Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 21, 2006 - Cards Pound Verlander in Game One World Series Shocker

Saturday, October 21, 2006 - World Series - Game One vs Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park - Attendance:  42,479 - Starting Pitchers:  Anthony Reyes vs Justin Verlander

The Cardinals - just two days after shocking the Mets at Shea Stadium in Game Seven of the NLCS - stun the baseball world again in Game One of the World Series, with a decisive 7-2 drubbing of Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.

This wasn't supposed to happen.  Detroit had already won seven of eight postseason games against the best competition in the American League (Not to mention, they had already swept a three-game series over the visiting Cards back in June).

By contrast, St Louis stumbled and bumbled their way into the postseason with a stretch run so wretched, they seemed destined for doom - at least eventually.  Fortunately, that destiny at least waited until 2007 - after becoming World Champions.

Game One began as planned.  Initially.  After Verlander easily dispatched the Cardinals in their first at bat, the Tigers immediately pounced on rookie Anthony Reyes.  A one-out double by Craig Monroe and a two-out walk to Magglio Ordonez preceded a Carlos Guillen run-scoring single to right field.  When Juan Encarnacion booted the ball, the runners - Guillen and Ordonez - moved up to second and third for hot-hitting Ivan Rodriguez - who hit the ball hard - but right at third baseman Scott Rolen to end the threat.

Instead of being in at least a 3-0 hole, the Cardinals trailed by a mere run when Scott Rolen - who speared that Rodriguez liner - hit a one-out home run deep to left field.  Just like that, this game was tied.  It was all downhill for the Tigers after that.

The Cardinals continued their assault in the third inning.  Game Seven NLCS hero Yadier Molina stroked a lead-off single to right - then, after advancing to second on an infield out - Verlander caught David Eckstein looking at a called third strike.

However, DH Chris Duncan got the two-out RBI - a double to right field - to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead.

Next up - Albert Pujols, who struck out his first time up - got some revenge this time off Verlander - with an opposite field two-run blast over the right field wall - to suddenly give the Cards a 4-1 lead.

Meanwhile, after that shaky first-inning, Reyes was nearly perfect over his next seven-innings of work, protecting that lead - which grew to 7-1 by the time the Cardinals were done in the sixth.

In that fateful sixth-inning, after Pujols drew a lead-off walk, Verlander had him picked off, but threw the ball away - the first of five throwing errors Tiger pitchers would accumulate in the five game series.  They had some help from their third baseman, Brandon Inge - especially a bit later in this inning.

At the moment, with Pujols standing on third base, the next hitter - Jim Edmonds - drove him in with a single to right field.  After Scott Rolen's opposite field ground rule double into the right field seats put runners on second and third, manager Jim Leyland brought in a relative unknown reliever - Jason Grilli - who induced Encarnacion into hitting a routine ground ball to third baseman Inge.

However, Inge - apparently auditioning for a spot on the pitching staff - threw it away trying to nail Edmonds at home - allowing both Edmonds and Rolen to score - then, on the same play Inge threw it away again, but Encarnacion could only make it as far as third - just missing a rare Little League home run in a World Series game.

After Reyes gave up a lead-off home run to Craig Monroe in the bottom of the ninth, manager Tony LaRussa took no chances - bringing in a new arm to finish the job.  Braden Looper retired the side to preserve this surprisingly easy 7-2 Game One winner for St Louis.

Meanwhile, distraught FOX Network television executives are ruefully anticipating the downward spike in ratings this supremely boring World Series will create.  Another Subway Series vanished when the Yankees disappeared in the ALDS, followed by the big market Bay Area ousting of Oakland in the ALCS.  Then the Cardinals had the audacity to bounce the other New York team out of the picture, while Detroit was on a five day vacation.

Sure enough, this would become the lowest rated World Series in television history.  Much to the delight of the greater St Louis area and other remote points throughout Cardinal Nation.

Monday, October 20, 2014

October 20, 1982 - "That's a World Series Winner!"

Wednesday, October 20, 1982 - World Series - Game 7 at Busch Stadium II vs Milwaukee Brewers -  Starting Pitchers:  Joaquin Andujar vs Pete Vuckovich - Attendance:  53,723

For the first time since 1968, the Cardinals were playing host to a seventh and deciding game of the World Series - but this time, the home team won - coming from behind for a 6-3 World Series winner - the ninth in franchise history.

It was a rematch of Game Three starters - Joaquin Andujar and Pete Vuckovich - and once again, Andujar came away with a victory - allowing three runs (two earned runs) in seven innings of work.  Bruce Sutter pitched two perfect innings of relief for his third postseason save - striking out Gorman Thomas on a full-count ten-pitch at bat to finally end it.

After a scoreless first three innings of play, Game Three hero Willie McGee started a fourth-inning rally with a base hit to center off Brewers ace Pete Vuckovich, who was probably relieved Willie didn't hit another home run this time around.  Tommy Herr followed with a single to right, as McGee easily advanced to third.

