Monday, June 30, 2014

June 30, 1985 - 11-Inning Walk-Off Winner Completes 3-Game Sweep of Mets

Sunday, June 30, 1985 - At Busch Stadium II (Danny Cox - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  New York Mets (Dwight Gooden - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  47,425

It took eleven innings, but the Cardinals completed a three-game sweep of the New York Mets, with a 2-1 walk-off win - a game that was filled with missed scoring opportunities on both sides.

Both starting pitchers - Cox and Gooden - certainly pitched well enough to win.  Cox scattered nine hits in nine innings of work - allowing just one unearned eighth-inning run.  Gooden's only mistake was pitching to Jack Clark - with two out and no runners on - in the seventh-inning - a pitch that Jack the Ripper slashed over the left field wall for a temporary 1-0 St Louis lead.

The Mets scored their lone run in the eighth-inning, when Wally Backman singled - then advanced all the way to third when Terry Pendleton kicked the ball halfway to Kirkwood.  Danny Heep's sacrifice fly scored the unearned run which tied the game at one run apiece - a game that was destined for overtime.

Prior to all that excitement, both teams blew scoring opportunities in the very first inning.

The first two batters Cox faced - Wally Backman and Danny Heep - both singled.  Keith Hernandez then grounded one to first baseman Jack Clark, whose only play was a force out at second - leaving runners on the corners with one out.  Gary Carter then bounced one right back to Cox as Backman immediately broke for home.  Cox decided to get the sure out at the plate, rather than risk trying for the double play.  That decision was rewarded when he struck out Darryl Strawberry to end the threat.

In the bottom of the first, Vince Coleman singled - then with Willie McGee batting, stole second.  He then took third on Willie's sacrifice bunt - but Tommy Herr failed to get him in after his foul popup was an easy play for third baseman Howard Johnson.  Then, with Clark batting, Coleman tried to score on a pitch that squirted away from Carter - but not far enough, as an alert Johnson trailed Coleman down the line while Carter retrieved the ball - then took the throw at the plate to nail Vincent Van Go - who didn't go fast enough this time.

More questionable base running plagued the Redbirds in the fifth-inning.  With one out, Andy Van Slyke doubled but was an easy out trying to advance to third on a Pendleton grounder to the shortstop.  With Pendleton now on first base, Ozzie Smith singled him over to third - but was promptly picked off by an alert Carter - to end another non-scoring Cardinal inning.

The Mets returned the "wasted opportunity favor" when George Foster led-off the seventh-inning with a single, then moved up to second on a Tom Nieto passed ball.  However, the next three batters couldn't move him off second.

The eleventh-inning was a Met disaster.  With Ricky Horton pitching for St Louis, Carter and Strawberry both singled, putting runners on first and second.  Exit Horton.  Enter Jeff Lahti, whose first order of business was to deal with Foster - who grounded one to Ozzie deep in the hole - whose only play was a force out of Carter at third.  The next batter - Johnson - failed to advance the runners, as he flew out to McGee in center.

When the venerable Rusty Staub was announced as a pinch hitter, manager Whitey Herzog took no chances - bringing in lefty reliever Ken Dayley to close out the inning.  He did, by striking out Staub - and in the process, put himself in line to get the win.

With Jesse Orosco now pitching for New York, pinch-hitter Ivan de Jesus - now batting for Ken Dayley - lined a one-out double down the left field line.  As luck would have it, Vince Coleman delivered the game winning hit - a single to center field, scoring the fleet-footed de Jesus with the winning run.  Dayley (2-0) retired the only batter he faced to get the win.  Danny Cox, who retired 27 - got the no decision.  But it was a job well done.  And the Cardinals were now on a roll.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

June 29, 2011 - Carpenter's Camden Yards Gem

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 - At Camden Yards (Chris Carpenter - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Baltimore Orioles (Chris Jakubauskas - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  17,405

This game - the 81st - marked the half-way point in the season for the Cardinals - a season that had its share of ups and downs.  For Chris Carpenter, his share of downs had been exceedingly overabundant all season long - although he did win his last start to raise his record to 2-7.

In tonight's game, Carpenter would pitch nine innings for the first time this season - a 5-1 win over the Orioles - and in the process, win back-to-back starts for the first time in 2011, as well.  But it wasn't as easy as it appeared.

The Cardinals quickly took the lead in the second inning, when Lance Berkman drew a lead-off walk, then Colby Rasmus went yard for a 2-0 advantage.

The next inning, it appeared the Redbirds were going to knock Jakubauskas out of the Yard and into the showers - but C.J. (as we'll call him from now on) minimized the damage to extend his outing for another couple of innings.

The third-inning began with Nick Punto's ground rule double, followed by Skip Schumaker's run-scoring single, followed by Jon Jay's single to left field, followed by C.J. plunking Matt Holliday with a pitch to load the bases. Still nobody out - one run already in.

Lance Berkman then smoked a sinking line drive to center field, which Adam Jones was able to grab for out number one - as Schumaker easily tagged from third to score the second run of the inning.  However, David Freese then grounded one to J.J. Hardy who fielded it cleanly, stepped on second base, then threw to first to complete the easy double play.

Although the Cardinals now had a 4-0 lead - at Camden Yards against a powerful Orioles' lineup - no lead is safe.  Baltimore immediately responded in their half of the third-inning - when, with two out, Hardy singled then came around to score on a Nick Markakis double.

St Louis scored their final run of the game off C.J. in the fifth-inning.  This time it was Skip Schumaker getting a lead-off double - advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt by Jon Jay - then after an intentional walk to Berkman - Freese bounced one into center to score Skip.

The bottom of the fifth began ominously for Carpenter - when three consecutive singles by Pie, Davis and Hardy loaded the bases with nobody out.  A long one here and it's a brand new ballgame - and the next three hitters were very capable of going deep - Markakis, Jones and Guerrero.

LaRussa stuck with his veteran - allowing Carpenter to work his way out of the jam - which is precisely what he did.  Markakis grounded one right back to Carp who got the force out at home, while Markakis beat the relay to first.  Jones then popped one up to short left field - too short to tag up from third - for the second out of the inning.  Vladimir Guerrero - one of the greatest hitters of his generation - drilled one to deep right field - but not deep enough, as Jon Jay hauled it in to retire the side.  Miraculously.  No runs scored.

The rest of the game was quickly wrapped up with relative ease for Carpenter (3-7), who was on top of his game now.  After this complete game win, the Cardinals' ace would finish the regular season with an 8-2 record - then go on to have one of the most dominant postseasons in franchise history.

This game - particularly his fifth-inning magic - set the tone all the way through Game Seven of the World Series.  And that was bad news for the opposition.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

June 28, 2005- Sanders' 2-Run 1st-Inning HR Enough to Beat Reds

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 - At Busch Stadium II (Mark Mulder - Starting Pitcher) - Opposition:  Cincinnati Reds (Brandon Clausen - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  38,640

In this game, the Cardinals only had two hits that were meaningful - but one of them was a first-inning two-run home run off the bat of cleanup hitter Reggie Sanders.  The other was the two-out single by Albert Pujols which preceded that two-run blast.

The Reds, on the other hand, could only score one first-inning run - then spent the rest of the game squandering their scoring opportunities until the bitter end - when Jason Isringhausen struck out Jacob Cruz -  with a runner in scoring position - to save the 2-1 win for Mark Mulder (9-5).

Meanwhile, the Cardinal lineup could only muster two more hits for the entire game after the first inning - but the damage had been done.

After Mulder's shaky three-hit / one run  first-inning, the Cardinal lefty settled down to throw zeroes through the next five innings - escaping a thee hit mess in the third-inning, which was greatly aided by a 5-4-3 double play - and another in the sixth-inning, when he induced Jason LaRue to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play with runners on the corners.

By the time the seventh-inning rolled around, with a pitch count that was already over 100 - when Mulder issued a one-out walk to Encarnacion, manager Tony LaRussa brought in reliever Brad Thompson - who got the second out of the inning.

However, Rich Aurilia's infield hit moved the tying run into scoring position, prompting another pitching change - Ray King - to face the dangerous left-handed hitting Sean Casey - who already had two hits in the game and was looking for a third.

Behind the plate was a rookie catcher with a penchant for picking runners off base - Yadier Molina.  With a one ball - one strike count on Casey, Yadi caught Aurilia wandering too far off the bag - nailing the stunned base runner with a snap throw that would become legendary over the years.

Sean Casey - the perpetually-talking first baseman whose RBI opportunity had suddenly vanished in the blink of an eye - was speechless, although his mouth was agape.

In the end, the Cardinals had beaten the Reds by letting the Reds beat themselves.  Cincinnati had twice as many hits (8 to 4), twice as many walks (4 to 2), but half the runs (1 to 2).  But that's baseball.

Friday, June 27, 2014

June 27, 1985 - McGee Sparks Another Cardinal Win

Thursday, June 27, 1985 - At Veterans' Stadium (Kurt Kepshire - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Philadelphia Phillies (Shane Rawley - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  22,691  

After losing the first two games of a three-game series to a mediocre Philadelphia team, the Cardinals were trying to salvage the final game before heading home - for a pivotal three-game series with the formidable and widely despised New York Mets.

First things first, however.  The Cardinals would manage to escape with a 4-3 win tonight, thanks to a couple of costly Philadelphia mistakes - one in the field and one on the bases - along with a perfect night from the National League's leading hitter - and a rare home run from a defensive Wiz.

It also helped that Kurt Kepshire manged to work around his control problems - issuing four walks in 6.2 innings pitched - but none of the free passes came around to score.  The two runs he allowed came via the long ball - a fifth-inning solo home run by Ozzie Virgil - and another by Von Hayes two innings later.

That second Phillies' home run prompted manager Whitey Herzog to make a pitching change - a move that nearly came back to haunt him - until the second pitching change saved the day.

But it was Willie McGee who sparked the Cardinals' offense, reaching base in all four plate appearances - scoring three of the four Redbird runs - the first one coming after his one-out triple in the first-inning set up Tommy Herr for an easy RBI, with a ground out to short.

Willie scored the second run in the fourth-inning, after a lead-off single, a wild pitch and an error by shortstop Derrel Thomas on Herr's ground ball allowed McGee to plate an unearned run.

After Virgil's fifth-inning home run cut the Philadelphia deficit to a single run, McGee was at it again in the sixth-inning - reaching base this time on a lead-off walk.  After Herr advanced him to second on a ground out to the second baseman, Jack Clark delivered an RBI double to make it a 3-1 St Louis advantage.

