October 15, 1982: Willie McGee homers twice as Cardinals win Game 3 of the World Series

Willie McGee thought he had made a name for himself during the regular season when he burst onto the scene with a .296 average, 56 RBIs, and 24 stolen bases in 123 games on his way to a third-place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting.

After he hit two home runs to lift the Cardinals to a 6-2 win in Game 3 of the 1982 World Series, however, he returned to the clubhouse and found himself confronted with something perhaps even more nerve-wracking for the 23-year-old San Francisco native than anything that could happen on the field – a crowd of reporters surrounding his locker.

“I got in by my locker and I turned around to face the media and I’m thinking it’s going to be Rob Rains and another guy, but I’m looking around and it’s three rows deep of media, and it’s like, ‘Oh boy,’” McGee said. “All of a sudden it hit then what you’re really into.”[1]

The Cardinals and Brewers had split the first two games of the World Series as Milwaukee picked up a blowout 10-0 win in Game 1 before St. Louis bounced back with a 5-4 win in Game 2. For Game 3, the series moved to Milwaukee, where both teams’ aces would make their debuts.

For the Cardinals, that was 29-year-old right-hander Joaquin Andujar, who had gone 15-10 with a 2.47 ERA in 265 2/3 innings. Acquired in a trade with the Astros in 1981, Andujar’s wins, innings, and ERA all represented career bests. That success had continued in the NLCS, where Andujar held the Braves to two runs over 6 2/3 innings in a 6-2 Game 3 victory.

The Brewers countered with that season’s American League Cy Young Award winner, Pete Vuckovich. A former Cardinal who had gone 39-31 with a 3.21 ERA in three seasons with St. Louis, Vuckovich was dealt to the Brewers in the trade that also sent Rollie Fingers and Ted Simmons to Milwaukee for David Green, Dave LaPoint, Sixto Lezcano, and Lary Sorensen.

Vuckovich had pitched the best baseball of his career since the trade, leading baseball with 14 wins in the strike-shortened 1981 season. After finishing fourth in the Cy Young voting that year, he pitched even better in 1982, going 18-6 with a 3.34 ERA in 223 2/3 innings.

In the ALCS against the Angels, Vuckovich took a Game 2 loss after allowing four runs in eight innings. In Game 5, the Brewers earned the 4-3 win but Vuckovich received no decision after allowing three runs over 6 1/3 innings.

With Game 3 of the World Series, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander hoped to get back on the winning track.

Both pitchers cruised through the first four innings. Milwaukee leadoff hitter Paul Molitor led off the bottom of the first with a blast to center field, but McGee made a leaping catch to prevent an extra-base hit.

The Brewers’ only other threat came in the fourth inning. After Andujar walked Charlie Moore, Jim Gantner doubled to put runners at second and third with one out. However, Andujar got out of the jam by striking out Molitor and getting Robin Yount to ground out and end the inning.

The Cardinals broke the scoreless tie in the top of the fifth. With one out, Lonnie Smith doubled into the left-field gap and Dane Iorg reached on an error. On the first pitch he saw, McGee launched a high slider over the right-field wall to give St. Louis a 3-0 lead.

Two innings later, the Cardinals struck again when Smith tripled and scored on a throwing error by Gantner, the Brewers’ second baseman. With two outs, McGee homered again, sending a changeup over the right-field wall to give St. Louis a 5-0 lead. With the blast, McGee became just the third rookie to hit two home runs in a World Series game.[2]

After hitting four home runs during the regular season, McGee had three playoff homers.

“I’d like to know what Willie McGee eats for breakfast,” Vuckovich said. “I don’t know if it’s Wheaties or what, but gosh dang, he just jumped all over me.”[3]

Both of McGee’s home runs came on offspeed pitches, which the Brewers’ scouting report had indicated was the best way to attack the rookie outfielder. In Game 2, Milwaukee threw McGee nothing but offspeed pitches and he went 0-for-4.

“We gave him the slow stuff they told us to throw,” Simmons said after McGee’s two-homer performance. “What can you do? It worked the other night, but they don’t give you a written guarantee with those scouting reports.”[4]

Andujar pitched into the seventh inning, retiring Cecil Cooper on a fly ball to center field before Simmons smashed a ground ball into Andujar’s leg. Andujar rolled on the ground, writhing in pain.

