This evening began with tears and fear, screams and near terror for the St. Louis Cardinals. It ended with laughter.
Two hours before game time tonight, Cardinals star Vince Coleman was carried off the Busch Stadium turf screaming in pain, afraid his left leg was broken, his career threatened, by a weird accident in which he was pinned under a rolling, 1,200-pound motorized tarpaulin.
Before Game 4 of the National League Championship Series was an hour old, both Coleman and his teammates were giggling. The Cardinals had scored a playoff-record nine runs in the second inning on eight singles and several defensive gaucheries by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Not only were the Cardinals on the way to a 12-2 victory that evened the series at two games apiece, but by then everybody knew Coleman's injuries were no worse than if he'd taken an awkward slide into second base.
"I'm okay and I'll be back playing soon," said stolen-base champion Coleman in a statement. "I just don't want to be charged with a 'caught stealing' because of this."
Coleman, who has only a few bruises and scrapes, might even be in the lineup for Monday's fifth game (3:05 p.m., WRC-TV-4) when the Dodgers' ace, Fernando Valenzuela, faces Bob Forsch, who is taking the place of 21-game winner Joaquin Andujar.
Coleman's replacement in left field tonight was Tito Landrum, a popular veteran who supplied four of the Cardinals' 15 hits, drove in three runs and got two hits in that record-filled nine-run second inning, which made a loser of Jerry Reuss and a winner of Cardinals ace John Tudor.
The way Landrum played this evening, Coleman is going to hear a lot of jokes from teammates about Wally Pipp. He's the guy who took a day off and let Lou Gehrig in the lineup for one game. Gehrig stuck around for the next 2,130 in a row.
St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog called Coleman doubtful for Monday; he seldom hits against Valenzuela and Landrum's hot. "But Vince'll probably play Wednesday," said Herzog. Because of Danny Cox's sore elbow, St. Louis is at sea for a Game 6 starter. Herzog tentatively plans to reinstate Andujar.
For the Cardinals, Terry Pendleton had three RBI, Jack Clark had three hits and Tudor allowed just one run (a Bill Madlock homer) and three hits in seven innings.
One person not laughing was Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda, who glared at Herzog as he left a news conference and said, "I want to know if Whitey still believes that we are 'living in bleep,' like he said (in Los Angeles after Game 2) . . .
"Tonight, every ground ball they hit found a hole . . . Yeah, I believe they are living in bleep now," said Lasorda, using the word "bleep" rather than the noun Herzog had chosen. "We'll say it's all even now. Whitey is too good a friend and too good a manager for me to want to get in any barbs."
The Cardinals got in all the barbs they could possibly want in the second inning.
Like the preshocks of an earthquake, the inning began with rumbling that hardly seemed seismic. After a one-two-three first inning, Reuss hardly could have expected such destruction.
Clark sent the first pitch of the inning to center for the first of what would be eight Cardinals singles. Cesar Cedeno followed with a smash to Madlock's left that should have been fielded, perhaps for a double play. Madlock, four-time batting champion but never a Gold Glove, never touched the low hot hop.
Landrum then got the "game-winning-RBI" with a hard ground single up the middle. Mariano Duncan, nursing a sore knee given him by a Coleman slide in Game 2, was a foot shy with his lunge.
Centerfielder Candy Maldonado then illustrated how the Dodgers made 166 errors this season, throwing to the wrong base (third), allowing Landrum to take second. Then, Pendleton followed with an RBI groundout to second that could have been a perfect double play ball. Cedeno scored and Landrum took third on the play.
The Cardinals had hit three balls in one inning that their defense might have turned into six outs. The Dodgers had gotten one. That is the essence of what creates big innings. That and walks to No. 8 hitters. Yes, Reuss walked Tommy Nieto.
Tudor then laid down a miserable bunt back to the mound that Reuss should have been able to shovel to the plate in time to get Landrum -- who's no Coleman -- by 10 feet. But the 6-foot-5 Reuss got tangled and left the ball lying dead on the turf several feet behind him.
"We played for three runs and got nine," said Herzog, scratching his flattop.
In all, Reuss' error created seven, count 'em seven, unearned runs. After Willie McGee's flyout to the wall, Ozzie Smith singled off the glove of Duncan at short, scoring Nieto.
Herr drilled a hit to right to score Tudor, sending Reuss to the safety of the shower. On came left-hander Rick Honeycutt, maker of records. First, he got Clark in the books as the first man to get two hits in one inning in an NL playoff game. His single to center scored Smith.
After Cedeno walked to load the bases, Landrum drove in a run with a chop hit to short -- another less-than-wonderful play on a tough chance by Duncan -- to join Clark in that two-hit category. Pendleton then got his second and third RBI of the inning with a stinging liner over second base to make the count rise to 9-0.
Nieto took a called third strike to end what was, by two runs, the highest-scoring inning in playoff history. The Cardinals had scored more runs in one inning than they had in their first 27 innings of the series (nine to seven).
Thereafter, nothing of significance was likely to occur. And it didn't.
Tudor, who was on a 20-1 streak before the Dodgers beat him in Game 1, lost his perfect game on a walk to Steve Yeager with two out in the fifth. His no-hitter disappeared on a leadoff double by Steve Sax in the sixth and his shutout ended when Madlock curled a homer inside the left field foul pole to open the seventh.
Tonight's trivia quiz: Who got game-winning RBIs in Game 4 of championship series in both leagues? Yes, Landrum.
"I had no jitters. I was really relaxed. It was strange to feel that way, considering the circumstances," said Landrum, who won the 1983 pennant for Baltimore with a 10th-inning homer off Chicago's Britt Burns to snap a 0-0 tie.
Jitters might be the order of the day on Monday. Every player knows that, in seven-game series, the winner always seems to be the survivor of Game Five.