Friday, May 14, 1965 - The defending World Series champion St Louis Cardinals traveled to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates at their aging edifice, Forbes Field, with 9,986 on hand to witness what would become a high-scoring, see-saw battle that the Redbirds ultimately pulled out of the fire.
St Louis jumped all over Pirates starting pitcher Joe Gibbon, who could only retire one batter in the first inning, while five others hit safely, good for four quick runs. Knuckle ball-reliever Wilbur Wood, restored order for Pittsburgh, after finally retiring the side in the opening frame, then gave his team a chance to get back in the game by throwing 4.1 effective innings, yielding just one run. Wood was still several years away from his heyday as a rubber-armed starting pitcher for the Chicago White Sox - who for five straight seasons ('71 - '75) started anywhere from 42 to 49 games; he won over 20 games four straight years, and never, ever worried about his pitch counts.
Meanwhile, the Pirates wasted no time in roughing up Cards' starter Ray Sadecki - a 20-game winner the previous year, but in the midst of a horrible season, which would wind up with a ghastly 5.21 ERA and a won-loss record of 6-15. His plight in '65 basically reduced the Cardinals to a team that would languish around .500 all season. After being staked to that nice four-run lead, Ray coughed up three first-inning runs of his own; making this quite an interesting game; and one he had no chance of winning.
After St Louis tacked on one more run in the fifth-inning, Pittsburgh knocked Sadecki out of the game with a four-run sixth, which gave them a 7-5 lead. Luckily for the flighty southpaw, the Redbirds weren't through; after plating a single run in the seventh, they came to bat in the ninth-inning down by just one run, as the St Louis bullpen - Taylor, Schultz and Purkey - kept the Buccos from scoring the rest of the way in; although things got a little dicey in the bottom of the ninth.
In the top of the ninth, the Cardinals struck early, as Ken Boyer reached on a base on balls, then came around to score on Dick Groat's triple (Groat had three RBI in this game to pace the Redbird attack). The next batter, Bill White drove in the game winner with a single - his only RBI, but he was 3 for 3 on the day. Curt Flood added a couple more RBI to the mix, and Tito Francona and Mike Shannon each drove in one run apiece.
The eight runs were just enough to win this one, as Barney Schultz picked up his first win of the season in one inning of precarious work. He faced two batters in the ninth, and both reached base - one on first and one on third - with nobody out. Bob Purkey entered the game, and was able to get Clemente and Lynch on popups to the infield, then the dangerous Donn Clendenon on a line drive to Lou Brock in left field to finally end it; as Purkey picked up his first save of the season. He'd somehow manage to get one more save in '65, plus go 10-9 despite an atrocious ERA of 5.79. Apparently, the Pittsburgh front office was so enamored with Purkey's stellar effort in this game, they traded for him; but his career would be over in '66 after less than 20 innings of work.
Wednesday, May 15, 1968 - Let's go back to Forbes Field again, as the Cardinals take on the Pirates with 9,461 on hand, expecting a low-scoring game this time around. After all, this was the Year of the Pitcher. In this particular game, a future Hall of Fame lefty, Steve Carlton of the Cardinals, was opposed by the Pirates' ace, Steve Blass, who would finish the season with an 18-6 record (.750), which just happened to be the highest winning percentage in the National League in '68. Unfortunately for Blass, he got one of his six losses in this game; but he still pitched fairly well. However, Carlton was just a little better.
Carlton shut out the Pirates on four hits (9 IP - 1 BB - 6 SO), improving to 4-1 on the young season, while Blass (1-1) allowed just one run in six innings of work; that run provided by a Julian Javier fourth-inning lead-off home run. With this win, the first-place Cardinals improved to 20-10 en route to their second straight National League pennant.
Wednesday, May 16, 1979 - With a modest crowd of 11,547 on hand at Busch Stadium II, Bob Forsch and the Cardinals played host to a very good Montreal Expos team, with the zany Bill "Spaceman" Lee on the mound for the Expos. The only scoring in the game came in the home-half of the sixth-inning, when Ted Simmons ripped a two-out-two-run double, scoring Lou Brock from second base and Keith Hernandez, who had just walked, from first.
Forsch almost went the distance, but was removed after Warren Cromarte singled to open the ninth-inning for Montreal. Forsch allowed six hits and no runs in eight-plus innings; he didn't walk anybody, and struck out two. He got his first win of the season (1-3), as Mark Littell retired all three batters he faced in the ninth - Perez, Carter, and Valentine (who struck out to end it).
Friday, May 17, 1985 - The Cardinals opened the first of a three-game series against the Houston Astros in the Astrodome, with a dramatic come-from-behind victory in front of 14,501 paying fans. If they were rooting for the Cardinals, they got their money's worth.
St Louis opened the scoring in the first-inning, off Astros southpaw Bob Knepper, on a Jack Clark sacrifice fly, scoring Vince Coleman from third. However, that lead was short-lived; Cards pitcher Danny Cox got smacked around for six runs in two-plus innings, including first-inning home runs by Terry Puhl and Phil Garner (2-run), then another two-run blast in the third-inning by former Cardinal Jerry Mumphrey. Houston led, 6-1 after just three-innings, as Cox hit the showers.