“I don’t know what I was thinking, but the pain was driving me crazy,” Andujar said.[5]

“It was pretty clear he was in pain,” Cardinals third baseman Ken Oberkfell said. “I’ve seen him get hit before and he never went down.”[6]

Andujar was removed from the game and taken to the hospital for x-rays, which showed no fractures.[7] On short notice, Herzog called upon Jim Kaat to warm up.

When play resumed, Kaat struck out Ben Oglivie for the second out of the inning but allowed a single to Gorman Thomas. He was then replaced with Doug Bair, who walked pinch-hitter Don Money.

With the bases loaded and seven outs remaining in the game, Herzog turned to Bruce Sutter. Sutter retired Charlie Moore on a pop-up to end the threat.

“I was trying to keep from going seven outs with him, but the game was on the line,” Herzog explained.[8]

One inning later, Cooper got the Brewers on the scoreboard with a two-run homer that cut the Cardinals’ lead to 5-2. St. Louis added an insurance run in the top of the ninth after George Hendrick reached on catcher’s interference, Iorg doubled, and McGee was handed an intentional walk. With the bases loaded and two outs, Ozzie Smith worked a five-pitch walk to give Sutter a 6-2 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth.

After Keith Hernandez uncharacteristically misplayed a ground ball to lead off the inning, McGee made his second defensive gem of the game when he climbed the left-center field wall to rob Thomas of a home run.

“I don’t know of anybody who ever played a better World Series game than he did tonight,” Herzog said. “If he didn’t make that catch in the ninth, Mr. Sutter could’ve been in trouble.”[9]

On the NBC game broadcast, Joe Garagiola made it clear that McGee was his unofficial MVP of the game.

“If anyone votes for anyone other than Willie McGee, I’m leaving,” he said.[10]

Garagiola wasn’t the only one who noticed McGee’s performance.

“He is catching the ball the way Mays would and hitting the ball the way Stargell would and accepting the attention as gracefully as McCovey,” Rick Bozich wrote in the Louisville Times.[11]

Vuckovich took the loss for the Brewers after allowing four earned runs on six hits and three walks.

“I don’t think I’ve thrown a six-hitter all year,” said Vukovich, drinking from a bottle of Yugoslavian plum brandy sent to him by fans. “I’ve been behind hitters all year long. I’ve been walking people all year long. So I get the hit total down and get the walk total down, and what do I have to show for it? Some guy who hits four homers all year long, for crying out loud, dings me twice, and I’ve wound up putting us in a hole.”[12]

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[1] STLSportsPage. “Willie McGee being interviewed by Rob Rains of STLSportsPage.Com at Gateway Grizzlies Game 5-116.” YouTube, YouTube, 16 May 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjoNw_aiyNU

[2] Ron Rapoport, “Willie’s Image Has New Glow,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 16, 1982.

[3] Mike Smith, “Vuckovich’s ‘Best’ Didn’t Allow For McGee Factor,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 16, 1982.

[4] Mike Smith, “Vuckovich’s ‘Best’ Didn’t Allow For McGee Factor,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 16, 1982.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Wondrous Willie Puts Cards One Wing Up,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 16, 1982.

[6] Kevin Horrigan, “Andujar Has ‘Tough’ Luck,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 16, 1982.

[7] Kevin Horrigan, “Andujar Has ‘Tough’ Luck,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 16, 1982.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Wondrous Willie Puts Cards One Wing Up,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 16, 1982.

[9] Milton Richman, “Wonder-Worker Willie Has Those Brewers On Run,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 16, 1982.

[10] Rob Rains and Alvin A. Reid (2002), Whitey’s Boys: A Celebration of the ’82 Cards’ World Championship, Chicago: Triumph Books, Page 74.

[11] Rick Bozich, “Baseball has new Mr. October and Willie McGee is his name,” Louisville Times, October 16, 1982.

[12] Mike Smith, “Vuckovich’s ‘Best’ Didn’t Allow For McGee Factor,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 16, 1982.

2 thoughts on “October 15, 1982: Willie McGee homers twice as Cardinals win Game 3 of the World Series”

  1. Pingback: October 20, 1982: Joaquin Andujar and Bruce Sutter stifle the Brewers to win World Series Game 7 | STLRedbirds.com

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