Vuckovich then retired Ozzie Smith on a pop fly to second baseman Ganter, as the runners remained on the corners.  However, Lonnie Smith drove in McGee with an infield single to shortstop Yount, as Herr took second.

Vuckovich managed to avoid further damage by retiring Ken Oberkfell on an infield grounder and getting a frustrated Keith Hernandez to chase strike three - stranding Herr at third base.

It didn't take the Brewers long to answer back, as Ben Oglivie hit a fifth-inning lead-off home run to tie the game at one run apiece.  Andujar was able to regroup after that blast to retire the next three batters in  order.

However, he ran into serious trouble in the sixth, which was only exasperated by his own fielding miscue which led to an unearned run crossing the plate.  Jim Gantner started the inning with a lead-off double in the right center field gap.  Next up - Paul Molitor - may have caught Andujar off guard with a bunt down the third base line, designed to move the runner up to third.  However, after fielding it, Andujar threw wildly past first base, allowing Gantner to score as Molitor took second.

Robin Yount followed that up with an infield hit which second baseman Herr had no play on.  Runners were now on first and third - still nobody out.  This appeared on the verge of getting out of hand.  However, Andujar escaped total disaster, although Yount did score the second run of the inning on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Cecil Cooper.   Next up - Ted Simmons - who smacked a line drive off Andujar's knee in Game Three, grounded one to Hernandez, resulting in a force out at second this time around.  Likewise, Oglivie, who homered in his last at bat, grounded into a force out to end the threat - and keep it a 3-1 Milwaukee lead.

With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Ozzie Smith singled - then Lonnie Smith doubled him over to third base.  With that, Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn went to the bullpen - bringing in lefty reliever Bob McClure to pitch to Oberkfell with two runners in scoring position.  Whitey Herzog then countered with pinch hitter Gene Tenace - a World Series hero a decade earlier with Oakland.  With first base open, McClure didn't give Tenace anything good to hit - and Tenace patiently drew a base on balls - bringing Keith Hernandez to the plate, with redemption on his mind.

With pinch runner Mike Ramsey replacing Tenace at first base, the stage was set for a classic Fall Classic bit of drama.  Two San Francisco Bay Area high school rivals - McClure and Hernandez - were meeting once again in the Main Event - with the world championship on the line - and for the first time in World Series history, two "Smiths" scored on the same base hit - a single to center, as this game was now tied, 3-3.

With pinch runner Mike Ramsey perched on third, George Hendrick brought him in with a base hit in the hole between first and second - to give the Cardinals a 4-3 lead.

An inspired Andujar protected that lead with a scoreless seventh-inning, with Bruce Sutter waiting in the wings to finish this one up.  After Milwaukee failed to score in the eighth, St Louis tacked on a couple of insurance runs in the bottom half, to put this one on ice.

Facing reliever Moose Haas, Lonnie Smith led-off the eighth-inning with a ground rule double down the right field line - but Mike Ramsey's sacrifice bunt attempt failed - fouling off strike three.  After Hernandez was intentionally walked, Hendrick was retired on a fly ball to center.

Lefty Mike Caldwell - who dominated the Cardinals in Game One's 10-0 blowout - was then brought in to face Darrell Porter - but the strategy backfired - as Porter got the RBI single to right field, which in all likelihood was the deciding factor in the World Series MVP voting.  Steve Braun followed that up with a base hit to center - scoring Hernandez with the sixth and final run of the game.

With Sutter looking to close this one out quickly, Ted Simmons obliged with a ground ball right back to the mound - for out number one.  Next up - Oglivie - grounded out to second for out number two.

Out number three wouldn't be so easy.  Gorman Thomas worked the count full - fouling off pitch after pitch after pitch after pitch - but finally, on the tenth pitch of the at bat, Thomas took a home run cut on non-split-fingered fastball - and came up empty.

That was a World Series winner - ironically, the only one the Cardinals managed to come away with during Herzog's tenure as manager.

The next time St Louis made it to the World Series - in 1985 - a couple of former teammates - Lonnie Smith and Dane Iorg - would be playing for the eventual world champion Kansas City Royals.  Twenty-nine years later, KC has returned - but a second I-70 Fall Classic will have to wait awhile.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

October 19, 2006 - Against All Odds: Molina's 9th-Inning Blast Sends Cards to World Series

Thursday, October 19, 2006 - Game 7 - NLCS vs New York Mets at Shea Stadium - Attendance:  56,357 - Starting Pitchers:  Jeff Suppan vs Oliver Perez

The fact that the Cardinals were still playing this deep into the postseason baffled the vast majority of baseball experts who thought the San Diego Padres would send 'em home after three or four games of the NLDS.  Instead, it would be the Pads losing a third straight postseason showdown with the Cards - three games to one.  In '96 and again in '05, St Louis took care of San Diego in three straight games to advance to a NLCS which they would ultimately lose - first to Atlanta and then Houston.

