Within the space of 16 minutes last Saturday, both ends of the Subway Series were derailed. The St. Louis Cardinals closed out the New York Mets in the NL East with a 7-1 victory over the Cubs, and the Toronto Blue Jays clinched the AL East title with a 5-1 win over the New York Yankees.
The Cards and Mets went at each other earlier in the week in a three-game series in St. Louis. The Mets trailed by three games coming in, but as Cardinal centerfielder Willie McGee said, "It was just like going up against a bear. He's trying to corner you, and you're trying your damndest to get out of the situation."
The Mets won the first game 1-0 on Darryl Strawberry's gigantic homer in the 11th. Pitchers Ron Darling and John Tudor provided the suspense—Darling went nine shutout innings and Tudor 10. Some Mets called it the greatest game they ever played in, although they had less than kind words for the Cardinal fans, who were unusually abusive.
Dwight Gooden outpitched Joaquin Andujar to win the second game 5-2 for his 24th victory, despite a ninth-inning scare. "The coffin is open, and we are out," said one Met.
New York was back in the old box after Thursday's game. The Cards won 4-3 in typical fashion—all their runs came as the result of nine singles and aggressive running. Danny Cox went six strong innings before yielding to four members of the St. Louis Save Committee.
On Friday the two teams went about their separate tasks at home, and while the Mets beat the Expos 9-4 to cling to one last hope, the Cards clinched at least a tie with their 100th victory, 4-2 over Chicago. Tudor was back on the mound Saturday; he pitched a four-hitter for his 21st win, and 20th in his last 21 decisions. The final out came at 4:44 p.m. E.S.T., and afterward shortstop Ozzie Smith said, "What was irritating all year was hearing that the Mets were a better club than us. We won this because we played better." Back in New York, the Mets were losing 8-3 to the Expos but receiving grateful ovations from their fans.
At 4:28 E.S.T. the long overdue Blue Jays finally did it. Toronto seemingly had the title wrapped up Friday night, what with a 3-2 lead with two out and none on in the ninth. But Tom Henke threw a fat fastball to Butch Wynegar, who hadn't homered since June 7, and Wynegar hit a shot over the rightfield wall. The roof then fell in as 1) Bobby Meacham singled off the glove of second baseman Damaso Garcia, 2) Rickey Henderson walked and 3) Don Mattingly hit a routine fly ball to right center that Lloyd Moseby simply dropped. The error gave the Yanks a 4-3 victory.
But Moseby was a hero the next day, hitting one of the Blue Jays' three homers. The first was hit by catcher Ernie Whitt, an original member of the Jays, who said later, "All season people kept thinking that we would fold. We showed the makeup of this club by coming back and winning today." Ex-Yankee Doyle Alexander tied up the New York hitters, allowing only five hits and retiring 14 of the last 15 men he faced. His performance was even more remarkable because a stiff wind was blowing out to rightfield, favoring the Yankees' left-handed hitters.
After the game, Toronto's Cliff Johnson came into Yankee manager Billy Martin's office with a bottle and told him, "I wanted to give you champagne because you gave me my start drinking it." Johnson was referring, of course, to his 1977 season with the Yankees.
Martin allowed as how he was proud of the Yankees for fighting back, but, he said, "There's no satisfaction in finishing second. Second place is for the birds."
Actually, first place was for the birds, the Cardinals and Blue Jays.