April 21, 1971 - A mere 6,178 fans gathered at Candlestick Park in San Francisco to watch a pitching matchup between two future Hall of Famers - Bob Gibson and Gaylord Perry. The Giants hurler held the early advantage after another future Hall of Famer, first baseman Willie McCovey blasted a fourth-inning two-run homer off Gibson; and that would be the only scoring in the game until the Redbirds came to bat in the sixth-inning.
That's when the fun began. Perry was still on the mound for the Giants as Lou Brock led off with a single, and moved up a base when Matty Alou reached on third baseman Jim Ray Hart's throwing error. Ted Simmons then singled, loading the bases. Joe Torre, who would go on to win the NL MVP Award in '71, cleared the bases with a triple to right field; Torre then scored when Jose Cardenal doubled to right field, chasing Perry from the game. The next batter, Joe Hague, knocked Cardenal in with a single to centerfield, scoring the fifth and final run of the inning. That was enough, although Gibson surrendered another home run in the eighth-inning - a solo shot by Ken Henderson to narrow the gap to 5-3, and that's how it ended.
Gibson got the complete game victory, allowing five hits and three runs, with one base on balls and nine strikeouts.
The '71 season was a promising one for the Cardinals, winning 91 games while finishing second in the NL East, behind Pittsburgh - the eventual World Champions. Whatever hope the Cardinals had for the foreseeable future was dashed when ownership decided two young pitchers - Steve Carlton and Jerry Reuss - didn't fit in with their plans (they wanted to be paid a little bit more that Gussie Busch was willing to spend) - so they were traded away, and St Louis didn't get enough in return. With Bob Gibson beginning to show signs of age, this was a team in decline; and things would get worse until they got better - which wouldn't happen until 1981.
April 22, 1977 - On this particular late April Friday evening in Philadelphia, the Cardinals looked like a team on the rise, while the Phillies appeared overmatched and listless. Proof positive that anything can happen in one game.
In this particular game, St Louis had the reigning NL ERA leader from the previous season - John Denny (2.52) trying to win his fourth straight decision of the young season. This one was a walk in the park, as the Redbirds scored early and often to rout the Phillies, 10-1. Denny breezed through eight innings of work, allowing one run on six hits and a walk; he struck out five, then gave the ball to the Mad Hungarian to provide a little entertainment for the few partisan fans in the paid crowd of 26,430 who were still around to watch their team take its last hacks. Hrabosky yielded a harmless single before storming off the mound after the final out was recorded; not a save situation, thanks to all the damage done by the St Louis lineup in this blowout.
The hitting star was Keith Hernandez, who went 3 for 5 with a triple and a three-run home run, good for five RBI and two runs scored. Meanwhile, John Denny's fast start would fade into a disappointing, injury-plagued ending. From that 4-0 start, he would only win another four games over the next five months, while losing eight with a high 4.51 ERA. His days in St Louis were numbered (traded to Cleveland after the '79 season) but luckily for him, he still had magic left in that right arm; by 1983, he would help another new team - the Phillies - reach the World Series, winning the NL Cy Young Award (19-6 - 2.37 ERA) in the process.
April 23, 1979 - The Cardinals sent Pete Vuckovich to the mound in Atlanta to square off against the Braves' knuckleball ace, Phil Niekro - a future Hall of Famer. Vuckovich pitched admirably (7 IP - 8 H - 2 R - 2 BB - 7 SO - 2 HR), but thanks to solo home runs by Atlanta's Matthews and Burroughs, St Louis was on the wrong end of a 2-0 score, heading into the ninth. Niekro, naturally, was still on the mound, going for the complete game shutout. No such luck.
After Dane Iorg grounded out leading off the inning, Tony Scott delivered a single to centerfield; then promptly moved up to second on a passed ball, with free-swinging Ken Reitz at bat. Somehow, Reitz managed to draw a base on balls, then was wisely removed for a pinch runner - the speedy Jerry Mumphrey. After Ken Oberkfell struck out, pinch hitter Bernie Carbo calmly stroked an opposite field single to left field, scoring Scott, as Mumphrey stopped at second. Removing Niekro from the game wasn't even a consideration in those days; given the durability, talent, and desire to finish this game off by the crusty veteran. Gary Templeton wasted no time in smacking a line drive single to centerfield, while Mumphrey raced home with the game-tying run. It should be noted that if the base runner had been the slew-footed Reitz, he more than likely would've been thrown out at third on that base hit; let alone try to score. Just kidding; he may have made it to third safely, if he really hustled.
That was all the scoring for the Redbirds in the ninth, as the 4,725 in attendance sat in stunned silence; dumbfounded by what they had just witnessed. Actually, they were probably expecting something to go wrong, based on past experience with this hapless bunch. As Niekro went back out to the mound to start the tenth-inning, he quickly retired the first two Cardinals hitters before the ubiquitous Tony Scott would come through again, lining a single to right field; then stealing second and advancing to third on the errant throw by the catcher. Next up was Jerry Mumphrey, who had scored the tying run as a pinch runner, so he was taking his first AB of the night. He delivered the two-out single to left field, bringing Scott home with the go-ahead run.
Mark Littell, who was in his second inning of work, made things interesting by walking two after retiring the first two. Could this be deja vu all over again? No, he got the win after coaxing the pesky Roland Office into popping one up to the shortstop - one of the heroes, Mr Templeton; whose biggest contribution to the success of the franchise was getting traded to San Diego for another shortstop known as the Wizard.