Players recall epic '82 'Suds Series'

Players recall epic '82 'Suds Series'

Players recall epic '82 'Suds Series'
MILWAUKEE -- This Brewers-Cardinals postseason matchup is not a first. Before these two clubs became division rivals, they squared off in a 1982 World Series playfully dubbed the "Suds Series." That Series went the distance and featured five players who would go on to have Hall of Fame careers.

That World Series appearance was a first for the Brewers, who had only been the Brewers since 1970. The Cardinals' postseason history obviously already ran much deeper. By 1968, St. Louis had already represented the National League in the Fall Classic a dozen times.

Twenty-nine years later, these two Midwestern clubs prepare to meet again, this time for the opportunity to advance to the World Series. Members of the same division since Milwaukee jumped leagues in 1998, it will be the teams' first postseason meeting since that slugging Brewers team matched up against a Cardinals club built around pitching, defense and run manufacturing.

In advance of the NL Championship Series, which begins Sunday, spoke with several members of those '82 Brewers and Cardinals teams. Put together, individual memories form a compelling and complete tale.

Here is that story.

Bob Forsch drew the starting assignment for the Cardinals in Game 1. It was a natural choice for St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog, as Forsch led the club in regular-season wins (15) and had already tossed a shutout in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series.

He'd be pitching on four days' rest.

"Before the game, we went over all their hitters and how we were going to play them and our defense from the scouting reports. We were supposed to pitch guys certain ways and they were supposed to hit the ball certain ways. It didn't work. I pitched them that way and they'd hit the ball just out of our reach or in the hole."

The Cardinals dropped that game, 10-0, at home. Forsch was chased from the outing after allowing six runs (four earned) on 10 hits before he finished six innings.

"I remember after the game, [shortstop] Ozzie [Smith] said, 'Screw this. We're going to play our defense how we always play our defense.' I think that ended up working out much better for us."

Having already yanked home-field advantage away from the Cardinals with the Game 1 victory, the Brewers raced out to a 3-0 lead a day later. That left the Series run tally entirely unbalanced -- 13 for Milwaukee, none for St. Louis.

The Cards' switch-hitting second baseman changed that in the third when, with a runner on and two out, he lifted a drive to deep right-center field. Tom Herr's hit bounced over the wall for an RBI ground-rule double.

"I remember getting that hit. It kind of got us going a little bit, broke the ice for us. Once that happened, I think it just kind of helped create a mentality that we can do this."

Herr also scored before the inning ended, cutting the Brewers' lead to one. The Cardinals later took their first lead of the Series when a bases-loaded walk forced in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth. St. Louis held on for the 5-4 win.

"We didn't want to go to Milwaukee after losing two games in our park. We thought if we could get a split, then we could go to Milwaukee and could at least get the Series back to St. Louis. Winning that game was big for us."

Trailing, 5-1, in the seventh inning of Game 4, the Brewers were nine outs away from falling behind 3-1 in the Series. Gorman Thomas, the club's No. 5 hitter, was set to bat first in the frame against Cardinals starter Dave LaPoint.

"I led off the inning and popped up to make an out. Fans were upset. But I came up later [in the inning] and got the game-winning hit. I remember the pitch, and I remember hitting it and I remember sliding into second."

Thomas' two-run knock capped the Brewers' six-run inning. Milwaukee hung on for the 7-5 win to even the series at two games apiece. One night later, the Brewers captured another two-run victory, this one putting the club one win away from the franchise's first World Series championship.

There was a photograph snapped sometime before Game 6 inside Busch Stadium. The click of the camera captured two men who had once lived only blocks apart in the Linda Mar neighborhood of Pacifica, Calif.

Keith Hernandez, now one of the biggest offensive pieces in the Cardinals' lineup, and Brewers pitcher Bob McClure were on the same field yet again, this time on baseball's biggest stage.

"When we moved into Linda Mar, it was all artichoke fields and farms. The Hernandez [family was] already there, I believe. With Keith and I, we knew each other really well because we went to the same little grammar school. We played against each other in Little League. We played against each other in Joe DiMaggio League. We played against each other in the Babe Ruth League.

"Keith and I were more rivals than friends. We had different friends. He hung out with one group and I hung out with another group, even in high school."

Still, neither missed the magnitude, even the irony, of this meeting so many years later. Arm in arm, they posed for the photographer. While on the telephone Saturday, McClure rummaged through old keepsakes and pulled out his copy.

