The Easter weekend with seat cushion night

AP Photo

Easter always takes me back to 1987.  The Cardinals and the Mets were the best rivalry in baseball then, and early in the year, in the fourth series of the year, the Mets made their way to STL for the Easter weekend.  It was a cool Saturday night, and Busch Stadium was packed for seat cushion night.  The Cardinals had won the NL East in 1985 in a tense battle with the Mets, and New York and run away and hid in their championship season of 1986.

In ’87, the Cardinals had Jack Clark back from injury, and were ready to go offensively after nobody on the team hit in ’86.  Things got so bad in 1986 that Whitey Herzog instructed the scoreboard operators not to put his team’s stats on the board when they came to the plate.

On this night, though, the Mets offense exploded against Danny Cox for a 5-0 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth inning.  That deficit seemed insurmountable against Ron Darling, but the Cardinals were able to tie it in Cardinal fashion.  Single, single, double, groundout, single, strikeout, single, and a pair of walks tied the game at five and knocked out Darling, so both starters were out by the fifth.

The bullpens settled things down, with the Cardinals scoring the only run between the fourth and the ninth on a Tom Herr double that scored Ozzie Smith in the bottom of the sixth.  But things got crazy in the ninth inning.  In the top of the inning, Kevin McReynolds singled home Wally Backman to tie the game, and then Howard Johnson, the most hated Met, singled home Keith Hernandez…1A on the hated list…to give New York the lead 7-6.

More Whiteyball tied the game in the bottom of the ninth.  Ozzie led off with a hit and was bunted over by Herr.  Then Ozzie stole third and scored on a bad throw by Gary Carter to tie the game at seven.  By now the bullpens were used up.  Jesse Orosco was in for the New York, and Bill Dawley started the tenth for the Redbirds.  A walk and a sacrifice knocked Dawley out and Whitey brought in Dave LaPoint, who got Lenny Dykstra to ground out to first and move the runner to third.  There were lots of sacrifices in these days.  A wild pitch by LaPoint scored the runner from third and put the Mets up again, 8-7.  But nobody left.

In the bottom of the tenth, three straight one-out singles tied the game for the Cardinals, and after a groundout to first by Vince Coleman moved up the runners, Ozzie walked to load the bases for Herr…

That was just an awesome, goose bump inducing grand slam, with the call on the radio being “grand slam-a” by Jack Buck that Dan McLaughlin still pays homage to when the Cardinals hit a big one.

The next day, on Easter, all the wind was taken out of the Cardinals’ sails when Mets catcher Barry Lyons, subbing for Carter in a day game after a night game, chased a pop fly into the Cardinals dugout.  Lyons collided with Cardinal ace John Tudor, who was innocently sitting in the dugout, and broke Tudor’s leg.  At that point, most observers thought the Cardinals were toast.  But they weren’t.

Joe Magrane came up a week later and beat the Mets in New York in his major league debut.  Between June 3 and July 10, the Cards turned a one game edge in the division into a ten-game bulge.  Herzog used ten starting pitchers and TWELVE right fielders that season.  But Clark hit 35 homers and drove in 106, Ozzie hit .303 with 75 RBI, 43 steals and 104 runs, and the makeshift pitching staff was stellar.

Out of all the moments that season…and it was magical…seat cushion night and Easter stand out for me.  It was an amazing year.