September 15, 1991: Rookie Ray Lankford homers to complete the cycle

On September 15, 1991, Ray Lankford became the first Cardinals rookie in 73 years to hit for the cycle when he collected a single, double, triple, and home run in a 7-2 win over the Mets at Busch Stadium.

For good measure, Lankford also stole a base and scored four times.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “It’s something I’ll always remember.”[1]

Heading into the game, Lankford had already established himself as one of the National League’s top rookies. With seven home runs, 58 RBIs, 70 runs scored, and 35 stolen bases, Lankford joined the Astros’ Jeff Bagwell and the Pirates’ Orlando Merced in the Rookie of the Year race.

“He won’t win the award, but he might turn out to be the most exciting player of the bunch,” Cardinals manager Joe Torre said. “As far as all-around ability, speed, and excitement, he doesn’t have to take a back seat to anybody.”[2]

He certainly didn’t take a backseat to anyone on this day. In the bottom of the first, Lankford jumpstarted the Cardinals’ offense with a double down the left-field line. After stealing third base, he scored on another double off the bat of third baseman Todd Zeile. One inning later, Rex Hudler gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead with his first and only home run of the season. It was Hudler’s first game back since banging his head against a retaining wall while making a diving catch two days earlier.

“I think it knocked my swing back in order,” he said.[3]

Lankford opened the third inning with a single. He advanced to third on a double by Ozzie Smith, and Zeile drove him home again with a sacrifice fly to center field.

Lankford and the Cardinals chased Mets starting pitcher Pete Schourek from the game in the fifth. With one out, Lankford hit a ground ball past Mets first baseman Mickey Sasser and into the right-field corner, one of a major-league-leading 15 triples he hit on the season.

Smith hit a double off Sasser’s glove to score Lankford, and two batters later he scored on an RBI single by Zeile, who collected his second hit and third RBI of the evening. Felix Jose followed with an RBI triple. Schourek left the game with the Mets trailing 6-0.

“I didn’t have any breaking ball today and they were waiting for the fastball,” Schourek said. “I made three good pitches to Lankford and he got three good hits.”[4]

New York finally got on the scoreboard against rookie righthander Rheal Cormier in the seventh after Howard Johnson led off with a double and Mark Carreon drove him home with a single to left field.

Batting leadoff in the bottom of the seventh, Lankford knew he was a home run away from the cycle. After Whitehurst fell behind 2-and-1, Lankford launched the fourth pitch he saw 412 feet over the center-field wall.[5]

“I was thinking about it when I came up, but when I try to hit home runs, I have a tendency to pull the ball,” Lankford said. “I was just thinking about hitting the ball back up the middle. I didn’t want to get too anxious. It was just one of those days where everything you do goes right.”[6]

The last Cardinal to hit for the cycle was Willie McGee, who accomplished the feat against the Cubs in 1984. The last Cardinals rookie to do it was Cliff Heathcote in 1918.[7]

Gregg Jefferies hit an RBI single in the ninth inning to score the Mets’ second run of the game, but Cormier retired the next two batters to claim the first complete-game win of his career. He scattered nine hits and a walk while striking out four.

“It was hot out there and I was getting tired, but I was trying to get the manager not to notice,” Cormier said. “It helped to score the runs early; I could just throw strikes, pump the fastball, and hope people hit the ball at somebody.”[8]

Lankford’s cycle came one day after he drove in both runs in the Cardinals’ 2-1 win over the Mets.

“I’ve been real impressed with Lankford,” New York manager Buddy Harrelson said. “Now I guess I have to say I’m overly impressed. All of his hits were solid. He’s been a real standout this season.”[9]

Lankford finished his rookie campaign with a .251 batting average to go with nine homers, 69 RBIs, and 44 stolen bases. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year balloting behind Bagwell and Merced.

Lankford went on to play 12 ½ of his 14 major-league seasons with the Cardinals, spending a year and a half in San Diego after he was traded to the Padres for Woody Williams in 2001. After missing the 2003 season due to injury, he returned to St. Louis to play his final season at age 37.

In 1,580 games with the Cardinals, he hit .273 with 1,479 hits. As of 2022, he ranked in the top 10 in franchise history in doubles (339, 10th), home runs (228, fifth), RBIs (829, 10th), and stolen bases (250, eighth). He was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2018.


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[1] Dan O’Neill, “Cards Ray-cycle Mets 7-2,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 16, 1991.

[2] Dan O’Neill, “Cards Ray-cycle Mets 7-2,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 16, 1991.

[3] Dan O’Neill, “Cards Ray-cycle Mets 7-2,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 16, 1991.

[4] R.B. Fallstrom (Associated Press), “Rookie hits for cycle to sink the Mets, 7-2,” Post-Star, September 16, 1991.

[5] R.B. Fallstrom (Associated Press), “Rookie hits for cycle to sink the Mets, 7-2,” Post-Star, September 16, 1991.

[6] Dan O’Neill, “Cards Ray-cycle Mets 7-2,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 16, 1991.

[7] Dan O’Neill, “Cards Ray-cycle Mets 7-2,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 16, 1991.

[8] Joe Ostermeier, “Rookies lead Cards past Mets 7-2,” Belleville News-Democrat, September 16, 1991.

[9] Joe Ostermeier, “Rookies lead Cards past Mets 7-2,” Belleville News-Democrat, September 16, 1991.