The 9-22 Braves were matched up against the 16-18 Cardinals. The Cardinals, of course, were coming off of a National League Pennant season in 1987, their second in three seasons. The Braves, at the time, were trying to get something together, doing the best they could to mix their good young players with the has-been veterans they were stuck with. After this game, manager Chuck Tanner would manage just eight more games until he was fired by General Manager Bobby Cox and replaced by Russ Nixon, Tanner's managerial career would then be over, with Nixon's coming to an end during the 1990 season, followed by Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog during the same season.
The Braves would start left handed pitcher Zane Smith, fresh off a 15 win season in 1987. The Cardinals countered with right handed pitcher Cris Carpenter. I both did not misspell his first name, nor am I referring to the pitcher who had a .683 winning percentage in his nine seasons in St. Louis (2004-2012). There was also another Chris Carpenter who pitched for the Chicago Cubs (2011) and Boston Red Sox (2012) and is best remember for being traded for Theo Epstein. As I digress, this particular pitcher was drafted just a year ago by the Cardinals in the first round of the 1987 draft (14th overall). He would go on to make eight starts in 1988, then finish his career with 291 games pitched, mostly out of the bullpen. In fact, he would appear in 73 games for the 1992 Cardinals and won ten games as a reliever in 1991. This particular game was also his major league debut.
The game would seem very average through the first six innings. The Cardinals got to Smith first, scoring on a Terry Pendleton single in the bottom of the first inning. The Cards added two more in the bottom of the second on a Vince Coleman single and a Tom Brunansky bases loaded walk.The Braves rallied in the fourth inning when Gerald Perry drove in a run with a double. Former Cardinal Ken Oberkfell added a two run triple and future Cardinal Ron Gant gave them the lead with a sacrifice fly.
The lead did not last very long as the Cardinals tied the game in their half of the fourth on a Willie McGee single. They then took the lead on an RBI double by Pendleton, a future Brave. Smith would leave the game after four innings while Carpenter pitched the Cardinals into the seventh. With the score remaining 5-4, Carpenter opened the Braves seventh by allowing a lead off single to Gant. Reliever Steve Peters would walk Albert Hall, then retire Dion James on a sacrifice bunt. With runners on second and third, Andres Thomas hit a ball to shortstop Ozzie Smith who quickly flipped to Pendleton to get Hall trying to move over to third. However, Gant scored on the play and the game was tied at 5.
The Cardinals made a strong effort to score in their half of the eighth inning. Ozzie Smith and McGee opened the inning with consecutive singles off of reliever Paul Assemacher. With first and second and no out, Brunansky would fly out to left fielder Ken Griffey. Tom Lawless would run for Pendleton after the latter grounded into a force play moving Smith to third. Bob Horner's groundout to shortstop Thomas would end the threat.
Lawless came in to play third and Jose Oquendo replaced first baseman Horner. After a relatively easy top of the ninth inning for the Cardinals, Braves reliever Jose Alvarez erased back to back one out singles by Tony Pena and Oquendo to get out of the inning unscathed. In the top of the 11th, Braves catcher Ozzie Virgil singled with one out against Cardinals reliever Todd Worrell. With two outs, Virgil advanced to second on a balk. Tanner chose not to pinch run for the slow footed Virgil, but it did not cost him as Gant grounded out to second to end the inning.
Bob Forsch would take over for the Cardinals in the top of the 12th and retire nine of the ten batters he faced. Another starting pitcher, Rick Mahler, would take over for the Braves in the bottom of the inning. Mahler had no idea what he was in for. It is sad to say that neither Forsch nor Mahler are still with us, Mahler passed away in 2005 and Forsch in 2011.
After the Cardinals were retired in the bottom of the 14th inning by Mahler, Herzog would make a very interesting decision. He doubled switched pitcher Jose DeLeon into the game. DeLeon took over left field for Duane Walker, who had just come into the game an inning earlier himself. Walker moved over to first base to take over for Oquendo. And Oquendo moved from first base to pitcher. The reason DeLeon did not pitch was because he had just thrown 132 pitches in the game before, a 7-5 win over the Braves thanks to the right hander's 8 and two thirds innings.
Herzog did have options. He took out starting pitcher Randy O'Neal after just one inning. He had last started three days ago. The next game's starting pitcher was Larry McWilliams, who had spent most of the season bouncing around between the starting rotation and the bullpen. Oquendo would respond by throwing three scoreless innings. The silliness did not end there as Herzog would move DeLeon from left field to right field depending on the tendency of the opposing hitter. Right fielder Brunansky would move to left and then back to right a total of twelve times. We got to see something similar to this in 2017 as the Mets moved catcher Travis d'arnaud between second and third base a total of 23 times.
The Braves would finally get to Oquendo in the 19th inning. After striking out Mahler to start the inning, James drew a walk. Thomas then popped out to the catcher for the second out. A wild pitch moved James to second, leading to an unintentional, intentional walk to Dale Murphy. This set the scene for Griffey. Prior to Griffey coming to the plate, Herzog moved Brunansky back to his original position of right field, sending DeLeon back to left. To this point, the Cardinals had only seen the ball hit to DeLeon one time, a fly ball from Thomas that was handled in the 17th. Griffey went the other way and hit the ball past DeLeon for a two run double which gave the Braves a 7-5 lead. This also broke a twelve inning scoreless drought for both teams.
Mahler came out to finish the game for the Braves, his 8th inning of relief. After retiring Oquendo, he faced John Tudor, who came up as a pinch hitter for DeLeon. He got him out on a ground ball. The game ended on a fly out to right field to Murphy off the bat of Smith. Had the Cardinals managed to tie the game, what would Whitey have done for the 20th inning? He could have conceivably left Oquendo in the game as the pitcher or he could have gone to Tudor, who had pitched two days before, throwing 97 pitches in just under four innings. Mahler himself finished with 101 pitches in his eight relief innings. He had not pitched in five days and would manage to throw another 98 pitches just two days later.
Oquendo would make another relief appearance in his career, his third overall in 1991. Ironically, it was also against the Braves, but this time it was the last inning of a lopsided game. The Braves were leading 14 to 1 at home after seven innings. Oquendo would give up three runs in his inning of work, a near duplicate of his first appearance in 1987 against the Philadelphia Phillies. DeLeon would never play another game in the outfield.
Like I stated earlier, things would not get much better for each team. Tanner was replaced by Nixon a little bit over a week later and the Cardinals were ending their bid for competitive baseball for a while. Tudor was traded for Pedro Guerrero, who turned out to be a very good Cardinals player. The Cardinals struggled through the 1990 season when Herzog was let go and replaced by the legendary Red Schoendienst, who managed the team through the rest of the season.