The St. Louis Cardinals were a celebration waiting to happen, a team suspended in time, just waiting for greatness to be complete, for the Dodgers to go away and leave them to their ongoing achievements.
They were confident but, all the same, they were an anxious team. Willie McGee settled under Pedro Guerrero’s pop fly, the last such of the day, and hurried it toward earth.
“I couldn’t wait for it to come down so I could get my hand out of my glove and start clapping,” he said.
That they were World Series-bound was without question at the time, the game having been won by Jack Clark’s ninth-inning three-run homer, the two-on answer to Dodger Mike Marshall’s homer of the inning before and the one that made the final score, 7-5, Cardinals.
It was a tremendous blast to left, so great that Clark merely dropped his bat and looked into his dugout. He pumped his hands, chest high, and trotted forth.
“You can look at it on the replay,” said teammate Terry Pendleton. “You’ll see him looking at us. Everybody knows it when Jack Clark hits a home run. He gave us the signal--'We got it.’ ”
Later, there was talk that Dodger reliever Tom Niedenfuer, at his manager’s insistence of course, should have walked Clark to get at Andy Van Slyke.
It could be argued either way. With a man on third in the seventh, Niedenfuer had struck out Clark. But of course, Clark was, as teammate Cesar Cedeno later said, “Besides me, our only consistent long-ball hitter.”
But that may be another story. This is of a blast so immediate in its consequences that nobody waited for it to land in the blue seats, way up the left-field stands, to acknowledge it.
“There was, as they say, no doubt about it,” Cedeno said.
Said Darrell Porter: “He didn’t hit that ball very well, did he? Geez . . . “
Added McGee: “It was beautiful. He’s been doing that all year.”
Maybe all year--he had 22 for the season, fifth best in the National League--but certainly not lately.
The majesty of his home run should not be overlooked, but keep in mind that the former San Francisco Giant had injured his rib cage in late August, had been on the disabled list for 15 days, and had hit only one home run since coming back Sept. 8. And that was Sept. 22, nearly a month ago.
So it was that Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog was only somewhat surprised when Lasorda didn’t have Clark walked. “I try to manage both teams and I thought probably he would (walk him)” Herzog said. “But Jack has not hit a home run since he came back from his injury.”
Herzog didn’t have all his facts straight, but he had the idea.
Even Clark admitted: “I knew it had been a while since my last home run, or even a big hit, but I knew it was coming.”
He had, after all, been hitting the ball and had, in fact, gotten six hits in his 16 playoff at-bats going into Game 6.
He had thought one more of those hits might be in the seventh.
He came to bat with McGee standing on third and Niedenfuer standing on the mound. Niedenfuer throws a nice fastball, but as Clark said, “I’ve hit home runs off Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage.”
So there was no reason he couldn’t get McGee home and go ahead, 5-4.
“I had good pitches to hit,” he said of his appearance in the seventh. He didn’t hit them, though, and struck out for the inning’s second out. The Cardinal rally died with the strikeout.
Was he thinking about that strikeout when he reappeared in the ninth, the game once more to be won?
“A little bit,” he said. “I could see the situation developing in front of me and I knew I would probably get a shot at it.”
He said he made a slight adjustment, backing off the plate this time because he had broken his bat two times previously.
“I was able to attack the pitch a little better,” he said.
Whatever he was thinking, it wasn’t home run. “All I needed was a hit,” he said. “I wasn’t there to get a home run.”
Nobody, perhaps because it had been a while, was even hoping for anything more.
“I know I wasn’t thinking home run,” said Porter, an interested spectator. “I felt great in that situation but not because I thought he’d hit a home run. He gets a single, we have two runs and we win. I really did not think he’d hit one.
“But he had different ideas, didn’t he.”
It was funny but after the home run--even during it--Clark found himself thinking not of the Cardinals but of the Giants, for whom he had played the eight-plus seasons before being acquired by the Cardinals in the off-season.
Whereas Cedeno, the other big gun acquired this season, could only think to shove it in his former club’s face--"Send a telegram to Cincinnati, tell them thank you"--Clark could only muse on his good times at San Francisco.
“That’s what I was thinking about,” he said of his slow lap around the Dodger Stadium infield. “I was thinking about the good times, how they helped me out, to be ready for this. Not that I can do this all the time, but the Giants certainly prepared me for this.”
It was funny, he realized, but he found himself thinking of former teammate Joe Morgan and some coaches at San Francisco, where he hit 163 home runs, mostly in vain. “But they made me ready for anybody,” he said.
So it was that he was ready for Niedenfuer and, hurting ribs or not, to hit one away. It was, for a healthy Clark, a classic shot, the kind he hit to keep the Cardinals in the race right up until his injury. In the 22 games in which he homered, the Cardinals had won 18. So you see what his power means to them.
You see what it meant Wednesday. In the clubhouse, with the champagne making a mess of the floor and TV crews causing tremendous congestion, the team’s owner, Gussie Busch, 86, made his way straight to Clark. “Thank you, Jack,” he said.