The Phillies threatened in their half of the sixth, when a tiring and very wild Kepshire issued three straight two-out walks to load the bases for Virgil - who had already homered in his previous trip to the plate.  This time, however, he was retired on a foul popup which catcher Tom Nieto grabbed to preserve the two-run lead.

Leading off the seventh-inning for St Louis, Ozzie Smith connected for his third home run of the season - a new single-season career high for the Wizard - and it would prove to be the winning margin in this nerve-wracking game.

After Hayes' two-out pinch hit home run off Kepshire in the bottom half of the seventh, reliever Bill Campbell was brought in to get that third out - which he did - keeping the score 4-2, in favor of the Cardinals.  But trouble lurked ahead as Campbell remained in the game to pitch the eighth-inning - at least part of the eighth-inning - the bad part.

Campbell's peril began with a lead-off walk to Greg Gross, followed by a Mike Schmidt single, which was subsequently followed by a Glen Wilson double into center field.  Gross, of course, scored easily; however, Mike Schmidt - with nobody out - inexplicably tried to score, as well.  He didn't make it, as McGee's relay to Ozzie, whose throw to Nieto was a strike - nailing the flabbergasted Schmidt at home - as a cascade of boos reigned down on him like rain from the appreciative Philly fans.

So, instead of one run in - and runners on second and third with (still) nobody out - the Phillies had one run in with one out now - with just one runner on second.

Campbell was given the rest of the night off for his efforts, as Herzog summoned Jeff Lahti in from the bullpen to restore order - and he did - not only getting through the eighth with no further damage - Lahti also worked a perfect ninth-inning to get a well-deserved sixth save of the season.  The beneficiary was of course, Kepshire (5-5).

The Cardinals had dodged a bullet - maybe more like a cannonball.  The win kept them just a half game behind Montreal in the tight NL East race.  The Cardinals' next opponents - the Mets - were only two games behind St Louis, heading into a very crucial weekend series at Busch.

No doubt relieved to get out of Philly with a win, the Cardinals enjoyed their flight back home -but it would take another 27 years before Happy Flight was officially used to describe such air travel for the franchise.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

June 26, 2002 - Coping With Loss - An Emotional Win

Wednesday, June 26, 2002 - At Busch Stadium II - (Starting Pitcher - Woody Williams) - Opponent:  Milwaukee Brewers (Jamey Wright - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  32,686

For a grief-stricken team trying to cope with the sudden and shocking death of their teammate - Darryl Kile -  this game produced an emotional win, no doubt inspired by the memory of their good friend, who had passed away just four days earlier.

And just four days before his untimely death, Kile had a strong outing - beating a very good LA Angels of Anaheim team - allowing just one run in 7.2 IP - a great improvement over his previous two starts when he was hit hard and plagued by the long ball - two home runs in each game.

In Kile's June 12 start in Seattle, he was hit especially hard, allowing five runs on six hits - including a pair of home runs - in just 4.1 IP.  When manager Tony LaRussa decided to remove his ineffective pitcher  before he could get the last two outs in the fifth, words were exchanged on the mound - and later in the clubhouse - between the two.

Kile - fiercely competitive and not at all happy with the way he'd been pitching of late - still felt slighted by the quick hook, and let his manager know.  After further discussion, the two resolved this minor dispute - giving Kile peace of mind prior to making his final start.  Afterwards, a relieved and appreciative Kile expressed his thanks to his manager for helping him get back on track - a gesture LaRussa felt comforted by in the wake of Darryl's tragic death.

With the inevitable shock and grief the entire team was experiencing, it was virtually impossible to focus on any on-field activities.  Suddenly, playing baseball seemed inappropriate; the games so meaningless.

But then, after much clubhouse discussion, along with private talks with each other about getting on with life again, the team decided to dedicate the rest of the season to the memory of Darryl Kile - and start playing winning baseball again.

This game was a small step in the team healing process - a 5-2 highly emotional win.  Despite the fact that the heart of the Cardinal lineup - Drew, Pujols, Edmonds and Martinez - went 0 for 13 - the rest of the team picked up the slack.

The Cardinals scored three runs in the second-inning - the first run driven in by Mike Matheny - then a pair of two-out RBI's by an inspired Woody Williams and Fernando Vina.

St Louis scored two more in the second-inning - and both runs scored with two outs - on another RBI single by Matheny - who had three hits in the game - and one by Eli Marrero.

They wasted very few scoring opportunities tonight - with RISP:  Five hits in eight tries.

Meanwhile, Woody Williams (5-3) was an intense, focused pitcher - not allowing the Brewers to capitalize on any of their scoring opportunities through the first seven innings.  After running out of gas in the eighth-inning, Williams managed to retire two batters while yielding a pair of runs.  LaRussa brought the colorful Steve Kline in to get the third out of the inning, as Woody slowly walked off the mound to a standing ovation.  There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Isringhausen worked a perfect ninth for his 16th save, as the first-place Cardinals (41-33) - still grieving but with a sense of purpose - maintained a slim two game advantage over the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central.

St Louis would finish the season with a 56-32 record, as Tony LaRussa guided his team well, in the wake of immense tragedy.  From June 26 to the end of the regular season, no other National League team won more games than the Cardinals.

There was little doubt he would be named NL Manager of the Year in 2002 - arguably, this was his finest - and most stressful - season at the helm, in his 33 years of managing a big league club.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

June 25, 1964 - Late Rally Lifts Cards Back to .500

Thursday, June 25, 1964 - At Busch Stadium I (Roger Craig - Starting Pitcher) - Opposition:  Houston Colts ( Bob Bruce - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  6,842

At this point in the season, winning a pennant seemed like a lost cause for the Cardinals - a team struggling to just get above .500.  In fact, the team they were hosting in today's game - the Houston Colts - in only their third season in existence - were a mere half game behind the Cardinals - a storied franchise that had been around for over 70 years.  For die-hard Cardinal fans, this was a revolting development.

Pennant fever?  Hardly.  The Cardinals were so far out of it at this point, they were actually closer to ninth-place in the National League standings - than fourth-place.  That may explain why very few fans bothered to pay good money to see this mediocre team battle another mediocre team for fifth-place.

Roger Craig was a spot starter for the Cardinals in '64; whereas Bob Bruce was the ace of the Houston pitching staff - at least in this particular season.  The Cardinals were going to have their work cut out for them in order to maintain their stranglehold on fifth-place mediocrity.  That was the harsh reality.

Sure enough, Houston grabbed an early lead - scoring a second-inning run on a triple by Walt Bond and an RBI double by Bob Aspromonte.

The Cardinals tied the game in the third-inning when a Julian Javier lead-off double preceded a run-scoring single by Roger Craig - helping his own cause with the bat, as good pitchers do.

Houston broke the 1-1 tie in the sixth-inning when the hot-hitting Aspromonte whacked a lead-off home run; however, Craig was able to regroup to prevent any further damage.

As the Cardinals came to bat in the eighth-inning, still down by a run, Curt Flood was able to coax a one-out walk off a tiring Bruce.  However, the scoring opportunity looked bleak after Lou Brock's slicing foul fly ball down the left field line stayed in play - for out number two.

But then Bill White stroked a line drive single to center, as Flood easily advanced to third.  The tying run was just 90 feet away as cleanup hitter Ken Boyer not only got Flood home - he also scored White - with an opposite-field double to right.  Dick Groat followed Boyer's lead with a double of his own to score the third and final run of the inning - on three straight two-out hits.

Seldom-used reliever Glen Hobbie pitched the ninth-inning for St Louis, since Craig (4-3) had been lifted for a pinch hitter in that three-run eighth-inning - and he was able to get his first and only save of the season - which would also prove to be the sixth and final save of his eight-year major league career.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals had successfully defended their fifth-place spot in the soon-to-be-changing National League standings - and in the process, returned to that all-important .500 plateau (34-34).  One step at a time.  With 94 games to play, anything could happen - but for now, all this team was concerned with was staying over .500.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

June 24, 2004 - Carpenter Blanks Error-Prone Cubs in Cards' 4-0 Win

Thursday, June 24, 2004 - At Busch Stadium II (Chris Carpenter - Starting Pitcher) - Opposition:  Chicago Cubs (Matt Clement - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  48,042

Heading into the rubber game of a three-game series with rival Chicago, the NL Central division-leading Cardinals were just two games ahead of the second-place Cubs.  As far as the Cardinals were concerned, Chris Carpenter would always be the guy they wanted on the mound in a big game - and this game was certainly "big enough".  A loss would shrink their lead to a single game - a scenario Carpenter simply refused to let happen.

Clement was pitching well, himself, until a fourth-inning error by shortstop Rey Ordonez helped facilitate a four-run Redbird rally.

The inning started with Albert Pujols reaching base after being hit by a pitch.  Scott Rolen - arguably the team's most productive player in 2004 - then advanced Pujols to second with a base hit to right field.  Jim Edmonds then moved both runners up to second and third with a ground out to first base - unassisted.

With first base open, the ever-dangerous Ray Lankford was intentionally walked, bringing up the not-so-dangerous Hector Luna to bat.  Luna's ground ball to shortstop Rey Ordonez - who won three straight Gold Gloves with the New York Mets from '97 to '99 - was booted.  Everybody was safe, as Pujols scored the first run of the night.  It would be the only earned run allowed by Clement.

The next batter - Mike Matheny - hit a sacrifice fly to center, which would have been the third out of the inning - instead, it scored Rolen with the second run.  Next up, Chris Carpenter helped his own cause with a line drive single to left field, scoring Lankford with another unearned run.  Finally, Tony Womack closed out the scoring with a single to center - bringing in Luna with still another unearned run.

Earned or unearned, the 4-0 lead was the reality the Cubs were faced with at this point - and at this point, reality wasn't being kind to Chicago.

Strangely enough, the Cubs had loaded the bases with one out in the top of the fourth - threatening to have a big inning, with Rey Ordonez the next batter.  Ordonez may have had worse nights than this - but probably not much worse.  His ground ball right back to Carpenter was turned into a pitcher to catcher to first - inning-ending double play - keeping the game scoreless - but not for long.

Carpenter worked the first eight scoreless innings - Isringhausen finished it off - not a save situation with that four run cushion - but Ryne Sandberg had long since retired, so no need to worry about a game-tying grand slam tonight.

Monday, June 23, 2014

June 23, 1984 - The Ryne Sandberg Game & June 23, 1985 - Revenge

Saturday, June 23, 1984 - At Wrigley Field (Ralph Citarella - Starting Pitcher) - Opposition:  Chicago Cubs (Steve Trout - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  38,079

The Ryne Sandberg Game.  For fans of the Chicago Cubs, it's the closest thing to winning a World Series.  For fans of the St Louis Cardinals, it's one of the most irritating regular season losses in the last thirty years; however, what makes it easier to accept is the fact that it wasn't an irritating postseason loss.  Also, it happened in a lost season, anyway.  Had the Cardinals managed to win that game, it wouldn't have changed their destiny.

