Friday, August 23, 2013

August 23, 1982: This Date in St Louis Cardinals Championship History

August 23, 1982:  In the first game of a three-game series between the host St Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Redbirds used timely hitting and capitalized on four Dodgers errors to cruise to an easy 11-3 victory.  Every St Louis position player had at least one hit in the game, and with the exception of Tommy Herr and Ken Oberkfell, drove in at least one run.  Reserve catcher Gene Tenace led the attack with four RBIs, while his battery mate, Bob Forsch (13-7) pitched 7.1 innings - was charged with three runs on seven hits; didn't walk any batters, and struck out two.  In other words, a typical Bob Forsch game.

After the Cardinals jumped on Dodgers starter Jerry Reuss (12-10) for four runs in the third-inning, Forsch kept LA at bay through seven innings, holding a 5-1 lead entering the eighth.  After yielding a run on two hits while retiring one batter, manager Whitey Herzog brought in relief specialist Bruce Sutter to nail the win down.  Although an inherited runner scored on a two-base hit, making the score 5-3, Sutter was able to retire the next two batters to end the threat.  The Cardinals made things easy for Bruce by plating six runs of their own in the bottom half of the eighth-inning, aided by more sloppy Dodgers defense. 

Preserving an 11-3 win for the Cards may have been the easiest save (27) of Sutter's career.  Still, by today's standards, a five-out save is considered almost heroic; perhaps even a bit desperate.  Nowadays, most teams have specialists to nail down the final three innings.  Herzog used Sutter in the highest leverage situations, and more often than not, the National League's premier closer and his remarkable split-fingered fastball delivered the save.  In this particular outing, the future Hall of Fame relief ace struck out four batters in 1.2 innings of work.  He allowed two hits (both doubles), walked none, and was charged with no runs.  The Dodgers managed nine hits in the game, but with no free passes and no fielding miscues to capitalize on, they were unable to muster enough offense to threaten the future World Series champions.

The Redbirds dropped the final two games of the series at Busch Stadium to the Dodgers; the season series went LA's way as well in 1982, with the Cards winning five games, while losing seven.  As it played out, the Atlanta Braves barely slipped past the Dodgers by a single game in the NL West that year, so it would be Atlanta - not LA - advancing to the NLCS to face the Cardinals.  The Braves had to feel confident squaring off against the Redbirds, as they also held the edge in the season series - winning seven of the eleven games; however, the postseason is a different animal, and the Cards became beasts in sweeping Atlanta out of the postseason in three exciting NLCS games.

Whether or not the Cardinals would have whipped the Dodgers in a postseason showdown, as well, is anybody's guess.  The showdown between the two iconic franchises would have to wait three years to become a reality.  That one went decisively in favor of the Cards, four games to two.  Many considered the 1985 edition of the Cardinals to be even better than the World Champions of 1982.  Maybe Herzog's '82 squad got a bit lucky in the postseason; maybe not so lucky in '85. 

Thanks to this shellacking administered by St Louis to Los Angeles on this date in 1982, the possibility of a Cardinals - Dodgers NLCS ultimately never materialized.  That one may or may not have turned out so well for the Redbirds. 

We'll never know, but it's always fun to consider the possibilities.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

August 21, 1964: This Date in St Louis Cardinals Championship History

August 21, 1964:  In an improbable season that seemed destined for disappointment by late August, the St Louis Cardinals pulled one out of the fire against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park - scoring three runs in the top of the ninth-inning en route to an improbable 6-5 comeback win.  Thanks to a couple of errors by the host Giants, the Redbirds were the beneficiaries of two unearned runs in the game; including the go-ahead run in the fateful ninth, which proved to be the margin of victory.

The Cardinals survived a disastrous starting pitching performance by the normally reliable veteran Curt Simmons, who coughed up four runs on five hits in just 1.2 innings pitched.  They also survived a game that unreliable back-up catcher/comedian Bob Uecker started in place of the reliable Tim McCarver - and true to form, Uecks was hitless in two official at bats (he did manage a base on balls, however), and just for good measure, had a passed ball to add to his leger.  Just another day in the office for Bob.

In a game that was dominated early by the Giants, as they forged a 5-2 lead after three-innings, featuring home runs by Jim Hart and Orlando Cepeda; notably absent from the offensive effort was a rare 0 for 4 day at the plate from the great Willie Mays.  Unfortunately for San Francisco, the Cardinals' bullpen held them in check during the final six-innings, as the Redbirds' defense played errorless ball (passed balls aren't errors, for some reason).  The fourth Cardinals' pitcher - Ron Taylor - entered the game in the eighth-inning, inheriting runners on first and second with no outs.  After quickly inducing a double play grounder and retiring the next batter to prevent any San Francisco scoring, the stage was set for the dramatic comeback that would give Taylor (6-3) his well-deserved and highly improbable win.

The big run-producer for the game was future '64 NL MVP Ken Boyer, who drove in three runs; but the unlikeliest of heroes for St Louis was the light-hitting Dal Maxvill, who delivered a key two-out ninth-inning single, which plated a run; but most importantly, kept the game alive for the next batter - Mike Shannon - to deliver another clutch hit that drove in the game-tying run; and when the relay from the outfield was mishandled by second baseman Hal Lanier, Maxvill also crossed the plate with the deciding unearned run.

Strangely enough, the Redbirds appeared to be Dead Birds after Boyer grounded out in that big ninth-inning, with Lou Brock on second base; but there were now two outs and the Cardinals trailed 5-3.  The "win expectancy" at that moment was a scant three percent for the good guys.  San Francisco elected to intentionally walk Bill White, which put the potential tying run on base, but that's when Maxie shocked the faithful gathering at Candlestick Park by stroking a run-scoring single to left field.

With the ancient knuckleball specialist Barney Schultz on the mound to face the heart of the Giants' order in the bottom of the ninth - Harvey Kuenn, Duke Snider and Willie Mays - the game appeared to be in jeopardy; however, two quick ground outs and a pop up by Mays to our hero Maxvill at shortstop ended the contest.

At the end of the day, St Louis (65-56) sat in 4th-place in the National League - a distant ten games behind the first-place Phillies, two and a half games behind the second-place Reds, and now just one and a half games behind the shell-shocked Giants.  At the time, the significance of this game seemed on par with a typical Spring Training contest.  The race for the National League pennant was "over" - or so they all thought.  Wrong.

St Louis finished off the remaining 41 games of the regular season with a NL-best 28-13 (.683) record.  In contrast, Philadelphia stumbled in with a dismal 17-24 (.415) finish - highlighted by a bizarre ten-game losing streak - which conveniently left them exactly one game behind the Redbirds after Game 162.  Cardinal baseball historians may conclude that the unlikely outcome of Game 121 - this wildly bizarre one-run victory over the Giants - may have been the biggest win of the year.