"I have the photo right here. I can't believe I even found this thing. He must have signed one for me."

The writing was tough to decipher, though McClure did make out part of it.

"Best of luck. Keith Hernandez."

Several Cardinals players remember the mood being surprisingly loose on the flight back to St. Louis after the Game 5 loss. Perhaps that was an attempt to mask the reality that two must-win games awaited the club at home.

An off-day on Monday the 18th helped everyone regroup. Forsch recalled that a little drinking did, too. That's not to suggest, though, that the task ahead wasn't daunting. For Herr, it was the lopsided matchup that posed the biggest concern.

"In a series, everything changes after each game. Momentum changes each game. We felt like it was basically down to two one-game seasons for us. If we could get Game 6, then it was a coin flip for Game 7.

"We had a rookie, John Stuper, ready for Game 6, though the matchup certainly didn't favor us. A future Hall of Famer against a rookie, but we were familiar with [Milwaukee starter Don] Sutton and had seen him with the Dodgers. He was a guy we knew we could put the ball in play against. Turns out that it was another bad weather night, and Stuper got off to a good start. We were able to jump out early against Sutton and continued against the bullpen. That ended up being our blowout win."

Stuper allowed a mere four hits in a complete-game win, the only postseason victory he'd ever notch. Stuper would finish his career with 292 fewer career wins than Sutton, but he outdueled him on this night.

For the first time since 1979, the World Series was headed to a decisive Game 7.

Thomas and Pete Vuckovich, Milwaukee's Game 7 starter, shared a ride to Busch Stadium on Oct. 20. They made one diversion en route, at Thomas' request.

"I got the cabbie to stop us by the church real quick. We lit a candle and said a prayer real fast and went to the ballpark."

McClure had only been pitching out of the bullpen since mid-September, his role shifting only after the Brewers lost closer Rollie Fingers to a torn arm muscle. McClure had earned saves in Games 4 and 5 of the World Series but was now being summoned in the sixth inning of Game 7.

Milwaukee manager Harvey Kuenn needed McClure to bail Vuckovich out of a jam. The Cardinals were threatening the Brewers' 3-1 lead. Runners stood on the corners with one out. Gene Tenace, hitless so far in the series, was McClure's first batter.

"We kind of pitched around Tenace, who had made the last out the two previous saves I had gotten. We had Keith [Hernandez] up next, and him being left-handed and me being left-handed, [catcher Ted] Simmons and I preferred the matchup of me on Keith. We pitched in and out with Tenace, and ended up walking him."

The bases were full. Hernandez, who had faced McClure countless times back on those Little League fields, shuffled into the batter's box.

"I remember the count and the whole thing, because we were going to get Keith out with a curveball. The count is 2-1, and the next pitch I threw, I thought it was a strike. It was a ball, of course. Now it's 3-1 with the bases loaded, so I figured I would locate the fastball and then get him out with the curve. I left it inside too much, and he hit the fastball."

Hernandez delivered a game-tying single. One batter later, George Hendrick put the Cardinals ahead, 4-3.

The lead was eventually and expectantly handed over to Cardinals closer Bruce Sutter, who retired the Brewers in order in the eighth. St. Louis tacked on two insurance runs in the bottom half of the frame before Sutter returned to the mound.

After two groundouts, Thomas came to bat.

"Sutter was one of the best, especially at that time. It was Sutter, Fingers and [Goose] Gossage. Those three guys were the top. The last out didn't have any huge ramifications, because there was no one on base. But just as far as me, I didn't want to be the last out."

On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Sutter recorded the game-ending, Series-sealing strikeout.

"All they ever show is the last swing when I'm chasing the ball high around my neck. They don't show all the pitches that I was fouling off against one of the best relievers in baseball. I'm kind of proud of the way I fought him off and battled off. But it just wasn't meant to be."

The celebration drifted into the Cardinals' clubhouse. The Series MVP trophy was handed to catcher Darrell Porter, who hit .286 and drove in five during the seven-game series. St. Louis had its ninth World Series championship; Milwaukee was left without its first.

Eventually, the commotion tempered and most reporters began their retreat to the press box. Hernandez went over to his locker, pulled off the cover and pointed to a photo on the floor.

It was that Game 6 snapshot. And on it was a message from McClure.

"Can't get you out. Best wishes, Bob McClure."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.