Sunday, August 31, 2014

September 1, 1964 - Come-From-Behind Walk-Off Winner Over Braves - Starring Bob Uecker

Tuesday, September 1, 1964 - At Busch Stadium I (Ray Sadecki - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Milwaukee Braves (Denny Lemaster - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  8,079

Prior to 1964, the last time the Cardinals had won a National League pennant, Stan Musial was in his prime, World War II was a very recent memory, and a teenage Mickey Mantle had just gotten his Oklahoma drivers' license.  In 1946, the Cardinals were a good team and everybody knew it.  Another trip to the World Series had become old hat.  Winning the World Series was great - but no big surprise.

What did surprise and dismay many Cardinal fans in the years after '46, was the fact that their team failed to reach the World Series over the remaining seventeen seasons the great Musial would be wearing a Cardinal uniform; and that the Cardinals failed to sign that Mantle kid out of Commerce, Oklahoma - instead, letting him sign with the New York Yankees, who seemingly played in the World Series every year.

Just a year earlier, the Cardinals had made an incredible late-season run to get close to the first-place Dodgers - winning 19 out of 20 games - but LA came to town and swept a three-game September series - just when the fans were starting to believe in miracles.  In this case, the miracles would have to wait a year to come to fruition - and wouldn't you know it - hardly anybody believed it was happening - certainly not on September 1, with such a paltry crowd on hand to witness a dramatic come-from-behind walk-off 5-4 win over the Milwaukee Braves.

The fact that the Cardinals actually won this game to begin with may not have been an outright miracle - but it certainly classifies as "improbable".  First of all, backup catcher Bob Uecker made a rare start, in place of Tim McCarver.

Then, Milwaukee proceeded to score four runs (one of the runs was unearned) in the third-inning - and in the process, knocked starting pitcher Ray Sadecki out of the game after just 2.1 innings.  Reliever Ron Taylor inherited runners on second (Joe Torre) and third (Henry Aaron) - with two runs already in and just one out - a sticky situation to say the least.  Unfortunately, for Taylor, the situation got stickier when his first order of business was to balk in a run, before giving up an RBI single to Gene Oliver - before settling down to finally restore order.

Order was indeed restored.  Milwaukee would not score another run for the remainder of the game - and that gave the Redbirds the opportunity to catch up.  And they took advantage of that opportunity - which is what championship-caliber teams usually do.  It also gave Taylor the opportunity to improve his record to 8-3 - as he worked the final 6.2 innings of four-hit scoreless relief - striking out five - walking none.

After Ken Boyer's two-out two-run home run in the bottom of the third cut the deficit in half, Uecker stepped up to the plate with two out and nobody on base in the fourth - and hit his first and only home run of the season - to draw the Redbirds within a single run of tying this game up.

The Cardinals pushed that single run across the plate in the sixth-inning, when Boyer led-off with a double, advanced to third on a ground out to the first baseman - then with Julian Javier batting, Braves starter Denny Lemaster uncorked a wild pitch - scoring Boyer with the game tying run.

It was still a 4-4 game in the bottom of the ninth - and Lemaster was still on the mound for Milwaukee.  With one out, Javier started the game-winning rally with a double into the left field corner.  With first base open, Carl Warwick was intentionally walked, to set up a possible double play.  A good double play candidate - Uecker - was the next batter.  The only problem with that strategy:  Uecker lined a single to left, instead of a ground ball to the shortstop.

As Javier raced home with the winning run, the Cardinals had now moved up a notch - into third place - a spot in the standings they hadn't occupied since June 3.  However, they were still 7.5 games behind Philadelphia - who also won tonight.  But the Phillies were already looking in the rear view mirror - and their paranoia would soon begin strangling them.  A ten-game losing streak was imminent.  But who knew?

As a side note, Bob Uecker - who was two for three in this game - raised his batting average all the way up to .200 at this point in the season - but alas, he would finish at .198.  It's fascinating to realize had Uecker had his "normal" game (what .200 hitters normally do - which is nothing significant) - the Cardinals would have lost - and in all likelihood, lost out on their chance to play in the World Series.