This time around, San Diego managed to win one game, improving their lifetime postseason record to 1-9 vs the Cardinals.

Meanwhile, the heavily favored New York Mets had eliminated the Redbirds in just five NLCS games back in 2000 - as a wild card team, no less.  This time around, the experts generally anticipated a four game sweep.

But here they were, playing a seventh and deciding game in this season's NLCS - both teams unwittingly conspiring to ice down a red-hot Detroit Tigers team that had eliminated the Oakland Athletics far too quickly in their championship series.  The team that plays the waiting game usually has a tough time in the Fall Classic - as the Tigers would eventually find out.

If the Cardinals were going to advance to the World Series, they would have to win this game on the road - against a team that had already swept a three-game series from St Louis - right here at Shea Stadium, back in August.

Actually, winning road games anywhere was a challenge for the Cardinals in '06,  as their 34-47 record away from home would attest.  When  the Mets scored a first-inning run on a two-out double by Carlos Beltran and a bloop RBI single by David Wright, the challenge got a bit more intense.  However, Cards starter Jeff Suppan dodged a bullet when Shawn Green hit a bullet right at Scott Rolen at third base to minimize the damage.

The Cardinals tied the game in the second-inning off Mets starter Oliver Perez.  A lead-off single by Jim Edmonds and a one-out bloop hit by Yadier Molina put runners on the corners for Ronnie Belliard.  Manager Tony LaRussa - anticipating difficulty scoring runs - called for the squeeze play - and it worked.  Belliard's bunt towards second base scored Edmonds to make it a 1-1 game.

In the third-inning, a lead-off double by David Eckstein went to waste, as Preston Wilson (nephew of Mets icon Mookie Wilson) struck out - then after an intentional walk to Albert Pujols, Juan Encarnacion grounded one to third baseman Wright who started an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.

What happened in the sixth-inning is almost beyond belief.

Still tied at one run apiece, Jim Edmonds drew a one-out walk off a tiring Oliver Perez.  Next up - Scott Rolen hit one deep to left field which seemed to be gone.  But left fielder Endy Chavez somehow caught the ball at the absolute apex of his well-timed leap - not only bringing the ball back, but firing a strike to second baseman Jose Valentin who quickly relayed the ball to first baseman Carlos Delgado - to double up a very shocked Edmonds - while sending the fans into an absolute frenzy.

With all that momentum going for them, the Mets seemed almost certain to take the lead in the bottom half of the sixth.  After a one-out walk to Delgado, Wright hit a ground ball to a distraught Scott Rolen, who hastily threw one into right field - trying to start a double play.  Suddenly, New York had both runners in scoring position.  With first base open, Suppan intentionally walked Green, then got perhaps the biggest strikeout of his career when he fanned Valentin on a nasty slider.  Up next - the heroic Chavez - with a chance to add to his legend with a potential game-winning base hit - instead flew out to center to end the threat.

Mets reliever Chad Bradford (career postseason 0.39 ERA in 23.1 IP) worked a perfect seventh-inning - then Suppan finished up his terrific performance with another scoreless inning in the bottom half.

However, at this point in the game, the prospects for a Cardinal victory seemed remote - to say the least.  During the regular season, the Redbirds only managed to win one game on the road when they were tied after seven innings of play.  Strangely enough, that happened in the second game of the season - when they managed to score a ninth-inning run in Philadelphia, and held on for a 4-3 win.

On the other hand, the Cardinals lost nine times on the road when they were tied up after seven-innings.  Even when they had the lead after seven-innings on the road, the Cardinals still managed to lose five games.  To their credit, they did manage to win two games on the road when they were trailing after seven innings.  Go figure.

So here they were, playing the biggest game of the year - in a 1-1 tie at Shea Stadium after seven-innings of play.  Not exactly their blueprint for success in recent history.

A new Mets reliever - Aaron Heilman - pitched a scoreless eighth-inning - first retiring Eckstein on a ground ball to the first baseman - unassisted - then getting Scott Spiezio on a called third strike.  Heilman wanted no part of Pujols, however - walking him intentionally with two-out and nobody on.  He then struck out Encarnacion to retire the side.  Whether or not that strategy had any impact on what would transpire in the ninth-inning is pure conjecture.

After Suppan walked Beltran to open the bottom of the eighth for the Mets, LaRussa brought in Randy Flores to face the heart of the New York lineup - and he was equal to the task - striking out both Delgado and Wright before inducing Green to ground out to Pujols - unassisted.

