The rivalry between the Cardinals and the Giants flared up once again, nine months after the Cardinals dashed the Giants’ hopes of a 1987 world championship in a grueling seven-game NLCS. This time, the two teams engaged in a midsummer brawl involving notable players like Will Clark, Ozzie Smith, and Jose Oquendo.
The 1988 season had not been kind to either team, as they struggled to replicate their previous success. As they entered the final game of their four-game series on July 24, the Giants had a record of 49-46, trailing the NL West-leading Dodgers by seven games. On the other hand, the Cardinals were 43-53, a distant 15 games behind the NL East-leading Mets and only two games ahead of the last-place Phillies.
Despite being on the outskirts of the NL West race, the Giants had a standout performer in veteran pitcher Rick Reuschel, who boasted a strong season with a 12-5 record and a 3.13 ERA. The Cardinals, countering with Jose DeLeon, entered the game with a less impressive 6-7 record and a 4.10 ERA.
In the second inning, the Giants took the lead when Candy Maldonado tripled and subsequently scored on a groundout. A few innings later, Maldonado singled and crossed home plate on a sacrifice fly, giving the Giants a 2-0 advantage.
It was Will Clark who sealed the game’s fate in the fifth inning with his 22nd home run of the season, a three-run blast to right field that extended San Francisco’s lead to 5-0.
Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog expressed his disappointment with DeLeon’s performance, stating, “DeLeon made a terrible pitch. He should have been aware of the batter’s capabilities.”
Clark found himself at the center of the action once again in the eighth inning, when the brawl erupted. With one out, Clark singled to center field. As Maldonado grounded to the shortstop, Ozzie Smith cleanly fielded the ball and threw it to Oquendo for a potential double play. However, Clark slid aggressively into second base, causing himself and Oquendo to overshoot the bag and disrupt the play.
Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provided a vivid description of the ensuing chaos:
“Oquendo kicked Clark and then struck Clark’s helmet with his hand. Clark, now fully engaged, quickly got up and grabbed Oquendo. Smith, coming to the rescue, landed a punch from behind and followed it up with a wild swing. Smith managed to connect with two more blows as Oquendo and Clark grappled, but Clark eventually gained the upper hand. Maldonado rushed in from the right side and seemingly struck Smith, resulting in a split lip. Tom Pagnozzi, who came from the Cardinals’ bullpen, intervened and wrestled Maldonado to the ground.”
Reflecting on the incident, Clark explained, “When I slid, I hit the bag but bounced off to the side, and I found myself against Oquendo’s leg. He kneed me and said something like, ‘What are you doing, man?’ There’s no appropriate response to that. I was attempting to break up the double play. As I was getting up, he struck me in the head. I couldn’t fathom why that happened, and I just lost my composure. I pushed him, and from there, everything unfolded rapidly.”
Ironically, Maldonado, who was the first to come to Clark’s aid, had engaged in a physical altercation with Clark in the clubhouse just a week prior.
“You don’t seek out fights, but when you
witness someone holding Will Clark down and attacking him, you can’t wait. You have to act,” Maldonado stated.
Giants manager Roger Craig took note of Maldonado’s swift response, remarking, “I must say, that’s the fastest I’ve seen Maldonado go from first to second.”
Bob Brenly, the Giants’ catcher, was among the next players to join the fray. He landed a couple of punches on Smith, seemingly causing him to bleed from the lip. Earlier in the year, Smith had referred to Brenly and the Giants as “scared loudmouths” in an interview with GQ magazine.
Brenly commented, “I’m not sure if someone stepped on him or what happened. Maybe his lip got caught on my hand as he rolled over.”
Both Oquendo and Clark were ejected from the game due to their involvement in the fight. Second base umpire Dutch Rennert clarified that Smith had not been ejected because he had not witnessed Smith throwing any punches.
“I observed Clark swing at Oquendo, and both were ejected for fighting,” Rennert explained. “To be honest, I didn’t see Ozzie get hit during the chaos. Did he land three punches? I only saw one punch by Clark. If I had witnessed Ozzie sucker-punching him, I would have ejected him as well.”
Although Smith continued playing in the game that evening, he opted to sit out the following day’s game against the Pirates due to lingering soreness.