September 4, 1982: Lonnie Smith ties NL record with five stolen bases

The 1982 St. Louis Cardinals established exactly what baseball observers meant by the term “Whiteyball,” and no player on the roster was more likely to steal a base – or five – than Lonnie Smith.

On September 4, 1982, Smith did exactly that, tying a modern-day National League record with five stolen bases in a 5-4 loss to the Giants. Smith, whose five steals came against four different pitchers, said he was inspired to tie the record when Giants reliever Jim Barr hit him with a pitch in the sixth inning.

“He hit me on purpose and it spurred me on,” said Smith, who already had two stolen bases prior to the at-bat.[1]

One day earlier, Bruce Sutter suffered a rare blown save when Chili Davis led off the 10th inning with a triple and scored on a Darrell Evans sacrifice fly, giving the Giants a 3-2 win. Despite the loss, the Cardinals held the National League’s best record at 76-57 and led the Phillies by 2 ½ games in the NL East.

To get them back on the winning track, the Cardinals turned to rookie left-hander Dave LaPoint, who was 7-3 with a 3.66 ERA heading into the contest. The Giants countered with Mark Dempsey, a 6-foot-6 right-hander out of Ohio State University who was making the only start of his major-league career.

Dempsey lasted just 2 2/3 innings. In the first inning, Smith doubled to right field, then scored on a single by George Hendrick. Willie McGee led off the second inning with a solo home run that made it 2-0.

“I was getting a few pitches up, and I was getting too far behind the batters,” Dempsey said. “I got behind on Willie McGee, for instance, and I didn’t realize he has that much power.”[2]

In the third, Smith singled to right and then stole second before Keith Hernandez followed with a single. Hendrick added a single of his own but Davis threw Hernandez out at the plate. After Darrell Porter walked, Giants manager Frank Robinson called on Mike Chris to retire McGee and end the inning.

In the fifth, Smith started yet another rally, this time leading off with a walk before he stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by Giants catcher Bob Brenly. Hernandez hit a sacrifice fly into center field that scored Smith to give the Cardinals a 4-0 lead.

The Giants began their comeback in the sixth. To that point, LaPoint had held San Francisco to just three hits over five innings. However, Davis led off the inning with a bunt single and Jack Clark followed with an RBI double to left.

An inning later, Giants shortstop Guy Sularz scored on a throwing error by Porter, who was attempting to throw out Jim Wohlford as he stole second base.

With a 4-2 lead, the Cardinals turned to their bullpen for the final five outs. Doug Bair recorded the final out of the seventh, then struck out the side in the eighth. In the ninth, Bair retired Duane Kuiper on a ground ball, but with one out, Jeffrey Leonard singled to center.

Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog inserted 43-year-old veteran Jim Kaat to face 38-year-old Joe Morgan, but Morgan won the match-up with a single into left. Once again, Herzog called upon Sutter with the game on the line, and once again, the Giants scored the game-winning run against the Cardinals closer.

After Sutter got Davis to ground out for the second out of the inning, Herzog came to the mound to ask Sutter if he wanted to walk Clark to face Reggie Smith. Sutter chose to face Clark instead.[3]

The strategy didn’t work.

On the first pitch he saw, Clark launched a three-run homer approximately 425 feet[4] to left field, giving the Giants the 5-4 victory.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever hit a ball harder – it was gone,” Clark said.[5]

It was indeed, though Herzog admitted that Sutter didn’t throw a bad pitch.

“Clark hit a darn good pitch – it was down,” he said.[6]

Sutter was not comforted by Herzog’s words after allowing his second walk-off hit in as many days.

“It’s never a good pitch when it ends up out of the park,” he said. “Clark is a great hitter. You try to keep it down and hope he hits it into the ground.”[7]

Smith finished with three hits and three runs scored to go along with his five stolen bases. In addition to his first-inning double, third-inning single, and ninth-inning single, he also walked and was hit by a pitch. In the ninth inning, Smith stole both second and third, but was left stranded when Porter grounded back to the pitcher for the final out of the inning.

Smith’s performance upped his batting average to .319 with a .392 on-base percentage and 62 stolen bases.

He stole six more bases to finish the season with 68 stolen bases while batting .307/.381/.434. In addition to making an all-star game appearance, Smith placed second to Dale Murphy in the National League MVP voting.

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[1] Nick Peters, “Giants stun Cards in ninth,” Oakland Tribune, September 5, 1982.

[2] Terence Moore, “Giants win on Clark’s dramatic HR,” San Francisco Examiner, September 5, 1982.

[3] Nick Peters, “Giants stun Cards in ninth,” Oakland Tribune, September 5, 1982.

[4] Terence Moore, “Giants win on Clark’s dramatic HR,” San Francisco Examiner, September 5, 1982.

[5] Nick Peters, “Giants stun Cards in ninth,” Oakland Tribune, September 5, 1982.

[6] Nick Peters, “Giants stun Cards in ninth,” Oakland Tribune, September 5, 1982.

[7] Nick Peters, “Giants stun Cards in ninth,” Oakland Tribune, September 5, 1982.

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