They rhapsodize about baseball games like this. A crisp evening, a pennant race building, two fabulous pitchers, superb defense and the game-winning hit from an unlikely hero.
That was the scenario tonight at Shea Stadium. It was game two of this vital series between the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals and by the time it ended, the Cardinals had a 1-0 victory and the teams were back where they began 27 hours earlier, tied for first place in the National League East.
For nine innings, John Tudor and Dwight Gooden, matchless pitchers for the past three months, matched zeroes as 52,616 sat waiting for something to give.
It finally did in the top of the 10th inning when Gooden departed in favor of Jesse Orosco. It took one batter for Orosco to undo Gooden's masterpiece. The batter was Cesar Cedeno and the pitch was an 0-2 hanging slider that Cedeno drove just over the 338-foot sign in left field.
"I think he got the ball up a little higher than he wanted to," said Cedeno, who came to the Cardinals from the Cincinnati Reds 13 days ago in one of those little-noted nor long-remembered late-season deals. "I was just trying to stay alive and I didn't swing that hard. If I had, I probably would have hit the ball foul."
Orosco (5-5) barely looked up from his card game in the locker room to talk about his disastrous pitch. "Breaking ball," he said. "He didn't hit it good, but he hit it good enough." With that, he went back to his cards.
Down the hall, the Cardinals were celebrating. They had beaten the Mets on a night when Gooden pitched, sending their best -- Tudor -- to face the Mets' best and coming out one ahead.
"Anytime you beat them with Gooden pitching, it's a big deal," said second baseman Tommy Herr. "After we lost last night, we sure didn't want to go into the last game (Thursday afternoon) facing a sweep."
Cedeno's heroics were ironic for several reasons. His last hit for Cincinnati, on Aug. 27, was a run-scoring pinch-hit single. The pitcher was Tudor. Since then, Tudor (18-8) has pitched 28 scoreless innings. This was his ninth shutout of the season and gave him a 17-1 record since a 1-7 start.
"I've seen a lot of great left-handers in this league," said Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez. "But right now he is the best I've faced."
It is hard to imagine someone pitching better than Tudor did tonight. He faced 28 batters over nine innings. He allowed three hits in 10, all of them singles.
Tudor's only problem tonight was Gooden. Since he became the youngest pitcher in modern history (20) to win 20 games on Aug. 25, Gooden has pitched three times. His teammates have failed to score a run for him. In his last two outings, Gooden has pitched nine innings each time and allowed five hits and no runs and left with no decision.
Gooden was not as sharp as Tudor tonight, but he was just as tough. He was often behind batters -- 3-2 on five straight during one stretch -- but kept getting outs. He was in control every inning except the eighth when it took some defense that was nothing short of remarkable to keep the Cardinals from scoring.
The inning began with Gooden's first two walks of the game, to Mike Jorgensen and Ozzie Smith. Up came Tudor, his job being to bunt the runners over. Hernandez simply wouldn't let him do it. He charged so far down the first baseline that he was almost in Tudor's lap by the time the pitch crossed the plate.
Tudor's bunt was slightly timid, but was on the third base side of the plate. Hernandez actually crossed to that side, scooped the ball up and flicked a quick throw to Ray Knight at third to force Cedeno, who was running for Jorgensen.
Catcher Gary Carter chipped in with a fine play a moment later, throwing Smith out attempting to steal third. That left Tudor on first with two down. Vince Coleman promptly doubled to right field. If anyone but the pitcher had been running, he might have scored, even though Darryl Strawberry played the ball perfectly. As it was, Tudor stopped at third.
Gooden walked Willie McGee intentionally and then got Herr to pop to Knight. Two walks, a double, but no runs.
Tudor gave up a scratch single to Strawberry to start the bottom half of the inning, but George Foster hit into a double play.
"One of those nights," said the Mets' Mookie Wilson. "Dwight did his job. We didn't do ours."
Gooden finished his job with a 1-2-3 ninth and Tudor matched it. Enter Orosco and Cedeno.