The St. Louis Cardinals muffed a world title tonight.
Sunday night, we'll find out if the Kansas City Royals can pick it up.
The Cardinals entered the ninth inning of the sixth game of the World Series this evening with a 1-0 lead. Three outs for a world title.
This season, St. Louis has taken a lead into the ninth on 84 occasions. Despite no longer having the great relief pitcher, Bruce Sutter, they somehow never lost: 84-0.
They picked a hell of a time to start, didn't they?
The Royals can say they won this game, 2-1. They can say that Dane Iorg was their sudden-death hero. It's a fact that his broken-bat pinch hit, a looper over first base, drove home both runs.
The Royals can say that Jorge Orta and Steve Balboni singled off rookie reliever Todd Worrell. They can say that, after Jim Sundberg bunted into a force at a 95-mph fast ball chucked an 0-2 change-up over the plate. It went for a single that put the eventual winning run on base.
Porter, a former Royal, committed an atrocious passed ball on a slider that was almost a strike. Say hello to Mickey Owen.
Here's the sequence, if not the psychology, of catastrophe.
The Cardinals came to the ninth with no sense of dread. True, Leibrandt had retired the first 15 batters he faced. Okay, so the visitors fluffed a two-on, none-out rally in the sixth.
But all the vibrations had been running their way. Royals Manager Dick Howser had seen a tough decision blow up in his face. He'd let Leibrandt hit for himself with two on and two out in the seventh of a scoreless game and, of course, Leibrandt struck out.
In the next half-inning, Leibrandt gave up as star-crossed a run as anyone ever will see. Terry Pendleton rolled a single to right. Cesar Cedeno, after taking a two-strike pitch that appeared to be on the mark but was called a ball, walked. And Harper, who has 44 RBI in his career, fought off a pitch on his fists that should have broken his bat.
Instead, it looked like it was going to break the Royals' hearts. The ball hit no more than a foot above Harper's strong hands, yet fought its way into short center field for an RBI hit.
When Ken Dayley, in relief of Danny Cox, who battled through seven shaky innings, buzzed through the eighth, it looked as if the St. Louis Save Committee would do its job again.
Then came the ninth. A cruel and unusual punishment for the Cardinals, even by the standards of those who love the Royals.
Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog, who has milked every tiny percentage to help his bullpen all year, brought in Worrell to face pinch hitter Darryl Motley.
How could that be wrong? Two days ago, Worrell looked like Walter Johnson's big brother. He faced six Royals. He struck out six Royals. That tied the Series record. If he'd stayed around longer, who knows how many he'd have fanned? But Herzog wanted to save him. For tonight.
Even though Worrell has been a major leaguer less than three months, until tonight he had a unique and valuable distinction. He may have been the only living relief pitcher who never had had a bad experience. Since going to the bullpen in midseason, Worrell had never lost a game, never blown a lead, never, in fact, done anything but be a hero and look like the next Goose Gossage.
Say hello to reality, big fella. The game's not even close to fair.
Orta, pinch hitting for the pinch hitter, chopped a grounder to Clark, who threw to Worrell in time to nip Orta by a foot.
Unfortunately, as three replay angles indicated, American League umpire Don Denkinger missed the tough call, signaling Orta safe as the Cardinals danced in a rage of protest.
Next, Balboni lifted a foul pop that either Clark or Porter could have caught. Both looked at each other. Then, in a nightmarish moment, both realized they were 10 feet from where the ball would come down.
Clark lunged and missed.
The previous play may have unnerved him. Now, the Balboni play was dancing in Porter's head.
Who knows how Porter and Worrell came to the decision to throw Balboni, who has not had an extra-base hit in 54 postseason at bats, an offspeed pitch? Bye-Bye has been Gone-Gone for two weeks. On 0-2, Worrell tried an offspeed pitch. Over the plate.
Balboni, out in front, lunged but flicked a ground single into left field.
Then the comedy of errors started in earnest as both teams tried to hand the game back and forth.
Veteran catcher Sundberg fouled off two sacrifice bunts, then, on a 2-2 pitch, laid down a terrible bunt back to Worrell. The rookie double-clutched, inviting a no-play-anywhere, but still forced the runner at third base by inches.
The Royals pinch hit McRae, their regular-season cleanup man.
On a 1-0 pitch, Worrell threw a hard slider-high and just off the plate -- an easy pitch to handle. Porter had it in his glove, then watched it pop out and roll 20 feet away as both runners advanced.
That's when the 41,628 got seriously weird. Blood was on the full moon. The Cardinals were begging to be beaten.
McRae was intentionally walked, and Iorg, who batted .224 in 130 at bats this year, arrived for his appointment with destiny.
In the celebration that followed this madcap masterpiece of misplays, Iorg's teammate, Mike Jones, managed to bloody Iorg's nose.
On Sunday, the Royals will have the home crowd. A 21-year-old father. And the best wishes of every underdog-loving fan who remembers how they caught the California Angels in the stretch, how they wouldn't quit against the Blue Jays in the playoffs and how, now, they have almost done it again.
The Cardinals will have Tudor and memories.