May 21, 1985: Vince Coleman’s first career homer stays inside the park

It was fitting that Vince Coleman’s first career home run was of the inside-the-park variety.

On May 21, 1985, the rookie outfielder hit his first career homer, Willie McGee stole three bases, and Ricky Horton threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief to lift the Cardinals to a 6-3 win over the Braves.

The Cardinals had gotten off to a slow start to the season, and their 14-0 March 20 win over the Braves in the series opener only improved their record to 17-19. Though the Cardinals were intrigued by what Coleman could bring to their offense, they didn’t bring him up to the major-league club to start the season, instead opting to send him to Louisville to get playing time.

When McGee and Tito Landrum both went down with injuries just seven games into the season, however, Coleman was called up and immediately made an impact. By the time he and the Cardinals faced the Braves on May 21 in a matchup that pitted the Cardinals’ 6-foot-4, 235-pound right-hander Danny Cox against the Braves’ 6-foot-5, 225-pound Len Barker, Coleman already had stolen 28 bases, including two in his major-league debut and two more in the first game of the Braves series.

This time, however, though the Cardinals stole four bases in the game, Coleman made his impact with the bat.

After Coleman led off the game with a walk, Willie McGee scored him on a groundout and Jack Clark added a deep sacrifice fly to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. In the second, Bob Horner turned on a high fastball and hit it 20 rows into the left-field seats[1] to cut the Cardinals’ lead in half.

One inning later, with the Braves shading him the opposite way, Coleman pulled a drive off the right-field wall. Atlanta right fielder Claudell Washington leaped for the ball but missed, and by the time he recovered, Coleman had raced around the bases. He crossed the plate standing up.

“I was surprised. I thought it was going to be caught at the warning track,” Coleman said. “Then I thought I was just going to get a triple, but I watched (third base coach Hal Lanier) and he was waving me home. I’ve got some pop. I didn’t know I had that much power.”[2]

It was just Coleman’s fourth home run in 1,382 previous professional at-bats, and his first inside-the-park homer.[3]

“I thought if the ball came off the wall and headed towards (Dale) Murphy that he had a chance,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said, “but as soon as it hit the ball and rolled, I knew he had one inside the park.”[4]

Catcher Tom Nieto hit an RBI single in the fourth, but Horner struck again on another Cox fastball. This time he hit a two-run homer approximately 450 feet off a screen protecting the left-center field scoreboard,[5] reducing the Cardinals’ lead to 4-3.

“I hit them pretty good, didn’t I?” Horner said. “Those were two fastballs. I hit them hard, and that’s what I’m supposed to do.”[6]

After Cox allowed a single to Terry Harper and walked Glenn Hubbard, Herzog turned to Horton to record the final two outs of the sixth inning. When Horton struck out Albert Hall and got Washington to ground out with the bases loaded, he had inherited 14 baserunners that season without allowing a single one to score.

Horton followed with a scoreless seventh inning before the Cardinals added a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the frame. Ozzie Smith and McGee began the two-out rally with singles before Jack Clark was intentionally walked. With Andy Van Slyke coming to the plate next, Braves manager Eddie Haas inserted left-handed pitcher Terry Forster.

Herzog countered with Tom Herr, who was out of the starting lineup with a mild hamstring injury. In his first pinch-hit appearance of the season, Herr came through with a two-run single that gave the Cardinals a 6-3 lead.

“I was very nervous up there,” Herr said. “I’m usually in the flow of the game. You don’t have much time to get ready as a pinch-hitter.”[7]

Haas said he knew that Herzog would use a pinch-hitter, but preferred to face anyone on the Cardinals’ bench instead of Clark.[8]

From there, the game was in Horton’s hands. After retiring the side in order in the eighth, Horton worked around a two-out single by Gerald Perry to earn the save. With the scoreless appearance, Horton’s ERA fell to 0.45. As St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Rick Hummel helpfully noted, Horton’s ERA was now lower than his career batting average of .058.

“If my ERA is under my batting average, I’ll be happy for the rest of my life,” Horton said. “I don’t think I’ll be a .200 or .300 hitter.”[9]

Horton, who had started 18 games in 1984, said he enjoyed pitching in relief.

“It’s kind of a new challenge,” he said. “It’s taken some adjustments, but everybody in the bullpen has helped me as far as when to get up and when not to throw. All it can do is increase my value as a pitcher if I can start and relieve.”[10]

Horton went on to post a 2.91 ERA in 89 2/3 innings, helping the Cardinals win the National League pennant.

Coleman was even more impressive, stealing a league-high 110 bases and scoring 107 runs on his way to Rookie of the Year honors. His injury when Busch Stadium’s automated tarp ran over his legs prior to Game 3 of the NLCS was a blow to the Cardinals’ offense. Though St. Louis defeated Los Angeles in the NLCS, the Royals beat the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series.

Coleman was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2018.


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[1] Rick Hummel, “Horton Slams Door On Braves,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 22, 1985.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Horton Slams Door On Braves,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 22, 1985.

[3] Gerry Fraley, “Speed of Cardinals beats power of Braves’ Horner, Atlanta Constitution-Journal, May 22, 1985.

[4] Joe Mueller, “Familiar heroes spark Cards,” Belleville News-Democrat, May 22, 1985.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Horton Slams Door On Braves,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 22, 1985.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Horton Slams Door On Braves,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 22, 1985.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Horton Slams Door On Braves,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 22, 1985.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Horton Slams Door On Braves,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 22, 1985.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Horton Slams Door On Braves,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 22, 1985.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Horton Slams Door On Braves,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 22, 1985.