Saturday, July 20, 1974 - At Busch Stadium II (Alan Foster - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent: Houston Astros (Dave Roberts - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance: 13,448
Capping off a dramatic three-run rally - Tim McCarver's two-out bases loaded single in the bottom of the ninth turned a 5-4 deficit into a thrilling 6-5 walk-off win over the Houston Astros. The Cardinals (45-49) were in third-place in the NL East after this come-from-behind win - but only three games out of first - and climbing.
The Cardinals scored first in this game - in the third-inning - when Lou Brock's one-out double off Astros starter Dave Roberts was followed by utility infielder Jerry DaVannon's run-scoring single.
The Astros tied the game in their next turn at bat. Bob Watson led-off the fourth-inning with a single - then Lee May reached base when Mike Tyson - playing shortstop - booted his ground ball. Instead of turning a double play, the error now had Houston runners on first and second with nobody out.
Then came the defensive play of the game, which in essence, saved the game for the Cardinals.
The next batter for Houston - Milt May (no relation to Lee) - hit a ground ball that seemed destined for right field - however, DaVannon - playing second base - made a nice play to his left and quickly threw to first baseman Joe Torre for the out - who in turn threw a bullet to Tyson covering second, tagging out the lumbering Lee May, sliding into the bag. Suddenly, there were two out, with a runner at third. When the next batter - Doug Rader singled home Watson with the tying run - the unusual 4-3-6 double play loomed large - preventing a potentially big inning for the Astros. For the Cardinals, escaping with a 1-1 tie was a bargain.
The Redbirds broke the tie in the sixth-inning on a pair of one-out doubles by Reggie Smith and Joe Torre, and a two-out RBI single by Mike Tyson - which plated Torre, to give St Louis a short-lived 3-1 lead.
Houston scored four times in the eighth-inning when Foster simply ran out of gas. The Cardinal starter would face four batters in the inning - unable to record a single out. The first batter - Roger Metzger - singled - scoring on Cesar Cedeno's double - who then scored on Bob Watson's single to right field - who then advanced to second on the throw home. The game was suddenly tied, 3-3.
After Lee May was intentionally walked, manager Red Schoendienst made the first call to the bullpen - bringing in Rich Folkers to face Milt May - who laid down a sacrifice bunt, moving the runners up to second and third. After Doug Rader was intentionally walked, the veteran thorn in the side to the Cardinals - Tommy Helms - singled Watson in from third, as the bases remained loaded.
Orlando Pena - the 40-year old much-traveled reliever - then came in to face the dangerous Cliff Johnson - retiring the slugger on a pop fly to the shortstop, for the second out of this very long inning.
Enter Al Hrabosky - The Mad Hungarian - to face rookie Greg Gross - who walked, to force in the fourth run of the inning. Hrabosky struck out the next batter - Metzger - to retire the side. But the situation looked bleak for the Cardinals - trailing 5-3, as they hit in the bottom of the eighth. The situation looked even bleaker when they failed to score.
After the Mad Hungarian kept Houston from scoring in the top of the ninth, he retreated to the dugout, lit up a cigarette, popped open an ice cold Budweiser, and enjoyed the show - looking forward to picking up an easy win in relief.
Houston pitcher Mike Cosgrove, who entered the game in the eighth-inning to get the final out - started the ninth, trying to protect a 5-3 lead. Luis Melendez - the speedy part-time outfielder - pinch hit for Hrabosky to open the bottom of the ninth - and he was successful - plugging the gap in right-center field for a triple. Lou Brock brought Luis in with a ground ball to the second baseman, but it cost the Cardinals the first out of the inning.
Jerry DaVannon - who drove in the first run for the Redbirds, and made a nice play at second base to save at least a run or two - did what he needed to do in this situation - walk. Bake McBride - 1974 NL Rookie of the Year - followed that up with a single to right field. The next batter - Reggie Smith - tried to win it with one swing - but his fly ball to right field was caught just shy of the warning track.
Don Wilson - normally a starter for the Astros - was then summoned into the game to try to get that elusive third out, with Joe Torre coming to the plate. But Wilson was a bit wild - as a patient Torre coaxed a two-out walk to load the bases. That gave Tim McCarver - who entered the game in the eighth-inning as a pinch hitter (unsuccessfully) - another shot. This time, the veteran catcher - in his second tour of duty with the Cardinals - delivered the game winning hit - a line drive single to center field - scoring DaVannon from third and then McBride - who was flying in from second with the game winning run.
For McCarver, who saw little action in '74 - this was probably the highlight to his season. By September 1, he would be gone - sold to the Boston Red Sox for an unspecified sum.
For the Cardinals - a team on the rise - their quest for a division title would fall a little short, despite a strong 41-26 finish (third best in the NL). Unfortunately for the Redbirds, the Pittsburgh Pirates (44-49 at the time) would finish the season with a 44-25 record to win the East - and send the Cardinals home for the postseason.