Sunday, May 5, 2013

May 5, 2006: Cards Snap 13-Year Cinco De Mayo Losing Streak

May 5, 2006:  Cinco De Mayo - the Mexican National holiday the St Louis Cardinals had celebrated each year by losing for thirteen consecutive years (1993-2005) - turned out to be a winner for the Redbirds seven years ago today, beating the Florida Marlins - in Florida, at their hideous old ballpark, before they moved to their hideous new ballpark, before they changed their name and uniforms, and before they spent millions of dollars on overpriced free agents that enabled them to finish last again in 2012 - by a score of 7-2.  Strangely enough, the Cardinals (18-12) scored all 7 runs in one inning - the fifth. Inning cinco.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.

Strangely enough, the Cardinals scored those 7 runs on 11 hits on May 5, 2006, and they also scored 7 runs on 11 hits the last time they won a game on Cinco De Mayo - May 5, 1992 - 7-5 over the San Francisco Giants, at Busch Stadium II during the post-Whitey Herzog-pre Tony LaRussa - Joe Torre regime.

The significance of 7/11 is obvious.  My birthday happens to be July 11.  The significance of thirteen straight Cinco De Mayo losses became apparent the following year, when the Cardinals were defeated by the Houston Astros at Busch Stadium III, by a score of 13-0.  Since that May 5, 2007 13-0 defeat, the Cardinals have won twice and lost three times on Cinco De Mayo.  Their most recent May 5 victory was two years ago - in 2011- another World Championship year.  In case you were wondering, the last time the Cardinals were World Champions prior to 2006 - in 1982 - the Redbirds were victorious on Cinco De Mayo, beating the Chicago Cubs in St Louis, by a score of 7-6.  Somehow, they had 14 - not 11 - hits that day, so they obviously didn't get the memo.

Getting back to May 5, 2006 - Albert Pujols - who wore #5 - hit a three-run home run to start the fifth-inning hit parade.  Backup catcher Gary Bennett had a two-run single, pitcher Jeff Suppan had a run-scoring single, and David Eckstein ended the scoring with a sacrifice fly which turned into a double play when Suppan (naturally) was thrown out trying to advance from first base to second base on the play.  Base-running was never his forte.

Gary Bennett had a well-travelled 13-year career as a backup catcher, making stops in Philadelphia, New York, Colorado, San Diego, Milwaukee, Washington, St Louis, and Los Angeles, before retiring after the 2008 season.  All told, he appeared in 587 games, including his one game career as a New York Met in 2001.  He had one AB, got a single, then was traded to the Rockies.  Gary Bennett can now tell his grandkids he had the highest career batting average in New York Mets history:  1.000.

That's all there is to know about Cinco De Mayo - the weirdest holiday in St Louis Cardinals history.

Update:  Cinco De Mayo proved to be lucky for Mexican-born Jaime Garcia in 2013.  After losing to the Houston Astros, May 5, 2012, Jaime tamed the Milwaukee Brewers one year later, as the Redbirds flew out of Milwaukee with a four-game series sweep after pounding the Brew Crew 10-1. 

Yes, the Cardinals have quietly compiled the best record in the National League (20-11); but flying under the radar is what Cardinals do. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

May 4, 1926: Cards Win "Must Win" Game vs Reds

May 4, 1926:  With Branch Rickey as field manager, the St Louis Cardinals began the 1925 season with a miserable 13-25 record.  When Rickey left the dugout for the front office, the Cardinals finished the season with a 64-51 record with player-manager Rogers Hornsby at the helm.  Apparently, taking on the added responsibility as field manager didn't seem to distract the National League's greatest hitter, who responded by winning the Triple Crown (.403 BA/39 HR/143 RBI).  Although the Redbirds ended the season in 4th-place with a 77-76 record - 18 games behind the 1st-place Pittsburgh Pirates - there was reason to be optimistic for the future, based on how the team had improved after the managerial change.

Unfortunately, the Cardinals stumbled out of the gate early in the '26 season.  After dropping the first game of a three-game series at home versus the Cincinnati Reds (10-7), the Redbirds had lost five games in a row to fall three games under .500 (8-11) - and appeared well on their way to a sixth straight loss when Cards starter Walt Huntzinger was quickly tagged for five hits, putting the Cardinals in a 2-0 hole by the third-inning; threatening to break the game open.

Hornsby had seen enough, summoning reliever Hi Bell in to get out of the jam with no further damage.  Bell did just that, keeping the score at 2-0, while stranding the bases full of Reds.  However, the  Redbirds still had their work cut out for them, as Cincinnati had their ace on the mound - Adolfo Domingo de Guzman Luque aka Dolf Luque - "The Pride of Havana".  Luque was a terrific pitcher (career 3.24 ERA) who would probably be in the Hall of Fame if he had pitched for those great Yankees teams of the Roaring Twenties, when he was in his prime.  Instead, he labored in relative obscurity in Cincinnati for most of his career.

