Sunday, June 1, 2014

June 1, 1967 - Come-From-Behind-Walk-Off-Extra-Inning Thriller

Thursday, June 1, 1967 - The Cardinals were home to host the Atlanta Braves, trying to recover from an excruciating, rain-delayed Tuesday night loss in Cincinnati; a game rookie pitcher Dick Hughes had been perfect through seven innings, but ended up losing, 2-1.  But it was the painfully bizarre ending that put Cardinal Nation in a temporary funk.  Down by that 2-1 score, leading off the ninth-inning, Orlando Cepeda singled, then took third on Tim McCarver's single to right.  The rally ended as suddenly as it had begun, when Phil Gagliano grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, which turned into a 6-4-3-2 triple play when Cepeda unwisely tried to score on the play.  He was out by a mile.

The Redbirds had an off day on Wednesday to lick their wounds, but it was back to work with Henry Aaron and company in town - with a modest gathering of 11,988 at Busch Stadium II, hoping the Redbirds could get back on track.

Things didn't start out so well, when with two out, Aaron launched a Ray Washburn fastball over the center field wall for a quick 1-0 Atlanta lead.  The Braves got something started again in the second-inning with two out - Clete Boyer doubled, Dennis Menke walked, and pitcher Denny Lemaster helped his own cause by lining a single to center, scoring Boyer.  Just like that, it was 2-0.

The Cardinals tried to get something going in the third-inning, but came up empty - loading the bases with one out, only to have Alex Johnson strike out and Tim McCarver pop out.  The natives were getting restless.

With the Cardinals still trailing 2-0, batting in the fifth-inning - Curt Flood drew a two-out walk, then Cepeda belted a double down the left-field line, but Flood had to stop at third.  This brought the much-maligned Alex Johnson up to bat again, but this time he lined a single to center scoring both runners to tie the game, 2-2.

The Braves grabbed the lead again in the seventh-inning, when Felipe Alou lined a one-out double to right center field, followed by a Boyer infield hit which Javier couldn't get to in time to retire the not-so-speedy Boyer at first.  With runners at first and third, Charlie Lau hit a slow roller to Maxvill at short, whose only play was a force out at second.  Lau beat the relay to first, while Alou scored the go-ahead run.

The score was still 3-2, in favor of Atlanta, as they batted in the top of the ninth.  With Larry Jaster now pitching for the Cardinals, Joe Torre dribbled one down the third base line for a rare infield hit.  After Alou flew out to center, Jaster lost his control, walking the next two batters - Boyer and Martinez - to load the bases.  Ron Willis relieved Jaster and got Lemaster (allowed to hit for himself) out on a pop fly to Javier at second.  But Willis couldn't find the strike zone to Woodward, walking him to force in another run.  A new pitcher, Joe Hoerner, struck out Geiger to stop the bleeding.  But things didn't seem so promising with Lemaster heading back to the mound in the bottom of the ninth with a 4-2 lead.

The first batter for St Louis was pinch hitter Johnny Romano, who was on his way to hitting .121 in his tenth and final major league season - his first with the Cardinals.  He failed to get a hit, but did the next best thing - he grounded one to Boyer at third, who booted it for an error, then inexplicably threw it wildly in the direction of first, which allowed Romano to amble into second base on the double-error.  Dick Hughes was now the pinch runner for Johnny at second base.

Lemaster's night was suddenly over, as knuckle-ball specialist Phil Niekro was brought in from the Atlanta bullpen to face Lou Brock.  A wild pitch moved Hughes up to third, then Brock's sacrifice fly to center scored him.  It was now 4-3 with one out and nobody on.  That changed quickly, as Niekro walked Julian Javier.  Then with Curt Flood batting, Niekro's knuckle-ball was impossible for Torre to catch.  His first passed ball allowed Javier to move up to second base.

An excited Harry Caray in the broadcast booth, sensed the inevitable:  "If Flood can stay alive long enough, I just know he'll be able to take third!  Torre just can't handle that knuckle-ball!  There it is!  Another passed ball!  Hoolie's on his way to third!  Safe!  Holy cow!"

Flood then delivered the game tying hit - a single to center.  With that, Niekro's night was over, as Clay Carroll took over, retiring Cepeda on strikes, then Maris on a fly ball to left.

With the game tied, 4-4, Al Jackson - the new pitcher for the Cardinals - retired the Braves in order in the tenth, as the Redbirds tried to win it in the bottom half.  Clay Carroll went back to the mound, retiring McCarver on a routine ground out; but then Phil Gagliano beat out a slow roller down the third base line, as a beleaguered Clete Boyer couldn't make a play.  Eddie Bressound then popped out to second, as the small crowd groaned, anticipating a momentum shift back to the Braves.

Not tonight.  Bobby Tolan then ripped a fastball in the right center field gap, just out of the outstretched reach of Aaron, all the way to the wall.  Tolan reached third even before Gagliano slid in safely with the winning run.  It was over - a come-from-behind 5-4 extra-inning winner.  Fortune had smiled down on the Redbirds tonight; but after what happened on Tuesday night in Cincy, they probably deserved it.

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