That's the kind of stuff that just blows my mind.

August 31, 2002 - Cards Sweep Doubleheader - Hammer Cubs at Wrigley

Saturday, August 31, 2002 - At Wrigley Field (Game One Starting Pitcher - Luther Hackman - Opponent:  Chicago Cubs (Game One Starting Pitcher - Mark Prior) - Attendance:  37,639

On paper, the pitching match-up in the first game of this doubleheader between the Cards and Cubs would seem to favor the Cubs - with their up-and-coming young starter - Mark Prior (6-6) - going up against a guy who is normally used in relief - Luther Hackman (4-4).  Although Prior pitched well - allowing just two runs in five innings - Hackman was a little better - yielding no runs in his five innings of work.

The big difference was in the quality of work performed by bullpens over the final four innings.  The Cubs could only score once - on an eighth-inning solo home run by Mark Bellhorn off Jeff Fassero - while the Cardinals scored a pair of sixth-inning runs (one unearned run) off Joe Borowski - then really teed off on Francis Beltran, who gave up a solo home run to Eli Marrero in the eighth, then a three-run bomb to Eduardo Perez in the ninth.

Along with Marrero and Perez, Albert Pujols also went deep - connecting on a solo shot off Prior in the fifth - one of three hits the sophomore slugger would tally in this rout - a decisive 8-1 drubbing of the Cubbies.

Game Two Starting Pitchers - Andy Benes vs Jason Bere

Even though Benes (4-4) was in the twilight of his career, this pitching match-up clearly favored the Cardinals - on paper and where it counts - on the playing field.  The Redbirds torched Bere (1-10) for eight runs (seven earned runs) in just four innings of work - four of those runs scoring on Eli Marrero's grand slam home run in the third.  Even pitcher Andy Benes got into the home run derby act today - hitting a solo blast off the battered Bere in the fifth.  It would be the only home run for Benes in 2002 - and it would be the last home run he'd ever hit (8 career home runs in 14 seasons).

While St Louis nicked three Chicago relievers for one run apiece over the final five innings (including a seventh-inning home run by Jim Edmonds) - the only serious chink in the armor for the Cardinal bullpen was the three runs Steve Kline coughed up in the sixth-inning.  It didn't matter - the Cardinals cruised to an easy 10-4 win, to complete the doubleheader sweep.

After today's action, the first-place Cardinals had improved to 76-59 on the season - and they would finish with a NL-best 21-6 record over the final month - and manager Tony LaRussa would later be named NL Manager of the Year - in what was certainly his most trying season as a major league manager.

After the tragic death of pitcher Darryl Kile, LaRussa guided his team through a period of profound sorrow.  Undoubtedly, their fallen teammate was on the minds of the Cardinal players throughout the day.  After all, the reason they were playing a doubleheader was to make up the game that had been cancelled in June - in the wake of Kile's passing.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

August 30, 2011 - Cards Nip Error-Prone Brewers, 2-1

Tuesday, August 30, 2011 - At Miller Park (Edwin Jackson - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Milwaukee Brewers (Shaun Marcum - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  42,384

In the first game of a three-game series, newly acquired Cardinal starting pitcher Edwin Jackson had a strong outing - limiting the Brewers to one run on six hits in seven innings of work.  However, if not for two costly errors by the right side of the Milwaukee infield, Jackson would have exited this game on the wrong side of a 1-0 score - and more importantly, the Cardinals would have lost this game to remain 9.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves - the team they were chasing for that postseason wild card berth.  Instead, thanks to a pair of unearned runs, the Redbirds kept their postseason hopes alive with a 2-1 win over the Brew Crew.

Brewers starting pitcher Shaun Marcum pitched admirably, but defensive lapses in the sixth-inning gave the Cardinals a golden opportunity to break a scoreless tie - and they cashed in.

The inning began with Skip Schumaker hitting a routine ground ball to first baseman Prince Fielder, which went under his glove and through his legs to right fielder Corey Hart - as Schumaker skipped to first base. Next up - Rafael Furcal bounced one - with a lot of topspin - to second baseman Jerry Hairston - who misjudged the effect the topspin would have on the ball when he tried to field it.  He got in front of it, but the ball hit the heel of his glove for an error.  Three inches lower, and he would have at least gotten the force out at second - perhaps a double play.

