Our writers reminisce about a memorable game they attended, and then see how their memory stacks up to reality.

 

My first major league baseball game was in April of 1987, in St. Louis, Missouri. I was eight years old. My favorite team calls St. Louis home and on that Saturday night we, the Cardinals, were playing the New York Mets. This was serious business. True, our rival was, and is, the Chicago Cubs, but that wasn’t really the case in 1987. The Cubs were “lovable losers,” they were cute. The Mets were not cute. They were brash, they were reckless, and they had a slugger named “Howard Johnson” which I thought was weird. And more importantly, they were winners.

To a Central Illinois kid like me, it was my perception that the Yankees were second fiddle in New York City. That seems insane now, but at that time the Mets were the defending World Series champs and they owned that town. It was the ‘80s so we weren’t slouches either. “Whiteyball” was in its heyday and the Cardinals had represented the National League in the World Series in two of the previous five seasons. The players[1] and fans alike from these respective teams did not like each other. I saw one fellow fan menacingly walking around the concourse in a hat that read, “Muck the Fets.” My older brother explained the joke and since I had never seen such incredible word play, I thought it was hilariously novel and punk. So yes, the Mets were our rivals in the truest sense of the word.

My family’s seats were terrible. If I recall we were about four rows from the top on the first base side. At Old Busch Stadium that was like being in Belleville. But I didn’t care. I was at a major league game. Watching the Cardinals! The place was packed and the Astroturf looked so green I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever seen (when you’re eight even Astroturf is something to behold the first time you see it). The cherry on top was the unexpected promotion: free St. Louis Cardinals seat cushions for everyone in attendance.

I don’t remember who was pitching. I’d like to say it was Dwight Gooden versus John Tudor but I would have remembered Dwight Gooden and what unfolded wasn’t akin to a normal John Tudor start. In the middle of the 1st inning I watched the Mets stay loose and throw the ball around the outfield. My brother pointed to Darryl Strawberry in right field. Even from far away you could tell he was a superstar. There was just something about the way he strutted around, caught the ball, and casually threw it back to the center fielder. He was a cool dude and he knew it.

The Mets immediately jumped on us. Someone hit a home run to near left-center and after a few innings the Mets were quite tragically up 6-0. Now I was a little concerned, and if I’m being honest, I was probably close to tears. This wasn’t the right script for my first game.

Fast forward to the bottom of the 5th and a Cardinal, we’ll assume Vince Coleman, got on base and immediately stole second. That’s all it took for the buzz to hit to the stadium: Whiteyball was on. What followed were balls being sprayed to all parts of the diamond. Guys were coasting into third on hits that would have left most teams with a runner standing on second.   And the hits, the running, and the scoring didn’t stop. Euphoria was overtaking the crowd, like we all knew the next guy up was also going to get on base and eventually score. By the time it was over the Cardinals had batted around and tied the game at six apiece.

I know it’s a cliché to say the atmosphere at a sporting event was pandemonium – but man, when the Mets finally got that third out to end the inning it was pandemonium. In the middle of hugging strangers I saw a seat cushion fly onto the field. We all saw it. But before we could laugh to each other Busch Stadium had turned into a virtual snowstorm. Seat cushions from every section were being “frisbeed” onto the field and there was no sign of it stopping. Within seconds it seemed like the entire field was white. I still had my seat cushion though. I was too small to heave it out onto the field from the 300 level, and besides, participating in anarchy had not been in my “first game” plans. Soon, a voice came over the speaker and warned the next person who threw an object onto the field would be ejected. The crowd settled down. There was a slight delay as the grounds crew rounded up the run-away seat cushions but soon the game was back on.

The two teams traded runs back and forth and it was knotted at eight heading into extra innings. Now, what I’m about to describe is a pretty famous moment in Cardinal circles. With two outs in the bottom of the 10th and the bases loaded, venerable second baseman Tommy Herr ended the game with a walk-off grand slam to the left field seats. Final score: 12-8. Almost before the ball landed, any rational fan still holding onto their seat cushion donated it in their jubilation. Again, I held tightly onto mine. I was still too far away and a bit spooked from the earlier threat of being ejected from a baseball game, but mostly, I wanted some sort of souvenir to remember all of this.

That wouldn’t be hard. It instantaneously became known as the “seat cushion” game. Old Busch Stadium had banners at each outside gate commemorating famous moments at the stadium and this was one of them. I would try to make a point to stop and admire it every time I would return in my later years. That’s how revered this game was.

And I was there. I still remember it well. I remember Ozzie Smith having a great game – which was appreciated because he was my hero. I remember the seat cushions littering the sky. I remember the long, joyous walk down the ramp and out of the stadium with my family before spilling into a sea of celebration and honking horns. And I remember it being one of the best damn nights of my life.

 

 

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

Here is the box score courtesy of Baseball Reference. (Very comprehensive game stats and notes can be found here.)

 

b_ref

 

And I was able to find this clip showing Herr’s walk-off home run:

 

Some interesting notes:

  • The starters were indeed not Dwight Gooden and John Tudor but rather Ron Darling for the Mets and Danny Cox for the Cardinals.   Neither made it through the 4th. Dave LaPoint was awarded the win and Jesse Orosco got the loss.
  • Strawberry went 2 for 5 with a double and one run scored.
  • Howard Johnson hit the home run to left-center for the Mets.
  • The Mets did not jump out to a 6-0 lead but rather 5-0, which the Cardinals tied when they batted around in the 4th inning – not the 5th.
  • I was wrong about Vince Coleman stealing a base – it was Ozzie Smith and he stole two, including third base in the bottom of the 9th inning in which he then scored on an errant throw to tie the game. However, the other stolen base didn’t start the rally in the 4th inning when the team batted around; it actually occurred in the 1st inning and didn’t lead to any runs. Ozzie ended the night with four walks, one hit, and three runs scored. The Wizard, man.
  • Tommy Herr was a triple away from the cycle. I don’t know what metrics they use, but according to the wonderful website hardballpassport.com, Herr’s “seat cushion” game – the first game I ever saw! – was the best offensive game I have seen in person from any player, and I have logged well over 100 games:

hb_passport

  • There were plenty of other seemingly great moments I had forgotten or had just gotten wrong. The Cardinals were actually up a run (6-5) heading into the 9th inning, before giving up two runs after a few walks and back-to-back singles from Kevin McReynolds and Howard Johnson. The Cardinals promptly tied it back up (7-7) in the bottom half of the inning after Ozzie scored on the error. Then, the Mets scored in the top of the 10th after Al Pedrique took home on a wild pitch to give the Mets an 8-7 lead – a lead which was again surrendered in the bottom of the 10th after Tom Pagnozzi plated Terry Pendleton with a single. The game ended moments later on Herr’s grand slam. I had the final score right: 12-8.
  • The Cardinals went on to win 95 games in 1987 and won the NL East – finishing three games ahead of the 2nd-place Mets. They eventually advanced to the World Series where they lost to the Minnesota Twins in seven games.

 

[1] At least, according to Cardinals slugging first baseman Jack Clark. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/01/sports/baseball/01clark.html?_r=0

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