On to the ninth-inning.  Heilman struck out Edmonds for out number one.  Rolen then grounded a single to left field, bringing Yadier Molina up to the plate.  Perhaps Heilman thought Yadi would take a pitch or two, to get ahead in the count - but that wasn't what Yadi had in mind.  On a first pitch fastball, Molina lined one deep - and high enough - to clear the wall in left.  Chavez would have needed a trampoline to have a shot at catching this one.

The Cards had a shocking 3-1 lead now - but this game was far from over.

Rookie Adam Wainwright came in for the save - but it wouldn't be easy.  Both Valentin and Chavez singled to start the last of the ninth.  With runners on first and second, pinch hitter Cliff Floyd couldn't pull the trigger on a called strike three.  Jose Reyes then lined out to Edmonds in center for out number two.  Next up - Paul LoDuca - walked to load the bases.

With the season on the line for both teams, the most dangerous postseason hitter the Cardinals have ever encountered - Carlos Beltran - stepped up to the plate.  Three pitches later, he was out on strikes.  The final pitch was a baffling curve ball on the outside corner which completely fooled Carlos - dropping about two feet to finish knee-high.

The Cardinals had survived this crazy game.  On the road.  With a National League championship on the line.  On a home run from what was - at the time - the least likely candidate to go yard.  They were on their way to their second World Series appearance in three years - quite naturally, as huge underdogs.

Of course, this team knew better - and they were about to shock the experts one more time.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

October 18, 2013 - NLCS MVP Wacha Leads Cards to World Series

Friday, October 18, 2013 - Game 6 - NLCS vs LA Dodgers at Busch Stadium III - Attendance:  46,899 - Starting Pitchers:  Michael Wacha vs Clayton Kershaw

It was one of the most highly anticipated pitching match-ups in postseason history.  The best left-handed pitcher in major league baseball vs the twenty-two year old rookie phenom.  In the end, the Dodgers' ace southpaw - Clayton Kershaw - would be knocked out of the game after four innings -  allowing seven runs on ten hits.

Meanwhile, Michael Wacha would continue his amazing postseason dominance - allowing just two hits, one walk and nary a run in seven innings pitched - striking out five - as the Cardinals advanced to the World Series in a 9-0 cake-walk over the Dodgers.

It wasn't supposed to be this easy.  But the combination of great pitching and a relentless offensive attack on an arm-weary opponent created the perfect storm:  the Cardinals' fourth trip to the Fall Classic in the last ten seasons.

Not surprisingly, Michael Wacha, with his third straight postseason win and impeccable 0.43 ERA in league championship play was voted NLCS MVP for 2013.  Almost overnight, this unassuming but highly talented young feller from Texas - with a blazing fastball and baffling change-up - had become a national celebrity.  In an age where player's nicknames are often chopped-up-hip-hop versions of their first and last names - A-Rod, A-Gon or Mad-Bum - Michael Wacha is now whimsically referred to as "Wacha-Wacha-Wacha".   Much better than Mich-Wach or Wach-Three, don't you think?

With the Dodgers already trailing three games to one in this best-of-seven showdown, manager Don Mattingly really had no choice but to gamble on using his best pitcher on short rest.  For the first two innings, the strategy had at least kept his team in the game - a scoreless tie.

However, things unraveled for Kershaw and the Dodgers in the home half of the third.  The inning began harmlessly enough when Wacha grounded out.  However, a tenacious Matt Carpenter fouled off a half-dozen pitches before finally ripping a two-ball-two-strike pitch down the right field line for a fist-pumping double.

With that, the Cardinals were on their way to a five-hit-four-run inning which essentially sealed the deal.  Carlos Beltran followed Carpenter's double with an RBI single - advancing to second on the throw home.  After Matt Holliday looked at a called third strike, it appeared Kershaw might be able to keep the damage at a minimum.  Not tonight.  Yadier Molina scored Beltran with a base hit to right - then advanced to second on a David Freese single to center.

Next up - 2014's NLDS hero, Matt Adams - walked, to load the bases.  Shane Robinson drove in Molina and Freese with another base hit to right, to give St Louis a 4-0 lead.  The last batter in the inning - Michael Wacha - in his second plate appearance in the third - struck out.

After Wacha carved up the Dodgers' lineup in the fourth, a weary and ineffective Kershaw tried his luck again in the bottom half - to no avail.  Molina ripped a single to right, then advanced to second on right fielder Yasiel Puig's lackadaisical error.  Freese moved Molina to third with a single to left field - then Adams delivered the knock-out punch to Kershaw with an opposite-field double to left - scoring Molina, as Freese held up at third.

At that point, Kershaw was relieved of his duties, with the Dodgers in a 5-0 hole.  The two runners on base were his responsibility - and both would later come in to score as well.  The Redbirds pecked away for a couple more runs - stopping at nine.

After Wacha's brilliant seven-inning outing concluded, Carlos Martinez (two strikeouts) and Trevor Rosenthal (one strikeout) combined for two perfect innings to send the Cardinals to another World Series showdown with the Boston Red Sox.