Instead, with runners on first and second, Yadier Molina lined a single to center to load the bases for Edwin Jackson - who drove in the first run of the game with base hit to right - as the bases remained loaded for Jon Jay - who drove in the second run of the game with a sacrifice fly.  That was it:  Two runs, two hits, two errors and two runners left on base.

The Brewers began the sixth-inning with back-to-back doubles by Corey Hart and Nyjer Morgan to cut the St Louis lead in half.  But Jackson was able to prevent any further scoring - first, by striking out Prince Fielder with one out and the runner on third - for out number two.  Then he got Casey McGehee on a fly ball to center to retire the side.

After working a scoreless seventh-inning, Jackson's night was over.  The bullpen's night was just beginning.  Reliever Arthur Rhodes got the first out in the eighth-inning, then turned the ball over to Jason Motte, who gave up a hit - but no runs - in his two-out stint.

Newly acquired reliever Marc Rzepczynski faced one batter in the bottom of the ninth - Prince Fielder - but the designated lefty specialist failed to get his man.  Fielder walked.

LaRussa then brought in Fernando Salas to face Casey McGehee - who also walked.  Betancourt was the next batter - who was up there bunting, trying to advance the runners to second and third.  Instead, a hard charging Albert Pujols fielded the bunt and fired a strike to third base for a crucial force out of Fielder.  The game ended when pinch hitter Mark Kotsay (replacing Hairston) grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.

And yes, the Braves lost tonight - at home - to the Washington Nationals - who pounded out four home runs in a 9-2 Atlanta beat down.  The fun was just beginning.

Friday, August 29, 2014

August 29, 2001 - Just a Routine 16-14 Win Over Padres

Wednesday, August 29, 2001 - At Busch Stadium II (Bud Smith - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  San Diego Padres (Bobby Jones - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  31,362

When the Cardinals beat the Padres by the score of 16-14 on this date in 2001, it became the ninth time in franchise history St Louis had played in games with a combined score of at least thirty runs.  With this win, they have now won four of those nine games - and with a margin of victory of just two runs - it was the closest slug-fest in franchise history.

After the Padres roughed up Cardinal starter Bud Smith for two first-inning runs - and another pair in the second, on the strength of a Ryan Klesko two-out two-run home run - the Redbirds suddenly found themselves in a 4-0 hole as they prepared to take their turn at bat in the bottom of the second.

Padres starter Bobby Jones retired Albert Pujols to record the first out of the inning - but it was all downhill for San Diego after that.  Jim Edmonds started what would become a nine-run rally with a double.  By the time the Cardinals finished they would pound out seven hits - including a pair of two-run home runs by J.D. Drew and the guy who started the rally - Jim Edmonds.  They would also benefit from a very costly San Diego error - making five of the nine runs scored of the unearned variety.

After Edmonds belted his two-run bomb to close out the scoring, manager Bruce Bochey had to remove his battered starter after just 1.2 innings of work.  Chuck McElroy came in from the bullpen to retire Craig Paquette to mercifully end the assault - at least for the time being.

While the Cardinals were taking a little breather after that nine-run outburst, San Diego went back on the offensive.  In the fourth-inning, a one-out walk to Rickey Henderson, his inevitable stolen base and a fielding miscue by shortstop Edgar Renteria suddenly had runners on second and third for the hot-hitting Klesko - who scored 'em both with a double to make it a 9-6 game.  LaRussa had stuck with his young starter as long as he could.  Smith only made it through 3.1 innings - five outs shy of qualifying for the win.  However, the way the Padres were teeing off on him, it's doubtful he would've made it through five innings with the lead.

Gene Stechschulte came in from the bullpen to face the next batter - Phil Nevin - who took him deep - for a two-run home run, to make it a 9-8 game.  Gene settled down after that to retire the side with no further damage - then he pitched a scoreless fifth-inning to put himself in line for the win - which seemed more likely, after Jim Edmonds came through again - with a two-out two-run fourth-inning single to give the Cards a little breathing room - 11-8.

