08/08/07 12:29 AM ET
Wizard's unlikely blast was pure magic
Of homers hit by Redbirds, none bigger than NLCS surprise
By Daniel Berk / MLB.com
On Oct. 14, 1985, during Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, the 53,708 fans at Busch Stadium and the thousands more listening to Buck on the radio did just that. They went crazy.
That was the only word that could describe what had just transpired. How a 5-foot-11, 150-pound switch-hitting shortstop -- who had never homered from the left side of the plate -- could belt a home run from the left side in the bottom of the ninth inning of an NLCS series knotted at two games apiece to put his team one win away from the World Series was, as Buck said, crazy.
On a speaker next to a statue of the former broadcaster outside the new Busch Stadium, Buck's call still is replayed outside the new Busch Stadium for fans to listen to before every game. As Jack Buck's son, Joe, said, it's Cardinals fans' favorite battle cry. The phrase is still used as a headline in the newspaper any time the Cards accomplish anything great.
And as Major League Baseball has crowned a new home run king, there is little question that Smith's drive is the most memorable home run in Cardinals history. It's one that'll always link Smith and Buck to Redbirds fans.
"[Buck] made it last forever," Mike Shannon, Buck's broadcast partner, said. "Great calls come at the moment. At that moment, that was the great call. They don't get much more special than that. I think Jack described it perfectly."
It's about as ironic as it gets, that Smith, a defensive genius who hit 28 home runs in his 19 seasons in the big leagues, owns the most memorable home run in Cardinals history.
After all, it's an organization that knows all about memorable home runs. Cardinals fans watched Mark McGwire belt 70 home runs in a season, breaking what was then Roger Maris' single-season home run record.
But in a city known for its baseball prestige and tradition, Smith's home run was as good as it gets, thanks in large part to the call by Buck.
"Buck's call will never get old," former Cards third baseman Terry Pendleton said. "That was classic Jack Buck and classic clutch hitting by Ozzie Smith."
The improbable homer came in a tie game against Dodgers reliever Tom Niedenfuer.
After reigning NL batting champ Willie McGee popped up to start the bottom of the ninth inning, Smith came to the plate, hoping to start a rally and get on base for the heart of the Cards order, including Tom Herr, who already had rapped a two-run double earlier in the game.
But after falling behind, 1-2, to Niedenfuer, Smith handled matters on his own, ripping a pitch that screamed down the right-field line and eventually cleared the wall for a game-winning home run -- putting the Cards up, 3-2, in the seven-game series. It stands as Smith's only postseason homer as well as being his first from the left side.
"My defensive prowess was always going to overshadow anything I did offensively," Smith told the Springfield, Ill., State Journal-Register years after the homer. "It just so happens sometimes it takes a home run in the playoffs that brings about the awareness and attention that you ultimately get. For me, it was a home run in 1985 that made people look at me as more than just a defensive player."
After winning Game 5 at home, the Cards took the momentum and headed back to Los Angeles for Game 6. The Dodgers had beaten the Cards at Dodger Stadium in the first two games.
The Cards again relied on some ninth-inning drama. Trailing 5-4, first baseman Jack Clark hit a three-run home run off Niedenfuer with two outs to give the Cards the series and a berth in the World Series.
"There was a lot of momentum to that," Pendleton said. "The Dodgers beat us two games at their place, so we had to come back home and battle the way we did and we were fortunate enough to do so. But it spilled over into that sixth game, there's no doubt about that. What he did there was unbelievable."
Smith's home run was voted as the No. 1 memory at the old Busch Stadium.
Even though the Cards went on to lose in the World Series in seven games to the Kansas City Royals, it never took away from Smith's home run.
"Sometimes there's a special moment in time," Smith told the Springfield State Journal-Register. "Jack Buck was at the mike and I hit a fly ball to right field. It was just the moment."
Other memorable home runs in Cardinals history:
Sept. 8, 1998: McGwire hits his 62nd home run of the season, breaking Maris' single-season home run record. The slugger was able to hit the shot at home against the Cubs. Sammy Sosa, who was chasing McGwire in the home run race, came in from right field to give McGwire a hug.
Sept. 27, 1998: McGwire finishes his amazing season, hitting his 69th and 70th home runs of the season at Busch Stadium against the Expos. McGwire hit five home runs in his last three games to get to 70 homers.
Oct. 20, 2004: Cards center fielder Jim Edmonds hits an NLCS walk-off homer in the 12th inning of Game 6 against the Astros. After the Astros scored once in the ninth to tie the game at 4, Edmonds sent the fans at Busch Stadium home three innings later. After Albert Pujols walked and Scott Rolen popped up, Edmonds ripped a two-run shot off Astros reliever Dan Miceli to give the Cards a 6-4 win. The Redbirds would capture the series one game later.
Sept. 7, 1993: Mark Whiten puts on a power show in the second game of a doubleheader in Cincinnati, when he belts four home runs and has 12 RBIs. Whitten became just the 12th player in Major League history to slug four homers in a game.
April 23, 1999: Fernando Tatis becomes the first player in Major League history to hit two grand slams in the same inning when he takes Dodgers starter Chan Ho Park deep twice in the third inning. Tatis had never hit a grand slam before that game.
Daniel Berk is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.