August 3, 1991: Todd Zeile’s walk-off home run pulls the Cardinals into the pennant race

The 1991 season marked a new beginning for the St. Louis Cardinals.

In their first full season under new head coach Joe Torre, the Cardinals had an entirely new starting outfield, as Bernard Gilkey, Ray Lankford, and Felix Jose replaced 1990’s opening-day threesome of Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, and Tom Brunansky.

No one, however, was experiencing quite as much change as Todd Zeile. The 25-year-old had just completed his first full season with the Cardinals, a season in which he hit .244 with 15 homers and 57 RBIs while playing 105 games at catcher.

Under the tutelage of Torre, who made a similar transition during his playing days, Zeile entered the 1991 season as the Cardinals’ starting third baseman, taking the spot previously held by Terry Pendleton, who had left via free agency. The move to third base was designed to allow Zeile to stay fresher throughout the season, allowing his bat to make an even greater impact in St. Louis’s power-starved offense.

Zeile couldn’t have made a much bigger impact than he did on August 3, 1991, when he launched a 10th-inning, walk-off home run over the left-field wall at Busch Stadium to lift the Cardinals to a 6-5 win over the NL East-leading Pirates. The win moved the Cardinals – who were largely expected to be also-rans in the East– into second place in the division, half a game ahead of the Mets and 4 ½ games behind Pittsburgh.

“It was like a boxing match,” Cardinals starting pitcher Bryn Smith said. “Knocked down in the first round, knocked down in the second round. Took a couple of standing eight counts, but didn’t get knocked out.”[1]

Prior to Zeile’s game-winning blast, neither side looked particularly sharp playing 97-degree weather that exceeded 130 degrees on the field.[2] Pittsburgh first baseman Orlando Merced, who had three hits on the day, led off the game with a double and advanced to third on an error before scoring. The Pirates extended their lead to 2-0 on a shallow fly ball.

In the second, the Cardinals cut the Pirates’ lead in half when Jose Oquendo hit an RBI single to right field. One inning later, a misplayed ball in center field allowed Smith to reach base before Ray Lankford drove him home with an RBI double that tied the game.

The Pirates regained the lead in the top of the fourth when Jose Lind doubled, and a throwing error by Cardinals first baseman Gerald Perry allowed another run to score. Five innings later, Perry represented the game-winning run when he was picked off of first base.

“Today I felt like I was (the Pirates’) best player,” he said. “The rest of our guys won in spite of me.”[3]

In the bottom half of the inning, a Pirates error allowed the Cardinals to cut their lead to 4-3. The teams traded runs again in the sixth as Merced hit a ground-rule double for his second RBI of the game and Oquendo brought in a run with a ground ball to second base.

The Pirates maintained a 5-4 lead until the bottom of the eighth, when Milt Thompson led off with a solo home run off Bob Kipper, his first home run off a lefthander since May 4, 1989.[4]

After Lee Smith threw scoreless ninth and 10th innings, Zeile led off the 10th inning. Pirates reliever Bob Patterson threw three consecutive balls to open the at-bat. After a strike ran the count to 3-and-1, Zeile jumped on the fifth pitch, sending the game-winning blast 402 feet,[5] well past the left-field wall.

“I’ve never hit one to win a game,” Zeile said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it a little, but I was also thinking of not getting myself out by swinging for the home run. I got to 3-and-0 and I knew I had the take. I just wanted to get a good look at it, get the timing down. After it was 3-and-1, I crept up on the plate before the swing.”[6]

Pirates left fielder Barry Bonds didn’t even turn around to see where Zeile’s home run landed, opting instead to immediately begin the trek back to the Pirates’ clubhouse.[7]

“I knew that I’d got it,” Zeile said. “I didn’t stand there and watch it, but I was enjoying it more than I usually get a chance to – especially in this ballpark. That’s probably the highlight of this year for me.”[8]

Zeile finished the game with three hits, matching Oquendo and Thompson. Scott Terry and Lee Smith each threw two scoreless innings. Lee Smith was credited with the win, his sixth of the season.

Incredibly, for the 56-win Cardinals, it marked their 12th walk-off win of the season.

“We played like General Custer circling the wagons,” Lee Smith said, “but when you play lousy and pitch lousy and you win, it’s awesome.”[9]

The Pirates 4 ½-game game lead marked the Cardinals’ smallest deficit since June 28. Suddenly, the Redbirds seemed like they might be unlikely contenders in the final months of the regular season.

“To tell you the truth, if I knew this team wasn’t going to re-sign Terry Pendleton, Willie McGee, and Vince Coleman, I would have never signed a new contract last summer,” Lee Smith said. “No way. I would have wanted to go to a team that had a chance. But I signed and look at this. Baseball is a crazy game. Unpredictable.”[10]

In late August, the Cardinals won both games in a two-game series with the Giants to pull within four games. Pittsburgh, however, pulled away in the final month, winning the division by 14 games over the second-place Cardinals, who finished with an 84-78 record.


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[1] Rick Hummel, “Cards Deck Pirates 6-5 – Zeile’s Homer In 10th Is Low Blow For Bucs,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 4, 1991.

[2] Joe Ostermeier, “Cards rally to defeat Pirates in 10th,” Belleville News-Democrat, August 4, 1991.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Cards Deck Pirates 6-5 – Zeile’s Homer In 10th Is Low Blow For Bucs,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 4, 1991.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Cards Deck Pirates 6-5 – Zeile’s Homer In 10th Is Low Blow For Bucs,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 4, 1991.

[5] Joe Ostermeier, “Cards rally to defeat Pirates in 10th,” Belleville News-Democrat, August 4, 1991.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Cards Deck Pirates 6-5 – Zeile’s Homer In 10th Is Low Blow For Bucs,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 4, 1991.

[7] Bernie Miklasz, “Make-Believers? These Cards Are Making Believers,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 4, 1991.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Cards Deck Pirates 6-5 – Zeile’s Homer In 10th Is Low Blow For Bucs,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 4, 1991.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Cards Deck Pirates 6-5 – Zeile’s Homer In 10th Is Low Blow For Bucs,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 4, 1991.

[10] Bernie Miklasz, “Make-Believers? These Cards Are Making Believers,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 4, 1991.