Even for Bruce Sutter - who gave up both game tying home runs to Sandberg - he still made it to Cooperstown.

For Ryne Sandberg, however, his exploits in this nationally televised event catapulted him from a relatively obscure player to the odds-on favorite to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award.  Of course, he did win the award - and he deserved it, with a league-best 8.5 WAR as proof.

For optimistic Cardinal fans, looking back thirty years ago - Sandberg's first game tying home run - in the ninth-inning - gave the beloved Willie McGee another chance to hit for the cycle.

McGee's first hit of the game - a bases-loaded second-inning triple - got him started in his elusive quest.  It also helped his team establish a 7-1 lead, which would be impossible to protect on this day.  The two biggest reasons:

(1) Ralph Citarella was the starting pitcher for St Louis.

His entire big league career consisted of two games started.  This was his first - four days later he would start another game and be charged with the loss.

(2) Neil Allen was the next pitcher brought into this game for St Louis.

In the sixth-inning, nursing a comfortable 9-3 lead, Citarella walked Keith Moreland, leading off the inning.  Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog had Citarella on a short lease and was prepared to bring in Neil Allen to restore order if another Cubs batter reached base.  After striking out Jody Davis, Citarella probably had a little too much adrenalin rushing through his veins, hitting the next batter - Ron Cey - with a pitch.  That was it, as far as Herzog was concerned.  Neil Allen to the rescue.

Not only did Moreland and Cey come in to score in the sixth-inning, Neil Allen also coughed up three more runs of his own, to turn a Cardinal blowout into a nail-biting journey into the abyss.  After more trouble ensued in the seventh-inning, Herzog then brought in his closer - Bruce Sutter - to get the final out.

Meanwhile, after his second-inning triple, McGee singled in his next trip to the plate, in an uneventful fourth-inning.  Then, after Ozzie Smith singled in the sixth-inning, McGee got his third hit - a two-run home run - which gave the Cardinals that comfortable 9-3 lead to begin with.

McGee still needed a double to complete the cycle - but came up empty as he grounded out in the top of the eighth-inning, with the Cardinals clinging to that way-too-slim 9-8 lead.

Sutter remained in the game to pitch the eighth - and he did his job, keeping it a one-run ballgame.  Unfortunately, Ryne Sandberg was the first hitter for Sutter in the bottom of the ninth - and he promptly tied the game with his first legendary home run deep to left.

Sutter still had his work cut out for him to escape the inning, but he got through it with the game still tied.

And that gave Willie McGee one more shot at the elusive cycle - in the tenth-inning.

After Ozzie singled to lead off the inning, McGee drove him in with the two-base hit he needed for the personal milestone.  When Willie also scored an insurance run to give St Louis a comfortable 11-9 lead, this game seemed destined to be forever known as The Willie McGee Game.

Not only had the Cardinals' center fielder hit for the cycle, he had also driven in six runs.  At this point, Sandberg had only driven in five.  It would take a miracle for him to top McGee's performance.

Sutter had already blown a save - which would have earned Ralph Citarella his one and only major league win.  Now, he was in line for the win - if he could protect a two-run lead in the bottom of the tenth.

After retiring the first two batters, light-hitting Bob Dernier was Sutter's next challenge - with Ryne Sandberg lurking in the on-deck circle for Chicago.  Dernier, who hit three home runs in 1984, was hardly a threat to go deep against Sutter - unlike the guy in the on-deck circle.  In this situation, a walk is as good as a home run - and that's precisely what Dernier accomplished.

After Sandberg connected for his second home run in as many innings off the stunned Sutter, Bob Costas - who was calling the game in the NBC broadcast booth - exclaimed, "Do you believe it!?"

No Bob, at the time, I couldn't believe it - and neither could Sutter, whose flinching reaction to the second Sandberg home run was uncharacteristic for the usually stoic Sutter.  Alas, The Willie McGee Game suddenly became The Ryne Sandberg Game - just like that.

It was a foregone conclusion that the Cubs would win the game in the eleventh - and they did.  The Ryne Sandberg Game was finally over - an eleven-inning 12-11 win over the Cardinals.  It was an excruciating loss - no doubt - but revenge was just one year away.

Sunday, June 23, 1985 - At Busch Stadium II (John Tudor-Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Chicago Cubs (Dick Ruthven- Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  45,881

One year had passed since The Willie McGee/Ryne Sandberg Game.  The Cardinals' roster had some noticeable additions in this game - Jack Clark (acquired in a trade with the San Francisco Giants), rookie sensation Vince Coleman, and of course, John Tudor (acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates).

John Tudor did it all tonight - driving in the first run of the game for the Cardinals - the only run he'd need - (although they added six more runs just for fun) shutting out the team that had mauled the Cardinals for 12 runs just one year ago.  Shutting them out on two hits, one walk and six strikeouts.  Shutting them out to give the first-place Cardinals their second straight three-game series sweep over their bitter rivals - which is exactly what the Cubs did to the Cardinals the previous year.

Sweet revenge.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

JUNE 22: 1996 - McGee Leads Assault on Montreal & 1985 - Curt Ford's MLB Debut - Walk-Off Winner Over Cubs

Saturday, June 22, 1996 - At Olympic Stadium (Mike Morgan - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Montreal Expos (Uqueth Urbina - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  16,895

Willie McGee set the tone for this game - right off the bat - with a two-out two-run first-inning single - as the Cardinals cruised to an easy 9-4 thumping of the Montreal Expos.  Three of the four Montreal runs came in the ninth-inning off an obviously weary Mike Morgan, who didn't quite have enough in the tank to go nine - but the outcome of this game was never in doubt.

St Louis scored early and often, building a 9-0 cushion by the fifth-inning - then put it on cruise control over the last four innings.

After solo home runs by Ray Lankford and John Mabry followed McGee's first-inning RBI's - and gave the Cardinals a 4-0 lead - McGee duplicated his first-inning feat - in the fifth-inning - with another two-run single.  This time, his teammates added three more runs to make it a nine-zip walk in the park - before Montreal finally scored a run in the sixth - but it was too little, too late.

This win kept the Cardinals at .500 (36-36) - and in a first-place tie with the Houston Astros (38-38) - who would fade down the stretch, while the Cards got hot in September.  But not hot enough in October.

Meanwhile, back in 1985...

Saturday, June 22, 1985 - At Busch Stadium II - (Bob Forsch - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Chicago Cubs (Rick Sutcliffe - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  49,231

The Cardinals looked to extend their recent mastery of the Chicago Cubs in tonight's game before a packed house at Busch.  Just last weekend, the Redbirds flew into Wrigley for a three-game series, and left with a three-game sweep.  In this series, St Louis had already taken the first of the three to be played - on Friday night, by a 7-5 score - extending their winning streak against their rivals to four.

This game would be tied after nine innings - one run apiece.  The Cubs scored the first run of the game off Forsch - without a hit.  A hit batsman, and two walks loaded the bases with two out in the fifth-inning.  Although Forsch had only allowed three hits in 4.2 innings pitched - his walk total was now at six - and now, with the bases loaded, Herzog had seen enough - bringing in Ricky Horton to face Leon Durham.  Sure enough, even Horton had control problems tonight - walking in a run - which was charged to a downcast Bob Forsch.  But Horton retired the next batter to keep the game within reach - down by just a run.

The Cardinals finally broke through off Sutcliffe in the seventh-inning.  With one out, Andy Van Slyke doubled, and later scored when pinch hitter Steve Braun - playing in his final major league season - came through with an RBI single to tie the game at one run apiece.

In the Cardinals' half of the tenth-inning - with the score still tied, 1-1 - Ozzie Smith singled off Cubs' closer - Lee Smith.  Cubs' pitching had not allowed a base on balls all night (in contrast with the Cardinals' pitchers - nine free passes given out - but with Tom Nieto batting, Smith uncorked a wild pitch, sending Smith to second - where he stayed, for now, as Nieto struck out.

This time, Herzog called on a 24-year old rookie making his major league debut - Curt Ford - to pinch hit for Tom Lawless.  Ford's first career hit was a walk-off winner - in extra innings, no less - as the huge crowd went crazy - well, almost.

St Louis (38-27) had beaten the Cubs again - their fifth win in a row against the team that had owned them the season before.  They would go on to sweep the series, and were flying high - playing with extreme confidence - and playing extremely well.  A major league-best 63-34 record after this game allowed them to sneak past the New York Mets in the final week of the season - setting the stage for a memorable and bittersweet post season run for the Redbirds.

Too bad they couldn't review bad calls back then.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mussina, Prior, Beckett & Iwakuma: Looks Like They Deserved a Cy Young Award

PART FOUR - Who Really Deserved the Cy Young Awards (2000-2013)?

Lessons Learned:

(1) 5-Time CYA Winner - Randy Johnson - Should Have Won Six Times.

(2)  Mike Mussina - Not Roger Clemens - Was the Ace of the 2001 Yankees' Staff & the Best Pitcher in the AL.

(3) 2-Time CYA Winner - Roy Halladay - Should Have Won Four Times.

(4) 2-Time CYA Winner - Johan Santana - Should Have Won Three Straight Times.

(5) Brandon Webb was the Best Pitcher in the NL for Two Straight Years - Not Just Once.

(6) 16 Out of 28 Picks Had Highest WAR in Their League - Voters Are Catching On

CYA Winners & War Leaders (2000-2013):

2000 ( AL) - Pedro Martinez (11.7)
2000 (NL) - Randy Johnson (8.1)

2001 (AL) - Roger Clemens (5.6) - Mike Mussina (7.1)
2001 (NL) - Randy Johnson (10.0)

2002 (AL) - Barry Zito (7.2) - Roy Halladay (7.4)*
2002 (NL) - Randy Johnson (10.9)

(*Sure, this is very close - in favor of Halladay - but what makes this unusual - Halladay received nary a CYA vote.)

2003 (AL) - Roy Halladay (8.1)
2003 (NL) - Eric Gagne (3.7) - Mark Prior (7.4)*

(*Payback for a wrongly accused Cubs' fan - Bartman - 2003 NLCS.)

2004 (AL) - Johan Santana (8.6)
2004 (NL) - Roger Clemens (5.4) - Randy Johnson (8.5)*

(*Clemens - extremely overrated - Johnson - extremely underrated in '04.)