Jack Clark led off the fourth-inning with a home run; then, after a Brian Harper single and a Terry Pendleton double put runners on second and third, catcher Tom Nieto doubled both runners in; then, after advancing to third on a ground out, scored on another ground out by Vince Coleman. The Redbirds were back in business; down by just a run in a 6-5 ballgame. Meanwhile, the St Louis bullpen - Forsch, Horton, Campbell, and Dayley - did its job, holding Houston scoreless after Cox was knocked out of the game.
The score remained 6-5 in favor of Houston, as St Louis took their last swings in the ninth-inning. Two quick outs made any sort of comeback by the Redbirds unlikely, but this was a season filled with crazy endings.
Down to their last out, Willie McGee started the rally with a base hit; another by Tom Herr put runners on first and third for Jack Clark, who promptly drove in McGee with another single, as Herr stopped at second. Andy Van Slyke drove in Herr with the fourth straight single in the inning, giving St Louis its first lead since scoring once in the top of the first. Clark moved to third on the play, and scored easily as Terry Pendleton delivered the fifth straight hit after two were out.
The Cardinals now led the shocked Astros, 8-6. The beneficiary of this explosion of offense was reliever Bill Campbell, who only faced one batter (0.1 IP - 0 H - 0 R - 0 BB - 0 SO) to get the last out in the bottom of the eighth; taking over for Ricky Horton, who labored through the previous 4.2 scoreless innings. Ken Dayley yielded a harmless ninth-inning single, but also recorded a pair of strikeouts to slam the door on this one.
Even after this dramatic victory, the Cardinals were still under .500 (16-17), and they would go on to lose the final two games of this series in the Astrodome. So this was kind of a big win for Whitey's Runnin' Redbirds.
Thursday, May 18, 2000 - With 17,137 fanatical fans in attendance at Veteran's Stadium in Philadelphia, the Cardinals' Garrett Stephenson - looking for his sixth win without a loss for the season - was facing the ace of the Phillies' staff - Curt Schilling, who simply didn't have it tonight. He gave up nine hits and five walks in six innings, while striking out five batters.
Unfortunately for Schilling, two of the hits he gave up were to Mark McGwire- and they didn't come back. A three-run home run in the first inning and a two-run blast in the second-inning quickly gave St Louis a 5-0 lead; then, after the Phillies scored single runs in the second and sixth, McGwire hit his third home run of the night - another two-run blast - off reliever Wayne Gomes in the eighth-inning - giving the Redbirds a five run advantage (and giving McGwire all 7 RBI in the game). This was more than enough to make a winner out of Stephenson again, as he worked 5.2 innings, allowing just two runs despite being tagged for nine hits. He managed to avoid those dreaded walks, which certainly helped him avoid serious trouble in this one.
Four Redbird relievers - James, Rodriguez, Thompson, and Veres - prevented any further scoring from the Phillies, who were already 13 games behind Atlanta in the NL East, and going nowhere fast.
When Schilling grew weary of the Phillies' futility, he asked management for a trade to a contending club. By mid-season, his wish was granted, and off to the Arizona Diamondbacks he went; and the following season, he would team up with Randy Johnson to form one of the best one-two combos, ever, in starting pitching. That tandem worked well enough to win a classic World Series against the New York Yankees in '01. Of course, that was only the beginning of Schilling's World Series legacy, which would culminate with two more titles with the un-cursed Boston Red Sox in '04 and '07.
As for McGwire, bad knees would limit him to just 89 games played in 2000, but he was still quite productive whenever he was in the lineup (.305/.483/.746), blasting 32 home runs in little more than one-half of a season. The following year would be the end of the line for Big Mac, who despite the PED controversy certainly posted Hall of Fame numbers, in any era.
Monday, May 19, 2003 - With 46,734 bi-partisan fans packing Busch Stadium II, the Cardinals played host to the Chicago Cubs - a team normally comprised of lovable losers, but this year, there seemed to be something different about them. Like, they were actually good.
A talented but volatile pitcher - Carlos Zambrano - made the start for Chicago, and pitched quite well, with a minimal number of temper tantrums. For St Louis, laid-back Matt Morris got the starting assignment, and had one of the best outings of his career. But it was with a bat in his hands that ultimately caused the demise of Zambrano - and Carlos had no one to blame but himself.
After Mike Matheny led off the third-inning with a base hit to center, Morris was called on to sacrifice his battery mate to second base. His bunt was a good one, fielded by Zambrano, who then threw wildly past second in his haste to force the runner. This allowed Matheny to advance to third, as Morris was now safely on first, with nobody out. Fernando Vina then grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, as Matheny jogged home with an unearned run. That was the only run the Cardinals could muster off Zambrano in his seven innings of work. In the eighth-inning, reliever Kyle Farnsworth was brought in to serve up a lead-off home run to Albert Pujols (his eleventh), as Zambrano showered in the peace and serenity of the visitor's locker room.
The extra run wasn't needed on this night, as Matt Morris polished off the Cubs in the ninth to preserve a 2-0 shutout. He allowed just four hits, walked none, and struck out eight; improving his record to 5-3, as St Louis moved two games over .500 (22-20), trying to make a move in the NL Central. Close, but no cigar; the Cardinals had a disappointing third-place finish (85-77), failing to reach the postseason for the first time in the millennium. However, the next three seasons would be a different story.