The Cardinals and the Mets may be the best rivalry since the Yankees and Red Sox in the '70s. "To put it mildly, they don't like one another," says Clint Hurdle, who knows. He played for the Mets last season and was drafted by the Cards this winter. Considering the current atmosphere, that's like crossing the Berlin Wall. "It's hard explaining to friends on both sides," Hurdle says, "that those other guys aren't as bad as they think."
Last season, Cardinal players complained that the national media never gave them due credit. "They were too interested in the Mets," says John Tudor. In the middle of a TV interview last fall, manager Whitey Herzog interrupted CNN's Craig Sager: "According to you, we had a lousy season." Later, Herzog cracked, "The World Series champion was decided before spring training."
The Cardinals were a consensus pick for mediocrity in the NL East after the departure of Bruce Sutter. Including the postseason, though, they won more games in '85 (108) than any team in baseball. They scored more runs than any team in the National League (747), doing it with the cloud of dust kicked up by Vince Coleman and batting champ Willie McGee. They made defense so much fun that the fans wanted to see their team in the field. They won the playoffs with enough drama to leave Vin Scully hoarse.
No one doubts the Cardinals' talent. Coleman is healthy and talking about stealing 200 bases; Jack Clark is happy to be with a winner; McGee and Tommy Herr are in their primes; Terry Pendleton came through in the stretch last season; and Herzog thinks that Andy Van Slyke can hit 30 home runs. The defense is already the best in the game, and with new catcher Mike Heath's rocket launcher of an arm, it might get even better. But there is concern about Ozzie Smith's rotator cuff, even though he was throwing well last week. The Cardinals still have to replace Joaquin Andujar. "It's not his 20 wins as much as his innings," says pitching coach Mike Roarke. Andujar didn't miss a start, threw 269‚Öî innings and was 14-6 lifetime against the Mets.
Tudor and Danny Cox are the first two starters, and veteran Bob Forsch not only picked up a split-fingered fastball this spring but was also throwing better than he had in four years. Still, Andujar could be a tough act to follow. So expect Herzog to import a veteran pitcher. The rivalry demands it.
THE ELIAS ANALYST:
Operates in high-speed NL, where teams try 1.21 steals a game; AL average is .96 a game.
Has batted over .300 in LIP situations in each of the last three seasons.
Batted .357 with runners on base, .248 with the bases empty.
Led all NL shortstops in fielding percentage (.983) for fourth time in last five seasons.
With the bases loaded, he batted .444 (8 for 18) with two grand slams.
First rookie to steal 100 bases; also set rookie record for being caught stealing (25).
Career breakdown: .299 BA, .456 SA right-handed; and .312 BA, .402 SA lefthanded.
ANDY VAN SLYKE
Loves to face Ed Lynch (.500, 11 for 22, 1 HR); hates to face Floyd Youmans (0 for 11).
His 10 shutouts were the most by a NL lefty since Sandy Koufax (11 in 1963).
Was 12-2 vs. teams below .500, 6-7 vs. teams above .500.
A righthander, he did not allow homer to a left-handed batter in 203 at bats in '85.
Average of 5.07 innings per start was 3rd lowest among NL pitchers.
Cardinals won nine of the last 10 regular-season games in which he appeared.