2005 (AL) - Bartolo Colon (4.0) - Johan Santana (7.2)
2005 (NL) - Chris Carpenter (5.4) -  Roger Clemens (7.8)

2006 (AL) - Johan Santana (7.5)
2006 (NL) - Brandon Webb (7.0)

2007 (AL) - C.C. Sabathia (6.3) - Josh Beckett (6.5)
2007 (NL) - Jake Peavy - (6.2) - Brandon Webb (6.4)

2008 (AL) - Cliff Lee (6.9)
2008 (NL) - Tim Lincecum (7.9)

2009 (AL) - Zack Greinke (10.4)
2009 (NL) - Tim Lincecum (7.5)

2010 (AL) - Felix Hernandez (7.1)
2010 (NL) - Roy Halladay (8.3)

2011 (AL) - Justin Verlander (8.4)
2011 (NL) - Clayton Kershaw (6.5) - Roy Halladay (8.9)

2012 (AL) - David Price (6.9) - Justin Verlander (7.8)
2012 (NL) - R.A. Dickey (5.8) - Clayton Kershaw (6.2)

2013 (AL) - Max Scherzer (6.7) - Hisashi Iwakuma (7.0)
2013 (NL) - Clayton Kershaw (7.8)

Next:  Who Really Deserved to Win the MVP Awards?  Some Shocking Discoveries!

June 21, 1982 - Another Win in Relief for Sutter

Monday, June 21, 1982 - At Busch Stadium II (Dave LaPoint - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Philadelphia Phillies (Marty Bystrom - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  19,14

The Cardinals blew an early lead, had some missed opportunities to put the game away, and had a couple of base running blunders, before finally putting the Phillies out of their misery.  Final score:  St Louis 7 - Philadelphia 5.

Lonnie Smith helped the Cardinals establish an early lead with a run-scoring single in the third-inning - then after a balk put him in scoring position, Willie McGee brought Lonnie in with a single to right field.

Meanwhile, Dave LaPoint was pitching well, holding the Phillies scoreless through six innings.  Then, leading off the bottom of the sixth, LaPoint lined a single to center - then came all the way around to score on Lonnie Smith's triple down the left field line.  Unfortunately, Lonnie tried to stretch it into an inside-the-park home run - and was nailed at the plate.

It's difficult to imagine his thought process when he decided to run through third base coach Hal Lanier's - stop sign.  With nobody out, he likely would have scored from third base relatively easily.  Instead, the Cardinals had to settle for just one run - when it could have been a big inning.

If a team can gain momentum from another team's mistakes - the Phillies seemed to have it going when they came to bat in the seventh.  With one out, Ivan DeJesus lined a single to left, then scored from first on pinch hitter (for Bystrom) Luis Aguayo's triple - who later scored on a Pete Rose ground out - making it just a 3-2 Cardinal lead now.

The Redbirds matched that with two runs of their own in the bottom of the seventh.  With one out, George Hendrick drew a base on balls off reliever Sparky Lyle - then moved up to third on Ken Oberkfell's double to right field.  Mike Ramsey's single to center field scored Hendrick - then Ozzie singled in Oberkfell, as Ramsey advanced to third.

Lyle's night was over after retiring just one batter in the inning - two runs already in - and he was responsible for the runners on first and third.  The new pitcher - Ron Reed - got out of the jam when Mike Ramsey was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a ground ball to first baseman Rose - who was playing "in".

Another costly base running blunder for St Louis - although they once again held a three-run advantage, with a new pitcher - Doug Bair - coming in to work the eighth-inning.  It seemed like he was in there to pitch batting practice, instead of protect the lead.  Mike Schmidt's lead-off single preceded back-to-back home runs by Bill Robinson and Ozzie Virgil.  Just like that, the game was tied - 5-5 - and just like that, Herzog yanked Bair - and brought in Bruce Sutter to restore order - and he did.

Suddenly, a game that should have been an easy winner - was very much in jeopardy.  Ron Reed - who did such a splendid job in the previous inning, didn't fare so well in the eighth.  McGee's infield single and Keith Hernandez' single to right field put runners on the corners - with nobody out.  That got Reed out of the game, however, as another venerable reliever - Tug McGraw - came in to pitch to Darrell Porter - who ripped a double to right- scoring McGee and sending Hernandez to third.  Hendrick then plated Hernandez with a single to center - but once again, the rally stalled, with just two runs on the board.

However, that was enough to win this one, as Sutter (6-5) pitched his second scoreless inning, as manager Whitey Herzog went through his second bottle of Rolaids.  It was undoubtedly a nerve-wracking game - but at least it was a winner - keeping the first-place Cardinals just a game ahead of the Montreal Expos in the NL East.

Friday, June 20, 2014

JUNE 20 - 1964 - 2013 - 50 Years of Cardinal Tidbits

Since 1964, the Cardinals have won 26 - lost 22 on June 20 (.542) - The Summer Equinox - which really has no relevance to anything about baseball, as far as I can tell.

Most Runs Scored on June 20:  

9 - in 1986 (9-2 win over Phillies) - one of the worst offensive seasons in franchise history.  Go figure.

Most Runs Allowed on June 20:  

20 - in 2006 (20-6 loss to the Chicago White Sox) - Losing Pitcher:  Mark Mulder - 2.1 IP - 9 Runs (His ERA went from 5.32 before the game - to 6.09 after the game.)

Fewest Runs Scored on June 20:  

0 - in 2004 (6-0 loss to Cincinnati Reds - on the same day Ken Griffey Jr hit his 500th career HR) - 2004 was one of the best offensive seasons in franchise history.  Go figure again.  By the way, the pitcher who shut the Cardinals out for 6 innings (the bullpen finished the shutout) was named Jung Bong - and this happened to be the last game he'd win in the major leagues (7-4 career record - 3 seasons) - After retiring from baseball, Jung Bong had a very successful career selling Junk Bonds - Also, Jung Bong later joined a rock band who only knew one song:  Bang a Gong.  After the band folded, Jung Bong became a Secret Agent and played a lot of baccarat.  Overheard in one of the casinos in Monaco:  "What's your name, sir?"
"Bong.  Jung Bong."

Years Opponents Shut Out on June 20:  

1968 (Bob Gibson) vs Chicago Cubs - Final Score:  1-0
1984 (Joaquin Andujar) vs  Montreal Expos - Final Score:  2-0
1985 (Danny Cox) vs Philadelphia Phillies - Final Score:  5-0
1995 (Mark Petkovsek) vs LA Dodgers - Final Score:  7-0

Walk-Off Wins on June 20:  

1972 (5-4 over the San Diego Padres)

2007 (7-6 over the Kansas City Royals in 14 innings - Each team used 8 pitchers in the game that lasted for 5 hours and 21 minutes - Ludwick hit a walk-off home run to win it.

Home Runs Hit on June 20:  37 

1964 - Gagliano / 1965 - Gagliano & Brock / 1967 - Cepeda / 1969 - Gibson / 1971 - Torre / 1975 - Simmons / 1976 - Cruz / 1980- Kennedy (2 HR) / 1982 - Hernandez / 1983 - Green / 1984 - Green / 1986 - Ford & Clark / 1989 - Brunansky / 1993 - Pagnozzi / 1994 - Whiten / 1996 - Schaeffer / 1998 - Lankford / 1999 - Lankford & McGwire / 2000 - Edmonds & Paquette / 2001 - Paquette / 2005 - Sanders & Pujols / 2006 - Duncan / 2007 - Ludwick / 2008 - Larue, Molia, Schumaker / 2009 - Pujols &  K Greene / 2010 - Holliday (2 HR) / 2013 - Holliday

Longest June 20 Winning Streak:  4 (Twice) - 1965 - 1968 /  1983- 1986

Longest June 20 Losing Streak:  4 - 2001 - 2004

In closing, I'd like to wish Jung Bong a happy anniversary (10 Years Since Last Major League Win).  Hope your new careers are still flourishing.  

June 20, 1968 - Time Management Lesson From Gibson & Jenkins

Thursay, June 20, 1968 - At Busch Stadium II (Bob Gibson - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Chicago Cubs (Fergie Jenkins - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  26,550

Whenever Gibson and Jenkins oppose each other, two things usually happen:  (1) Very few runs are scored and (2) everything gets wrapped up in a couple of hours.

Very few runs had been scored in the first two games of this series, but they all scored when St Louis was batting - a 1-0 nine-hit shutout by Nelson Briles on Tuesday and a 4-0 one-hit shutout by Steve Carlton just the night before.  Carlton walked none and struck out nine Cub batters - arguably, the most dominant single-game performance of his career - and that's saying something.

Now the Cubs were facing not only the best pitcher on the Cardinals' staff - Gibson was the best pitcher in baseball - and getting even better.  His last three starts had all been shutouts, and Gibson realized he'd probably have to throw another one tonight, in order to beat the ace of the Cubs' staff - Fergie Jenkins.

And that's exactly what he did - 9 IP - 5 H - 0 R - 1 BB - 6 SO.  His ERA dropped to 1.21 after this game, and it would drop a bit further by the time the season ended (1.12).

The only run of the game came in the bottom of the third-inning with two out - when Lou Brock tripled into right field - and scored on a Curt Flood single to left field.  After Brock scored, he casually strolled over to where his pal, Gibby was seated in the dugout, and advised him, "There's your run."  Gibson was in no mood for levity, as he glared at his mischievous teammate while Tim McCarver and Orlando Cepeda overheard the exchange, and roared their approval.

Brock was right.  That was Gibson's run - as it was the only run allowed by Jenkins in his eight-innings of work.  The Cardinals could only muster four hits all game off Jenkins.  He walked two and struck out eleven.  Coincidentally, when computing earned run averages - one earned run allowed in eight-innings pitched, comes out to precisely a 1.12 ERA.  Imagine keeping that pace up for an entire season - 34 starts.

As expected, both pitchers provided us with a good lesson in time management:  Work quickly and efficiently, don't waste time with needless visits to the mound - and above all else, don't waste time with needless pitching changes.

This one ran five minutes over the two hour mark.  Just another typical Gibson - Jenkins ballgame.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cy Young Award Winners (1986 - 1999) - Who Really Deserved to Win?

