Monday, April 29, 2013

April 29, 1964: This Date in St Louis Cardinals Championship History

April 29, 1964:  When a team wins a pennant by just a single game - as the Cardinals did in 1964 - it's fascinating to check the box scores of some early-season, long-forgotten games that the Redbirds pulled out of the fire in remarkable fashion.

Such was the case in this late April contest with the New York Mets at Busch Stadium (formerly known as Sportsman's Park).  The Mets were still quite amazin' in those days - the worst team in baseball, by far.  Only 3,844 fans decided to attend this contest, even with Cards ace Bob Gibson on the mound.

Unfortunately for Gibby, he had difficulty finding the strike zone in the early going; walking the first two batters, then grooving one to Mets first baseman Tim Harkness, who promptly deposited the pitch onto the pavilion roof in right field for a three-run dinger.  Harkness only appeared in 39 games for the Mets in '64, and only hit two home runs in 117 AB; but this was one of them.  A seething Gibson settled down to retire the side, but the damage had been done.

The Redbirds responded in their half of the first-inning with a clutch two-out single by Ken Boyer which scored Dick Groat from second base.  While Gibson continued holding the Mets in check, Bill White hammered a sixth-inning solo home run to cut the deficit to a single run.

The Cardinals tied the score in the seventh-inning, as Curt Flood's one-out single to left field scored Julian Javier from second base; with Flood taking second base on the throw to the plate.  With Dick Groat batting, Flood tried to steal third base but was nailed.  Naturally, Groat doubled down the left field line on the next pitch, but was stranded on second to end the threat.  However, the score was now tied at three runs apiece.

Gibson, who had been nearly perfect (a couple of hits and a walk allowed) after yielding the three-run first-inning bomb to Harkness, walked the pesky Ron Hunt, leading off the eighth-inning for New York.  Cards manager Johnny Keane brought young lefty Ray Sadecki in to relieve Gibson and quickly recorded two outs compliments of a well-turned double play.  Veteran right-hander Ron Taylor was then brought in to get the last out of the inning, and returned to the mound to pitch an uneventful ninth-inning.

After the Redbirds failed to score in their half of the ninth-inning, Keane called on the ancient southpaw, Bobby Shantz to keep the Mets at bay for as long as he could.  Twelve years earlier, Shantz led the American League with 24 wins as a member of the Philadelphia Athletics, but his career had been relegated to spot starts and long relief after that big season - when he not only won all those games, he completed 27 out of the 33 games he started.  Shantz was approaching his 39th birthday and would later be dealt to the Chicago Cubs in the package that included Ernie Broglio-for Lou Brock, but on this late April day, he was able to hold the Mets hitless for two innings, waiting for the St Louis offense to finally restore order.

The eleventh-inning game winning rally began with Ken Boyer's lead-off single to left field.  Tim McCarver then drew a base on balls, and Mike Shannon executed a successful sacrifice bunt, moving the runners up a base.  After an intentional walk to Julian Javier loaded the bases, Keane then called on a rarely-used power-hitting 22-year old kid from Covington, Kentucky - Jeoff Long - to pinch hit.  Mets reliever Larry Bearnarth was kind enough to miss the strike zone on four pitches which enabled Jeoff to tell his grandkids that he drove in the winning run in a game that ultimately helped his team win a World Championship.

Well, his former team, that is; after just twenty-eight games with the Cardinals, as a part-time first baseman, right fielder, and pinch hitter, Long's contract was sold to the Chicago White Sox in early July.  He was going to get a shot at becoming a regular outfielder with the Sox but suffered a severe knee injury when he slipped on a wet field at Fenway Park just eight days after joining his new team.  Limited to pinch hitting duty, Jeoff was only able to muster a .143 BA over the balance of the '64 season.  Attempts to rehabiliate the knee were unsuccessful, and after 46 games in the minors in 1965, he was forced to retire before his career even had a chance to take off.

For Cardinals fans who never heard of Jeoff Long, he actually played a vital role in helping the Redbirds win a game few people will remember; but without that April win against the hapless Mets, chances are the Cardinals would've come up a little short in their quest for another pennant and World Championship.

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