Unfortunately, the postseason magic wore off for Wacha and the Cardinals in Game Six of the World Series.  Arm troubles added to Wacha's misery in 2014.  Although he had recovered in time to pitch some moderately effective innings at the end of the regular season, he was clearly far from where he was a year ago.

Still, manager Mike Matheny called on Wacha to pitch in a no-win ninth-inning situation against the Giants in Game Five of the NLCS.  He hadn't pitched in nearly three weeks.  Even then, he struggled with his command early in the game - allowing two first-inning runs to a weak Arizona Diamondbacks team.  Could anyone really expect Wacha to survive one inning against a team that knew how to win?  Aside from manager Mike Matheny?

Fortunately, Wacha is still quite young, and with good health, can be a dominant major league pitcher again.  Fundamentally, the Cardinals are still a very good team, and should be good enough to reach the postseason again next year.

Time will tell.  Obviously, one year - or 363 days - can bring about much change in the fate of any player - or team - in the game.

Friday, October 17, 2014

October 17, 2005 - The Albert Pujols Game

Monday, October 17, 2005 - NLCS Game 5 vs Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park - Attendance:  43,470 - Starting Pitchers:  Chris Carpenter vs Andy Pettitte

The Cardinals certainly have had their share of postseason success, with eleven World Series championships as proof.  Number twelve will have to wait at least one more year, however, after Thursday's disappointing elimination game loss to the Giants - in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.

Obviously, the Cardinals were already in a three games to one hole to begin with, so harping on that loss serves no purpose.  For the record, the franchise has now lost all five postseason best-of-seven series when trailing three games to one.  Here they are:

1943 World Series vs New York Yankees
2000 NLCS vs (Wild Card) New York Mets
2002 NLCS vs (Wild Card) San Francisco Giants
2005 NLCS vs (Wild Card) Houston Astros
2014 NLCS vs (Wild Card) Giants again.

Yes, those Wild Card teams are deadly in the NLCS.  Maybe don't play them anymore, unless it's in the NLDS, which means they'd have to have the best record in the National League.  However, having the best record in NL hasn't resulted in a World Series championship for a NL team since the Clinton administration (pre-Lewinsky):  1995 - when the Atlanta Braves did it.  Go figure.

Although the Cards have never come back from a three games to one deficit to win a series, they have won four out of the six times they trailed by a three games to two deficit (most recently, in the 2011 World Series).  Go figure again.

In all but one series when the Cardinals were trailing three games to one, they went on to lose Game 5.  There was only one instance when the Redbirds were able win Game 5 - and that happened exactly nine years ago - in the 2005 National League Championship Series vs the Houston Astros - aka The Albert Pujols-Brad Lidge Game.

With the Cardinals on the brink of elimination, their desperate mission to win this game and send the series back to St Louis, got off to a frustrating start.  The very first batter in the game - David Eckstein - was hit by a pitch from Houston starter Andy Pettitte - then promptly stole second while Jim Edmonds was in the process of drawing a base on balls.

Two on, nobody out - however, Pettitte escaped the jam by getting Pujols on a pop fly to third, Reggie Sanders on a fly ball to left and Larry Walker on a ball that barely made it into fair territory, which catcher Brad Ausmus grabbed and fired to first to retire the side.

Chris Carpenter ran into some trouble of his own in the bottom of the second.  Leading-off, Jason Lane singled - then Ausmus hit a bullet that deflected off Eckstein's glove at short, which went for a double.  With runners on second and third, Carpenter struck out Adam Everett, then induced Pettitte to hit a grounder to Pujols at first, who fired to Molina to nail Lane at home.

But Craig Biggio got the two-out RBI with a line drive single to left.  Houston was on the board first, with a 1-0 lead.

The Cardinals answered back in the third inning, when Eckstein singled to center - stole second - then advanced to third on Edmonds' single to right.  This time, a frustrated Pujols struck out, as did Sanders.  Pettitte then pitched carefully to the dangerous Larry Walker - eventually walking him to load the bases.  The next batter - Mark Grudzielanek - came through with a bases loaded single to right - scoring both Eckstein and Walker - to put the Redbirds on top, 2-1.

St Louis failed to capitalize on scoring opportunities in the sixth and seventh-innings, while Pujols' personal frustration continued - grounding out in the seventh - stranding yet another runner on the bases - his fifth of the game - and three of 'em were in scoring position.

Houston seemingly delivered the knockout blow to the Cardinals' postseason run with Lance Berkman's three-run seventh-inning home run - in Carpenter's final inning of work (7 IP - 9 H - 4 R - 3 ER - 1 BB - 6 SO - 1 HR).

With Astros closer Brad Lidge on the mound trying to protect a 4-2 ninth-inning lead, the chances for a Cardinal comeback seemed as remote as remote could be - especially when Lidge struck out both John Rodriguez and John Mabry to start the inning.

