Author Jeff Morris

Stop Blaming One Play for a Loss

Stop Blaming One Bad Call (or Play) for a Loss

We have all been there. End of a big game. Your team is in a tight battle with their opponent to win a game or even a championship. The excitement builds and you are on the edge of your seat. And then it happens ….. an absolutely horrible call goes against or one of the players on your team makes a bonehead play and it seemingly costs your team the game.

Now, I am not talking about games that may have been fixed. I don’t believe that any professional or college league is fixed, as some conspiracy theorists do. I will admit that there have been games fixes at bother the college and professional level. Look up Tim Donaghy or the Boston College basketball team that fixed games in the late 70s. Those games are not included in this discussion.

The list of games that people blame on one play or call is endless, but a few that come to mind are:

  • Chris Webber’s timeout against North Carolina in 1993.
  • No interference call against the Rams late in the 2018 NFC Championship against the Saints.
  • The University of Colorado’s “fifth down” on the game winning drive against Missouri in 1990.
  • Derek Jeter’s homerun against the Orioles in the 1996 ALCS.
  • MJ’s “push off” of the Jazz’s Bryon Russell in game six of the 1998 NBA Finals.
  • Brett Hull’s goal in the 3rd overtime of game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals between Dallas and Buffalo.
  • The “Tuck Rule” game between the Patriots and Raiders in 2001 AFC playoffs.
  • Bill Buckner’s error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series between Boston and the New York Mets (a play that Buckner, who could barely walk, should not have been in the field for at that point in the game).

All of the games were tough losses for the fans of the losing teams. But, once the games are over, anyone can look back at other plays in the game that they could have executed better or that went against the winning team. Officials are going to miss calls. Players are going to make mistakes. Even professionals are going to make bonehead plays sometimes. Hell, Magic Johnson let the clock run out in Game 4 of the 1984 NBA Finals at Boston with the Lakers up 1-0 in the series. The game was tied 113-113 with under ten seconds and the Lakers did not get up a shot because of Magic (some called him “Tragic” Johnson for a bit after that game).

My point is that coaches, players and fans can look back at any game or series and point to numerous plays that would have allowed their team to overcome a bad call or play. I am going to analyze one famous blown call to show why you can’t blame a loss on one play.

Since I live in St. Louis and have been a Cards’ fan since “Whiteyball” became a thing in the early 80s, the play I will consider is the blown call by Don Denkinger at the end of Game 6 in the 1985 World Series between the Cardinals and Kansas City Royals.

Let’s go back to October 26, 1985. I can still remember where I was that Saturday night. I was a freshman at Rend Lake College and was on the basketball team. We were hosting a jamboree of junior high basketball games that day, so I was not able to watch the game. But, one of our managers had a radio near the score bench and we were listening to the game.

The Cards led the series 3-2 heading into game 6. We listened to the game as the Cards held a slim 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the 9th inning. Todd Worrell was the Cards’ young, flamethrowing reliever and they were almost unbeatable with a lead in the late innings. Needless to say, we felt good about our chances for the Cards to win the game.

Jorge Orta pinch hit for Darryl Motley to lead off the 9th inning. Orta hit a dribbler down the first base line and Jack Clark tossed the ball to Worrell as Orta charged down the line to the first base bag. It was a close play. In fact, the first time I saw the play later that night, I was not sure if he had blown the call. After watching the replay, it was clear that Orta was out. Watch for yourself below.

I am not sure the call is as bad as many make it out to be. It was an odd play all the way around. Worrell kind of turns his foot on the bag and just twists in a weird way once he catches the ball. I also think Denkinger might have thought Worrell was off the bag. After that call, the rest of the inning went like this:

  • Steve Balboni singled.
  • After a force out at the 3rd, a passed ball by Darrel Porter gave the Royals runners at 2nd and 3rd with one out.
  • Hal McRae was intentionally walked to load the bases.
  • Former Cardinal, Dane Iorg, got the game winning single and the Royals won 2-1.

The Royals would go on to win game seven and the 1985 World Series the following night. Cards’ fans still blame Denkinger for that Series loss. Even up to his to his death on May 12, 2023. I have read that he and Whitey Herzog became great friends and that Whitey has said that he should not have been vilified the way he was.

