Monday, July 14, 2014

July 14, 1964 - The Comeback of the Year - A Walk-Off Winner Over Dodgers

Tuesday, July 14, 1964 - At Busch Stadium I (Curt Simmons - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Los Angeles  Dodgers (Sandy Koufax - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  24,817

In a season filled with nail-biting wins and excruciating losses - when a National League pennant would hang in the balance until the very last day of the season - this walk-off win over the Dodgers will forever be known as The Comeback of the Year for the '64 St Louis Cardinals.

Curt Simmons started the game for the Cardinals, but didn't last long.  His trouble began in the second-inning - with a lead-off single to left by Frank Howard.  The next batter - Ron Fairly - just tried to move Howard to second base with a bunt - but Simmons bobbled it, allowing Fairly to safely reach on the error as Howard moved to second.  Next up - Johnny Roseboro - blooped a single to center, scoring Howard.

The next batter - Nate Oliver - just tried to move the runners up to second and third with a bunt - but it was well-placed - and by the time Simmons got to it, he had no play.  The bases were again loaded; however, the next batter was the pitcher - Sandy Koufax - and he couldn't do much - hitting a foul popup which first baseman  Bill White grabbed for the first out of the inning.

Maury Wills then grounded one to short - Dick Groat got a force out of Roseboro at third - but Fairly scored an unearned run.  Simmons then struck out Derrell Griffith to end the inning - but the Cardinals were already in a 2-0 hole, facing the best pitcher in baseball.

The hole deepened in the third inning, starting with a one-out single by Tommy Davis - followed by Frank Howard's double down the left field line.  With runners on second and third, the Cardinals had the infield playing in - and the strategy paid off when Simmons induced Ron Fairly to ground one directly to Javier at second base - who got the out at first as the runners remained at second and third.

Simmons couldn't dodge this bullet however, as Roseboro lined a two-out double to right, scoring both runners.  When Nate Oliver ripped another double to score Roseboro, manager Johnny Keane had seen enough.  Simmons' night was over, allowing five runs (four earned) in just 2.2 innings - and despite the fact that Sandy Koufax was the next batter - it would be Glen Hobbie coming in from the bullpen to retire the Dodgers' weak-hitting pitcher - who now had stranded a total of four runners in his two trips to the plate.  But then again, it didn't seem to matter; after all, he was now staked to a 5-0 lead - normally, an insurmountable lead with Koufax on the mound.

After the Cardinals failed to score in the bottom of the third, Maury Wills led-off the fourth-inning for LA with a line-drive single to left field - and when Lou Brock bobbled the ball, Wills advanced to second on the error.  Two outs later, with Wills on third, catcher Tim McCarver missed connections on a Hobbie slider - as Wills raced home on the passed ball.  It was now 6-0 - a situation that seemed utterly hopeless at the time.

However, the Redbirds got that run back in their half of the fourth, when Mike Shannon hit a solo home run off Koufax - but that was all the scoring, for now.

In the sixth-inning, Bill White made it a 6-2 ballgame with a lead-off home run - but Koufax then struck out the next two batters - Javier and McCarver - to reassert his dominance.

The Dodgers got that run back in the seventh-inning - when Ron Fairly singled in Tommy Davis from second - to restore a five-run lead - 7-2.  After the Cardinals failed to score in the bottom of the seventh, many of the disheartened fans began filing towards the exits.

But then, St Louis caught a break.  With Bob Humphreys now pitching, Sandy Koufax led-off the eighth-inning for LA with a single to center field.  In his previous two trips to the plate, Koufax had been retired with a total of four runners on base - three in scoring position.  Now, he's reluctantly forced to run the bases - advancing to second on Wills' sacrifice bunt.  Jim Gilliam - pinch hitting for Griffith - then lined a single to right field, as Koufax - huffing and puffing - stopped at third.  Humphreys then struck out Willie Davis, and got Tommy Davis on a foul popup to White at first, to get out of the jam.

Not only had the Dodgers failed to score, their ace pitcher was forced to expend more energy than normal - and "normal" for Koufax was to rest comfortably in the dugout - not run wild on the base paths.  In retrospect, the fatigue factor seemed to be a major factor as Koufax faced the Cardinals in the bottom of the eighth-inning.

After Dick Groat hit a slow roller to the right side, beyond the reach of the first baseman, Koufax hustled over to cover the bag - taking the throw from the second baseman for the out.  Statistically, St Louis now had just a one-percent chance of winning this game.

However, Koufax - who needed just five more outs for the complete-game victory - suddenly ran out of gas.  The next batter - Ken Boyer - singled to left - then Bill White walked on a borderline full-count pitch.  Mike Shannon - a hot hitter tonight - singled to left - loading the bases.  Julian Javier then scored Boyer with a sacrifice fly to center, but it was an expensive way to get a run - when outs were at a premium.  But then McCarver got a big two-out hit - a single to left field, scoring White to make it a 7-4 ballgame.

Dodgers manager Walter Alston removed the fatigued Koufax from the game at this point - bringing in Ron Perranoski - who got the third out in the eighth - retiring Phil Gagliano on a ground ball to the shortstop who got the force out at third.

Reliever Ron Taylor (3-2) set the Dodgers down in order in the top of the ninth, setting the stage for the completely unforeseen walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth.

Curt Flood started the rally by drawing a base on balls - however, Lou Brock couldn't catch up to a Perranoski fastball, striking out.  Next up - Dick Groat - drew another base on balls, bringing the tying run to the plate - Ken Boyer - who lined a single to center, scoring Flood.  Now the potential winning run was in the batter's box - Bill White - who drew the third walk of the inning to load the bases.

At this point, Alston removed the suddenly wild Perranoski from the game - bringing in Bob Miller to face Shannon, who grounded one slowly to the shortstop, with the runners in motion - the only play was to get the out at first base, as Groat scored the sixth run of the game for St Louis.

With the game on the line - down by a run, with runners on second and third - Keane decided to send a pinch-hitter in place of Javier - veteran Bob Skinner, who was recently acquired in a trade with Cincinnati - on June 13.  Skinner was in the twilight of his very productive major league career - but he knew how to handle pressure situations - ripping a Miller fastball up the middle, scoring Boyer with the tying run, then White, streaking home from second - with the winning run.

Harry Caray was beside himself in the broadcast booth - his raspy voice bellowing his signature "Cardinals win" exclamation at least a half dozen times, as the crowd in the background roared its delirious approval of this game's unlikely outcome.

The significance of this improbable come-from-behind win would not be fully appreciated until the successful conclusion of the regular season - when the Cardinals' miracle finish brought them the pennant on that last day.  It's also interesting to note - the Dodgers would clobber the Cardinals on Wednesday and Thursday, by a combined score of 23-5 - to take two out of three from the future World Champions.

For now, St Louis had improved to 44-41 - still in fifth-place - 7.5 games behind the Giants.  Not quite Pennant Fever in Cardinal Nation, but at least the Redbirds were over .500.  More importantly, this team never believed they were out of any game - and they certainly never felt they were out of the pennant race.

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