Luque managed to keep the Redbirds scoreless until the fifth-inning, when catcher Bob O'Farrell led off with a triple and one out later, scored on a single by pitcher Hi Bell - who was becoming a hero by this time.  Bell continued blanking the Reds while the Cardinals were able to get something started in the bottom of the eighth, on a tiring 35-year old Luque.  A two-out single by Jim Bottomley was followed by Chick Hafey's double down the right field line.  Third baseman Les Bell (no relation to Hi) followed that with a two-RBI single that proved to be the game winner, as the other Bell retired the side in the top of the ninth to preserve the win.

During the course of any season, games that are won or lost in May are often forgotten.  However, this St Louis victory over Cincinnati came at a time when the team was struggling.  In fact, they would lose the rubber game of the series the next day, and then lose three out of four at home to the Brooklyn Dodgers, while Cincinnati was at home winning three out of four against the Philadelphia Phillies.  After 25 games, St Louis (10-15) trailed Cincinnati (16-9) by six games.  That would prove to be the low point of the season for the Redbirds, who went 79-50 the rest of the way, to edge the Reds by a slim 2-game margin.

Without this May 4 game in the win column, St Louis would have finished the season at 88-66 - tied with the Cincinnati Reds for first place in the National League; forcing a three-game NL championship series, with the winner taking on the mighty - and well-rested - New York Yankees. 

So yes, for all practical purposes, the May 4, 1926 game was a "must win" for the Cardinals; although they really didn't know it at the time since they probably didn't have a crystal ball at their disposal.

Friday, May 3, 2013

May 3, 1942: 9 Unearned Runs Helps Redbirds Sweep Doubleheader Over Brooklyn Dodgers

May 3, 1942:  When the Brooklyn Dodgers (14-5) arrived in St Louis prior to a three-game series with the Cardinals, they were scuffling a bit; having just lost two straight in Pittsburgh against a mediocre Pirates team.  Still, they held a comfortable 4.5 game lead over the Redbirds (8-8), who were scuffling more than just a bit, themselves. 

The first two games of this series were played on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Sportsman's Park - a doubleheader that would ultimately control the destiny for both teams.  As it played out, the Redbirds were able to win both games over the Dodgers (14-10 and 4-2) en route to a franchise-best 106-48 (.688) record.  The Dodgers would finish in second-place with their franchise-best 104-50 (.675) record - usually good enough to win a pennant; just not this year.  From a historical perspective, from 1901 to 1941, there were only twelve MLB league champions (out of 82) that had won 104 or more games, and no National League team had done it since the 1910 Chicago Cubs; so, it's easy to understand the frustration the Dodgers must have felt when they came up just a couple games short that year; especially if they think about the first game of this doubleheader - the one that got away.

The doubleheader sweep by the Cardinals didn't seem like such a big deal at the time (the second game was rained-out after six-innings, as Max Lanier picked up the win).  Sure, the Cards picked up a couple of games in the standings, but the season had a long way to go, and Brooklyn managed to salvage the series finale the next day by a 3-1 score.  Still, when a pennant is decided by such a slim margin, it's very easy to pinpoint one or two plays in a single game that changed the destinies for the two teams fighting it out.

Such was the case in the first game of the doubleheader.  The box score reveals the twists and turns this game took.  St Louis scored 14 runs on 11 hits and no errors; Brooklyn scored 10 runs on 15 hits and committed two errors.  Normally, a couple of errors doesn't change the entire outcome of a game.  In this case, it most certainly did.  As a result, it changed the entire outcome of the NL pennant race.  Instead of winning 106 games, the Cardinals would have only won 105 games had the Dodgers played error-free ball on May 3.  Coincidentally, the Dodgers would have won 105 games, as well, resulting in a first-place tie; resulting in a three-game playoff for the NL pennant.

Here's what happened:  Brooklyn's starting pitcher, Whit Wyatt (a 19 game winner in '42) was only able to get two guys out in the bottom of the first-inning, after yielding five runs on two walks and three hits - one of those hits was a home run.  He did manage to strike out one batter, so he probably had decent stuff that day.  He was victimized by an infield fielding miscue by none other than future Hall of Fame shortstop Peewee Reese.  Instead of getting the third out of the inning with no runs scoring, backup catcher Ken O'Dea was allowed to hit with the bases loaded - the result:  Grand Salami (which capped off the scoring)!.  Because of the error, all five runs were unearned.  Still, Wyatt's day was over before he really had a chance to get going, as reliever Ed Head was brought in to restore order. 

