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Commish & the Cardinals: The Sutter-Schmidt showdown of 1982

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Sutter-Schmidt showdown

Relief ace Bruce Sutter provides a number of exciting moments for Cardinals fans during the 1982 pennant race, but few more memorable than the game in which he induces Phillies slugger Mike Schmidt to hit into an inning-ending, bases-loaded double play.

Post-Dispatch file photo

Hall of Fame writer Rick Hummel welcomes readers to STL Pinch Hits with an exclusive look back at some of the top games from his career on the beat.

Bruce Sutter’s critical double play on Mike Schmidt was pennant-race baseball at its best on Sept. 14, 1982. The showdown came a night after the Phillies had gone ahead by half a game over the Cardinals in the National League East when former Cardinal Steve Carlton struck out 12 and hit a homer to beat Bob Forsch 2-0.

After Sutter preserved John Stuper’s lead to win 2-0 and put the Cardinals back up by one-half game, they clobbered another ex-Cardinal, John Denny, 8-0 in the series finale. Then it was on to New York, where they stretched out their division lead by winning five games in three days against the hapless Mets.

All in all, an interesting three days in Philadelphia. The sideshows included an early-morning fire that routed the sleeping Cardinals from their hotel; fans pelting outfielder Lonnie Smith with a rum bottle, a beer can and coins after some horseplay with the Phillie Phanatic; and Denny issuing an oral position paper on why he doesn’t talk to reporters.

Here's a look back at my original story. 

Sept. 14, 1982

PHILADELPHIA – John Stuper had done more than his share to create the ultimate matchup. The Cardinals’ rookie had pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings, permitting just four hits. It was time, with a 2-0 Cardinals lead, to yield to Bruce Sutter.

There were runners at first and second with one out when Philadelphia’s Gary Matthews hit a ball between shortstop and third that Cardinals third baseman Ken Oberkfell gloved with a diving stop. But, after hesitating when he looked to second, Obie’s throw to first was too late to get Matthews. Bases loaded and as Mike Shannon would say, “Ol’ Abner’s done it again.”

The Phillies’ Mike Schmidt was at the plate.

More than 32,000 fans in Veterans Stadium, lulled to sleep by the mastery of Stuper and the Phillies’ Mike Krukow, had awakened with a din. Stuper, a rookie experiencing his first real pennant race, was as enthralled as the rest. “That confrontation between Sutter and Schmidt . . . that is what baseball is all about,” he said. And he was right. The Cardinals’ 2-0 victory was extraordinary.

Said Sutter of the mighty Schmidt: “I honestly feel he’s the best hitter in the league. The last two years, it seems to me he’s hit a lot of home runs when they needed them.”

Indeed, but Sutter’s split-fingered fastball was at its explosive, divebombing best as he got two quick strikes on Schmidt. Then, after Schmidt had worked the count to 2-2, Sutter got Schmidt to tap to the mound, where the Cardinals pitcher started a home-to-first double play that preserved the victory.

Afterward, emerging in a cloud of talcum powder after showering, Schmidt addressed the significance of the duel.

“He’s at his best when the hitter has a lot of pressure on him,” said Schmidt of Sutter. “The first couple of swings, I jumped at it too much. Then, a tap back to the mound. I’d have been better off striking out. I’ve hit into a pitcher-to- home-to-first double play maybe once in 10 years. I’ve had a pretty good average against him (this season, two doubles in two at-bats) but it didn’t mean diddly-squat tonight.

“But it was fun . . . facing the best relief pitcher in the league with the ballgame on the line. He won our little battle tonight. I hope it happens tomorrow (Schmidt chuckled) with an eight-run lead. It was one heckuva at-bat. I’ll probably have some trouble getting to sleep tonight thinking about it.”

When the Phillies went to the field in the ninth inning, it was obvious Schmidt, who almost always emits an aura of cool, was thinking about the at-bat. He placed his cap sideways on his head, much like baseball clown Max Patkin. He angrily flashed his hand through the dirt at third base and indiscriminately fired pebbles.

When the Cardinals’ Mike Ramsey hit a liner to his right in the ninth, Schmidt casually backhanded it, a play that only he might have made, and he didn’t even have his heart in it.

There are 19 games more for the Cardinals this season and 18 for the Phillies but there will be few that are more dramatic than this one.

“I just sit there and watch it,” said Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog. “I just about puke a lot of times. But what are you going to do? You’ve just got to hope.”

Catcher Darrell Porter, who had provided the two runs with a fourth-inning homer, said Sutter’s magic pitch was the best he had seen in awhile. Sutter concurred. “The way they were swinging and the way they were reacting, it must have been breaking pretty big,” Sutter said.

“But when I’m throwing the ball well, I don’t see the ball break. My head is bouncing. When I see my ball break, when I see it roll, then I’m in trouble.”

 

Rick Hummel

@cmshhummel on Twitter

rhummel@post-dispatch.com

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