PART THREE - Revising CYA History (1986 - 1999) - Lessons Learned:  

(1) Never, Ever Vote for a Reliever 

(2) Bob Welch Lost When He Should Have Won & Won When He Should Have Lost 

(3) Teddy Higuera, Mark Gubicza, Ed Whitson, Kevin Appier & Jose Rijo Should Have Won One CYA 

(4) Kevin Brown Should Have Won Two CYA's - Instead of None 

(5) Orel Hershiser Should Have Won Two CYA's - Instead of Just One 

(6) Roger Clemens Should Have Won Six CYA's - Instead of Just Five 

(7) Maddux, Glavine & Smoltz Were Slightly Overrated - But Still Great

Who Should Have Won (1986 - 1999)?  The Wins Above Replacement Leader (If Different Than The Winner) is Shown for Each Year - Therein Lies the Answer:

1986 (AL) - Roger Clemens (8.9) - Ted Higuera (9.4)
1986 (NL) - Mike Scott (8.4)

1987 (AL) - Roger Clemens (9.4)
1987 (NL) - Steve Bedrosian (2.5) - Bob Welch (7.1)

1988 (AL) - Frank Viola (7.7) - Tie:  Mark Gubicza (7.7) 
1988 (NL) - Orel Hershiser (7.2)

1989 (AL) - Bret Saberhagen (9.7)
1989 (NL) - Mark Davis (4.5) - Orel Hershiser (7.0)*

(*Back-to-back seasons with highest NL WAR among pitchers for the underrated Hershiser.)

1990 (AL) - Bob Welch (3.0) - Roger Clemens (10.6)*
1990 (NL) - Doug Drabek (4.2) - Ed Whitson (7.0)**

(*Perhaps the biggest travesty in the history of postseason awards - Compare Welch's numbers to Clemens' - At first glance, it looks like Welsh had the better season.  Further glances would tell any reasonable voter quite the contrary was true.)  

                   Win-Loss - Welch - 27-6  Clemens 21-6 
                      ERA         Welch - 2.95   Clemens - 1.93 (Over 1 run/9 innings lower!)
                      Shutouts   Welch - 2        Clemens - 4
        Games Started       Welch - 35      Clemens - 31
     Complete Games      Welch - 2        Clemens - 7
        Innings Pitched      Welch - 238    Clemens - 228.1
         Strikeouts              Welch - 127    Clemens - 209
              ERA+                Welch - 125    Clemens - 211
(**Yes, this is the same wild-eyed Ed Whitson whose previous claim to fame was going ballistic in an '84 shirt-ripping brawl in Atlanta - not only tangling with Braves players - but some of their bellicose fans, as well.)

1991 (AL) - Roger Clemens (7.9)
1991 (NL) - Tom Glavine (8.5)

1992 (AL) - Dennis Eckersley (2.9) - Roger Clemens (8.8)
1992 (NL) - Greg Maddux (9.2)

1993 (AL) - Jack McDowell (4.3) - Kevin Appier (9.2)
1993 (NL) - Greg Maddux (5.8) - Jose Rijo (9.3)

1994 (AL) - David Cone (6.8) 
1994 (NL) - Greg Maddux (8.5)

1995 (AL) - Randy Johnson (8.6)
1995 (NL) - Greg Madux (9.7)

1996 (AL) - Pat Hentgen (8.5)
1996 (NL) - John Smoltz (7.3) - Kevin Brown (8.0)

1997 (AL) - Roger Clemens (11.9)
1997 (NL) - Pedro Martinez (9.0)

1998 (AL) - Roger Clemens (8.1)
1998 (NL) - Tom Glavine (6.1) - Kevin Brown (8.6)

1999 (AL) - Pedro Martinez (9.7)
1999 (NL) - Randy Johnson (9.2)

June 19, 1967 - Flood's Unassisted Double Play One For the Ages

Curt Flood made some great defensive plays in his career, but the one he pulled off to preserve an extra-inning win in Houston back in '67 - may be his personal best.  And it was even televised back in St Louis, for all the Cardinal fans to marvel.

Monday, June 19, 1967 - At the Astrodome - (Bob Gibson - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Houston Astros (Mike Cuellar - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  23,953

The Astros scored first, in a most unusual way.  With one out in the third-inning, Bob Gibson's mound rival - Mike Cuellar - a career .115 hitter - lined one into the right-center field gap, for a rare triple.  Cuellar then jogged home when the next batter - Julio Gotay - also tripled.  An agitated Gibson retired the next two Houston batters to strand Gotay at third.

With Cuellar keeping the Cardinals scoreless through five innings, Dal Maxvill led off the St Louis sixth-inning with a single to center field.  However, after Gibson fouled off a sacrifice bunt attempt on the third strike and Lou Brock's fly ball to center became an easy out - the rally seemed to fizzle.

Then Julian Javier lined a single to left, and Curt Flood coaxed a walk from Cuellar to load the bases for Orlando Cepeda - the exuberant leader of the team he affectionately calls "El Birdos".  Cepeda quickly put El Birdos in front, with a two-run single to center, as Flood motored to third.  With Mike Shannon batting, Cepeda then stole second as the Cardinals' dugout gleefully roared its approval; however, Shannon popped out to third, in foul territory, to end the inning.

Houston immediately struck back in their half of the sixth.  Jimmy Wynn doubled down the line in left field, then Rusty Staub - who hit Gibson well in his career - launched a home run deep to right field - putting the Astros back in the lead - 3-2.

Down by that same 3-2 score in the top of the eighth - with Gibson due to lead-off the inning - manager Red Schoendienst elected use pinch-hitter Phil Gagliano in this spot, with this sage advice:  "Get on base, Gags."  And he did - drawing a base on balls from the tiring Cuellar, as the Houston bullpen was getting several arms warmed up for possible use.

Manager Grady Hatton may have waited too long to replace his starter, as Lou Brock promptly ripped a double down the line in right, bringing Gagliano home with the tying run.  After Javier's sacrifice bunt moved Brock up to third, Flood brought him home with a single to left.  After Cepeda ripped another single to left, the call to the bullpen was finally made.

Carroll Sembera replaced the weary Cuellar - but the new pitcher was wild, plunking Shannon with a pitch to load the bases.  Hatton wasted no time in bringing in another new arm - Dan Schneider - who avoided further damage by getting Tim McCarver on a pop up to the shortstop, and striking out Roger Maris.

Still, the Cardinals had the lead - 4-3, with just two innings to go.  Gibson - who had been removed from the game for a pinch hitter when the Cardinals trailed by a run - was now in a position to pick up the win, if the Cardinal bullpen could take care of business in the final two innings.

After Joe Hoerner worked a scoreless eighth-inning for St Louis, immediate trouble lurked ahead in the ninth.  Bob Aspromonte's opposite-field double down the right field line brought the crowd to life - as an agitated Gibson stewed in the Cardinals' clubhouse.  Bob Lillis then moved the runner up to third with a sacrifice bunt.

Schoendienst then brought in Nelson Briles to replace Hoerner on the mound - and Nellie did his job on the first batter - striking out pinch hitter Joe Morgan.  But he couldn't get that third out before the pesky Julio Gotay's infield hit down the third base line scored Aspromonte with the tying run.  The game was heading to extra innings - Gibson was heading to another no-decision.

After a scoreless tenth-inning, McCarver started a one-out eleventh-inning rally off Houston reliever, Barry Latman - with a single to right field.  Maris - who struck out with the bases loaded his last trip to the plate - came through this time, with a run-scoring double down the right field line.  That was the only run the Redbirds scored, but it would prove to be enough to win - after a bizarre ending.

Briles went back to the mound in the bottom of the eleventh, trying to protect the 5-4 lead - but ran into immediate trouble.  Veteran outfielder Jim Landis lined a single to center, moved up to second on Aspromonte's sacrifice bunt, with Bob Lillis next to hit.

Curt Flood - the best defensive center fielder in the game - was well-positioned for what would happen next.  Lillis hit a looping line drive into shallow center field - which Landis immediately thought was certain to land safely.  Without hesitation, Landis took off from second, and was already rounding third base, as Flood - running at full speed - miraculously snatched the ball with a shoestring catch.  Still running at full speed, Flood was able to stay on his feet - finally getting upright just a few strides away from his next destination:  Second base.

Maxvill - who was now standing on second base, anticipating the game ending toss from Flood to retire the befuddled Landis - quickly realized Flood was going to handle this one on his own - stepping aside to give his grinning teammate room to step on the bag to complete the game-ending unassisted double play.

For those watching the game in the St Louis area on Channel Five - it was an image that would not be forgotten any time soon - and it made for a lot of animated business-attired Tuesday morning conversation around water coolers from Clayton to downtown St Louis.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

JUNE 18: 1966 - 1974 - 1976 - Brock's Birthday Celebrations

June 18 is Lou Brock's birthday - and for the first five seasons as a member of the St Louis Cardinals ('64 - '68), Lou's birthday brought good fortune to the Redbirds.

The Cardinals always managed to win on June 18 in that five-season span - despite the fact that the birthday boy himself hit a paltry .174 in those games (four hits in twenty-three at bats).

However, his one hit in '65 drove in a run, as the Cardinals beat the Braves by a score of 5-4.

He was just getting warmed up for next year.

Saturday, June 18, 1966 -  At Busch Stadium II (Al Jackson - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Philadelphia Phillies (Bob Buhl - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  36,932

After the Phillies failed to score in the first-inning, Lou Brock led off the bottom of the first with an infield single - immediately stole second with Phil Gagliano batting - then scored on Gag Man's double.  Curt Flood's single to left field moved Gagliano to third - who then scored when cleanup hitter Tito Francona grounded into a double play.

Dick Allen's fourth-inning solo home run gave the Phillies their first run of the game, cutting the Cardinal lead in half - 2-1.

The Phillies tied the game in the eighth-inning on a single, a sacrifice bunt, a wild pitch, a walk and a throwing errror.

In the bottom of the eighth, with two out, Brock greeted former teammate Roger Craig - now pitching for Philadelphia - with a tie-breaking home run.  It proved to be a game winner after Jackson (6-5) retired the side in the ninth, for the complete game win.  In his two innings of work, the Brock home run was the only hit (and run) allowed by Craig (2-1).

Star of the Game Lou Brock had three hits in four trips to the plate, stole a base, scored two of the three runs the Redbirds put on the board tonight - and of course, hit the clutch home run to win it.

Afterwards, Brock dutifully answered Harry Caray's post game Busch Beer-enhanced Star of the Game interrogatories - good for a complimentary Lucian-Picard watch for the speedy 27-year-old birthday boy.

Lou would go 0 for 9 on June 18, 1967 and '68, collectively - but it didn't matter.  The Cards had plenty of good pitching in a 4-1 win over the Giants and a 1-0 shutout of the Cubs.

Alas, all good things must come to an end.  For the Cardinals, Lou Brock's 30th birthday brought about a reversal of fortune - losing to the lowly expansion-Montreal Expos, 5-1.  That game may have been an omen for the team heavily favored to play in a third straight World Series in '69.  Not this year.  In fact, the Cardinals would fail to reach the postseason for the rest of Lou Brock's career -which ended after the '79 season.