Instead, Head only put gasoline on the fire:  2 IP - 6 Hits - 5 Runs (All Earned) - 2 BB - 2 SO

The score after three innings:  Cardinals 10 - Dodgers 2

After a five-run fourth and a three-run fifth, the Dodgers had come back to tie the score, 10-10!  The culprits who blew the eight-run lead the Cardinals once held:

Harry Gumbert (3.2 IP - 6 Hits - 7 Runs [All Earned] - 2 BB - 2 SO) 

Johnny Beazley (1 IP - 4 Hits - 3 Runs [All Earned] - 0 BB - 1 SO)

The game remained deadlocked until the Cardinals scored four unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh-inning on two hits five walks and an error by Dodgers' second baseman Billy Herman - another normally sure-handed infielder.

Cards' reliever Ernie White prevented any further Brooklyn scoring, with 4.1 innings of shutout pitching.

All told, of the 14 runs the Cardinals pushed across in this game - 9 were unearned.  All 10 of the runs the Dodgers scored were earned.  Of course, errors are a part of the game; in this particular instance a very big part of the game. 

It not only impacted the result of the first game of this doubleheader; it may have completely altered the course of MLB history.  Had there been a three-game playoff to decide the NL pennant winner, which team would have prevailed?  Would there have been a dramatic come-from-behind ninth-inning pennant-winning home run which would pre-date the Shot Heard 'Round the World by nine years?  With a possibly depleted pitching staff in the aftermath of a possible three-game playoff for the pennant, would either team have been able to handle the Yankees in the World Series?

Now that I think about it, Peewee Reese, Billy Herman, and Ken O'Dea were meant to do what they did 71 years ago today.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

May 2, 1967: Gibson Shuts Out Reds to End 4 Game Slide

May 2, 1967:  Bob Gibson hates losing.  In his previous start against Houston at the Astrodome, he was trying to protect a slim 2-0 seventh-inning lead.  After two hits and a walk loaded the bases with nobody out in that fateful inning, Gibson's night was over.  Unfortunately for Gibby and the Cardinals, the bullpen was unable to get out of this predicament, as the Redbirds went down to defeat.  As if that weren't bad enough, that was the start of a four-game losing streak which knocked St Louis (9-7) out of first place.   

The team that had taken over the top spot in the National League - the Cincinnati Reds (15-5) - just happened to be in town for a brief two-game series, with their ace, Jim Maloney matched-up against an extra-surly Bob Gibson.  The Reds never had a chance.

The only run Gibson would need all night came across in the bottom of the second-inning when Tim McCarver led-off with a single to right field, moved up to second base on a Mike Shannon ground-out, stole third, then came home on one of three wild pitches Maloney would deliver in his 5.2 innings of futile work.

In the meantime, Gibson was mowing down the Reds as if they were little leaguers - striking out six in a row at one point, and not yielding a hit until Vada Pinson led off the top of the fifth with a double down the right field line.  Pete Rose did his job by moving Pinson to third with a ground-out to second base.  With the tying run 90 feet away, Gibson struck out Tony Perez for the second straight time, then retired Deron Johnson on an easy infield pop-up to end the threat.

The Redbirds blew the game open with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, when Maloney couldn't find the strike zone.  Both Roger Maris and Orlando Cepeda walked.  Maloney then uncorked the second of three wild pitches, before walking McCarver to load the bases.  Mike Shannon then cleared them with a double down the left field line.  Just for good measure, the Cardinals tacked on another run the next inning, when Roger Maris singled in Bob Gibson, who had walked.

The top of the sixth-inning was uneventful, with one oddity worth noting:  Gordy Coleman pinch hit for Tony Perez - a future Hall of Famer who would be an RBI machine during the heyday of the Big Red Machine.  Gordy Coleman was at the tail end of a nice career but he only had eight plate appearances all year, with one base on balls and no hits to his credit.  Although he failed to get a hit off Gibson this night, at least he didn't strike out.  Perez later admitted that whenever he came up to bat against Gibby over the years, his wife would always make a trip to the ladies room; she simply couldn't bear to watch it.

On this early-May evening in St Louis, Perez had lots of company - the entire Reds lineup could only muster four base runners all night off Gibson - two hits and two walks - and no runs.  They struck out twelve times that night, while being shutout for the second time in the young season.  It was Gibson's most dominant performance all year, and it came at a time when the team needed it the most. 

The next evening, Cards pitcher Ray Washburn shut them out again, moving St Louis just two games behind Cincinnati - who were at least able to salvage three of the next five road games in Atlanta and New York, to limp home still hanging on to first place; at least for a while.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May 1, 1934: This Date in St Louis Cardinals Championship History

May 1, 1934:  April had not been a particularly good month for the St Louis Cardinals (4-7); however, they were playing host to their favorite patsies - the Cincinnati Reds - in the second game of a three-game series at Sportsman's Park.  The Redbirds had already beaten Cincy in the first game, breaking out the heavy lumber in a 10-6 thrashing; so they were confident they could do it again on this sunny Tuesday afternoon.

