July 18, 1984: Terry Pendleton gets three hits in his MLB debut

Terry Pendleton had to admit that as he took part in Cardinals’ batting practice prior to his first major league game, he was nervous.

“It’s hit me that I’m in the big leagues, but in a way it hasn’t,” the 24-year-old said after making his debut just two years after the Cardinals drafted him in the seventh round of the 1982 June Amateur Draft. “I mean, I’m standing here in Busch Stadium, which I’ve heard so much about all these years, and I’m standing here with all these players I’ve heard so much about. I was a Dodger fan for years and Dusty Baker was everything to me. So I walk into the hotel when I get here and the first guy I see is Dusty Baker.

“This is all kind of wild. If you don’t get nervous for your first big-league game, there’s something wrong with you.”[1]

Pendleton had been called up to the majors earlier that day after Willie McGee was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a hamstring injury. With McGee out of the lineup, Andy Van Slyke, who had committed seven errors in 30 games at third base, returned to the outfield. That left third base open for Pendleton, who was hitting .297 with four homers and 44 RBIs in 91 games at Triple-A Louisville.

A California native, Pendleton had played on Oxnard College for the first two years of the program’s existence before transferring to Fresno State and earning All-America honors with a school-record 98 hits in 1982.

Once drafted, Pendleton continued his success, batting .320 in Rookie League Johnson City before getting called up for 20 games at Class A St. Petersburg. In 1983, the Cardinals called Pendleton up to Class AA Arkansas, where he batted .276.

“They’ve got a 30-foot fence down there with a 50-foot protective screen on top of it because an interstate runs by the park, and Terry cleared it a couple of times,” said Cardinals first base coach Nick Leyva, who managed Pendleton in Arkansas. “He’s the type of kid you call a gamer.”[2]

Pendleton was certainly a gamer in his debut as he went 3-for-5 with a walk, an RBI, and a run scored in a thrilling 8-4, extra-inning comeback win over the Giants at Busch Stadium. The contest pitted a pair of young left-handers against one another as the Cardinals started 24-year-old rookie Ricky Horton and the Giants countered with Atlee Hammaker, a 26-year-old southpaw who was coming off an all-star season in 1983.

Jeffrey Leonard got the Giants on the scoreboard first with a solo home run – his third in four at-bats that season against Horton – to lead off the second inning. After Bob Brenly and Joel Youngblood each flied out, Pendleton got his first defensive chance, diving for a sharply hit ground ball by Giants catcher Steve Nicosia and throwing him out to end the inning.

In the Cardinals’ half of the second, Pendleton took his first big-league at-bat and singled with one out. He advanced to second on a balk, but Hammaker struck out Darrell Porter and Chris Speier to strand him in scoring position.

Baker made it 2-0 in the third inning with an RBI single, but the Cardinals answered in their half of the inning when Lonnie Smith doubled and advanced to third on an error. The next batter, Tom Herr, scored Smith on a ground ball to the shortstop to cut the Giants’ lead in half.

With runners on first and third and one out in the fifth inning, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog called on Jeff Lahti to replace Horton. Lahti got out of the jam with no damage, but couldn’t hold the Giants again in the sixth, as Dan Gladden hit a bases-loaded single to score two more runs and give the Giants a 4-1 lead.

They would prove the Giants’ final runs of the evening.

The Cardinals’ rally began with two runs against reliever Jeff Cornell in the bottom of the sixth. Smith and Herr led off the inning with back-to-back doubles, and with two outs, Pendleton collected his first major-league RBI with a single that scored Herr.

From there, Herzog called on his bullpen to keep the game close. Neil Allen threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings and Bruce Sutter threw scoreless eighth and ninth innings.

In the bottom of the ninth, Smith hit a one-out single, then stole second on Giants reliever Greg Minton, advancing to third base when Nicosia’s throw bounced into center field. Herr’s third RBI of the night came on a one-out single that tied the game 4-4 and sent it into extra innings.

The Cardinals’ bullpen continued to stand tall. Ralph Citarella retired Youngblood, Nicosia, and Brad Wellman in the 10th inning, and Dave Von Ohlen worked around two singles with the help of Van Slyke, who threw out San Francisco’s John Rabb at the plate.

Finally, with the bases loaded and two outs, Darrell Porter hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the 11th to win the game.

“I’ve hit a lot of balls that I thought were gone in this park and they weren’t, so I was really just hoping it was over (the right fielder’s) head,” Porter said.[3]

Smith finished the game with four hits and three runs scored. Herr totaled three hits, as did Pendleton.

“The kid was something,” Herzog said. “I wish to hell he’d won it for us. That would’ve been a fitting climax.”[4]

A day later, after Pendleton had one of just two Cardinals hits in a 10-0 loss to Orel Hershiser and the Dodgers, Herzog added, “You might see him for the next 10 years.”[5]

Even there, Pendleton exceeded expectations, going on to play 15 major league seasons. He played seven seasons in St. Louis, helping the Cardinals capture the National League pennant in 1985 and 1987 and winning the Gold Glove Award in 1987 and 1989.

Ahead of the 1991 season, Pendleton signed a free-agent deal with the Braves and went on to have the best seasons of his career. In 1991, he led the league with a .319 average and 187 hits, capturing National League MVP honors with 22 homers and 86 RBIs. The following season, he hit .311 with 21 homers and 105 RBIs, placing second in the MVP vote, claiming his third Gold Glove, and making the lone all-star game appearance of his career.

After playing with the Marlins, Reds, and Royals, Pendleton retired following the 1998 season. He finished his career with a .270 batting average and 1,897 career hits, and played in five World Series. Beginning in 2002, Pendleton served as a longtime coach for the Braves, including roles as hitting coach, first base coach, and bench coach through the 2017 season.


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[1] Mike Smith, “New Bird Pendleton: A ‘Gamer,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 19, 1984.

[2] Mike Smith, “New Bird Pendleton: A ‘Gamer,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 19, 1984.

[3] Mike Smith, “Cards’ Pendleton A Hit In Debut,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 20, 1984.

[4] Mike Smith, “Cards’ Pendleton A Hit In Debut,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 20, 1984.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Broken Wrist Puts Ozzie On DL,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 20, 1984.

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