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How about this for real Americana? Couple of little guys named Smith. Unrelated but friends. Nicest people you'd ever hope to meet. Play on the same sandlot baseball team. Drift apart. Take separate routes to the majors. And—wouldn't you know it?—years later they're on the same team and turn it into the scourge of the division, with a winning streak that reached 12 games last Saturday.
Yes, it's a heartwarming story, as long as your rooting interest is the St. Louis Cardinals and your heroes are Centerfielder Lonnie Smith, late of the Phillies, and Shortstop Ozzie Smith, a former Padre. After the streak ended on Sunday in an 8-4 loss to Philadelphia, the Cards still led the National League East by three games.
At week's end Lonnie Smith, 26, 5'9", 170 pounds, led the league in steals (11) and runs (15) and ranked high in average (.324), runs batted in (13), homers (3), on-base percentage (.427) and hits (23). Ozzie Smith, 27, 5'10", 150, was hitting .333, had stolen four bases and was fielding exceptionally well. Together, the Smiths were galvanizing their teammates and demoralizing the opposition. Consider the events in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia last week.
On Wednesday night St. Louis was trailing Pittsburgh 1-0 in the fifth inning. Then the Pirates went to sleep—or did they? Ozzie Smith led off by reaching second on a pop fly that Leftfielder Mike Easier let drop near the line. Cardinal Pitcher Steve Mura bunted hard to First Baseman Jason Thompson, who instinctively threw to third. Trouble was, Ozzie's as intelligent a base runner as he is a fielder. Realizing he probably would have been tagged out at third, he retreated to second. His circumspection was wise. Cardinal Second Baseman Tommy Herr promptly doubled home Mura and Ozzie, and reached third himself when Rightfielder Dave Parker played Wally-ball with the carom. Herr then scored on Keith Hernandez' sacrifice fly. The Cardinals eventually won 6-2, wrapping up the scoring when Lonnie Smith, running with the pitch, scored from second on a force play.
Afterward, the shell-shocked Thompson blamed poor Pirate hitting for the loss. Pittsburgh Manager Chuck Tanner knew better. "A team that runs well makes it tough on the defense," he said. "That's what happened tonight."
Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog dearly loves the running game, but last year his players stole only 88 bases in 103 games. Inspired by the Smiths, the 1982 Cardinals stole 26 bases in the first 17 games; they may run more aggressively than any team in baseball. At Veterans Stadium Saturday afternoon, the Cards were losing 3-1 in the sixth when their running game took off. With two outs and Rightfielder George Hendrick on first, Leftfielder Dane Iorg hit a shot up the gap in left center. Hendrick, who is 6'3", 195 and doesn't look particularly fast, never stopped chugging and beat the throw home. "The key is how a player comes into third," says Third Base Coach Chuck Hiller, whose marching orders can be summed up in two words: Send 'em. "Too many guys slow down before they get there." Iorg took second on the throw and scored on a single by Third Baseman Ken Oberkfell, who in turn took second on a wild pitch. When Ozzie Smith singled to right, Oberkfell was thrown out at home. Well, two out of three ain't bad.
In the eighth the Cardinals were at it again. Iorg reached on an infield hit, David Green ran for him and stole second, and Oberkfell was intentionally passed. Ozzie loaded the bases with a single. Pinch hitter Orlando Sanchez drove home what proved to be the winning run with a soft grounder that couldn't be turned into a double play. Lonnie added two insurance runs with another base hit, and St. Louis won 7-4.
After the game, the Cardinals were exuberant. "It's just like at K.C.—boogieing on the bases!" said Catcher Darrell Porter, who has played under Herzog four-plus years as a Royal and Cardinal. "That's the way to be an aggressive coach," Hernandez told Hiller. "If you hadn't sent George home, I'd have strangled you."
Obviously, the Smiths weren't winning games all by themselves. Hernandez was off to his best start (.355), and Hendrick had four homers and 13 RBIs. The speedy Green, an outfielder, is shuffled into the lineup like a sixth man in basketball. The bullpen, led by Bruce Sutter (six saves in his first nine appearances), is as sound as ever, and the rotation is vastly improved with the acquisition of San Diego's Mura (2-0) and the stellar work of Joaquin Andujar (2-1, 2.03 ERA).
Andujar was obtained last June in a trade with Houston. During his SXA years with the Astros his behavior had been as erratic as his pitching. At various times he showered with his uniform on, poured milk on his head, fought with Cesar Cedeno, his best friend on the team, and batted left or right depending on how he felt, not who was pitching. Since joining the Cardinals he has shown control both on and off the field. His overall record with St. Louis is 8-2, and this season he has overcome his occasional propensity for wildness by walking only two batters in 31 innings. "He's not showboating; he's got his head together," says Pitching Coach Hub Kittle, who has taught Andujar how to change speeds. Says a teammate, "Some people play well when they're yelled at, but Jack needs to be appreciated."