Down to their last out, lead-off hitter Eckstein once again reached base - with a single to left - and with Edmonds batting, Eckstein took advantage of Houston's defensive indifference by taking second.  In the meantime, Edmonds - determined not to make the final out of the season - drew another base on balls.

This brought you-know-who to the plate with two more runners on base.  Pujols was 0 for 4 when he stepped into the batter's box to face the hard-throwing Lidge.  After taking the first pitch for a strike - mentally gauging his opponent's fastball - Pujols was ready to do some damage on the second offering - a belt-high fastball, middle-in.

With one vicious, yet compact and efficient swing, Pujols had suddenly propelled the Cardinals to a 5-4 lead - on a blast so prodigious, an awe-struck Andy Pettitte, perched in the Astros dugout at the time of the launch, offered an on-camera "Wow!" for the millions of television viewers to enjoy.  Meanwhile, the ball finally landed on that silly little train track way, way out there in left field.

Ironically, Lidge struck out the next batter - Sanders - to retire the side - all on strikes.  But the damage had been done.

Jason Isringhausen picked up the win with his second perfect inning of relief work.

For optimistic Cardinal fans looking forward to Game 6 back home at Busch Stadium II on Wednesday - this thrilling victory kept the postseason dream alive - at least for one more game at the old ballpark.

But it was fun while it lasted.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October 16, 1985 - Clark's 3-Run 9th-Inning Blast Sends Cards to World Series

Wednesday, October 16, 1985 - Game 6 - NLCS vs Los Angeles Dodgers - At Dodger Stadium - Attendance:  55,208 - Starting Pitchers:  Joaquin Andujar vs Orel Hershiser

The Cardinals are trailing, 5-4, with two on and two out in the top of the ninth-inning.  Ozzie Smith is on second - Willie McGee on third.  The next scheduled hitter is Jack Clark - aka "Jack the Ripper".  Andy Van Slyke - aka "Van Strike" - is on deck.

Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda has a decision to make:  With first base open, should he instruct reliever Tom Niedenfuer to intentionally walk Clark to face Van Slyke?  Lasorda's decision is captured by lip-readers from coast to coast watching the game on NBC:  "Pitch to the son of a bitch!"

At this moment, millions of Cardinal fans watching the broadcast are leaning forward in anticipation of what is about to transpire on Niedenfuer's very first pitch - a fastball, right down the middle:  Jack rips it deep into the left field bleachers.  Dodgers' left fielder Pedro Guerrero - a demonstrative slugger who can't believe what he just saw - slams his glove to the ground as the ball zooms a hundred or so feet over his head.

The instant Clark makes contact with the ball, millions of Cardinal fans watching the broadcast leap
for joy - knowing that ball is long gone.  No doubt some of those fans, who may have been taking an extended lunch hour to watch the game at a nearby sports bar, have caused quite a commotion by accidentally knocking over the little table where they are sitting - and with it, whatever is left of the burger, fries and coke that sits atop that tabletop.  Broken glass and stoneware litter the area as Clark slowly makes his triumphant trip around the bases - no doubt oblivious to the property damage his swing inadvertently incurred.

Complete strangers, sharing an allegiance to St Louis Cardinal baseball are sharing high-fives, as an assortment of harried bus boys are busy sweeping the area of the carnage, making little attempt to hide their contempt for such reckless customer behavior.  The waitress hovers over the culprit asking with feigned concern for his well-being - implying that all this extra work deserves extra compensation - and rightfully so.

As the NBC camera relentlessly fixates on the distraught Tommy Lasorda in the Dodgers' dugout - the pained expression on his face reveals what's he's now asking himself:  "Why didn't we walk that son of a bitch?"  Lasorda's trembling hand smooths down his white mat of hair which has suddenly gotten even whiter in just a few seconds.  Even those who despise Lasorda's tiresome "Dodger Blue" mantra feel some measure of compassion - if only for a split second - for this man after making what was a blatant tactical error.  Of course, Lasorda would never admit it - but anyone with any knowledge of baseball would be able to see through the facade.

The Cardinals had survived a start by their least reliable pitcher over the past several weeks - Joaquin Andujar:  6 IP - 6 H - 4 R - 2 ER - 2 BB - 3 SO - 1 HR - Although two of the runs he coughed up were "unearned", they came as a direct result of Andujar's own defensive miscue.

In typical Andujar fashion, his greatest contribution to Cardinal victory came while batting in the third inning, down 2-0 already.  Leading-off the inning, Andujar doubled and eventually scored from third base on Tommy Herr's two-out single.

