Tuesday, May 20, 2014

St Louis Cardinals History - May 12, 1987 - May 13, 1982 - 2 Games That Almost Got Away

May 12, 1987 - In a game featuring the two teams that would be slugging it out in the '87 NLCS, the San Francisco Giants played host to the St Louis Cardinals on a cold and windy evening at beautiful Candlestick Park; a venue that has had its fair share of weird moments.  Probably half of the original crowd of 14,318 had bailed out of this one before the ninth-inning rolled around.  Too bad; they missed all the fun.  Luckily for the Redbirds, they managed to hold on by the slimmest of margins; no doubt giving manager Whitey Herzog a few more white hairs as a souvenir.

Rookie southpaw Joe Magrane got the start for St Louis, and quickly ran into some trouble in the very first inning - a walk, a balk, and a single gave the Giants a very brief 1-0 lead.

In the second-inning, Willie McGee drew a lead-off walk off Giants starter, Mark Davis.  One out later, Steve Lake's double to right field moved McGee over to third; then both runners came home on Curt Ford's single off first baseman Will Clark's glove, which trickled into no man's land in short right field.

Meanwhile, Magrane settled down, keeping San Francisco scoreless over the next seven innings of work.  The Cardinals added two more runs in the third-inning, on a Willie McGee two-out two-run home run, giving the flaky Magrane a comfortable three run lead.  When the Cardinals tacked on two more runs in the ninth-inning on back-to-back one-out triples from Rod Booker (the only triple he'd hit all season) and Curt Ford, followed by a successful squeeze-play bunt by Magrane which plated Ford - the game seemed out of reach.  St Louis 6, San Francisco 1.

With a five-run lead and Joe pitching so well, Whitey thought this would be a good opportunity to give the bullpen a break, and give his young lefty a chance to finish this one off.  Not so fast.  After a Bob Melvin double and a Chris Speier infield hit suddenly had runners on the corners with nobody out, Herzog brought in the usually reliable Ricky Horton to take care of business.  Not so fast.  The first hitter Horton faced - Will Clark - immediately brought in a run with a base hit to right.  Now it's 6-2, with the tying run in the on-deck circle.  After Horton induced Matt Williams to fly out to McGee in center, that sigh of relief in the Cardinals dugout would soon turn into a gasp of astonishment.

Pinch hitter Bob Brenly whacked a Horton hanging slider over the left field fence for a three-run bomb, cutting the deficit to a single run.  Time to bring in Todd Worrell to close this one out; and close it out he did, striking out pinch hitter Harry Spilman on a high fastball, then getting the dangerous Chili Davis looking at a fastball on the outside corner for strike three, to finally restore order and put this one in the "win" column - Cards 6 - Giants 5.

Looking back on the top half of the ninth-inning, had Magrane failed to get that squeeze bunt down successfully, there's no telling how this game would've ended; or when it would've ended, for that matter.

May 13, 1982 - In a game featuring the two teams that would be playing in the '82 NLCS, the Atlanta Braves played host to the St Louis Cardinals on a warm and humid evening at Fulton County Stadium, with 16,244 on hand to witness a high-scoring affair, featuring yet another near-comeback by the home team in the ninth-inning.  What a coincidence.

This also happened to be Atlanta Braves' rookie Ken Dayley's major league debut.  Dayley would later be a mainstay in the Cardinals' bullpen in the mid '80's, but on this night he was a starter; although he only lasted 1.1 innings (5 H - 4 R - 1 BB - 0 SO - 1 HR); leaving the game with an ERA of 27.00.  He'd also be tagged with the loss, although his teammates nearly got him off the hook.  However, this was a game the Cardinals led from the first inning on, eventually scoring 10 runs; and they needed every one of those runs to win this one.

Starting for St Louis was old reliable Bob Forsch who didn't fare much better than the rookie (3.2 IP - 7 H - 5 R - 0 BB - 1 SO - 1 HR).  In fact, Preston Hanna, the Braves' second pitcher of the game didn't fare so well on the mound, either (3 IP - 6 H - 5 R - 2 BB - 1 SO), although did quite all right with a bat in his hands - two hits in two ABs with an RBI.

"Hitting" was definitely the theme for tonight's game.  After the Cardinals scored two runs in each of the first three innings, Atlanta countered with a two-run second, then scored a single run in the third, and two more in the fourth to close the gap to a 6-5 deficit; but they just couldn't quite catch the Redbirds, who tacked on three more runs in the fifth.  With the bases loaded and one out, Herzog mysteriously brought in rookie Willie McGee to pinch hit for Tito Landrum - who had already homered in the game and had driven in three.  On the mound for the Braves was former Cardinal madman Al Hrabosky.  McGee, who had gotten off to a terrible start, promptly lined a run-scoring single to center - the first RBI in his career!  Ozzie immediately got another hit, driving in two more runs.  St Louis 9 - Atlanta 5.

After the Braves started roughing up Redbird reliever Andy Rincon in the seventh-inning, Herzog brought in Bruce Sutter to restore order.  He got out of the jam with just one run scored (St Louis 9 - Atlanta 6), but he still had to get through the precarious eighth and ninth-innings.  When the Redbirds scored their tenth and final run in the ninth, Sutter, who had no trouble in handling the Braves in the eighth, now had a four-run cushion as he took the mound in the bottom of the ninth.  He needed all of that cushion.

Claudell Washington took Sutter deep to lead off the inning, making it a 10-7 game.  Then, with one on and one out, Dale Murphy hit his second home run of the game, while Herzog pretended to remain calm in the Cardinals' dugout.  Sutter, who had been stretched as far as he could realistically go (2.2 IP), hung on to record his eleventh save of the season.  It was pretty, but it worked.

As for the shy rookie, Willie McGee, who finally got the first run batted in of his career; all the weight of the world seemed to be lifted off his slouched shoulders.  His batting average, which had been hovering around .150 at this point in the season, would start climbing - all the way to .296 by season's end.  But it would be the postseason that would make him an instant celebrity, and endear him to Cardinal Nation for life.

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