After that June 18 loss in '69, St Louis would go on to lose six of the next nine Brock birthday engagements - but two of the three games they won over that span were greatly aided by an aging Lou Brock's stellar birthday  performance.

Tuesday, June 18, 1974 - At Busch Stadium II (Alan Foster - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  San Francisco Giants (Ron Bryant - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  17,709

After a scoreless top half of the first-inning, Lou Brock opened the bottom half with a single, stole second while Ted Sizemore was busy striking out, stayed there after Ted Simmons flew out to center - then scored on Joe Torre's base hit to left field.

That was all the run support Foster (2-5) would need tonight, in blanking the Giants on five hits in nine innings - although they added an insurance run in the fourth - on a Mike Tyson RBI single.

Then, when Brock led off the seventh with his second single of the game, Elias Sosa came in to relieve Bryant.  The 35-year old stolen base maestro then swiped his second bag of the game - later scoring from third on Sosa's bobble of a Jose Cruz grounder.  Apparently, Sosa was distracted by Brock at third base, took his eye off the ball which clanked off his glove - and the Cardinals had their third and final run of the game.

For Bryant (2-8) - what a difference a year makes - a 24 game-winner in '73, he would win just three games in '74 - while losing 15.  Somehow, the Cardinals thought he'd be a good addition to the team in '75 - so on May 9, 1979, they traded away outfielder Larry Herndon - who would go on to have a successful 14-year career - first with the Giants, then with the Detroit Tigers - as part of the '84 World Championship team - to acquire the over-the-hill Bryant - who was subsequently released on July 31, 1975 after a total of 10 innings pitched, an 0-1 record and an ERA of 16.00.

Friday, June 18, 1976 - At Busch Stadium II (Pete Falcone - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  San Diego Padres (Randy Jones - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  14,501

The Cardinals overcame a 3-0 deficit by scoring four runs in the fourth-inning - and Lou Brock was right in the middle of everything - stirring things up with his bat and his speed - as usual.

After Don Kessinger singled to open the fourth for St Louis, Brock followed that up with a single to center - sending Kessinger to third.  With Ted Simmons batting, Brock put himself in scoring position as well, by stealing second.  With first base open, Jones decided to pitch to Simmons, who promptly lined a single to center, scoring both runners.  Two outs later, Hector Cruz lined one off the left field wall, which managed to elude both the left fielder and center fielder long enough for Cruz to cruise all the way around for a rare inside the park home run.

After Falcone prevented any San Diego scoring in the fifth-inning, St Louis had a little lightning in a bottle in the bottom half of the fifth.  With two out, Kessinger lined another single to center, bringing Brock to the plate.  Lou then took the future 1976 NL Cy Young Award winner deep - not quite deep enough to go over the wall - but deep enough to hit high off the top of the wall - then elude both the right fielder and center fielder long enough for Brock to streak all the way around for another rare inside the park home run - the second in as many innings for the Cardinals.

Each team added single tallies in the sixth-inning to close out the scoring:  St Louis 7 - San Diego 4.
Falcone (5-5) went the distance, handing Jones (12-3) a rare loss.  Jones would be mediocre the rest of the season (10-11) - however, he still led the NL in wins, which was good enough to win his first and only Cy Young Award - although eight other NL pitchers were more deserving.  Happens all the time.

Meanwhile, this would prove to be the last time Lou Brock would experience the thrill of victory on his birthday.  The Cardinals as a whole, had little to be thrilled about in '76 - except maybe this one game, featuring not one - but two inside the park home runs in successive innings.  Yes indeed.  Happy birthday, Mr Brock.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June 17, 1964 - Brock's First Cardinal RBI is Game Winner in Houston

When the Cardinals acquired 24-year old outfielder Lou Brock (who would turn 25 on June 18) from the Chicago Cubs on June 15, 1964 - in exchange for pitcher Ernie Broglio - several St Louis players - including the outspoken Bob Gibson - felt the trade was a bad one.  Broglio was proven starter - Brock an unproven outfielder with poor defensive skills, very little power - who strikes out too much.

Brock's arrival with his new club coincided with its low-water mark on the season - falling to three games under .500 after a brutal loss to the Colts in miserably humid Houston.  Manager Johnny Keane stuck his nervous new outfielder late in the game, as a pinch hitter - he struck out.

The following night would go much better for Brock - and the Redbirds.  In an easy 7-1 win over Houston, Brock tripled, scored a run and stole  base - all new milestones as a member of the Cardinals.

The following night, Brock would add another new milestone to the list.

Wednesday, June 17, 1964 - At Colt Stadium:  The Cardinals' Ray Washburn and the Colts' Ken Johnson engaged in a classic pitchers' duel while 10,777 Texans sweltered in the stands.

The first two batters Washburn faced in this game - Bob Lillis and Nellie Fox - both singled.  Lillis was able to advance to third on Nellie's base hit and scored on Al Spangler's sacrifice fly.  That would be the lone run for the Colts tonight.  In fact, those were the only hits allowed by Washburn in his 7.1 inning stint.

In the meantime, Johnson kept the Cardinals scoreless until Ken Boyer's one-out solo home run (11) in the fourth, tied the game - 1-1.  That's where the score remained until the Cardinals came to bat in the eighth-inning.

The first scheduled hitter for St Louis - pitcher Washburn - normally not much of a hitter (career .105 BA) - fooled everybody by whacking a lead-off double.  After Curt Flood grounded out to second, Washburn advanced to third on the play.  Brock, up next, delivered his first Cardinal RBI with a base hit to center, giving St Louis a 2-1 lead.

Washburn - perhaps a bit winded after his rare base running exercise - retired the first batter in the eighth, but a one out walk prompted Keane to make the call to the pen.  Roger Craig preserved the lead, working one inning - allowing only the third hit of the game for the Colts, before a young Mike Cuellar relieved Craig with one out in the ninth, to record the second out.  Dramatically, Ron Taylor came in for the one-out save - finishing the game in style - with a strikeout.

Winning pitcher Washburn's record improved to 3-4, while Houston starter Johnson pitched well enough to win on most nights - but not tonight, falling to 5-6 on the season.

The Cardinals were still one game under .500 (30-31), but on the rise - thanks in large part to the spark provided by the newest member of the team.  Lou Brock had arrived - and very quickly his new teammates felt this trade wasn't such a bad one for the Cardinals, after all.

Monday, June 16, 2014

June 16, 2009 - Cards Clobber Verlander - Waino Tames Tigers

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 - At Busch Stadium III:  A classic pitching match-up between Cardinals' ace -  Adam Wainwright - and the Detroit Tigers' Justin Verlander - for all intents and purposes, was over after one inning.  Whereas Wainwright was able to escape a two-out bases loaded first-inning jam - retiring Brandon Inge on a long fly ball to the deepest reaches of center field - Verlander could not.

Yadier Molina's two-out bases loaded single off Verlander in the bottom of the first-inning scored two runs - and opened the floodgates.  Unnerved, Verlander then balked in another run.  His misfortune continued as light-hitting Joe Thurston brought in the fourth - and final - run of the inning with a double.

The rest of the game was elementary.  Wainwright controlled the Detroit lineup, while St Louis scored another run off Verlander before he was relieved of duty after just four innings - then continued the assault on three relievers - Robertson, Perry and Lyon - to tack on another six runs - featuring back-to back home runs by Albert Pujols (23) and Chris Duncan (5).

The only run Wainwright allowed came on a two-out sixth-inning home run by Brandon Inge (15).  As far as Wainwright and the Cardinals were concerned, they were happy that long ball didn't happen with the bases juiced - when Inge just missed hitting it out in the first-inning.  Yes, timing is everything.

The only other Detroit run came off reliever P.J. Walters - when Miguel Cabrera went deep in the eighth-inning - his 12th home run and 40th RBI of the season.  Strangely enough, the long since departed Inge had more home runs (15) and RBI (42) at this point in the season than the player widely regarded nowadays as the best hitter in the game.

In baseball, five years can - and usually does - bring about a lot of changes.  Some players improve with age, while others regress, even before hitting 30.

Tony Gwynn, who lost his battle with cancer earlier today, hit .394 at the age of 34, during the strike-shortened 1994 season - so people tend to forget how close he came to hitting .400, twenty years ago.  Seems like only yesterday.

By the way,  he should have won the '87 NL MVP Award - just for the record.

Niekro, Blyleven & Stieb - Flying Under the Cy Young Award Radar

How underrated was Phil Niekro?  In three different seasons - 1974 - '78 - '79 - he posted the highest WAR among all National League pitchers - 7.8 - 10.0 - 7.6 - but never won a Cy Young Award.

In 1977, his 8.9 WAR was second only to Rick Reuschel's 9.4 - and neither of them won the CYA - it went to Steve Carlton, who posted a 5.9 WAR.  Niekro, in fact, never even got a single vote that year.

For the entire decade of the '70's, Niekro and his knuckle-ball flew under the Cy Young Award radar, despite the fact that his 64.7 WAR for a pitcher was second only to Tom Seaver's 67.1 - a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Yet with all of his accomplishments throughout his long and illustrious career, Phil Niekro didn't even get enough votes for Cooperstown until his fifth try.

Bert Blyleven - another underrated great pitcher and prankster - had to wait nearly 15 years before he finally got in.

In 1973, his 9.9 WAR was tops in the American League, but in the CYA voting that year - the man with perhaps the greatest curve-ball in history - finished a distant seventh.

In the strike-shortened '81 season, Rollie Fingers won both the AL MVP and Cy Young Awards, with a 4.2 WAR.  Blyleven's 5.6 WAR led the way for pitchers - yet received nary a CYA vote.

In '84, his 7.2 WAR was second only to Dave Stieb's 7.9 - and neither of them won the CYA - although Blyleven finished third - and Stieb - another highly underrated pitcher - finished seventh.  Relief pitcher Willie Hernandez and his 4.8 WAR won it that year.

In 1989, at the advanced age of 38, Blyleven had the second highest WAR among AL pitchers - 6.0 - yet finished fourth in the CYA voting.  At least this time, the pitcher with the highest WAR - Bret Saberhagen (9.7) - won the Cy Young Award.  Imagine that.

Dave Stieb - at least for three straight seasons - may have been the most underrated pitcher in major league history.  From 1982 to 1984, Stieb was the best pitcher in the American League, but never came close to winning a Cy Young Award.  In 1982, however, The Sporting News named him Pitcher of the Year - an honor usually bestowed upon a Cy Young Award winner...