April had been even worse for the Reds (3-8), with a lineup featuring two over-the-hill future Hall of Famers who used to star for the Cardinals - Chick Hafey (traded after the '31 season) and Jim Bottomley (traded after the '32 season).  Branch Rickey was running things for the Cardinals in those days, and he had a knack for knowing when a player was declining, well before anyone else had a clue; even before saber-metrics!  He also knew when a player's value would be inflated, knowing he would probably get more in return than he was actually parting with.  Such was the case with Chick Hafey, who was entering his age 29 season after posting a NL-leading .349 BA in 1931 - helping the Cardinals win their second World Championship.  He also hit 16 home runs with 95 RBIs; good numbers, but slightly in decline from his previous production.  It was apparent Hafey's eyesight was deteriorating (he already had to wear glasses to play); plus, he wanted more money, and there was no way Rickey was going to pay it.  Off to Cincinnati he went.  Sure enough, Hafey's first season with Cincinnati ('32) was marred by increasingly deteriorating eyesight and sinus problems, limiting him just 83 games played.  Unfortunately for Hafey and the Reds, he never quite regained his old form, maxing out with just 67 RBIs in 1934 (He got one in this game against his old team).  Fortunately for Hafey, however, the Reds at least gave him the pay raise he wanted from the Cardinals.  I'm sure Branch Rickey got a kick out of that.

"Sunny Jim" Bottomley was the National League MVP in 1928 - with a NL-leading 31 home runs and 136 RBIs - helping the Cardinals make it back to the World Series for the second time in three seasons.  The first time ('26), St Louis beat Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees in a Seven Game Fall Classic.  The second time, the Bambino & Company destroyed the Redbirds in four straight games.  By 1932, injuries and age (he was 32) had taken their toll, as Bottomley only played in 91 games, hitting a career-low .296 with only 11 home runs and 48 RBIs.  Rickey then shipped  Bottomley off to his favorite patsies - the Reds - where he could continue his decline with a rival NL team.  In Cincinnati, Bottomley was able to play in 144 games, but his batting average dramatically dipped to .250 with mediocre run production (by his previous standards) - 13 home runs and 83 RBIs.

Certainly, both "Sunny Jim" and Chick were anxious to prove to the Cardinals (especially Branch Rickey) that they were still good players, and they were going to do their best to spoil any post game festivities their old teammates might be anticipating.  They almost pulled it off.

The starting pitchers - "Wild Bill" Hallahan for the Cardinals and Si Johnson for the Reds pitched well enough to keep the game scoreless through five innings.  "Wild Bill" actually threw strikes on this particular Tuesday afternoon; walking just one in his eight-innings of work.

The Reds broke through first, with successive sixth-inning two-out singles by Adam Comorosky, and the dynamic duo:  "Sunny Jim" and Chick.  It seemed as though Hafey's run scoring single might be all the Reds would need this day, but the Cardinals' slugging first baseman - Ripper Collins - hit a dramatic two-out home run off Johnson in the bottom of the ninth to tie the score.  It was Collins' emergence as a younger version of Bottomley which made "Sunny Jim" expendable to begin with.  Here was an example of what he could do when the game was on the line.  This is also an example of allowing a starting pitcher to remain in the game for a little bit longer than he should have.  Apparently, the Reds' bullpen wasn't so hot back in those days.  No Aroldis Chapman, eh?

After a scoreless tenth-inning, Cincinnati again broke through for another run, when Mark Koenig's two-out double off Cards reliever Burleigh Grimes scored Adam Comorosky with yet another go-ahead run.  Given the chance to go the distance for the win, Reds pitcher Johnson served up another home run to the first batter he faced in the bottom of the eleventh - none other than Ripper Collins, who ripped it onto Grand Avenue to tie the game again.  Reds manager Bucky Walters kept Johnson in the game to face Cards catcher Bill Delancey who laced a double on the first pitch he saw.

Finally, Johnson was removed from the game after working 10 IP on 10 hits, 2 walks and 4 strikeouts.  There was no "pitch count" in those days, but Si might've thrown 150 in this game; who knows?  Don Brennan was the new hurler for Cincinnati.  He managed to record an out before Burgess Whitehead delivered the RBI single to score Delancey with the winning run.

Grimes got credit for the win, despite giving up a run in his two innings of work, as the Cardinals improved to 5-7.  Johnson was the hard-luck loser for Cincinnati, as the Reds fell to 3-9

The 3-2 victory for this colorful and talented St Louis team came at a time when they had been struggling a bit.  The following day, the team that would soon come to be known as the "Gashouse Gang" completed the sweep of the Reds.  The two teams had identical 3-7 records when Cincy came to town for this three-game set.  Two teams; heading in different directions.