When a controversial play happens or a team has an epic collapse, inevitably a player’s terrific play is overshadowed. The narrative of the breakdown obscures the clutch performance of someone who was a face plant away from being an immortal to a fan base. Such is the fate of Cardinals pitcher Danny Cox in the 1985 World Series.
St. Louis won 101 games, out playing a strong Mets team. Then they stunned Los Angeles in a memorable NLCS, highlighted by Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark’s home runs.
In the World Series they would face their fellow Missourians, the Kansas City Royals, who did their own Houdini act against a superior Toronto Blue Jays squad.
St. Louis won the first two games. Starter Danny Cox pitched well in Game 2 but it was a late 9th inning rally that sealed the game for the Cardinals.
Up 3-1, St. Louis went for the Series victory at home in Game 5. But Bob Forsch did not pitch well and Danny Jackson threw a complete game victory to send the series back to Kansas City.
Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog handed the ball to Cox for Game 6. 1985 was a breakout season for the 25 year old Cox. He pitched to a 2.88 ERA over 241 innings, winning 18 games along the way, completing 10 of them. Along with 21 game winners John Tudor and Joaquin Andujar, Cox gave the Cardinals a formidable 1-2-3 punch in their rotation.
The Royals would counter with Charlie Liebrandt, who pitched well in Game 2 but would be undone by the late Cardinals rally.
From the start, Game 6 was clearly going to be a pitchers duel. Liebrandt retired the first 15 batters he faced.
Cox was not as dominant but wiggled out of a few rallies and kept the Royals off of the board.
The Cardinals finally got a pair of hits in the 6th but could not score. They went in order again in the 7th. Meanwhile the score was still 0-0 because Cox matched Liebrandt, inning for inning.
With 2 outs and 2 on and the game still scoreless in the 8th, Herzog went to his bench and sent Brian Harper up to bat for Cox. He responded with a 2 strike single that scored Terry Pendleton and gave St. Louis the lead.
Cox was out of the game but his linescore was terrific. With the World Series title within their grasp, Cox went 7 shutout innings, allowing 7 hits and a walk and striking out 8.
Ken Dayley relieved Cox in the 8th and young Todd Worrell took the hill for the 9th. Then came the disaster for St. Louis. A blown Denkinger call at first base opened the Royals offense. Some shoddy defense set up Dane Iorg’s pinch hit walk off single that sent the series to the seventh game.
Game 7 was a travesty for the Cardinals, still smarting from the blown call the night before. Kansas City won 11-0.
Cox would later throw a complete game shutout to clinch the 1987 NLCS for St. Louis before injuries derailed his career. Eventually he would earn his World Series ring as a reliever for the 1993 Toronto Blue Jays.
But had the Cardinals hung on to win in 1985, Cox would have been remembered as a great champion in St. Louis who pitched his club to the crown. As a consolation prize, I am naming him as a Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero.