Sunday, October 4, 1964 - At Busch Stadium I (Curt Simmons - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent: New York Mets (Galen Cisco - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance: 30,146
On the last day of probably the most miraculous season in major league histroy, the Cardinals salvaged the final game of a season-ending three-game series with the lowly New York Mets - to claim their first National League pennant since 1946. Bob Gibson, who lost a heart-breaking eight-inning start on Friday night, worked four innings of gutsy relief to get the win in the clincher - as the Cardinals eventually cruised to a memorable 11-5 win.
Ironically, the team the Redbirds spent most of the summer chasing down - the Philadelphia Phillies - gave the Cardinals the help they needed with a 10-0 drubbing of the Cincinnati Reds - co-leaders with St Louis at the start of play today. The win moved Philadelphia into a second-place tie with Cincinnati - both with 92-70 records - one game behind the Cardinals, who somehow finished at 93-69.
Thankfully, the Cardinals avoided the three game-sweep to the worst team in baseball. Otherwise, the top spot in the National League would have resulted in an unprecedented three-way tie - with all sorts of convoluted playoff possibilities, which more than likely would have resulted in the survivor of the pandemonium heading into the Fall Classic confrontation with the New York Yankees with a less than favorable starting rotation. More than likely, the Bronx Bombers would have emerged victorious in Mickey Mantle's final World Series appearance, instead of falling to the Cardinals in seven games.
Despite the seemingly lopsided victory, this game was a nail-biter until the Redbirds finally took command about halfway through.
The Cardinals grabbed a second-inning 1-0 lead off Mets starter Galen Cisco - on Mike Shannon's two-out RBI single - scoring Tim McCarver - who opened the inning with a double.
In the fourth-inning, the Mets tied the game on Charlie Smith's two-out solo home run off Cards starter Curt Simmons.
In the bottom half of the fourth, Dick Groat's lead-off double nearly went to waste, but Dal Maxvill of all people, lined a two-out single to center to bring the go-ahead run home: 2-1 - St Louis.
The lead quickly evaporated as the Mets batted in the fifth-inning. George Altman started the trouble with a single, then advanced to second on Cisco's sacrifice bunt. Bobby Klaus then lifted a fly ball deep to right field which Altman thought would be caught - but it landed safely, as Klaus made it all the way to second, while Altman only advanced to third. However, the next batter - Ken McMillan - scored both runners with a double of his own to left field. Suddenly, the Mets had a 3-2 lead.
Manager Johnny Keane had seen enough. In from the bullpen to replace a tiring Simmons came the Cardinals' ace - Bob Gibson - to restore order. He was working on just one day's rest - after pitching masterfully in a painful 1-0 loss to Al Jackson on Friday night. But with the entire season on the line, he made himself available for duty in this game, if needed. And he was needed, as Simmons was out of gas.
Gibson retired the next two Mets batters to keep the deficit at a single run - before an inspired Cardinals' lineup seized control of the game in the bottom half of the inning. Lou Brock led-off with a base on balls, then advanced to second on Bill White's base hit to right field. Ken Boyer's double to left field scored Brock with the tying run - as manager Casey Stengel brought in reliever Bill Wakefield to take over for Cisco - attempting to get out of this second and third no-out predicament.
The first batter Wakefield faced - Dick Groat - gave the Cardinals a lead they would not relinquish - on a ground-out to the second baseman - scoring White from third as Boyer advanced to third.
After McCarver was intentionally walked, Shannon struck out - but Maxvill did it again - a two-out RBI single to right field - scoring Boyer to give the Cardinals a 5-3 lead. With Cincinnati getting clobbered at home to the Phillies, everyone in the ballpark knew a pennant was very likely going to be won today by the home town team. Electricity filled the air.
Gibson - clearly arm-weary on such short rest - faltered in the sixth-inning, but avoided serious trouble. A two-out bases loaded walk to Klaus made it a 5-4 game - but a collective sigh of relief could be heard throughout old Busch Stadium when McMillan grounded out to end the threat.
The festive mood at the ballpark intensified when the Cards scored three more runs in the bottom half of the sixth off reliever Willard Hunter. Brock's one-out double preceded White's two-run home run - then later in the frame, after Boyer walked, McCarver brought him in with a ringing double to right: 8-4 - St Louis.
Curt Flood put the crowd into a frenzy with a lead-off eighth-inning home run - then with two out, Boyer drew another base on balls, advanced to third on Groat's double, and both runners scored on McCarver's single to center: 11-4 - St Louis.
By this time, the irascible Cardinals owner, Gussie Busch had joined the wildly exuberant broadcaster - Harry Caray, who had moved down to the field-level box seats to capture the excitement of this inevitable pennant-clinching moment. The party was delayed momentarily when an exhausted Gibson could no longer maintain control of his pitches - walking two batters as the Mets took their final turn at bat in the ninth. With two on and one out, Barney Schultz and his dancing knuckle ball took over for Gibby, who departed the mound to a standing ovation from the appreciative fans. Eventually, one run came scored but Schultz got the final out of the season - inducing Ed Kranepool into popping a foul ball behind home plate - which McCarver grabbed - to send the Cardinals to their first World Series in eighteen years.
Old Gussie's gravely voice could be heard on the radio at that moment, proclaiming this day to be the happiest of his "live-long life" as Harry couldn't stop repeating his excited summation of what had just transpired: "The Cardinals win the pennant!"
Of course, the Cardinals also went on to win the World Series, as well. Even though Bob Gibson - still arm-weary from his recent late season activity - lost Game 2 - he would pitch heroically in Games 5 and 7 to earn his first World Series MVP honor.
Even better performances in baseball's grandest stage would lie ahead for the great Gibson - who was just beginning to write his own World Series legacy.