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.

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