Bob Forsch spent 15 years as a consistent anchor of the St. Louis Cardinals’ rotation, helping the team to three National League pennants. He won 163 games and had a WAR of 21.3 during his tenure with St. Louis. In addition to his accolades on the mound, Forsch, who was originally drafted as an infielder, was a respectable hitter. For his career, he had a batting average of .213 and hit 12 home runs. On August 10, 1986, Forsch excelled at both aspects of his game.
The New York Mets had run away with the National League’s East division by early August, rendering this game inconsequential in terms of the playoff race. At the start of play, St. Louis was in fourth place and trailed the Mets by 21 games while the Pittsburgh Pirates were cellar-dwellers and 28½ games back. The 1986 season was a disappointing one for the Cardinals, who were coming off a World Series loss to the Royals. Jack Clark, the team’s primary source of power, was limited to just 65 games.1 Without Clark, the team had a paltry 58 home runs, led by Andy Van Slyke’s 13. Subpar years by Terry Pendleton and Vince Coleman also contributed to the team’s poor record. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, was coming off a 104-loss season and had lower expectations. However, young sluggers Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla provided hope that better days were ahead.
The temperature was a perfect 80 degrees for this Sunday afternoon affair. It was getaway day for both teams; St. Louis would head to Montreal while the Pirates would head north to Chicago. After a Saturday night game won by the Pirates, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog gave shortstop Ozzie Smith the day off. Forsch got the starting nod, entering the game with an 11-6 record, an outstanding 2.62 ERA, and victories in his last five decisions. He was opposed by young hurler Mike Bielecki.
After Pittsburgh went down in order in the first inning, Coleman led off for St. Louis. The fleet-footed outfielder epitomized Herzog’s “Whitey-ball” brand of baseball and won the 1985 National League Rookie of the Year Award with 110 stolen bases. Coleman experienced a sophomore slump in 1986 with an OPS of only .581. However, when he did reach base, he stole almost at will, swiping 107 bags in 121 attempts. After drawing a walk from Bielecki, Coleman stole second base and then advanced to third on a groundout. Tommy Herr drove Coleman in with a sacrifice fly to give the Cardinals a 1-0 advantage.
In the third inning, Coleman singled to right field with two outs. He stole second and then third base, where he was stranded to end the inning. Both pitchers were cruising along, and when the Cardinals came up in the fifth inning, Coleman’s single was still the only hit of the game. After Clint Hurdle started the inning with a walk, Mike LaValliere and Jose Oquendo each singled, loading the bases for Forsch. Entering the game with a .157 batting average, Forsch probably would have been satisfied with a sacrifice fly. Indeed, he hit a fly ball, but it carried into the left-field bleachers for the pitcher’s first grand slam, giving the Cardinals a 5-0 lead. It was just the seventh grand slam by a St. Louis pitcher since 1900. At the crowd’s urging, Forsch came out of the dugout and tipped his cap.
“Coming out of the dugout and tipping my cap, that’s just not my makeup,” said Forsch after the game. “I think it’s almost like showing up somebody on the other team, and I think that’s wrong.”2
After Forsch’s round-tripper, Coleman reached base for the third time in the game with a single. He then stole another base, his fourth SB of the game and 82nd of the season.
“Vince had the green light to steal from Whitey Herzog whenever he wanted, except when Whitey gave him the stop sign,” Forsch would recall in his book Tales from the St. Louis Cardinals Dugout. “If Vince didn’t see the stop sign, he could go. And he did.”3
This was one of 10 times in his career that Coleman stole four bases in a game. Coleman was stranded as Bielecki worked out of the inning without any additional damage.
Forsch, who had two no-hitters in his career, took the mound in the sixth inning with a no-hitter intact. But with one out, Joe Orsulak batted for Bielecki and got the Pirates’ first hit, a double. He then scored on a single to center field by U.L. Washington to get Pittsburgh on the board. The score remained 5-1 until the top of the eighth. Junior Ortiz and pinch-hitter Johnny Ray singled to start the inning. A sacrifice fly by Benny Distefano plated another run. Washington then drew a walk, prompting Herzog to pull Forsch and bring in lefty reliever Ricky Horton.
“I don’t know what happened. All of a sudden I started missing on my pitches,” said Forsch. “The Pirates are tough. They keep coming at you.”4
Bonilla greeted Horton with a double, scoring two and bringing the Pirates to within a run at 5-4. With Bonds due up and a lefty on the mound, Pittsburgh rookie manager Jim Leyland sent Mike Diaz up to bat for him. Bonds was a talented young player and would win the Rookie of the Year Award that season. However, he was not nearly the threat he would eventually become, particularly against left-handed pitching. (For the season, Bonds hit just .219 against southpaws with a slugging percentage of only .371.) Herzog countered by bringing in closer Todd Worrell, who retired the next two batters. Worrell returned to the mound in the ninth inning and secured the 5-4 win for Forsch with his 24th save of the season.
Forsch accomplished the rare feat of hitting a grand slam and earning a win in the same game. It was the first time this had occurred since Steve Carlton did it in 1984. The next time a pitcher hit a grand slam would not be for another nine years when Florida’s Chris Hammond went deep in 1995. That same year, Pittsburgh’s Denny Neagle became the first pitcher since Forsch to hit grand slam and earn a victory as the winning pitcher.
This Sunday afternoon game between two losing teams in the dog days of summer could have been easily forgotten in the mundaneness of a long season. But for Forsch and the 36,286 fans in attendance, it was a very memorable day.
This was the first game I attended, as a 6-year-old St. Louis Cardinals fan.
1 Clark tore ligaments in his right hand sliding into third base on June 24, and did not play the rest of the season.
2 John Sonderegger. “Forsch-ful: Pitcher’s Grand Slam Leads to 5-4 Win Over Bucs,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 11, 1986: 17.
3 Bob Forsch and Tom Wheatley. Tales from the St. Louis Cardinals Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Cardinals Stories Ever Told (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013): 9.