John Tudor Reflects on 1985

If one were to ask who the last pitcher to throw ten shutouts in a season was, John Tudor would probably not be the most conventional answer. After all, he is not a Hall of Famer, never won a Cy Young, and was never even an All Star. Yet the former St. Louis Cardinals southpaw is indeed the correct answer. Cliff Lee tossed six shutouts in 2011 for the Philadelphia Phillies, and that’s the closest any pitcher in the twenty-first century has come to accomplishing what Tudor did in 1985. While he finished 21-8 with a 1.93 ERA, he began the season 1-7 with a 3.74 ERA.

“I had a couple of funky things happen that cost me games, but I can’t honestly say I was pitching good during that time frame,” Tudor said. “I think I maybe got what I deserved at that time.”

Contextually speaking, at one point, Tudor and Joaquin Andujar each had a 3.44 ERA. The difference is that Tudor’s record was 1-6, while Andujar was 6-1. It wasn’t until Dave Bettencourt, a friend of Tudor’s and a former teammate of his in the Cape Cod League, noticed something in his delivery. The lefty was not hesitating in his delivery when his right leg was up during his pitching motion.

“It’s just part of the timing mechanism and the rhythm that pitchers get into, the slight pause at the top of my delivery there allows everything else to kind of catch up,” Tudor said. “That’s really the thing that Dave pointed out to me, that I didn’t have that slight little pause in my transition from up to down.”

Three of his ten shutouts came in consecutive September starts. He blanked the Houston Astros 5-0 on the first of the month, and the Atlanta Braves 8-0 on the sixth. Tudor found himself¬†in a pitchers’ duel in the third of those starts on September eleventh. He opposed Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets, who were chasing the Cardinals for the crown in the NL East. Normally, Tudor’s numbers would merit the Cy Young Award, but Gooden’s 24-4 record, 1.53 ERA, sixteen complete games, and 268 strikeouts put the honor out of reach for the southpaw.

“Gooden had a hell of a year that year,” Tudor said. “He was outstanding.”

Gooden and Tudor each plowed through the opposing lineup that night. Neither pitcher budged. However, New York’s ace was done after nine innings; he allowed five hits, struck out seven, and walked three. With the score deadlocked at zero, Jesse Orosco came in relief of Gooden in the top of the tenth.

Cesar Cedeno was an August acquisition from the Reds, and the former All-Star Gold Glover had only appeared in eighty-three games for Cincy that season. If the Redbirds wanted to tie for first place in the division,¬†this was the moment. Cedeno hit a home run to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead. That was all they could muster up, but unlike Gooden, Tudor went back out there after Orosco stuck him out in the tenth, and Cedeno’s blast was all that was needed. The Cardinals won 1-0. While the Mets did win the next game and two out of three in St. Louis in early October, the Cardinals won 101 games to New York’s ninety-eight, and thus the Cards were division champions.

The only pitcher to beat Tudor during his 20-1 stretch was Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The two teams met in the NLCS, and Los Angeles took a 2-0 series lead. Once again, Valenzuela got the best of Tudor in Game One. However, when the series shifted to St. Louis, Tudor took the mound in Game Four, this time facing another Dodgers lefty in Jerry Reuss. The Cards jumped all over Reuss, who pitched just 1.2 frames, in a nine-run second inning and won 12-2.

“Nine runs in the second inning makes you a better pitcher right off the get go,” Tudor said. “We just came back and battled. We came back to St. Louis down 2-0 and I think heard fans, which I wasn’t used to, having come from Boston, heard fans saying, ‘Oh, we’re not worried about them, they’ll come back’ it was kind of a different mindset than I was used to…It just worked out, one of those things that everything kind of fell together and we strung four wins in a row.”

Tudor had retired the first fourteen batters before walking Steve Yeager in the top of the fifth. He took a no-hitter into the sixth, though he had not been aware at the time what he was doing. Game Five saw Ozzie Smith hit his famous walk-off home run off Tom Niedenfuer. Back in L.A. for Game Six, the Cards hit Niedenfuer again, and Jack Clark’s three-run bomb in the top of the ninth put St. Louis over the top to clinch the pennant. Tudor would then start and win Game One of the World Series at Royals Stadium against Danny Jackson.

“I don’t know that I ever really settled in that particular day,” he said. “I just kind of battled through it.”

The Cardinal ace would allow an RBI single to Steve Balboni in the bottom of the second, scoring Jim Sundberg. That’s all Kansas City would get off of him, however, as he recorded a line of one run and five strikeouts over 6.2 innings. Todd Worrell would get the final seven outs for the save and the 3-1 victory. Back out there again for Game four at home, Tudor hurled a gem, tossing a 3-0 shutout with eight strikeouts against one walk. His masterpiece put the Redbirds on the brink of their second championship in four seasons.

“I would say that I had command of my fastball and changeup again,” he said.

However, they couldn’t close the deal despite being up 3-1 in the series. That Fall Classic is known for Don Denkinger’s blown call at first base; he ruled Jorge Orta safe on a close play when Worrell had the ball in his glove and foot on the bag. The Royals would come up with two runs in that inning to win the game and force a deciding Game Seven. Tudor does not blame Denkinger, however, but rather himself, the losing pitcher the next game.

“I pitched like s*** in Game Seven of the World Series in the biggest stage of my life and wasn’t able to get the job done,” he said. “So that’s kind of where the blame falls, as far as I’m concerned.”

Though he fell short in 1985 and 1987, Tudor would, at last, get his World Series ring in 1988 as a member of the Dodgers.

“That Dodger team was just destined, from the first day when [Kirk] Gibson hit the home run off of [Dennis] Eckersley,” he said. “That kind of set the wheels in motion.

To listen to the full interview, go to:

Which is your favourite baseball movie? in LastWordOnSports’s Hangs on LockerDome

Main Photo: