St. Louis won the National League pennant last week in a style befitting its heritage of speed, defense and pitching, which came as no surprise to Joe Torre, manager of defeated Atlanta. " Richie Allen came over in 1970, got 34 homers and was gone the next season," said Torre, a Cardinal that year himself. "That should tell you something."
The Cardinals certainly told the Braves something last week. Holding speedy, powerful Atlanta to one stolen base and no homers, St. Louis whipped the Braves three games to none in the championship series and advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1968. The Cards not only came to play but to leave: Their bags were packed before the third game. "We had a feeling we'd win it tonight," Leftfielder Lonnie Smith said during a noticeably low-key celebration. "We had it planned from the first day of the playoffs."
Planned to perfection. Of their 34 hits, 28 were singles. Cardinals went from first to third on seven different one-base hits. "If you don't watch out," warned Atlanta Second Baseman Glenn Hubbard, "they will run you out of town." St. Louis also had five sacrifice bunts in the series and three sacrifice flies in a single game. Its underrated pitchers held the Braves to a league playoff record low average of .169 and limited sluggers Chris Chambliss, Bob Horner and Dale Murphy to a total of four singles and no RBIs.
Whatever false hopes the Braves may have entertained vanished Sunday night. The Cardinals had won the first two games 7-0 and 4-3 on the artificial turf of their own Busch Memorial Stadium. Now the Braves were back home on natural grass, and Rick Camp, a sinkerball specialist suited to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, was pitching. But Camp lasted the first inning plus five batters in the second. The best player on the field, Keith Hernandez, led off the Cardinals' second with a sharp single to left. Darrell Porter walked—the eighth of 10 times the playoff MVP reached base in the series—and George Hendrick singled home Hernandez, Porter advancing to third. Willie McGee tripled in both runners, and Ozzie Smith made it 4-0 with another single. Catch them if you can. Atlanta couldn't. McGee later hit the only homer of the series and Joaquin Andujar won for the eighth consecutive time, 6-2. Bruce Sutter got the save, retiring the last seven Braves in a row. In his only other appearance, the night before, he had won Game 2 with six straight outs.
The Atlanta rotation consisted of little more than Phil Niekro, the estimable 43-year-old knuckleballer. Celebrating the previous week's West Division title, No. 2 man Camp had strained his lower back while roughhousing with Murphy. "If Dale gets hurt, they release me the next day," said Camp. "If I get hurt, they can throw somebody else." That Camp recovered in time to supersede Tommy Boggs (2-2) in the rotation was a problematic gain; that Murphy, the team mainstay, had just 15 hits, one homer and four RBIs over his last 79 at bats in 1982 was a major loss. "He tried to take on too much responsibility and pressed," said Torre. But late Sunday, as the Braves celebrated the season instead of mourning the lost playoffs, Jerry Royster, their most eloquent spokesman, put things into perspective. "We came too far to be disappointed," he said.
In the beginning of the series there were three opponents: the Cardinals, the Braves and the Weather. Two rainouts in the first three days made the early score Weather 2, Teams 1. The opener in St. Louis was washed out with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Braves leading 1-0, and Niekro on the mound. Exeunt a likely Atlanta win and, as a Game 1 starter, Niekro.
Before the teams tried again the next night, Torre spake like a prophet. "The key to beating them," he said, "is to keep Lonnie Smith off the bases; the key to beating us is to contain our power."
Whereupon Lonnie Smith ignited a five-run sixth inning and Bob Forsch allowed just three singles as the Cardinals won opener-No. 1A 7-0. Forsch, who on May 13 had failed to hold a 4-0 lead over the Braves, threw a tidy 104 pitches and faced only 30 hitters in what Porter described as "a night off for me." Once a flamethrower, Forsch, at 32, has replaced his fading fastball with guile. "He moved the ball around, changed speeds and threw outside breaking balls against righthanders," said Torre. Even so, Forsch walked no one and had just two three-ball counts. "With our big lead, it would have been a cardinal sin to walk somebody," he said, intending no pun.
The Cardinals scored their first run, in the third inning, despite a grievous base-running error. McGee tripled to the rightfield corner and should have scored when Claudell Washington slipped while attempting to pick up the ball. As McGee streaked toward third, he failed to see the "go" sign from Third Base Coach Chuck Hiller. "You're supposed to pick it up after rounding second," said McGee. "Being a rookie, you're supposed to make those mistakes; maybe I'll be able to handle it in five years." Other Cardinals weren't so philosophical. "He could have gotten five bases on that," said Manager Whitey Herzog. "Instead he only got three." Herzog laughed. "That's why he's so exciting."
The next batter was Ozzie Smith, who shares his house with McGee. "My roomie was taking care of me," Smith thought. "He wants to give me the RBI." Smith fouled off four two-strike pitches from Atlanta starter Pascual Perez and then hit a sacrifice fly to center, reprieving McGee.