The Cardinals were even rougher on Dodger starter Orel Heshiser:  6.1 IP - 9 H - 4 R - 4 ER - 1 BB - 1 SO.  Still, Hershiser was in line for the win, had Niedenfuer avoided calamity for the second straight game:  2.2 IP - 3 H - 3 R - 3 ER - 2 BB - 3 SO - 1 HR

Earning the win was rookie Todd Worrell, despite giving up a tie-breaking home run to Mike Marshall in the eighth-inning:  2 IP - 2 H - 1 R - 1 ER - 2 BB - 2 SO - 1 HR

The Cardinals had to put together a bit of seventh-inning magic to forge that tie to begin with.  Trailing 4-1, both Darrell Porter and Tito Landrum singled off a tiring Hershiser to start the inning.  Pinch hitting for Andujar - Steve Braun - moved both runners up with a ground ball to the right side.  Then Willie McGee - an unsung hero in this game - singled in both runners to make it a 4-3 game.

Lasorda then brought in the guy who gave up Ozzie's "Go Crazy, Folks" home run in Game Five - Tom Niedenfuer - who was forced to face his nemesis once again - with similar results.  Ozzie lined one off the base of right field wall - just missing a home run by a few feet.  The ball rattled around in the corner long enough for Ozzie to cruise into third, as McGee easily scored the tying run, to make it a 4-4 game.

Niedenfuer then walked Herr intentionally to set up a potential double play with Clark due up next.  However, Clark struck out - as did Van Slyke to end the threat.  After Marshall's eighth-inning home run over the right field fence gave LA a 5-4 lead, Niedenfuer's heroics came to an abrupt halt with the iconic Jack Clark blast deep into the Southern California early-autumn afternoon haze.

Getting his second postseason save was Ken Dayley, who retired the shell-shocked Dodgers in order in the bottom of the ninth:  1 IP - 0 H - 0 R - 0 BB - 2 SO

Heading into the World Series, the Cardinals were huge favorites to win their second world championship in four seasons - but for a variety of reasons, that didn't come to pass.  Their opponents - the Kansas City Royals - won the last three games - to not only capture their only championship in franchise history.  They also started quite a postseason winning streak, in the process.  With eight straight postseason victories in 2014, their overall streak has now reached eleven in a row - an unsustainable streak that will in all likelihood end with a World Series defeat.

The odds-on favorite to oppose the Cinderella Royals are now the San Francisco Giants, who lead the Cardinals three games to one in the NLCS.  The Cardinals have never recovered from such a deficit to win any best-of-seven postseason series.  In fact three out of the four times they trailed by such a margin, they lost Game Five (1943 World Series, 2000 NLCS & 2002 NLCS).  The one time they staved-off elimination in Game Five happened in the 2005 NLCS - when Albert Pujols hit his iconic three-run home run in Houston to extend the series for a Game Six showdown in St Louis.

No fairy tale ending there - as the Cardinals were bounced out of the postseason by those wild card Astros in the last game ever played at Busch Stadium II.

But wouldn't it be fitting, if the Cardinals could turn the tables on the Giants - who overcame a three games to one deficit to the wild card Cardinals two years ago - en route to a World Series sweep of the Detroit Tigers?  Besides, the Cardinals have a 29-year-old score to settle with that Royals team.

If they can somehow salvage Game Five in San Francisco...anything's possible.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October 15, 1964 - The Cardinals are World Champions!

Thursday, October 15, 1964 - World Series - Game 7 vs New York Yankees - At Busch Stadium I - Starting Pitchers:  Bob Gibson vs Mel Stottlemeyer - Attendance:  30,346

The Cardinals' Impossible Dream became a reality - winning the seventh game of the World Series over the New York Yankees, by a score of 7-5.  An exhausted Bob Gibson went the distance, despite giving up nine hits - including three home runs - while walking three.  But he also struck out nine batters - including two in the ninth-inning, which were sandwiched between two solo home runs.

Afterwards, manager Johnny Keane explained his decision to keep his starter in the game until the end:  "I had a commitment to his heart."

Of course, fifty years later, managers are criticized for not yanking the starter at the first sign of late-inning trouble - even if it's a guy like Clayton Kershaw on the mound.  If the decision backfires, it could cost a manager his job.  Johnny wasn't worried about that, since he was going to resign no matter what happened today.  He'd gotten wind of a plot to replace him - possibly with Leo Durocher - when the Redbirds looked like dead birds a few months earlier.  Somehow, nothing ever transpired - then lo and behold, the miracle finish to the season created the perfect storm for the Cardinals' first NL pennant since 1946.

Sure enough, after guiding the Cardinals to the world championship, Keane accepted the managerial position of the New York Yankees - replacing the deposed Yogi Berra.  Berra was unfairly ousted in New York - and Keane never had a chance of winning with the aging team he inherited.  His tenure with the Bronx Bombers would be short-lived, as well.