Stieb's greatest claim to fame came with having two no-hitters and one perfect game broken up in the ninth-inning - just one out shy of nailing down all three.  No quitter - he finally got one on September 2, 1990 - the only one in Toronto Blue Jays history.

Time to examine another batch of Cy Young Awards.  Niekro, Blyleven and Stieb had a lot of company in getting snubbed - including three rookies and a future Hall of Fame reliever who got snubbed as a starter - and should have been snubbed as a low-WAR reliever.

PART TWO - Revising CYA History (1976 - 1985) - 5 Out of 20 Correct Picks According to WAR 

The year was 1976.  A free-spirited Detroit Tigers rookie pitcher - Mark "The Bird" Fidrych - captivated the nation with his antics - most notably, his frequent in-game-on-the-mound conversations with baseballs - with explicit instructions on what he wanted them to do.  Apparently, they listened.

Fidrych was not only the best pitcher in major league baseball in 1976, he was the best all-around player in the American League - period - with a 9.6 WAR as proof.

Coincidentally, in the National League, Joe Morgan was putting together his second straight MVP season with an identical 9.6 WAR.

However, Fidrych was runner-up to Jim Palmer (6.6 WAR) for the Cy Young Award, while Thurman Munson (5.3 WAR) won the Most Valuable Player Award.  

Of course, The Bird took home the AL Rookie of the Year Award - with the highest WAR ever recorded by a rookie - until Mike Trout came along in 2012 - posting his astounding 10.8 WAR.

That same year - 1976 - San Francisco Giants pitcher - John "The Count" Montefusco - the '75 NL Rookie of the Year (6.4 WAR) - rejected any notion of experiencing a sophomore jinx in his second full season.  His 6.9 WAR was the highest for any National League pitcher in '76 - but Randy Jones (4.8 WAR) took home the CYA - while The Count's CYA vote count was zero.

Here are the rest of the CYA winners (through '85) - along with evidence (if applicable) that indicates another pitcher deserved to win (more often than not):

1977 (AL) - Sparky Lyle (3.7) - Frank Tanana (8.3)
1977 (NL) - Steve Carlton (5.9) - Rick Reuschel (9.4)

1978 (AL) - Ron Guidry (9.6)
1978 (NL) - Gaylord Perry (4.3) - Phil Niekro (10.0)

1979 (AL) - Mike Flanagan (3.9) - Dennis Eckersley* (7.3)
1979 (NL) - Bruce Sutter (4.9) - Phil Niekro (7.6)

(*For Eckersley, who probably deserved to win the CYA in '79, this makes up for the one he'd get in '92 for no good reason.)

1980 (AL) - Steve Stone (4.0) - Britt Burns (7.0)*
1980 (NL) - Steve Carlton (10.2)

(*Burns was a Chicago White Sox rookie in 1980, and despite the high WAR, only finished 5th in the ROY voting.)

1981 (AL) - Rollie Fingers (4.2) - Bert Blyleven (5.6)
1981 (NL) - Fernando Valenzuela (4.8) - Steve Carlton (5.5) 

1982 (AL) - Pete Vuckovich (2.8) - Dave Stieb (7.7)
1982 (NL) - Steve Carlton (5.5) - Steve Rogers (7.7)

1983 (AL) - Lamar Hoyt (3.7) - Dave Stieb (7.0)*
1983 (NL) - John Denny (7.4)

(*Stieb's reward for being the best AL pitcher in '82 without winning the CYA was to be completely snubbed by voters in '83 - despite once again, being the league's best pitcher.) 

1984 (AL) - Willie Hernandez (4.8) - Dave Stieb (7.9)*
1984 (NL) - Rick Sutcliffe (3.9) - Dwight Gooden (5.5)**

(*Stieb's reward for being the best pitcher in the American League for the third straight year was a seventh place finish in this year's CYA race.  Whoopee.)

(**Gooden was good enough to go back-to-back.  See below.) 

1985 (AL) - Bret Saberhagen (7.3)
1985 (NL) - Dwight Gooden (12.1)*

(*Gooden was so good in '85, he posted the highest WAR of any pitcher since the CYA was established in 1956.)

Up Next:  Part Three (1986 - 1995) - Two More Overrated Closers & Other Surprises 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

June 15, 2001 - Big Mac, Bobby Bo Crush White Sox

Friday, June 15, 2001 - At Busch Stadium II:  The Cardinals used the long-ball to facilitate a 10-3 bashing of the Chicago White Sox - as an injury-plagued Mark McGwire had the type of game reminiscent of 1998 - four hits (including a pair of home runs), three runs scored and four runs driven in.

Cardinals starter Andy Benes (6-4) held the White Sox to three runs in 6.2 innings - good enough to win - especially when pinch hitter Bobby Bonilla turned a slim 4-3 St Louis advantage into an 8-3 blowout, with an eighth-inning grand slam home run.

White sox starter Jon Garland (2-3) only allowed three runs himself, in five innings pitched.  But he was tagged with the loss thanks to a bullpen that was clobbered for seven runs over the final three innings.

Edgar Renteria and Placido Planco had driven in two of the four runs for the Redbirds, prior to Bonilla's bases loaded blast.

McGwire's second home run of the night - an eighth-inning two-run shot - closed out the scoring for the Cardinals (34-32) - who had been struggling to stay above .500 for most of the season.

That struggle would continue all the way to the All Star break.  After salvaging the last game of a three-game series at Cleveland, St Louis was in fact, just a .500 ball club, with a 43-43 record.  A strong second half (50-26) got them in the postseason - as a wild card.

Cardinal fans are no doubt hoping for similar results in 2014.  Don't worry.  They'll start hitting again.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cy Young Awards - Revisionist's History (1956 - 1975) Based on WAR

Before I begin my rant, I'm going to make a major assumption:  The saber-metric geniuses who devised the formula for estimating a player's true value in wins created - Wins Above Replacement (WAR) - should be trusted.  After all, according to WAR, players like Ruth, Williams, Mays and Mantle were usually at or near the top of the Wins Above Replacement heap, year in and year out - right where they belong.

WAR cuts through all the useless misinformation with one simple number that can be used to determine the best overall player in baseball - or, in the case of Cy Young Award voting - the best pitcher.  Quite often, the best pitcher also happens to be the best overall player.  Something voters tend to ignore when deciding Most Valuable Player Awards.

Much to my surprise, the pitcher with the highest WAR failed to win the Cy Young Award for the first seven years of its existence (1956 - '62).  As a matter of fact, the pitcher who deserved the award wasn't even on the ballot the first six years!  Chances are, they never even knew they deserved the award - but if they're still alive, maybe they'll find out through word of mouth.  If you happen to run into them, congratulate them for me - although they still won't get the plaque.  This is merely an unofficial adjustment, for the sake of Wins Above Replacement authenticity.

PART ONE - Revising CYA History - The Early Years (1956 - 1975)

Of course, over a half-century ago, nobody knew anything about WAR.  Cy Young Award voters favored the pitchers from teams that won a pennant (or finished the regular season in a first-place tie), as long as they won 20 games.  ERA didn't seem very important - just wins, and getting into the World Series.  This process excluded the pitchers who actually had better seasons, but flew under the radar, with deceivingly mediocre won-loss records - playing on mediocre teams that didn't win.  But it wasn't their fault - as their WAR numbers suggest. 

Year   -  CYA Winner vs The Best Pitcher 

1956 - Don Newcombe (4.5) - Early Wynn (7.8) 
1957 - Warren Spahn (4.7) - Don Drysdale (6.1)
1958 - Bob Turley (3.6) - Frank Lary (6.7)
1959 - Early Wynn (2.8) - Larry Jackson (7.2)
1960 - Vernon Law (4.2) - Ernie Broglio (7.2)
1961 - Whitey Ford (3.8) - Don Cardwell (6.1)
1962 - Don Drysdale (5.3) - Bob Purkey (7.3)
1963 - Sandy Koufax (10.7) 
1964 - Dean Chance (9.3)
1965 - Sandy Koufax (8.1)
1966 - Sandy Koufax (10.3)

1967 (AL) - Jim Lonborg (4.1) - Jim Merritt (6.4)
1967 (NL) - Mike McCormick (4.4) - Jim Bunning (7.8)

1968 (AL) - Denny McClain (7.4) - Luis Tiant (7.8)
1968 (NL) - Bob Gibson (11.9)

1969 (AL) - Tie:  Mike Cuellar (4.5) and Denny McClain (8.2) - Just McClain (8.2)
1969 (NL) - Tom Seaver (7.2) - Bob Gibson (11.3)

1970 (AL) - Jim Perry (3.8) - Sam McDowell (8.3)
1970 (NL) - Bob Gibson (8.9)

1971 (AL) - Vida Blue (9.0) - Wilbur Wood (11.7)
1971 (NL) - Fergie Jenkins (10.3)

1972 (AL) - Gaylord Perry (11.0)
1972 (NL) - Steve Carlton (12.1)

1973 (AL) - Jim Palmer (6.3) - Bert Blyleven (9.9)
1973 (NL) - Tom Seaver (10.6)

1974 (AL) - Catfish Hunter (6.9) - Gaylord Perry (8.6)
1974 (NL) - Mike Marshall (3.1)* - Phil Niekro (7.8)

(*Marshall had the distinction of being the first erroneously selected CYA winner who was a relief specialist.  Others would follow in years to come - all mistakes.)

1975 (AL) - Jim Palmer (8.4)
1975 (NL) - Tom Seaver (7.8)

Imagine that.  Jim Merritt and Luis Tiant over Jim Lonborg and Denny McClain in '67 and '68.  Or Wilbur Wood over Vida Blue - who made the cover of Time Magazine in 1971!

Believe it.

Up next:  PART TWO - Revising CYA History - (1976 - 1985) - 5 Out of 20 Correct CYA Winners!

June 14, 1985 - Wild Win at Wrigley

The Cardinals didn't have much luck against the Chicago Cubs in '84.  In fact they were, as sportswriter Rick Hummel put it, "mauled" by Chicago that season - losing 13 of 18 - featuring the excruciating, nationally televised Ryne Sandberg Game - a loss so devastating, it seemed to psychologically end the Cardinals season - and it was only June.

Payback time came just a year later.  In '85, it was the Cardinals doing the mauling - winning 14 of 18 - featuring the wildest win of the season - by far.

Friday, June 14, 1985 - In a game that featured 26 hits, six errors, 12 walks and three wild pitches between the two teams, the Cardinals eventually came away with a wild 11-10 win at Wrigley Field.  For the 36,745 bi-partisan fans watching this contest unfold, it was an E-ticket ride - definitely worth the price of admission.

