Friday, August 8, 2014

August 9, 1974 - Simmons' Grand Slam Sparks 5-3 Win Over Dodgers

Friday, August 9, 1974 - At Busch Stadium II (Alan Foster - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Los Angeles Dodgers (Geof Zahn - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  29,899

Ted Simmons' two-out sixth-inning grand slam home run off Dodgers' starter Geof Zahn provided the margin of victory - as first-place St Louis (60-54) held on to win by a score of 5-3 - and move a game and a half ahead of second-place Philadelphia - and 3.5 games ahead of Pittsburgh in the tight NL East race.

All four runs the Redbirds tallied in the sixth were unearned, thanks to a dropped fly ball by left fielder Von Joshua - which should have been the first out of the inning.  Instead, it opened the floodgates - allowing Simmons the chance to capitalize with his two-out grand salami.

The Dodgers scored first off Cardinals starter Alan Foster - scoring a run in the third-inning when the butter-fingered Joshua tripled with two out - scoring Steve Yeager from third - who led-off with a base on balls, then moved up one base at a time, one out at a time.

The score was still 1-0 in favor of LA when the fateful sixth-inning began for St Louis - with the pitcher -  Foster - lifting a fly ball to left field in the general direction of Joshua.  Somehow this routine play turned into a very costly two-base error, as the ball clanged off Von's glove, allowing the hustling Redbird hurler to slide safely into second.  In the process, Foster demonstrated to all those youngsters in the crowd a Cardinal Rule of Base Running:  Always run hard because you never know when something like this might happen.

Next up - Lou Brock - grounded one off the pitcher's glove for an infield single; however, Foster wisely stayed at second, since he would have more than likely been out trying for third.  The next batter - Ted Sizemore - grounded one slowly back to the pitcher, but this time Zahn was able to field the ball cleanly - forcing Foster at third (realizing he couldn't turn two).  Next up - rookie sensation Bake McBride - grounded one to Steve Garvey at first base, whose only play was a toss to the pitcher covering the bag to retire the speedy McBride - as both runners moved up a notch - to second and third.

After retiring McBride, the inning should have been over - but the Cardinals were given an extra out - compliments of the now red-faced LA left fielder.  After Joe Torre walked to load the bases, the next hitter was our hero - Ted Simmons.  The switch-hitting Simba was hitting from the right side with the southpaw on the mound - and he got a pitch to his liking - hitting it way over a dejected Joshua's head, and way over the left field wall for that matter - to give the Cardinals a sudden 4-1 lead.

When Foster returned to the mound to face the Dodgers in the seventh-inning, he had apparently run out of gas.  Maybe the sprint to second base had something to do with it.  Or maybe he started thinking about having a three-run lead, causing him to alter his approach.  Who knows?  What we do know is that he walked the first batter - Yeager - then gave up a single to pinch hitter Gail (really?) Hopkins - who lined one to right field, which Luis Melendez had trouble fielding - allowing Gail to reach second, as Yeager held up at third.

After Davey Lopes singled to score Yeager, Miss Hopkins stopped at third - and the Dodgers were back in business - down 4-2 now.

By this time, manager Red Schoendienst brought in the Mad Hungarian - Al Hrabosky - to restore order.  Although another (unearned) run scored after a couple of infield ground outs, Hrabosky didn't allow a hit - finishing off the inning with a flourish - striking out Senator Garvey with some serious gas.

The Cardinals manufactured an insurance run off reliever Mike Marshall - the over-hyped relief ace who was on his way to winning the NL Cy Young Award.  Leading-off the eighth-inning, Brock reached on a base on balls - advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt - advanced to third on an infield ground out - and then advanced to home on a wild pitch.  One run, without the benefit of a hit.  The hardest hit ball was a little grounder that went maybe 50 feet.  The wild pitch probably covered more ground than that.

Meanwhile the Mad Hungarian completed his three innings of work - allowing nary a hit, while striking out two - to record his sixth save of the season.  Now that's a save!

Foster improved to 6-7 on the year, while Zahn fell to 2-2, despite allowing no earned runs in his six innings of work.

The Cardinals almost pulled off their first division title - but not quite.  They would finish the season with a respectable 26-21 record, but the Pirates were red hot - finishing at 32-17 to leapfrog everybody - and the Cardinals would have to settle for a disappointing second-place finish.

The balance of the decade would be spent toiling in futility for the franchise - as their core group of players had either aged and then retired (Brock, Gibson, Torre, among others) or had been traded away (Allen, Carlton, Reuss, Reggie Smith, among others).

It would be seven seasons before the Cardinals were a serious contender for a division title.  Of course, a change in management didn't hurt.

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