Incredibly, Edmonds would be the only Cardinal base runner left on base in this game.  Whenever they failed to score, they never even bothered to get a runner on base - and that happened in four different innings.  This set another obscure franchise record:  Fewest Runners Left on Base When Scoring 16 or More Runs - a record that never even occurred to me until this moment.  In fact, it's probably a major league record.

As if on cue, the Cardinals score two more runs in the fifth without leaving any runners on base - and they do it without hitting the ball.  In fact, those two runs score when pinch hitter Bobby Bonilla strikes out - with two runners on base - Renteria and Marrero (who both walked).  While Padres pitcher Nunez was preoccupied with striking out Bobby B, he didn't notice that Renteria (on second) and Marrero (on first) were planning to execute a double steal.  Padres catcher Ben Davis, in his attempt to nail Renteria at third, instead threw the ball to Rickey Henderson in left field - allowing Renteria to score the first run on the play.

As Henderson retrieved the errant throw, Marrero was now heading for third, which caused Rickey to make another errant throw in the general direction of third base.  As the ball was now rolling into an area uninhabited by any San Diego player with a glove on either hand, Marrero proceeded to race home with the second run on the play.  Had this occurred in a World Series, it no doubt would have been referred to as The Play.  

Fortunately, for the Cardinals, Bonilla struck out.  Had he fouled that pitch off, or put it "in play" - unless he hits one in the gap - those runs likely would not have scored - and this game would have been tied 14-14 - heading into overtime.  Bonilla, in his final season as a major league player, perhaps made his greatest contribution to the Cardinals - by striking out in this situation.

With the Cardinals now leading, 13-8,  the Padres scored three sixth-inning runs off reliever Mike Timlin - the last two scoring on former-Cardinal Ray Lankford's double.  It was now a 13-11 game.

The score remained 13-11 as the Padres took their turn at bat in the eighth-inning.  After giving up three singles, Cardinal reliever Steve Kline quickly found himself in a bases loaded one-out situation.  LaRussa stuck with him - and Kline responded by inducing Ben Davis to hit a convenient ground ball to Renteria at shortstop - who stepped on second and tossed to first for the inning-ending double play.

The Cardinals tacked on three insurance runs when they took their turn at bat in the bottom of the eighth.  It all started with two out and nobody on base.  Polanco singled, then Drew doubled, putting runners on second and third for Albert Pujols.  With first base open, Padres reliever David Lundquist chose to pitch to the rookie, as Jim Edmonds - who had already driven in four runs tonight - was lurking on deck.

Up to this point, Pujols had not driven in a run - but he got three RBI with one swing of the bat.  His three-run home run cleared the bases once again - and gave the Cardinals a comfortable 16-11 lead, heading into the ninth-inning.

Reliever Dave Veres - in a non-save situation - yielded a two-run home run to Cesar Crespo and a solo blast by Ryan Klesko - to make it a save situation, if TLR went to the bullpen again.  But he let Veres finish his work, which also included a pair of strikeouts.

It was finally over.  Stechschulte - in relief of Bud Smith - picked up the win by managing to record five outs - three of them coming on strikeouts.  He also surrendered a home run with an inherited runner on base - so that run was charged to Smith, whose final pitching line read:  3.1 IP - 5 H - 7 R - 5 ER - 4 BB - 4 SO - 1 HR.

As Smith pondered his disappointing performance in tonight's game - when his team erased an early four-run deficit by scoring nine runs for him in the second-inning - but failed last the necessary five innings to qualify for the win - he knew he needed to make some serious adjustments.

On Monday, September 3, Bud Smith would be the starting pitcher against the same team that knocked him out of this game so early.  The venue would move to San Diego.  The game would be televised on ESPN.  The outcome would be a complete surprise to everyone.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

This Day in St Louis Cardinals History: August 28, 1969 - 1970 - 1971 - Three for Thursday!

