Tuesday, October 4, 2011

1987 NLCS: Whiteyball wins

How They Got Here
The 1987 season is notorious for the power surge that happened all around baseball. Players who had never been home run threats were suddenly becoming power hitters as the game started one of its periodic power swings.

The San Francisco Giants rode that power surge all the way to the playoffs. One of two teams in the National League to hit more than 200 home runs, the Giants had 10 players reach double figures in long balls. After a sleepy start to the season, the Giants stepped on the gas in mid-August and ended up winning the West Division by six games over Cincinnati.

St. Louis never got the memo about 1987 being a home run year. The Cardinals hit groundballs that scooted past outfielders on the quick artificial turf, bunted to their hearts' content, and stole base after base after base. Their style of play was called "Whiteyball" after manager Whitey Herzog, and it gave them their third East Division title in six seasons.

(As an aside, I don't know if you were paying attention, but in the NL, Cincinnati was in the West Division, and St. Louis was in the East. The leaders of the National League would ask that you not look at a map right now, because they sure as hell didn't.)

The NLCS was supposed to be a study in contrasting styles, especially since Jack Clark, the only Cardinal to hit more than 12 home runs, was out for the postseason with an injury. The Giants held up their end of the bargain by hitting three home runs in the first two games, but St. Louis had trouble getting the baserunning going. The Cardinals failed to steal a base and were lucky to escape St. Louis with the series tied 1-1.

The Giants hits six more home runs in the three games in San Francisco, including two more by Jeffrey Leonard, who homered in each of the first four games of the series. The Giants won two of the three games at home and went back to St. Louis one win away from the World Series.

John Tudor made them wait, throwing seven shutout innings in Game 6 as the Cardinals escaped 1-0. Game 7 was a matchup between the Cardinals' Danny Cox and San Francisco's Atlee Hammaker.

The Game
Whiteyball hadn't worked too well in the first six games for St. Louis, but it worked wonders early in Game 7. After a scoreless first, St. Louis opened the second inning with three straight one-out singles to take a 1-0 lead. Up next was Jose Oquendo.

Oquendo was the true definition of the utility player. He only hit 14 home runs his entire career, including just 1 in 1987. He also only had 35 stolen bases his career, so baserunning wasn't his forte. But he drew a ton of walks - rare for the mid-80s - and he could play literally any position on the field. That's why he was on the team. At that point in the game, with the pitcher up next, the Cardinals would have taken a single in that situation and been happy with a 2-0 lead.

What they got was a three-run home run, the most unlikely of home runs, to give them a 4-0 lead. It was only their second home run of the series, compared to nine for the Giants, but it was by far the biggest hit of the season.

Frustrated, the Giants gave the Cardinals two more runs. Reliever Scott Garrelts, the fourth Giants pitcher of the game, walked the bases loaded in the sixth. Tommy Herr showed how you could get 100 run batted in without reaching double-digits in home runs with a two-run single to make it 6-0.

Cox responded to his team's surprising offensive outburst in kind. Though he gave up 8 hits to only 5 strikeouts, he got three double plays behind him, throwing a complete-game shutout to send the Cardinals back to the World Series.

The aftermath
After surviving the Giants big bats, the Cardinals were faced with more of the same in the World Series against the Twins. Not only were the Cardinals facing the Twins' bats, but they were up against the noise and white roof of the Metrodome. St. Louis won every home game in the 1987 World Series; unfortunately, they only played three games in St. Louis. The Twins won all four games at home to take home their first World Championship.

The Rundown
What I'm doing.

The list so far:
20. 1987 NLCS: St. Louis 6, San Francisco 0
21. 1988 NLCS: Los Angeles 6, New York 0
22. 2004 ALCS: Boston 10, New York 3
23. 1986 ALCS: Boston 8, California 1
24: 1996 NLCS: Atlanta 15, St. Louis 0

Still to come:
1972 NLCS: Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh
1972 ALCS: Detroit vs. Oakland
1973 NLCS: Cincinnati vs. New York
1973 ALCS: Baltimore vs. Oakland
1976 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
1977 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
1980 NLCS: Houston vs. Philadelphia
1981 NCLS: Los Angeles vs. Montreal
1982 ALCS: California vs. Milwaukee
1984 NLCS: Chicago vs. San Diego
1985 ALCS: Kansas City vs. Toronto
1991 NLCS: Atlanta vs. Pittsburgh
1992 NLCS: Atlanta vs. Pittsburgh
2003 NLCS: Chicago vs. Florida
2003 ALCS: Boston vs. New York
2004 NLCS: Houston vs. St. Louis
2006 NLCS: New York vs. St. Louis
2007 ALCS: Boston vs. Cleveland
2008 ALCS: Boston vs. Tampa Bay

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