon Jones $2,000 for “betraying the image of the club.” Jones had recently been arrested on an indecent exposure charge in Florida. (The charge was later dropped).
1977 Jim Colborn of the Royals throws a no-hitter versus the Rangers. He fans six and walks only one.
1977 Roy Halladay is born.
1978 Dave Kingman of the Cubs hits three home runs in one game and gets eight RBIs on the day. According to WPA, it’s the second greatest performance by anyone with three homers in a game. A three-run blast in the 15th is the highlight. Or rather, it’s the highlight of the game. After the game, the real highlight takes place when a reporter asks Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda what he thought of Kingman’s performance on the day. His response:
What’s my opinion of Kingman’s performance!? What the BLEEP do you think is my opinion of it? I think it was BLEEPING BLEEP. Put that in, I don’t BLEEP. Opinion of his performance!!? BLEEP, he beat us with three BLEEPING home runs! What the BLEEP do you mean, “What is my opinion of his performance?” How could you ask me a question like that, “What is my opinion of his performance?” BLEEP, he hit three home runs! BLEEP. I’m BLEEPING pissed off to lose that BLEEPING game. And you ask me my opinion of his performance! BLEEP. That’s a tough question to ask me, isn’t it? “What is my opinion of his performance?
1980 It’s the best WPA game Alan Trammell ever had: 0.924 WPA. 4-for-5, one double, three runs, and two RBI. Tigers 6, A’s 5.
1980 Steve Carlton has his 10th consecutive Quality Start, his longest such streak ever. His line in that time: 8-2 W-L record, 78 IP, 46 H, 16 R, 15 ER, 26 BB, 68 K and a 1.73 ERA.
1981 George Brett injures his ankle in a game and whaps reporter on the head with a crutch afterwards. (He apologies the next day).
1983 Ben Oglivie hits three home runs in one game for the third time in his career as Brewers beat Red Sox 8-7 in 10 innings. His third homer tied it, 6-6, in the bottom of the ninth.
1983 The longest hitting streak of Darrell Evans‘ career peaks at 13 games. He’s 26-for-52 with six doubles, a triple, and seven homers in that span.
1984 Elmer Riddle, 1940s pitcher, dies at age 69. In 1941 he led the NL with a 2.24 ERA while posting a 19-4 record with the Reds. Two years later he led the NL in wins, with 21. Five years later he was an All-Star for the Pirates. Then he blew his arm out.
1986 Frank O’Rourke dies at age 92. The infielder hit .122 in over 60 games as an 18-year-old rookie, but managed to stay in the game until he was 37 years old.
1987 Former catcher Luke Sewell dies at age 86. He caught for the Indians and other AL teams for 20 seasons.
1988 Don Sutton records his 324th and final career win.
1993 Wally Backman, second baseman, plays in his last game
1993 Woody Williams, one of the few pitchers to beat all 30 franchises, makes his big league debut.
1993 Jay Gainer of the Reds hits a homer run in his first at-bat—on his very first pitch.
1994 It’s the 30th/final multi-homer performance for Dave Winfield.
1994 In only his second major league appearance, relief pitcher Paul Shuey fans four in the ninth inning.
1994 The Royals retire No. 5 for George Brett.
1995 Sammy Sosa belts his 100th career home run.
1996 Dwight Gooden pitches a no-hitter: NYY 2, SEA 0. I looked it up once and figured it was against the fourth-best lineup ever no-hit.
1997 Jim Thome laces his 100th home run.
1998 Florida Marlins owner Wayne Huzienga has a hissy fit. The Marlins trade Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Charles Johnson, Jim Eisenreich, and another guy to the Dodgers for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile. Huzienga is upset the city won’t finance a new stadium for him and is doing this in response.
1999 Starting pitcher Ted Lilly makes his big league debut.
2000 It’s one of the wildest games of the 2000s: Expos 16, Cubs 15. The Cubs lead 6-2 early but blow it. They rally to lead 11-9 in the middle of the eighth, but that’s when things get really ridiculous. First, Montreal scores four in the bottom of the eighth for a 13-11 lead. Then the Cubs came back for four immediately after for a 15-13 lead, but Montreal scores thrice more in the bottom of the ninth. It’s not too often you see 11 runs scored in the last inning and a half and neither team’s lead is ever more than two runs.
2000 Jim Fregosi manages his 2,000th game. He is 966-1,034 in his career.
2002 Jimmy Carter throws out the first pitch in a Cuban League All-Stars game. Fidel Castro coaches him as he warms up.
2006 A month after reaching .500 for the first time in 44 years, the Astros franchise record falls back to .500 (3,519-3,519) and it’s never been that high ever since.
2006 Jim Lemon dies at age 78. He led the AL in strikeouts three straight seasons and later managed Washington for one year, 1968.
2006 Andy Pettitte ties his personal-high Game Score: 87. His line: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K.
2008 The Cubs sign center fielder Jim Edmonds.
2010 Ron Gardenhire orders his team to issue an intentional walk to Mark Teixeira in order to face Alex Rodriquez with the bases loaded. This highly questionable strategy immediately backfires, as A-Rod launches his 19th career grand slam.
2012 Major League Baseball fires Shayn Das, the arbitrator in the Ryan Braun PED case.
2012 St. Louis releases reliever J.C. Romero.
2012 Young Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro messes up an attempted sacrifice bunt. Instead, he grounds into the rare 3-5-4 double play to wipe out both runners on.