Thursday, August 28, 1969 - At Busch Stadium II (Steve Carlton - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Houston Astros (Don Wilson - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  13,754 

The Astros scored an unearned first-inning run off Cardinals' starter Steve Carlton (8 IP - 6 H - 1 R - 0 ER - 3 BB - 10 SO) - and that was it.

Joe Hoerner pitched an inning of perfect relief - striking out two in the ninth.

Meanwhile, Astros starter Don Wilson held the Cardinals scoreless until the ninth-inning - when Dave Ricketts scored Vada Pinson from third with a sacrifice fly.  

After reliever Mudcat Grant (7-10) retired the Astros in order in the tenth-inning - Redbird utility infielder Steve Huntz led off the bottom of the tenth with a walk-off home run - handing Wilson (16-9) the tough-luck loss.

Friday, August 28, 1970 - At Dodger Stadium (Jerry Reuss - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  LA Dodgers (Don Sutton - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  19,964

Joe Torre broke a scoreless tie with a ninth-inning lead-off home run off Dodgers' starter Don Sutton (13-10).  

Cardinals' starter Jerry Reuss (5-5) pitched a complete game two-hit shutout - striking out five - walking one.

Saturday, August 28, 1971 - At Busch Stadium II (Bob Gibson - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Cincinnati Reds (Gary Nolan - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  40,823

Exactly two weeks after no-hitting the Pirates, Bob Gibson (13-11) was almost as dominant in this start against the Reds - a complete game three-hit shutout - striking out thirteen - walking one.

The Cardinals scored a pair of third-inning runs off Reds' starter Gary Nolan (11-13) - RBI singles by Ted Sizemore and Joe Torre gave Gibson more than enough run support tonight - although they added two more runs in the fifth - on another Sizemore RBI single along with an unearned run on a botched play by the catcher - future Hall of Famer - Johnny Bench.

August 27, 1981 - Hendrick's 13th-Inning Home Run a Game Winner Over Padres

Thursday, August 27, 1981 - At Jack Murphy Stadium (Bob Forsch - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  San Diego Padres (Rick Wise - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  7,056

George Hendrick drove in all three runs for the Cardinals - including a thirteenth-inning solo home run - to lift St Louis to a 3-2 win over the Padres.  Jim Kaat (6-2) - the fifth pitcher used by manager Whitey Herzog - pitched 2.1 innings of scoreless relief to record the win.

Bob Forsch worked the first 7.2 innings - allowing just one run on five hits - but a blown save by Bruce Sutter gave the San Diego fans some bonus baseball in this strike-shortened debacle of a season.

Prior to receiving four innings of free baseball, the San Diego fans were blessed with the tearful reunion of former-Padres outfielder George Hendrick - who greeted the faithful gathering with a two-out third-inning double - scoring Tommy Herr and Ken Oberkfell with the first two runs of the game.

Padres starting pitcher - Rick Wise - the guy the Cardinals acquired before the '72 season in exchange for Steve Carlton - allowed just those two runs in his six innings of work.  The San Diego bullpen - Boone, Lucas and Littlefield - took care of the next six innings of scoreless relief - until another former Cardinal hurler - John Curtis - entered the game in the thirteenth.

Before all that excitement, the eighth and ninth inning offensive outburst by the Padres lineup made it all possible.

Forsch was still working on a shutout with two out and a runner on third in the bottom of the eighth - when pinch hitter Randy Bass got San Diego on the board with a single to center - scoring Luis Salazar.

At that point, Herzog decided to bring in his well-rested closer - Bruce Sutter (all the players in major league baseball were well-rested - thanks to their two-month strike-inflicted summer vacation).  Sutter struck out future teammate Ozzie Smith to end the inning - but trouble lurked ahead.

With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Gene Richards singled to left.  Sutter then struck out Rupert Jones for the second out - but another former Cardinal - Terry Kennedy - singled to center - advancing Richards to third.  Broderick Perkins then tied the game with another single to send the crowd into a post-strike frenzy.  Free baseball!  The fans were certainly getting their money's worth tonight.

Proving that the ninth inning was just a fluke, Sutter came back and pitched a scoreless tenth, before a new St Louis reliever - Bob Shirley - created more excitement in the eleventh.

