Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October 15, 1964 - The Cardinals are World Champions!

Thursday, October 15, 1964 - World Series - Game 7 vs New York Yankees - At Busch Stadium I - Starting Pitchers:  Bob Gibson vs Mel Stottlemeyer - Attendance:  30,346

The Cardinals' Impossible Dream became a reality - winning the seventh game of the World Series over the New York Yankees, by a score of 7-5.  An exhausted Bob Gibson went the distance, despite giving up nine hits - including three home runs - while walking three.  But he also struck out nine batters - including two in the ninth-inning, which were sandwiched between two solo home runs.

Afterwards, manager Johnny Keane explained his decision to keep his starter in the game until the end:  "I had a commitment to his heart."

Of course, fifty years later, managers are criticized for not yanking the starter at the first sign of late-inning trouble - even if it's a guy like Clayton Kershaw on the mound.  If the decision backfires, it could cost a manager his job.  Johnny wasn't worried about that, since he was going to resign no matter what happened today.  He'd gotten wind of a plot to replace him - possibly with Leo Durocher - when the Redbirds looked like dead birds a few months earlier.  Somehow, nothing ever transpired - then lo and behold, the miracle finish to the season created the perfect storm for the Cardinals' first NL pennant since 1946.

Sure enough, after guiding the Cardinals to the world championship, Keane accepted the managerial position of the New York Yankees - replacing the deposed Yogi Berra.  Berra was unfairly ousted in New York - and Keane never had a chance of winning with the aging team he inherited.  His tenure with the Bronx Bombers would be short-lived, as well.

Ironically, exactly four months prior to the clubhouse champagne celebration the newly crowned Cardinals were enjoying - on June 15 - St Louis had fallen a season-worst three games under .500.  Even the trade that brought Lou Brock to the Cardinals on June 16, didn't seem to pan out for the first couple of months.  By August 23, St Louis had fallen a season-worst eleven games out of first.  Strangely enough, forty-seven seasons later, in Tony LaRussa's final year as manager, the Cardinals were in a similar dilemma - trying to track down the Braves for the wild card slot in the National League - and just like '64, their mission was accomplished on the final day of the season.

And just like '64, the 2011 St Louis Cardinals won the World Series in seven games - clinching it at home.

Initially, it seemed the Redbirds were going to win this one with relative ease.  For the first three innings, neither team could score - however, the pitchers' duel ended abruptly when St Louis took their turn at bat against Mel Stottlemeyer in the bottom of the fourth.

Ken Boyer started the rally with a lead-off single to center.  After Dick Groat walked, Tim McCarver hit a potential double-play grounder to second baseman Bobby Richardson, who got the force out at second, but shortstop Phil Linz - in his haste to double up McCarver - threw wildly to first - allowing Boyer to score an unearned run.  Next up - Mike Shannon singled to center, advancing the speedy McCarver to third.

With the light-hitting Dal Maxvill batting, manager Keane decided to have a little fun - calling for the old double steal.  It worked perfectly, as Shannon got a great jump off first base - sliding safely into second, as McCarver's well-timed dash to the plate beat the relay throw - giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.  Rattled by the suddenly brash maneuvering of these running Redbirds, Stottlemeyer served up a meatball to Maxvill, who stroked it into right field - scoring the galloping Shannon from second, for a 3-0 lead, after four innings of play.

The Yankees threatened in the fifth when Tom Tresh led-off with a base on balls - then one out later, pinch hitter Mike Hegan (for Stottlemeyer) also walked.  However, that rally came to an abrupt halt when Phil Linz hit a looping liner to right field which Shannon tracked down, much to the dismay of Tresh, who thought the ball would drop.  His base-running blunder got him doubled off second, and got a tiring Gibson off the hook - at least for now.

Al Downing was Stottlemeyer's replacement, as the Cardinals took their turn at bat in the bottom of the fifth.  Lou Brock greeted him with a home run deep to right center to give the Cardinals a comfortable 4-0 lead.  After Bill White singled to center, Boyer advanced him to third with a double into the gap in right center.  Manager Yogi Berra had seen enough - bringing in Rollie Sheldon to face Groat - who scored White on a ground out to second, as Boyer took third.  McCarver then scored Kenny on a sacrifice fly to right field - and just like that, the Cardinals had a 6-0 lead.

However, that lead was cut in half on a Mickey Mantle three-run sixth-inning home run.  This would be Mantle's eighteenth and final World Series home run in what would be the Yankees' final World Series appearance during the Mantle Era.  He'd suffer through four more injury-plagued seasons - diminishing his career numbers a bit, but his overall greatness - when he was in his prime - could not be overstated.

Meanwhile, with the Cardinals still leading, 6-3 - Ken Boyer capped off a terrific three-hit game with a two-out solo home run in the seventh - giving Gibson an extra insurance run to work with.  This would be Boyer's last hurrah in his last great season with St Louis.  His grand slam home run in Game Four turned a 3-0 deficit into what would become a 4-3 win - and of course, paved the way for St Louis to still be alive for a Game Seven.

As New York took their final turn at bat in the ninth-inning, trailing 7-3, Gibson struck out the first batter - Tom Tresh.  But then Clete Boyer - an offensive liability all season long and in the World Series - up to this point - hit a Gibson fastball into the left field bleachers.  Rounding third, he and brother Ken silently enjoyed the moment, while Gibson silently tried to muster up enough energy to get the final two outs.

He got the second out by striking out Johnny Blanchard on a high fastball.  But then Phil Linz - who only hit five home runs in the regular season - timed a fastball perfectly, and deposited that one in the left field bleachers, as well.  One more base runner, and the Yankees would have the tying run coming to the plate.  But this was Gibson's game to finish - and he did - by inducing Bobby Richardson to pop out to Maxvill at second.

It was finally over - the most improbable comeback in major league history.  However, the Cards' on-field celebration was brief - and by today's "in your face-over-the-top" standards - looks subdued.  But thousands of fans had immediately rushed the field to join in on the celebration - so the team had a change of venue - into the clubhouse where champagne and an ample supply of Anheuser Busch products were joyously sprayed everywhere.

After an eighteen year wait, St Louis finally got its seventh World Championship.  Fifty years later, that total has risen to eleven, as the 2014 edition tries for number twelve.  They're considered an underdog - currently down two games to one to the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS.

But of course, whenever the Cardinals actually win a World Series - they're usually playing the role of underdog.  If they can salvage at least one win in San Francisco, they'll have a fighting chance - and that's all we could hope for.

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