Monday, September 22, 2014

September 22, 1974 - Simmons Slugs Cubs with Fists & His Bat in Wild Walk-Off Win

Sunday, September 22, 1974 - At Busch Stadium II (Bob Gibson - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Chicago Cubs (Steve Stone - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  43,267

Ted Simmons - who had four RBI on the day - delivered a two-out ninth-inning single, scoring Lou Brock from second base, to give the Cardinals a wild, brawl-enlivened 6-5 walk-off win over the Cubs.

It was a fitting ending for Simmons, who had been right in the middle of a benches-clearing brawl that began in the top of the ninth when Cubs batter Bill Madlock became irritated with the antics of Cards' closer - Al Hrabosky - who would step off the mound with his back to home plate, to psyche himself up prior to working to the batters.  No sooner had The Mad Hungarian positioned himself to begin his work, Madlock stepped out of the batter's box and began wandering towards the on-deck circle.  After this little cat and mouse game went on for a couple of minutes, home plate umpire Shag Crawford tried to get Madlock back in the batter's box - and when he was still wandering around, Crawford motioned to Hrabosky to begin pitching.  Al's first hurried throw in the direction of home plate was immediately called a strike.

At this point, Cubs manager Jim Marshall and the on deck hitter, Jose Cardenal got involved in the brewing melee - which eventually reached total pandemonium when Madlock and Simmons exchanged a few choice words - quickly followed by a strong right hook by Simba into the jaw of the previously jawing Cub third baseman.  By this time, both benches were in the donnybrook, and by the time order was restored, only one participant was ejected - Cubs manager Marshall.

Madlock finally stepped into the box and struck out - and then Simmons ended it with another knockout punch - but this one came with a bat in his hands.

This wild, wild win, coupled with Pittsburgh's 4-0 loss to the Mets, increased the first-place Cardinals' lead over the Pirates to 1.5 games, heading into a most bizarre final week of the season.

Back to the actual game.

Bob Gibson, nearing the end of a legendary career, had a bit of a rough start in this one, as former teammate Jose Cardenal greeted him with a first-inning RBI single - to stake Cub starter Steve Stone to a 1-0 lead.

The Cardinals struck back in the bottom half of the first, with some two-out thunder.  Reggie Smith doubled - giving cleanup hitter Ted Simmons a chance to bat with a runner in scoring position - and he cashed in, with a home run deep to right field, as the Cards grabbed a 2-1 lead.

St Louis padded that lead with a pair of third inning runs.  Brock, on his way to a major league record 118 stolen bases (since broken) - started the rally with a lead-off walk, stole second, then advanced to third when Ted Sizemore laid down a sacrifice bunt.

Next up - Reggie Smith - tripled deep to right field, scoring Brock - then came in to score when Simmons got his third RBI of the day with a sacrifice fly deep to right field.

Trailing 4-1, the Cubs scored four sixth-inning runs off a tiring Gibson, who had long since intimidated manager Red Schoendienst with a menacing glare that precluded any pitching changes - at least while Gibby was still on the mound.  Consequently, Gibson bore the full brunt of the three hits, two walks, an error, three stolen bases and a sacrifice fly that gave the Cubs a 5-4 lead.

The Redbirds tied it off Cubs reliever Oscar Zamora in their half of the sixth, when Ken Reitz - batting with runners on first and third and nobody out - grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.  The rally was squashed, Reitz was not credited with an RBI - but at least a run was in.

With the scored knotted at five runs apiece, Gibson had apparently convinced his manager to keep him in the game for just one more inning - and he pitched a 1-2-3 seventh to maintain that tie, to put himself in position for the "win" if his teammates could rally in the bottom of the seventh.

However, pinch hitter Jim Dwyer - batting for Gibson - failed to reach base.  With one out, Brock singled, stole second, but was eventually forced out at third when Simmons - after a walk to Reggie Smith - grounded one right at third baseman Bill Madlock, who stepped on the bag to end the threat.

Al Hrabosky - the eccentric southpaw whose pre-pitch ritual got on the nerves of Madlock aka Mad Dog - took over the pitching chores in the eighth-inning, and continued in the ninth - retiring all six batters he faced - two on strikes - including Mad Dog himself.  Imagine that.  The Mad Hungarian striking out the Mad Dog.  Such madness.

Reliever Dave LaRoche - who stayed out of harm's way when all the punches were being throw in the top half of the ninth - was on the mound when the Cardinals took their turn at bat in the bottom half.  Leading-off was the irrepressible Hrabosky - who was going to be in this one for the long haul, if necessary - and he flew out to right.

Then Brock singled again, as the chants of "Lou, Lou" reverberated through the stadium.  With Sizemore batting, Lou took off for second - but the hit & run was on - unsuccessfully, as Sizemore flew out to right - as Brock scrambled back to first.

Next up - Reggie Smith - capped off his perfect day at the plate by drawing his second walk of the game - to go with two triples and a double in five plate appearances.  That allowed Simmons with yet another RBI opportunity - and Simba delivered another knock-out punch - the walk-off single to center field, scoring Brock for the 6-5 win.

It was another exciting, nearly insane victory for the over-achieving Cardinals, as they tried to win their first-ever NL East title.  But there were also behind the scenes distractions - that ultimately may have prevented the postseason party for St Louis.

This game?  It was nothing - just good clean fun.

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