Bob was a bit wild - walking the first two batters - Richards and Jones - before retiring a pinch hitter by the name of Gwosdz on a ground ball to third - advancing the runners to second and third.

Herzog then brought in Mark Littel - whose first order of business was an intentional walk to Perkins.  With the bases loaded, there was no place to put Luis Salazar - so Littel struck him out.

Herzog made his final pitching change - as Jim Kaat was summoned to face Jim Lefebvre - and he got him on a force out at second base - to extend the free baseball for the unappreciative fans (by this time, they wanted to go home - savoring a Padres' victory).

After both teams failed to score in the twelfth-inning, St Louis seemed unlikely to score in the thirteenth - as Oberkfell grounded out and Keith Hernandez looked at a called third strike.  But George Hendrick stepped up to the plate and whacked one into the nearly vacated left field bleachers - to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.

By the time one of the spectators meandered over to locate the home run ball from their former hero - Kaat retired the side in order - to preserve what seemed to be a very important win for the Cardinals (40-25) - who were in first place - 2.5 games ahead of Philadelphia.

The Redbirds would finish the season with a 59-43 record - the best overall record in the NL East - but not good enough to qualify for the postseason - because under the new rules for the strike-shortened debacle of a season - they finished "second" in each "half" (pre-strike and post-strike).

The Cardinals had company.  The Cincinnati Reds had the best overall record in the National League - but they too failed to win either "half".  That would be their last hurrah.  Cincinnati was an aging team - in transition - spending the decade of the eighties in futility.

For the Cardinals, however, there would be redemption the following season - a world championship - followed by two more trips to the World Series in '85 and '87.

Strangely enough, the year they hit rock bottom - 1990 - was the year the Reds won it all - proving that success or failure in major league baseball can happen at a rapid pace.  Just ask fans of the Boston Red Sox about that.

Monday, August 25, 2014

August 26, 2011 - Molina, Berkman Power Cards to 5-4 Win Over Pirates

Friday, August 26, 2011 - At Busch Stadium III (Jake Westbrook - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Pittsburgh Pirates (James McDonald - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  40,480

After being swept at home in a three-game series with the Dodgers, manager Tony LaRussa held a brief team meeting with his players prior to the four-game series with the Pirates.  In essence, the message imparted by TLR was simply:  Don't quit.

After winning the first game on Thursday, the Cardinals had to perform some come-from-behind magic to take the second game from Pittsburgh - and they did, thanks to home runs by Yadier Molina and Lance Berkman.

Berkman's thirtieth home run of the season - a two-run eighth-inning blast - lifted the Cardinals to a 5-4 win - but it was Molina's three-run homer earlier in the game which made the game winner possible.

Things didn't start out well for St Louis starter - Jake Westbrook.  One walk, three hits and a sacrifice fly quickly put the Cardinals in a 3-0 hole after the first-inning.

The Redbirds evened the score in the third-inning.  Matt Holliday led off with a base on balls.  One out later, David Freese singled.  With two on and one out, Yadier Molina blasted a James McDonald letter-high fastball into the left field seats to suddenly make it a 3-3 game - while giving a lucky fan a souvenir.

The Pirates quickly regained the lead in the fourth-inning.  Jose Tabatha's two-out double scored Ronnie Cedeno from second - but that would be the last run Pittsburgh would score.

Westbrook's night was over after six innings.  He had yielded seven hits and walked five - but limited the damage to four runs.  The final three innings of flawless relief - Arthur Rhodes' perfect seventh - followed by Kyle McClellan's (10-6) two perfect innings - allowed Berkman's home run into the Cardinals' bullpen off Pirates reliever Jose Veras (2-4) to have significance.  Looking back on the 2011 season, the home run meant the difference between a trip to the postseason and going home after Game 162.

After winning Game 132 - the Cardinals (69-63) were 9.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers (79-54) - who also won tonight.  Strangely enough, they were also 9.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves - who lost tonight.

The Cardinals would take three of four from the Pirates before sweeping a three-game series in Milwaukee.  Clearly, they weren't quitting.