Sunday, August 31, 2014

September 1, 1964 - Come-From-Behind Walk-Off Winner Over Braves - Starring Bob Uecker

Tuesday, September 1, 1964 - At Busch Stadium I (Ray Sadecki - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Milwaukee Braves (Denny Lemaster - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  8,079

Prior to 1964, the last time the Cardinals had won a National League pennant, Stan Musial was in his prime, World War II was a very recent memory, and a teenage Mickey Mantle had just gotten his Oklahoma drivers' license.  In 1946, the Cardinals were a good team and everybody knew it.  Another trip to the World Series had become old hat.  Winning the World Series was great - but no big surprise.

What did surprise and dismay many Cardinal fans in the years after '46, was the fact that their team failed to reach the World Series over the remaining seventeen seasons the great Musial would be wearing a Cardinal uniform; and that the Cardinals failed to sign that Mantle kid out of Commerce, Oklahoma - instead, letting him sign with the New York Yankees, who seemingly played in the World Series every year.

Just a year earlier, the Cardinals had made an incredible late-season run to get close to the first-place Dodgers - winning 19 out of 20 games - but LA came to town and swept a three-game September series - just when the fans were starting to believe in miracles.  In this case, the miracles would have to wait a year to come to fruition - and wouldn't you know it - hardly anybody believed it was happening - certainly not on September 1, with such a paltry crowd on hand to witness a dramatic come-from-behind walk-off 5-4 win over the Milwaukee Braves.

The fact that the Cardinals actually won this game to begin with may not have been an outright miracle - but it certainly classifies as "improbable".  First of all, backup catcher Bob Uecker made a rare start, in place of Tim McCarver.

Then, Milwaukee proceeded to score four runs (one of the runs was unearned) in the third-inning - and in the process, knocked starting pitcher Ray Sadecki out of the game after just 2.1 innings.  Reliever Ron Taylor inherited runners on second (Joe Torre) and third (Henry Aaron) - with two runs already in and just one out - a sticky situation to say the least.  Unfortunately, for Taylor, the situation got stickier when his first order of business was to balk in a run, before giving up an RBI single to Gene Oliver - before settling down to finally restore order.

Order was indeed restored.  Milwaukee would not score another run for the remainder of the game - and that gave the Redbirds the opportunity to catch up.  And they took advantage of that opportunity - which is what championship-caliber teams usually do.  It also gave Taylor the opportunity to improve his record to 8-3 - as he worked the final 6.2 innings of four-hit scoreless relief - striking out five - walking none.

After Ken Boyer's two-out two-run home run in the bottom of the third cut the deficit in half, Uecker stepped up to the plate with two out and nobody on base in the fourth - and hit his first and only home run of the season - to draw the Redbirds within a single run of tying this game up.

The Cardinals pushed that single run across the plate in the sixth-inning, when Boyer led-off with a double, advanced to third on a ground out to the first baseman - then with Julian Javier batting, Braves starter Denny Lemaster uncorked a wild pitch - scoring Boyer with the game tying run.

It was still a 4-4 game in the bottom of the ninth - and Lemaster was still on the mound for Milwaukee.  With one out, Javier started the game-winning rally with a double into the left field corner.  With first base open, Carl Warwick was intentionally walked, to set up a possible double play.  A good double play candidate - Uecker - was the next batter.  The only problem with that strategy:  Uecker lined a single to left, instead of a ground ball to the shortstop.

As Javier raced home with the winning run, the Cardinals had now moved up a notch - into third place - a spot in the standings they hadn't occupied since June 3.  However, they were still 7.5 games behind Philadelphia - who also won tonight.  But the Phillies were already looking in the rear view mirror - and their paranoia would soon begin strangling them.  A ten-game losing streak was imminent.  But who knew?

As a side note, Bob Uecker - who was two for three in this game - raised his batting average all the way up to .200 at this point in the season - but alas, he would finish at .198.  It's fascinating to realize had Uecker had his "normal" game (what .200 hitters normally do - which is nothing significant) - the Cardinals would have lost - and in all likelihood, lost out on their chance to play in the World Series.

That's the kind of stuff that just blows my mind.

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