Thursday, September 4, 2014

September 4, 1964 - Boyer's Walk-Off HR Keeps Pennant Hopes Alive

Friday, September 4, 1964 - At Busch Stadium I (Curt Simmons - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Chicago Cubs (Dick Elsworth - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  10,220

Ken Boyer was having a bad night - going 0 for 4, which included a rally-killing double play earlier in this game.  Yet, as he came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth - with two on and two out - in a 5-5 tie with the Cubs - he knew he could find redemption with one swing of the bat.  Before you could say "walk-off home run", Boyer connected on a Freddie Burdette fastball lifting the Cardinals to a dramatic 8-5 win - to keep their slim pennant hopes alive.

The third-place Cardinals remained 7.5 games behind the first-place Phillies, who also won tonight - but  Philly would soon be finding themselves in a surrealistic downward spiral that was perpetuated by a paranoid manager - Gene Mauch - who started  messing around with the starting rotation in an attempt to speed up the process of clinching the pennant.  All he succeeded in doing was wear down his top starters to the point they were useless.  Essentially, he panicked, causing his team to lose its confidence - making it difficult to execute even the most basic fundamentals of the game.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, had nothing to lose, since they had long been counted out of this race - which explains why the ballpark was two-thirds vacant tonight.  However, this team was playing with confidence, they were playing well - and they were putting the "fun" back in fundamentals.

The Cubs were having fun, too - especially in the first-inning - when they quickly broke on top, 2-0 - on an RBI double by Ellis Burton - who later scored on an RBI single off the bat of Ron Santo.

The Cardinals came charging back right away - scoring two first-inning runs of their own.  A one-out single by Lou Brock, a stolen base - then an RBI single from Dick Groat plated the first run.  After advancing to second when Boyer grounded out to the second baseman, Bill White chased Groat home with a double to right center.

St Louis scored two more runs in the third, but no doubt came away feeling they should have had a bigger inning.  Consecutive singles by Flood, Brock and Groat had one run in and runners on first and third for cleanup hitter Boyer - who grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.  Brock scored on the play, but the Cubs no doubt felt lucky to have escaped with just a two-run deficit to overcome.

Meanwhile, Cardinal starter Curt Simmons seemed to settle down after that shaky two-run first-inning - but suddenly ran afoul with two out in the sixth, with St Louis still holding a 4-2 lead.  Jimmie Schaffer lined a single to left, then Ron Campbell brought him home with a double to right.

Manager Johnny Keane then brought in Ron Taylor from the bullpen to face pinch hitter Len Gabrielson, who promptly singled to left - scoring Campbell with the tying run.  Taylor avoided further scoring in the seventh, but the Cubs were at it again in the eighth.

Burton started eighth-inning trouble with a lead-off triple to right field.  Next up - Billy Williams - drove in the go-ahead run with a single.  Again, Taylor was able to avoid further damage, but the Cardinals had not only relinquished the lead - they were down by a run, heading into the bottom of the eighth.

Reliever Lindy McDaniel quickly retired Boyer and White - but Mike Shannon kept the inning alive with a two-out single to right.  Pinch hitter Bob Skinner - batting for Javier - also singled to right field, advancing Shannon to third.  His work done, pinch runner Dal Maxvill replaced Skinner at first base, as another pinch hitter - Tim McCarver (for Uecker) - was stepping into the batter's box.

What happened next caught everyone by surprise.

McDaniel, intent on retiring McCarver, paid little attention to the runners on first and third.  As McDaniel was delivering a pitch to McCarver, Maxvill suddenly broke for second - as Shannon waited for the throw from the catcher to second base before breaking for home.  Shannon timed it perfectly.  Maxvill easily stole second - and Shannon beat the relay from second back to the plate - sliding home with the tying run.  The double steal worked to perfection - and it's a good thing, because McCarver grounded out to end the inning.

Taylor was still pitching for St Louis, as the Cubs took their turn at bat in the ninth.  However, one out walks to Lee Gregory - pinch hitting for McDaniel - and Jimmy Stewart, from Bedford Falls, Ohio - prompted Keane to bring in another reliever - Gordie Richardson - to face the dangerous Ellis Burton - who already had two extra base hits in the game.  This time, Richardson coaxed Burton to ground one to Groat at shortstop, who flipped to Maxvill at second, who completed the double play relay to White at first - to suddenly end the threat.

Leading off the bottom of the ninth - pinch hitter Carl Warwick (for Richardson) lined a single to center off reliever Don Elston.  Flood then advanced him to second with a sacrifice bunt.  Exit Elston - enter reliever John Flavin - summoned to face Lou Brock, who singled to center - advancing Warwick to third.

Flavin was then relieved of his duties, as Freddie Burdette became the third Cubs' pitcher in the ninth - the fifth, overall.  The first batter he faced - Dick Groat - hit a ground ball to Ron Santo at third base - who nailed Warwick at the plate, tying to score the winning run.

With two on and two out in a tie ballgame - a game the Cardinals could ill-afford to lose - Ken Boyer made certain of that.  His three-run home run sent the handful of fans in attendance home happy - and it suddenly made him the guest of honor on Harry Caray's notorious Star of the Game program.  An excited and inebriated Harry gurgled an inquiry to the happy Cardinal third baseman:  "Kenny, do you think the Cardinals really have a chance of catching the Phillies?"

Boyer gave the patented response, which in this case was prescient:  "I sure do, Harry.  There's plenty of baseball to be played (28 games), and we're playing well; so you never know.  We'll just take it one day at a time."

A 19-9 St Louis finish, coupled with an 11-18 Phillies' collapse, did the trick.  Incredibly, ten of those eleven losses were consecutive losses.  And that just doesn't happen very often.

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