ST. LOUIS — The feeling, up to a point, was like trying to run with your shoelaces tied together. Step. Flop. Here were the St. Louis Cardinals, the quick, the fleet, the fastest team in baseball, tripping all over themselves in their World Series tango with the Minnesota Twins. Step. Flop. And nobody felt more confined than Vince Coleman. Born to run? Was there ever a better description for this guy — the Cardinals’ left fielder, three straight years with 100 or more bases stolen? And yet he’d been going nowhere all Series, and his team had followed. One measly stolen base. One measly hit. Those were his totals heading into Game 3 Tuesday night. There had been lots of talk already: “If Coleman doesn’t get on, the Cardinals don’t win.” And here it was, six innings into Game 3, he’d been on once (an error). And the Cards were losing.
“When I come to the ballpark and don’t get on base, don’t steal some bases, don’t score some runs, I feel defeated,” Coleman would say. “I feel like my whole purpose for coming to the park was defeated.”
Well. Let us reintroduce you to a man and his purpose; for here came Coleman to the plate, bottom of the seventh, runners on second and third, the Cardinals trailing, 1-0. The sold-out Busch Stadium crowd was on its feet, waving towels, screaming, whooping, trying to remind the muscular young speedster who he was.
“That felt really good,” Coleman would say of his two-strike double down the third base line, the double that gave the Cards their first lead in this crazy series against the Twins, and ultimately their first victory, final score 3-1. “I was really just trying to put the ball in play, maybe knock in one run. But it got past the third baseman and I just ran.” Tarp injury ‘bitter pill’ Oh, how sweet the words must feel for Coleman.
“I just ran.” Remember, this is a guy who two years ago watched his team play in a World Series without him — after he’d been “eaten” by an automatic tarp machine, an injury that still rates as one of the weirdest in the annals of sport. “That was a bitter pill to swallow,” he said of the ’85 experience. “I had dreamt of going to the World Series all year, from spring training on, and then that . . . happens. It was like somebody put me in a wheelchair. They said, ‘We’re taking away what you used to have. You can’t have it anymore.’ “
Players often talk of waiting an entire career for a World Series. And there were moments when Coleman wondered if he’d blown his one shot. Injured by a tarp? How would he explain that one to the grandkids? Fortunately for Coleman, he plays for St. Louis. The team has been in the post-season party three times in the last six years. So here he was again Tuesday night, healthy, but now afflicted with a different ailment: ineffectiveness.
The Twins had nullified the Cardinals’ speed and pitching en route to blowout wins in Games 1 and 2. Had Minnesota taken Tuesday night’s game, Coleman could have packed his running shoes away for good.
Instead, he hit that double, and though it is impossible to say truly that one moment can turn a Series, this one may have to be considered among the candidates. Or possibly the next one. Because here was Coleman on second base, looking at the broad back of relief pitcher Juan Berenguer. “I know him from when he pitched in the National League,” Coleman said, “and when I’m on second base and there’s one out, I have the green light.”
And you know what that means. . . .
‘It felt . . . really good’ Go! Coleman took off, made it to third safely, a stolen base in his pocket. And then he sped home on Ozzie Smith’s single for the third run, with more than a morsel of satisfaction. “I was going all the way,” he said as he dressed in the clubhouse afterward. “It felt . . . really good.”
All around the room, other Cardinals were being interviewed by the national media. Almost all were asked how significant it was to see Vince Coleman, the leadoff man, the speed man, contribute. Almost all of them said it was almost critical. That’s a heavy burden for a single player, and in the end, if the Cardinals don’t get more in the way of offense — they went six scoreless innings against Les Straker, the Twins’ weakest starter — well, it may be asking too much.
But for this one night, this one echoing at-bat in front of the home crowd, Vince Coleman was free of burdens, free of slump, free of tarp bites, free to run. And run he did. All the way home.
“I’m gonna remember this for a long time,” he said, putting on his shoes.
“I’m so glad just to have finally contributed in a World Series. Just to have done something after all the waiting.”
He pulled his shoelaces and tied them carefully, single knot, reached for his jacket, and walked away. No tripping this night. Cardinals strike back.