The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 71-80
NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 70 TODD WORRELL
Todd Worrell had more than just a game to close on Sept. 4, 1989.
The Cardinals were chasing the Chicago Cubs in the Eastern Division standings and sat just a game-and-a-half out back in second place. The Montreal Expos, who visited Busch Stadium II that evening, were right on their tails in third.
Starting pitcher Jose DeLeon held the Expos to one run through 7 2/3 innings and a four-run St. Louis sixth put him in line for the win.
Worrell had a personal at stake, too, though he minimized its importance. The save would be the 127th of his career and tie him for the most in Cardinals history with eventual Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter, who had been lost to free agency during the previous offseason.
He got Andres Galarraga on a ground out to end the eighth, then dished up a double to Tim Wallach to lead off the ninth. The next batter, Jim Dwyer, lifted a high fly ball into foul territory which left fielder Vince Coleman handled for the first out.
But Worrell heard the snap of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow giving way. Dan Quisenberry, 36 and already the Kansas City Royals career saves leader, finished off the Expos and Worrell didn’t pitch again for more than two years.
Dr. Frank Jobe successfully completed the ligament-replacement surgery he and Tommy John made famous, but it wasn’t until Worrell began his comeback in the spring of 1991 that the tears in his rotator cuff were discovered.
To that point, Worrell was one of the most reliable late-inning men in baseball.
He made his debut on August 28, 1985, right smack dab in the middle of a heated divisional race with the hated New York Mets. With closer Jeff Lahti compromised by injuries, Worrell picked up five saves down the stretch as the Cardinals clinched the Eastern Division by three games.
He also allowed just one run in six innings during the Cardinals’ six-game win over the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series and got the save in Game 1 of the World Series against Kansas City.
And then there was the one that got away.
In Game 6, Worrell took the ball in the bottom of the ninth with a 1-0 lead and the chance to clinch the Cardinals’ second championship in four years. But Jorge Orta tapped a slow roller toward second base, which was fielded by Jack Clark and flipped to first base. The national television audience and the 41,628 fans at Kauffman Stadium saw Worrell beat Orta to the bag with the first out, but umpire Don Denkinger made the infamous call he would later admit that he blew.
Kansas City rallied and the Cardinals lost a ninth-inning lead for the first time all season. The Royals cruised to the title in Game 7 and the whole mess has gone down as the saddest chapter in St. Louis baseball history.
Still, it was just the beginning for Worrell. In 1986, he posted a 2.08 ERA and led the National League with 36 saves, thus becoming the only pitcher to win both the Rolaids Relief Man and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. No other pitcher has saved 30 games in each of his first three seasons, either.
Worrell may well have been on his way to a fourth, too, when that ligament in his elbow blew.
By the time he returned from his two-year absence, the Cardinals had already brought in Lee Smith, who currently ranks third on the MLB all-time saves list and second in the Cardinals’ book behind Jason Isringhausen.
But on July 16, 1992, Worrell finally finished what he started nearly three years earlier by retiring the three Cincinnati batters he faced in the ninth inning of a 5-1 Cardinals’ win. He then surpassed Sutter’s record against the San Francisco Giants on Sept. 5 and picked up his final save in St. Louis the following day.
Worrell signed as a free agent with Los Angeles to play for his hometown Dodgers. He pitched five more seasons and led the NL with a career-best 44 saves in 1996.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1985-1992
2.56 ERA with Cardinals | 129 St. Louis saves | 2x NL champ | ROY ‘86 | 14.8 WAR
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.57