Friday, September 19, 2014

September 19, 1996 - Cards Walk-Off Cubs in 13-Innings, 5-4

Thursday, September 19, 1996 - At Busch Stadium II (Andy Benes - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Chicago Cubs (Jaime Navarro - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  34,923

Tom Pagnozzi's one-out thirteenth-inning infield single scored pinch runner Miguel Mejia from third base - giving the NL Central division-leading Cardinals a 5-4 walk-off win over the Cubs.  Cory Bailey (4-2) - the seventh St Louis pitcher employed by manager Tony LaRussa in this game - worked the final two scoreless innings of relief for the win.

Basking in the glory of this extra-inning victory made it easier to forget the blown save the Cardinal bullpen was responsible for - when Chicago pushed across a run in the top of the ninth, to forge a 4-4 tie - and send the game into a few extra innings of free entertainment for the fans.

This one began with a bang, when the first hitter of the game - Chicago's Brian McRae hit the second pitch Andy Benes delivered over the left field wall, to give the Cubs a quick 1-0 lead.

Cubs starter Jaime Navarro had some first-inning trouble of his own, however.  Ozzie Smith - nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career - led-off with a double into the left-center field gap.  Next up - Ray Lankford walked on four straight pitches - as "ball four" was a wild one - allowing Ozzie to move up to third.

Ron Gant also walked (the first of four free passes he would receive in this game) - loading the bases for fan-favorite Willie McGee - who struck out swinging - eliciting the usual words of encouragement from sympathetic fans knew how badly he felt whenever he failed to deliver in situations like this.

Future hitting coach John No Gloves Mabry made contact with a Navarro pitch, but it produced no positive results, either.  His little dribbler to the left of the pitcher's mound was pounced on by the agile Cubs hurler - who got the force out at home for out number two.

The inning, which had begun so full of promise, was on the verge of despair.  Next up - former Minnesota Twin-World Series champion and Cardinal nemesis - Gary Gaetti - delivered a bases-clearing double to suddenly give the Redbirds a 3-1 lead.

The Cubs cut the lead down to 3-2 in the third-inning.  Luis Gonzalez scored McRae from second with a base hit to center.

St Louis again loaded the bases with nobody out in their half of the third.  A walk to Lankford, a stolen base, another walk to Gant, and a hit batsman - McGee - once again brought Mabry to the plate in an ideal RBI situation.  Instead, Mabry grounded one to third baseman Dave Magadan - who fielded the ball, stepped on third and fired a strike to first for the double play.  A run scored on the play - but of course, Mabry was not credited with an RBI - and the Cards had to settle for just that one run.

Mabry's frustration intensified when the Cubs took their turn at bat in the seventh.  Ryne Sandberg opened with a single to center.  After he was forced out at second on Tyler Houston's infield grounder, Rey Sanchez grounded one to Gaetti at third, whose only play was to get the runner at first. But when Mabry tried to catch Sanchez rounding the second base bag a bit too far - his throw went into left field - allowing Sanchez to score.  The score was now 4-3, in favor of St Louis - and that lead seemed awfully precarious.

Meanwhile, after Navarro exited the game after six innings - allowing four earned runs - his immediate replacements prevented any further Cardinal scoring for another six innings.

Benes was removed after seven innings with a 4-3 lead.  Marc Petkovsek - the first of six Cardinal relievers - got the first two outs in the eighth - then LaRussa brought in southpaw Tony Fossas to get the final out - before sending him back to the mound to start the ninth.

Dave Magadan - a good left-handed hitter - started  the inning with a single to center.

Exit Fossas - enter T.J. Mathews to face Sandberg - who forced the runner at second on an infield grounder.  But then, trouble ensued.  Tyler Houston ripped a double down the left field line - advancing Sandberg to third.  After pinch hitter Brent Brown was intentionally walked to load the bases - pinch hitter Brooks Kieschnick hit a slow roller to Ozzie - whose only play was to get the runner at first, as Sandberg scored the tying run.

After the Cardinals failed to score in their half of the ninth, Dennis Eckersley - the fifth pitcher to appear in the game for the Redbirds - got into an immediate jam, when Mark Grace opened the tenth-inning with a double.  Eck then struck out Doug Glanville - but the next batter - Jose Hernandez - singled to left, as Grace stopped at third.

Next up - Ryne Sandberg - who became a notorious Cardinal killer back in '84 - most notably, at Bruce Sutter's expense in one particular game - which literally, made Sandberg a household name.  But that was then - this is now.  Ryno lined one to Gant in left field - not particularly deep - just hit hard.  Grace gambled, trying to tag up from third - and lost.  Gant's throw to Pagnozzi nailed Gracie - for an inning-ending double play.  The Cardinals had dodged a bullet - but could they take advantage of this break?

They finally cashed in - in the thirteenth-inning.  Mike Campbell - beginning his third inning of work, was greeted by John Mabry's double down the right field line.  Redemption, at last.  Pinch runner Miguel Mejia was then moved up to third on Gaetti's sacrifice bunt.

Tom Pagnozzi finally ended it with a base hit deep in the hole at shortstop, which Jose Hernandez could do nothing with - as the speedy Mejia streaked in from third with the walk-off run.

The Cardinals (83-70) were now five games up, with just nine to play.

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