Sometimes, if a World Series is real lucky, there's one game in which each team inflicts its best upon the other. That happened today.
The Milwaukee Brewers tied this 79th Classic at two games apiece with a 7-5 victory in a contest that matched all that's most exciting, intimidating and antithetical in the styles of the Brew Crew and the St. Louis Cardinals.
In a comeback inning of such astonishingly blessed luck that it will find an instant place in Series lore, the Brewers scored six unearned runs, all after two were out, in the seventh inning to obliterate a 5-1 lead by the Cardinals.
"We were in deep, deep trouble. They'd dug the hole for us and were ready to cover us up," said Bud Selig, owner of the Brewers. "But we can score runs faster than anybody in baseball . . . And nobody ever said luck wasn't important, too."
This game's moment of heroic simplicity came when Milwaukee's gimpy Gorman Thomas, the grizzly gamer in a three-for-43 slump, came to bat in a tie game (5-5), the bases loaded and two out.
For a week, Thomas, the major league home run cochampion, had played in conspicuous pain with a twisted and swollen knee. Even a week before that, Thomas was in one of his total slumps, striking out eight straight times.
And, in recent days, Thomas had reached such a pitch of suppressed fury and frustration that, on Thursday night, he stayed up until 4 a.m. studying films of himself. After batting practice today, he was so enraged at his weak hacks that he flung his bat 50 feet into the dugout, scattering inanimate objects and making interlopers jump.
Like Jimmy Gantner, Robin Yount and Cecil Cooper before him, all of whom had driven in runs with two-out hits in that inning, Thomas lined a single to left off reliever Jeff Lahti to win this game.
It made Jim Slaton the winning pitcher, with two shutout innings, got lefty Bob McClure a save after he got the last five outs in a row, and made this a best-of-three series with the fifth game scheduled for 4:45 p.m. Sunday (WRC-TV-4). The opposing pitchers will be Mike Caldwell for the Brewers against Bob Forsch in a rematch of Game 1, won by the left-handed Caldwell on a three-hit shutout.
However, moving as Thomas' redemption may have been, this day had a grander shape. This was the game when, in the best sense, the Cardinals and Brewers got on each other's nerves. St. Louis nearly ran the Milwaukeeans to distraction, stealing bases, forcing errors, embarrassing infielders and even scoring two runs on a sacrifice fly -- a Series first. Then the Brewers returned the compliment, sending a dozen men to bat in the seventh.
Usually, when such a game is played, when both clubs have, in boxing jargon, thrown their best punch -- although some Cardinal fans may think that Manager Whitey Herzog pulled his punch by leaving relief star Bruce Sutter in the bullpen -- the team left standing goes on to be world champion.
Just when a three-games-to-one lead seemed imminent, when their speed seemed to have broken the Brewers' spirit, the Cardinals found themselves caught in the drowning undertow of a big inning.
If the Cardinals' trademark is base path humiliation -- and they made the Brewers look like frightened Little League refugees for six innings -- then Milwaukee's characteristic is the ominous manner in which the Brewers seem able to turn the slightest break into an enormous eruption of runs.
The Cardinals led, 4-0, after two innings against Milwaukee starter Moose Haas as the Brewers, so shaky in Games 2 and 3, appeared on the edge of disintegration.
Ken Oberkfell doubled in the first and scored with two out as Yount poorly played a chop single over the mound by George Hendrick. The Cardinals added three runs in the second, aided by Tommy Herr's two-run sacrifice fly and a two-base, two-out error by Gantner on a two-hopper by Keith Hernandez, zero for the Series.
The Brewers scored off LaPoint in the fifth on Don Money's double and a single by Charlie Moore. But the Cardinals got that run back and made it 5-1 in the sixth on back-to-back doubles by Lonnie Smith and Dane Iorg, knocking out Haas and bringing in Slaton.
And then, on this sunny, chilly afternoon, the Brewers got five megabreaks -- a whole Series' worth -- in one inning.
Today, the Cardinals learned what every American League team knows. When you have the Brewers down, don't make a little mental mistake, such as the way Cardinals starter Dave LaPoint dropped a routine toss from Hernandez while covering first to let the Brewers get a one-out base runner. That was break No. 1.
That's what made all the runs that followed "unearned" in the team ledger. "Sure didn't help . . . Don't know how he dropped it . . . Don't think we've dropped one all year . . . turned out to be a nightmare," said Herzog, in a bit of a blame-casting, luck-cursing mood.
That's when the Brewers started sniffing the wind. That's when Money dumped a single to center, and, with two out, the tough little No. 9 hitter -- Gantner -- slapped an RBI double up the gap in right and, suddenly, Lapoint found himself walking to the showers.
The Brewers, you see, are big on atonement; they don't get mad, they get even. It was Gantner who let a grounder go between his knees in the second for a Cardinals' run; he was the guy who defused a first-and-third, none-out rally in the fifth with a double-play grounder.
The next thing you never do with the Brewers is give them extra, free base runners -- the fuel of big innings. That's why Herzog's hair stood up when reliever Doug Bair's first act was to walk Paul Molitor on four pitches to load the bases.
Once the Brewers get smokin', one piece of dumb luck is more than enough for the spark to hit the dynamite. That's what transpired next when the AL's mortal lock MVP, Yount, lined a two-run single to right field, by accident.
"Trying to check my swing," said Yount, who'd twice been embarrassed this day, when he kicked that infield chop hit into right, and later made an error on a rushed throw. "Weakest hit he's had all year," said Selig.
Make that break No. 2, reducing the Cardinals' lead to 5-4.
Jim Kaat, 43, came in to face Cooper, who hit a weak chop toward first. Hernandez leapt, gloved the ball, landed foul and spun to implore the first base umpire to call it "fair" to end the inning. But home plate umpire Dave Phillips called it foul. "Right call, by about an inch or two," said Hernandez. Break No. 3.
Finally, we're in fast-forward, just a blur, the crowd on its feet on every pitch, the Cardinals bereft of help because they all know it's too early to call for Sutter; the man's gotten the last seven outs each of the last two victories already. You can't burn out your trump Card.
On the next pitch, Cooper slaps a hard, but far from unfieldable grounder to the left of Oberkfell at third. He can't hear the crack of the bat for the crowd and thinks the ball is harder hit than it is. So, he dives. His timing out of whack, he overdives the ball and it trickles off his glove for a game-tying infield hit. Break No. 4.
The last act now seems a piece of cake with Ted Simmons and Thomas, the Brewers' prime sufferers, due up. Simmons was the catcher who'd allowed Oberkfell and Willie McGee to steal on his comic throws. And, as for Thomas, he was just the outfielder who'd let two runs score on a routine fly ball; in the second, Thomas' feet had slipped momentarily after he caught Herr's fly on the warning track. Ozzie Smith had tagged from second base and scored without even so much as a tag.
Simmons never gets his chance as Kaat's wild pitch -- break No. 5 -- opens first base and puts an intentional walk in order.
In the on-deck circle, Simmons and Thomas meet.
"I told him, 'Be a nice time for it. Just try and relax,' " recounted the delightfully spacy Simmons. "Obviously, I didn't know it was going to happen or I'd have congratulated him."