After almost forty years, it is time to look at that game and that series to show why that one call did not beat the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985. First, let’s look at how the series played out by game. The scores for each of the seven games were:

Game 1 StL 3 KC 1

Game 2 StL 4 KC 2

Game 3 KC 6 StL 1

Game 4 StL 3 KC 0

Game 5 KC 6 StL 1

Game 6 KC 2 StL 1

Game 7 KC 11 StL 0

Things to note about the series:

  • The Cardinals are the only team in MLB history to win the first two games on the road and lose the series. Just win two of three at Busch and the series is over.
  • The Cards had a 3-1 series lead and only needed to win one of the last three games to win the series.
  • The play that likely did cost the Cardinals the series did not even happen in a game or even that series. Vince Coleman was injured when he got run over by a speeding tarp before game four of the 1985 NLCS against the Dodgers. Not having their leading base stealer and leadoff man was a killer. But, even without Coleman the Cards were in the driver’s seat for most of the series.
  • The Cardinal’s offense was ATROCIOUS!!!!
  • They scored a total of thirteen runs in seven games. THIRTEEN!!!! The Cards led the NL in runs scored with 4.6 runs/game.
  • They hit .185 (40/216) for the series. They led the NL in hitting in 1985 with a team batting average of .264.
  • They had a total of ten doubles and one triple for the series. The fact that the Cards only hit two homeruns was not a huge factor because they played small ball. They only hit 87 homeruns during the 1985 regular season. But they led the NL in triples and were fourth in doubles. They absolutely blew teams away with their speed on that turf at Busch. Plus, Kansas City also played on a turf field and that should have been plus for the Cards.
  • They stole two bases in the series. This was a killer for them. Vince Coleman stole 110 bases and the team stole 314 during the 1985 regular season. That is almost two steals a game during the regular season. (How did the Cardinals even win a game in this series?)
  • Andy Van Slyke, Ozzie Smith, Darrel Porter, Tom Herr, and Cesar Cedeno all appeared in at least five games in the series. They combined to hit 11-90 (.122) with two doubles and one RBI. Tom Herr led the team with 110 RBI and Jack Clark was second with 87. Those two, batting 3rd and 4th, did not have an RBI in the series.
  • Not having Vince Coleman is what beat the Cardinals!!!!

As bad as the Cardinals were on offense, they still had a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth inning with their talented young closer, Todd Worrell, on the mound. Worrell had made his debut for the Cards late in the season and would win NL Rookie of the Year in 1986.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the 9th inning of game 6. If you watch the entire inning, the Cards still had a chance to close out the series even with Denkinger’s missed call, but two crucial mistakes (besides the missed call by Denkinger) cost them dearly. You can watch the entire inning, as painful as it may be for any Card’s fans, on the link below:

The Bottom of the 9th Inning!!!

After Denkinger’s missed call, Orta is on first base with nobody out. Here is how the rest of the inning played out:

  • Steve Balboni is the next batter. He hits a pop up down the first baseline that Jack Clark absolutely butchered. It was not an easy play, but Clark should have caught that ball. I think Jack Clark would admit that. If Clark makes that play, the Cards would have a runner on first with one out if that play is made. Instead, Balboni singles and now there are runners on first and second with nobody out. This was the first play that killed the Cards’ chances.
  • The Royals put in a pinch runner for Balboni.
  • Jim Sundberg attempts to sacrifice, but Worrell makes a huge play and gets Orta at third for the first out.
  • Hal McRae comes to the plate with one out and runners on first and second. McRae was a solid hitter during his career, but he was hitless in the series.
  • On the second pitch to McRae, Porter allows a passed ball and now there are runners on second and third with one out. It appeared that Worrell threw a curve or slider when Porter was expecting a fastball. Regardless, that cannot happen in a game of this magnitude.
  • McRae is intentionally walked to load the bases with one out.
  • Former Cardinal, Dane Iorg, drives in the tying and game winning runs with a single.

The series was still not over. The Cards had a chance to win game seven. Their ace, John Tudor, was set to start the final game for them on Sunday night. Tudor had a rough start to the season (1-7 with a 3.74 ERA), but he finished 20-1 with a 1.37 ERA. His final record of 21-8 and 1.93 ERA led to him finishing second in the Cy Young voting to a young Dwight Gooden (24-4 and 1.53 ERA).

Game seven was a disaster from the start. It was obvious that the Cards were shaken from the loss the night before and Tudor was not right. Daryl Motley crushed a Tudor pitch that missed being a homerun by a few feet. On the next pitch, Motley crushed another ball and this one was fair. KC was up 2-0 and it just got worse. The final score was 11-0 and KC had their first world title.

The only enjoyable moment for Card’s fans was Whitey Herzog putting Joaquin Andujar in the game to pitch in the fifth inning. Andujar was, as he liked to say, “one tough Dominican” and he let out all of the frustrations with Denkinger’s blown call in Game 6 out after about fifteen pitches. If you want to watch Andujar’s meltdown, go to 1:37:00 on the video below:

I think Whitey had to know that Andujar was going to go off.

As much as I hated the Cards losing in 1985, they had their chances and just came up short. They overcame a lot with the injury to Coleman and still somehow had a chance, but Don Denkinger’s bad call did not beat them. What do you think?

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