Sunday, September 7, 2014

September 7, 1964 - Cards Walk-Off Both Ends of Labor Day Doubleheader Over Reds

Monday, September 6, 1964 - At Busch Stadium I (Game One Starting Pitcher - Bob Gibson) - Opponent:  Cincinnati Reds (Jim O'Toole - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  22,187

The Cardinals completed an improbable 12-3 home-stand with a doubleheader sweep of the Cincinnati Reds by identical 3-2 walk-off scores - to move into a second-place tie with Cincinnati.  Both teams have identical 77-61 records - and trail the Philadelphia Phillies - who split their doubleheader with the Dodgers - by 6.5 games.

Although I suspect this is the first time in franchise history the Cardinals had swept a doubleheader in walk-off fashion by identical scores - I have no data to support that theory.  It's just an educated guess.  I also suspect this is the first 12-3 home-stand in franchise history that ended in six walk-off wins - including the last three in a row.  Again, just pure speculation.

Of course, lots of unusual events occurred during the course of the '64 season.  It just so happened that most of these strange occurrences took place in September - especially after September 17.

In the meantime, the first game of this doubleheader was expected to be a pitchers' duel - and it was.  The Cardinals grabbed a 2-0 third-inning lead off Reds starter Jim O'Toole - who really only made one mistake during his six-inning stint - a pitch to Ken Boyer with two out and Curt Flood on second - which Boyer belted into the left field bleachers - his 20th home run of the season.

Cardinal starter Bob Gibson then gave up a fourth-inning lead-off home run to Deron Johnson to cut the lead in half - and that's where the score remained through eight innings.  Cincinnati threatened to score in their half of the eighth - when Vada Pinson opened the inning with a double - but was nailed trying to advance to third on Frank Robinson's grounder to second baseman Javier.  When Hoolie fired a strike to third baseman Boyer, Pinson put on the brakes and retreated back towards second.  Boyer's throw to shortstop Groat had Pinson reapplying the brakes and changing directions once again.  By this time, an alert Bob Gibson got in the act - taking the throw from Groat - then chasing down Pinson, who was again heading back towards second - just about the time the batter - Robinson - had safely arrived at second.  With no place to escape, Gibson applied the tag on the elusive Pinson.

Gibson retired the next two batters to strand Robinson at second - but the relentless Reds tied the game in the ninth - although they missed a golden opportunity to take the lead.  Back-to-back doubles by Edwards and Cardenas not only tied the game, 2-2 - the Reds now had a runner in scoring position with nobody out.

Manager Johnny Keane had no thought of removing his starter.  This was Gibson's game to win or lose.  With pinch hitter Marty Keough now batting, Gibson blew a two-strike fastball by him to record the first out.  Another pinch hitter - Don Pavletich - was retired on a fly ball to left field - then Gibson got Ruiz on a pop fly to short to retire the side.  One run on two hits - but as far as the Cardinals were concerned, that was a bargain.

As reliever Bill Henry entered the game to start the bottom of the ninth, Pavletich became the new catcher, as second baseman Chico Ruiz moved over to third base.  This new defensive alignment would immediately determine the game's outcome - in one of the most bizarre series of plays ever witnessed in a major league game.

Henry - who was nearly flawless all season long, with an ERA well below 1.00 - walked Boyer to start the fun.  With Bill White batting, the new catcher - Pavletich - had trouble "catching" two consecutive pitches.  On each passed ball, Boyer moved up a base.  By the time White drew a base on balls, Boyer was perched on third base - representing the winning run.

Manager Dick Sisler removed Henry for the eccentric Ryne Duren - who retired pinch hitter Bob Skinner on a foul popup to the new third baseman - Ruiz.

Time for another new reliever - Billy McCool - to face pinch hitter Tim McCarver - who also hit a little pop fly to the same spot - but this time, Ruiz managed to drop the ball.  The error proved costly, as McCarver lined the next pitch to center - a walk-off single - scoring Boyer with the winning run - which of course, was an unearned run.  But it was a 3-2 win, nonetheless.

GAME TWO (Roger Craig vs John Tsitouris)

After the bizarre ending to the first game, it only seemed logical that the second game would be decided in the Cardinals' final turn at bat - resulting in another 3-2 win.

This time, Cincinnati scored first - with one run on three hits in the first-inning off spot-starter/long-reliever Roger Craig.

Lou Brock quickly tied the game with a solo home run off John Tsitouris in the bottom of the first.

Cincinnati regained the lead in the third-inning when Vada Pinson hit a one-out double, then came in to score on Frank Robinson's RBI single.

Tim McCarver - the walk-off hero from game one - tied this game in the seventh with a home run.

Meanwhile, knuckle ball reliever Barney Schultz entered the game in the sixth-inning, and became the pitcher of record after McCarver's game-tying home run.  In his four innings of work, Barney would yield just two hits - and no runs - waiting for his teammates to score a run in the bottom of the ninth to give him his first win of the season (1-2).

Joe Nuxhall - who entered the game after McCarver's seventh-inning home run, was still on the mound to start the ninth.  Nuxhall had a fascinating career - which began on June 18, 1944 - at the tender age of fifteen.  In a game against the Cardinals at Crosley Field, Nuxhall was summoned in from the World War II-depleted Reds' bullpen to start the ninth inning - with the Reds down by a 13-0 score.  By the time the nervous kid was relieved of his duties, his pitching line read:  0.2 IP - 2 H - 5 R - 5 BB

Strangely enough, the first hit Nuxhall surrendered in a major league game came off the bat of a twenty-three year-old Stan Musial.  Nuxhall's major league career would be put on hold - with a career ERA of 67.50 - until 1952 - when at the age of twenty-three, he was actually ready for The Show.

Now, twenty years after making that inauspicious debut, the crusty veteran was facing Tim McCarver to start the ninth-inning.  Single to center field.  Next up - Julian Javier - hit a ground ball to first baseman Johnson - who forced the runner at second, as Javier beat the relay throw back to first.

With pinch hitter Charlie James (for Schultz) batting, Javier stole second - prompting manager Dick Sisler to order an intentional walk to Charlie.  I'll never understand that strategy.  Curt Flood - a notorious .300 hitter - was the next batter.  After that, Lou Brock would be due up next.

The final call to the bullpen was made, with Sammy Ellis now pitching to Flood.  Like McCarver had done in the first game, Flood lined a game-winning single to center - scoring Javier for the second straight 3-2 walk-off win.  It was deja vu all over again.

The Cardinals were on their way to the National League pennant (93-69).  The Reds and Phillies were on their way to a second-place tie (92-70).

Needless to say, it's a good thing the Cards swept this doubleheader.  A split would have put them in the second-place tie with the Phillies.  Yikes.

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