The Cardinals sent Joaquin Andujar to the mound - a wild Joaquin on this day - escaping a first-inning jam that included three walks and three stolen bases - but no hits or runs allowed.  It was going to be that kind of day.  Weird and unpredictable.

Dick Ruthven got the start for Chicago - and through the first four innings, held the Cardinals scoreless.

In the meantime, the Cubs scored an unearned run in the second-inning, following right fielder Andy Van Slyke's error - then scored two more in the third, on a Jody Davis two-run double - to take a 3-0 lead.

The Redbirds finally got something started in the fifth-inning, thanks in large part to first baseman Leon Durham's error which kept the inning alive for Andujar to help his own cause with a two-run double.  Inspired, the irrepressible Willie McGee later tripled Joaquin home with the tying run - at least for now.

The Cubs answered back in the bottom of the fifth - scoring a run on a pair of hits and a wild pitch, to take a 4-3 lead - at least for now.

The Cardinals took the lead for good in the sixth-inning on a two-run Tom Lawless double, who later scored on another error by Chicago.

The 6-4 Redbird lead grew to a seemingly comfortable 10-4 lead in the seventh-inning - on a Jack Clark RBI single, and later with two runners on, Andy Van Slyke's three-run home run.

The Cubs weren't cooperating.  Against relievers Bill Campbell and Jeff Lahti, they used two hits, two walks and a wild pitch to score three runs - then tacked on another run in the eighth with three successive two-out singles.  It was now 10-8, and starting to get more than a little tense in the Redbird dugout.

In the Cardinals' ninth-inning, what would prove to be the winning run scored on yet another bizarre play.  With two out, Clark drew a base on balls off reliever George Frazier.  With Van Slyke batting, Clark moved to second on a wild pitch.  Van Slyke was then intentionally walked, whereupon he was picked off first - but the throw from Frazier sailed out of Durham's reach - scooting far down the right field line, into foul territory - allowing Clark to lumber all the way around from second to score the 11th run of the game - a run that would be necessary to win this hell ride.

The normally reliable Jeff Lahti quickly retired the first two batters in the ninth, but couldn't quite close it out.  Pinch hitter Richie Hebner's base hit preceded Dave Lopes' two-run home run.  After Ryne Sandberg predictably kept the inning alive with a double - suddenly, the tying run was in scoring position, with Keith Moreland now batting.

Herzog had seen enough.  Bob Forsch replaced Lahti, and induced Moreland to pop one up down the right field line - in foul territory.  With the wind blowing the ball further into foul territory, it seemed destined to sail out of play, into the first couple of rows of seats along the line.  Somehow, Van Slyke, avoiding all sorts of obstacles, running full speed, snatched the ball out of thin air - and kept running with the ball still in his glove, into the relieved Cardinals' dugout.

Andujar managed to escape with his 12th win of the season, against one loss.  Ruthven (3-5) took the loss.

The Redbirds came into town 4.5 games behind the first-place Cubbies.  No doubt infused with a little extra energy after this bizarre marathon, they went on to sweep Chicago out of first place.  Montreal grabbed temporary possession of the top-spot in the NL East - but the Redbirds were fast approaching.

Friday, June 13, 2014

June 13, 1985 - Clark & Tudor Doing What They Do Best

Thursday, June 13, 1985 - At Three Rivers Stadium:  In a game played before an intimate gathering of 4,833 innocent bystanders, the Cardinals used a little power from their main source and another nice pitching performance from the lefty acquired in a trade with these Pittsburgh Pirates - to post a 2-1 win.

Jack Clark's second-inning solo home run off Pirates starter Larry McWilliams (3-5) gave John Tudor (4-7) just about all the run support he'd need today - at least through the first six innings.  In the seventh, Tito Landrum gave Tudor an insurance run with a run scoring double - bringing Tommy Herr in from second, to make it a 2-0 ballgame.

Those were the only two hits McWilliams would allow in his seven innings of work, but he also issued four walks - and one of those - to Herr - proved costly.

In the bottom of the seventh, Jason Thompson connected for a solo home run of his own, to cut the deficit to a single run - giving manager Whitey Herzog a reason to get activity going down in the Cardinals' bullpen.

Tudor, who would complete 14 of his 34 starts in '85, got the first two out in the ninth-inning - but when the dangerous George Hendrick came up to bat, Herzog went to the bullpen.

Hendrick had been a mainstay in the Cardinals lineup during their '82 World Championship season - but the Cardinals needed another reliable starter and the Pirates needed another reliable bat - so the trade was made:  Hendrick for Tudor.

Herzog knew Silent George was particularly dangerous against left-hand pitching, so didn't hesitate to yank the disappointed Tudor out of this one, nursing just a one-run lead.  Jeff Lahti took care of his former teammate - blowing a third strike past him - for his fourth save of the season.

With the departure of closer Bruce Sutter to Atlanta via free agency, Herzog employed the Closer By Committee formula for most of the '85 season - and it worked beautifully.  Remarkably, the Cardinals never lost a game all season long when they held a ninth-inning lead.  Never.  Until the postseason.  Game 6 - World Series...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

June 12, 2005 - Seabol's Only Career HR a Game Winner Over Yankees

The life of a big league ballplayer is rarely as glamorous as most people envision.  For Scott Seabol - a 21-year old infielder who signed with the New York Yankees in the 1996 amateur draft - his life was anything but glamorous.  After toiling in the Yankees system for five years, his shot with the big club finally arrived on April 8, 2001.

The Yankees were hammering the Toronto Blue Jays, 13-5, in the sixth-inning of a game played at Yankee Stadium, when manager Joe Torre decided to give veteran outfielder David Justice the rest of the night off.  With that, Seabol entered the game as a pinch hitter to face the zany Dan Plesac, who retired the kid on a pop fly to the second baseman.

That was the extent of his major league career with New York.

After signing a free agent contract with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002 - he never made the big club, was released in 2003 - then immediately signed with the Cardinals.  After spending another couple of years kicking around the minors, Seabol got another chance to live the glamorous life of a big league ballplayer in 2005 - at the age of 30.

Seabol appeared in 59 games for Tony LaRussa in 2005 - mostly as a backup infielder - in what would prove to be his final season as a major league player.  The highlight of his very brief career came in a game against his original team - the New York Yankees - on:

Sunday, June 12, 2005 - At Busch Stadium III:  This was the rubber game of a three-game series between the New York Yankees and St Louis Cardinals - two iconic rivals who had faced each other five times between 1926 and 1964 in World Series competition.  Every regular season inter-league game since has been infused with a definite postseason atmosphere - and today was no exception, as 50,372 red-clad fans packed the house, hoping Cards starter Matt Morris could contain the mighty Yankees' lineup.

The Cardinals struck first off Yankees stater Carl Pavano in the third-inning - when Yadier Molina doubled, advanced to third on Morris' sacrifice bunt, and scored on David Eckstein's single.  That would be the only run Pavano would allow in his six innings of work.

New York tied the game in the fifth-inning, on a two-out Alex Rodriguez RBI double - scoring former Cardinal Tony Womak from first.  For Morris, that too, would be the only run he'd allow in six innings of work.

With Alberto Reyes now pitching for St Louis, Derek Jeter began the Yankees' seventh with a double, but remained at second as Reyes retired the next two batters.  LaRussa then summoned lefty Ray King out of the bullpen to face the dangerous Hideki Matsui - who promptly drove in the run with a single to right.

With Tanyon Sturtze now pitching for the Yankees - trying to preserve a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh- the Cardinals got something started, with a one-out single by Molina - his second hit of the game.

LaRussa then sent Scott Seabol in to pinch hit for Ray King - who was currently on the hook for a possible loss.  Instead, the former-Yankee draftee hit the first - and only - home run of his major league career - putting King (1-1) - who completed one-third of an inning of work - suddenly in a position to win the game.

In Seabol's childhood fantasies, maybe this home run took place in the Seventh Game of the World Series, to win it for his team.  Yet, as he circled the bases with more than 50,000 fans going crazy on this Sunday afternoon in St Louis, this had to be the next best thing.

Later in the inning, Jim Edmonds added a two-out two-run double off reliever Mike Stanton to pad the Redbirds' lead to 5-2 - which shrunk to 5-3 in the New York eighth-inning, after Jorge Posada's solo home run off Julian Tavarez.

But that was the old ball game.  Jason Isringhausen retired the Yankees in order in the ninth, to earn his 18th save, and make Scott Seabol a bit of a hero in Cardinal Nation, for at least a day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

JUNE 11: 1926 - '27 - '28 - Wattie Holm's Favorite Day to Play

JUNE 11 - Of course we all remember Wattie Holm - a part-time outfielder/utility player for the St Louis Cardinals (1924 - '29 & '32) - appeared in 436 games in his seven-year career.  He may not have played very often, but for three straight years, he loved playing on June 11.

1926 - At The Polo Grounds:  The Cardinals score four runs in the 8th-inning and four more in the 9th - in a 10-2 drubbing of the New York Giants.  Part-time starter Vic Keen allows nine hits but only two runs in his complete game win (8-2).

Pacing the Cardinals' attack with 2 RBI apiece:  Les Bell, Bob O'Farrell and Wattie Holm.

The hard-luck loser for the Giants - Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons (4-4) - allowed just two runs in seven innings - but reliever Chick Davies (who led the NL with 6 saves in '26) got whacked for eight runs on six hits and three walks in the final two innings - driving Fat Freddie to consume a record-setting 16 hot fudge sundaes in one sitting, afterwards.

1927 - At Sportsman's Park:  40 year-old Pete Alexander (7-3) holds the Philadelphia Phillies to two runs (one earned run) on seven hits in a complete-game 4-2 win.  

Wattie Holm paced the St Louis attack with two RBI.

Losing pitcher Hub Pruett (4-6) had a little trouble finding the strike zone today.  In four innings pitched, the St Louis area native allowed just one hit - but three runs - thanks to nine walks.

Taylor Douthit, Frankie Frisch and Sunny Jim Bottomley led the Redbird "walk in the park" with two walks apiece.

1928 - At Braves Field:  41 year-old Pete Alexander (5-3) scattered nine hits in nine innings - allowing just one run - as the Cardinals clobbered the Boston Braves by a score of 8-1.

Pacing the Cardinals' attack with a home run and 2 RBI was, of course, Wattie Holm.  Actually Taylor Douthit and Jimmie Wilson also drove in two runs for the Redbirds - trying to steal Wattie's thunder.

But it was old Pete Alexander who made a bit of baseball history today, by hitting the 11th - and final - home run of his 20-year major league career.  He's probably better known for his 373 career wins, however.