Ironically, exactly four months prior to the clubhouse champagne celebration the newly crowned Cardinals were enjoying - on June 15 - St Louis had fallen a season-worst three games under .500.  Even the trade that brought Lou Brock to the Cardinals on June 16, didn't seem to pan out for the first couple of months.  By August 23, St Louis had fallen a season-worst eleven games out of first.  Strangely enough, forty-seven seasons later, in Tony LaRussa's final year as manager, the Cardinals were in a similar dilemma - trying to track down the Braves for the wild card slot in the National League - and just like '64, their mission was accomplished on the final day of the season.

And just like '64, the 2011 St Louis Cardinals won the World Series in seven games - clinching it at home.

Initially, it seemed the Redbirds were going to win this one with relative ease.  For the first three innings, neither team could score - however, the pitchers' duel ended abruptly when St Louis took their turn at bat against Mel Stottlemeyer in the bottom of the fourth.

Ken Boyer started the rally with a lead-off single to center.  After Dick Groat walked, Tim McCarver hit a potential double-play grounder to second baseman Bobby Richardson, who got the force out at second, but shortstop Phil Linz - in his haste to double up McCarver - threw wildly to first - allowing Boyer to score an unearned run.  Next up - Mike Shannon singled to center, advancing the speedy McCarver to third.

With the light-hitting Dal Maxvill batting, manager Keane decided to have a little fun - calling for the old double steal.  It worked perfectly, as Shannon got a great jump off first base - sliding safely into second, as McCarver's well-timed dash to the plate beat the relay throw - giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.  Rattled by the suddenly brash maneuvering of these running Redbirds, Stottlemeyer served up a meatball to Maxvill, who stroked it into right field - scoring the galloping Shannon from second, for a 3-0 lead, after four innings of play.

The Yankees threatened in the fifth when Tom Tresh led-off with a base on balls - then one out later, pinch hitter Mike Hegan (for Stottlemeyer) also walked.  However, that rally came to an abrupt halt when Phil Linz hit a looping liner to right field which Shannon tracked down, much to the dismay of Tresh, who thought the ball would drop.  His base-running blunder got him doubled off second, and got a tiring Gibson off the hook - at least for now.

Al Downing was Stottlemeyer's replacement, as the Cardinals took their turn at bat in the bottom of the fifth.  Lou Brock greeted him with a home run deep to right center to give the Cardinals a comfortable 4-0 lead.  After Bill White singled to center, Boyer advanced him to third with a double into the gap in right center.  Manager Yogi Berra had seen enough - bringing in Rollie Sheldon to face Groat - who scored White on a ground out to second, as Boyer took third.  McCarver then scored Kenny on a sacrifice fly to right field - and just like that, the Cardinals had a 6-0 lead.

However, that lead was cut in half on a Mickey Mantle three-run sixth-inning home run.  This would be Mantle's eighteenth and final World Series home run in what would be the Yankees' final World Series appearance during the Mantle Era.  He'd suffer through four more injury-plagued seasons - diminishing his career numbers a bit, but his overall greatness - when he was in his prime - could not be overstated.

Meanwhile, with the Cardinals still leading, 6-3 - Ken Boyer capped off a terrific three-hit game with a two-out solo home run in the seventh - giving Gibson an extra insurance run to work with.  This would be Boyer's last hurrah in his last great season with St Louis.  His grand slam home run in Game Four turned a 3-0 deficit into what would become a 4-3 win - and of course, paved the way for St Louis to still be alive for a Game Seven.

As New York took their final turn at bat in the ninth-inning, trailing 7-3, Gibson struck out the first batter - Tom Tresh.  But then Clete Boyer - an offensive liability all season long and in the World Series - up to this point - hit a Gibson fastball into the left field bleachers.  Rounding third, he and brother Ken silently enjoyed the moment, while Gibson silently tried to muster up enough energy to get the final two outs.

He got the second out by striking out Johnny Blanchard on a high fastball.  But then Phil Linz - who only hit five home runs in the regular season - timed a fastball perfectly, and deposited that one in the left field bleachers, as well.  One more base runner, and the Yankees would have the tying run coming to the plate.  But this was Gibson's game to finish - and he did - by inducing Bobby Richardson to pop out to Maxvill at second.

It was finally over - the most improbable comeback in major league history.  However, the Cards' on-field celebration was brief - and by today's "in your face-over-the-top" standards - looks subdued.  But thousands of fans had immediately rushed the field to join in on the celebration - so the team had a change of venue - into the clubhouse where champagne and an ample supply of Anheuser Busch products were joyously sprayed everywhere.

After an eighteen year wait, St Louis finally got its seventh World Championship.  Fifty years later, that total has risen to eleven, as the 2014 edition tries for number twelve.  They're considered an underdog - currently down two games to one to the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS.

But of course, whenever the Cardinals actually win a World Series - they're usually playing the role of underdog.  If they can salvage at least one win in San Francisco, they'll have a fighting chance - and that's all we could hope for.