On May 14, 2010, the suddenly rejuvenated Cincinnati Reds came into Busch stadium for a three game series, hoping to take over the lead in the NL Central. Jaime Garcia prevented that in the first game with a solid 6+ innings of work, earning his fourth win of the young season. The middle game of series featured one of the most exciting endings in recent memory. Entering the ninth inning down two runs, the lower part of the Cardinals order started a rally against one of the better closers in the National League. With two outs, they closed the deficit to a single run. With Skip Schumaker on first, pinch hitter Joe Mather scorched a line drive into the left field corner. Since the Cardinal bats had been struggling of late, third base coach Jose Oquendo sent Schumaker home on the play. The Reds executed the relay throw from the outfield and Schumaker was out on a close play at the plate, ending the game. Somewhat reeling from the loss, the Cardinals dropped the third game in the series and fell out of first place for the first time since July 2009.
At nearly the same point in the schedule, 33 years ago, the Cardinals also mounted a similar late inning rally against the Reds. That game ended with a rare triple play caused by some poor base running by Orlando Cepeda. As hard as the recent loss to the Reds was to take, it was nothing like that triple play. It took the Cardinals a few days to shake that one off. But shake it off they did. And then some.
After losing the first three of a four game series against the woeful Houston Astros, including a terrifying 17-1 loss, Bob Gibson turned things around with a 6-2 victory over Larry Dierker, preventing the sweep. It also started a particularly hot streak where the Cardinals would win 15 of their next 17 games. The high point of this streak occurred in Houston when on June 19, a rare unassisted double play by center fielder Curt Flood ended the game, preserving a victory for Nelson Briles in relief. The Cardinals would also take the lead in the National League and they would not surrender it for the remainder of the 1967 season.
The Cubs would replace the Reds in chasing the Cardinals, getting close several times over the next two months. The Cardinals would finally separate from the pack with an 11-1 run starting on July 25, a week after losing Bob Gibson for an extended time with a badly broken leg.
On July 18, the Cardinals were visiting the troublesome Reds for a three game series in Cincinnati. Hard throwing Jim Maloney and Steve Carlton battled valiantly, each surrendering three runs. Reliever Jack Lamabe was ineffective in his second appearance for the Cardinals after being acquired from the Mets when Gibson went on the disabled list. Two appearances and two losses was not a good way to start things with your new team.
Things would go better for the Cardinals in the next game. The even harder throwing Gary Nolan and Larry Jaster were hooked up in a thrilling pitchers duel. Each would surrender two runs and neither would be around for the decision in the 12th inning. As good as Jaster was, rookie reliever Ron Willis matched him with 4 scoreless innings. Willis had struggled thus far in the season, but beginning with this game, he would be one of the most reliable arms out of the bullpen as the Cardinals closed in on the NL Pennant.
Mike Shannon would lead off the twelfth inning with a single. The increasingly clutch Julian Javier would follow with a walk. With two outs, Lou Brock, shaking off the batting slump that had been troubling him through most of the summer, walks to load the bases. Bobby Tolan, in for the injured Curt Flood, works a 3 ball count off reliever Gerry Arrigo. In a huge piece of gamesmanship, Tolan steps out of the batters box as Arrigo delivers the next pitch. Tolan didn’t call time, he just stepped out of the box. Obviously distracted, Arrigo’s pitch sails way wide, forcing in Shannon with the go ahead run. The Reds argued the call, but the play stood and the Cardinals had a 3-2 lead.
Manager Red Schoendienst hands the ball to Jack Lamabe and he retires the side in order for his first save as a Cardinal. Like Willis, Lamabe has turned the corner and would become a valuable reliever down the stretch. Everything was falling into place for a team that had more than one opportunity to give up in the face of adversity.
On the momentum of this exciting extra inning victory, Ray Washburn would beat outfielder turned pitcher Mel Queen giving the Cardinals an important series win in Cincinnati. Washburn was making his second start after breaking his hand while pitching against the Dodgers in June. With Gibson in sick bay for an extended time, Ray Washburn returning to the rotation and pitching well gave the Cardinals and their fans a huge emotional lift.
The Reds would visit the Cardinals in St. Louis a few weeks later, starting on August 4. In the opener, Jaster would again battle Gary Nolan, but this one was all Larry Jaster. The Cards lefty would throw a complete game shutout, giving up just 4 hits.
Ray Washburn and Mel Queen would hook up in the second game. Queen would make an early exit, but the Reds bullpen would keep it close. Washburn pitched into the 8th inning, but the usually reliable Joe Hoerner could not hold the lead and we would again go into extra innings. And again, it would be solid pitching by Ron Willis that made the difference in the game.
As before, Mike Shannon would figure in the outcome. With one out in the 12th inning, Mike Shannon would hit a single. Phil Gagliano would follow that up with an infield single. Shortstop Dal Maxvill would hit a shot to his opposite number, eating up the reigning Rookie of the Year, Tommy Helms. Helms was normally a second baseman and his defense dropped off just a little bit at short. With the bases now loaded, pinch hitter Dave Ricketts would end the game by driving in Shannon with a walk off single.
In the finale, Nelson Briles, Ron Willis and the suddenly dependable Jack Lamabe would combine to complete the sweep of the Reds with a nifty 3-2 victory over Jim Maloney. The Reds were now done for the 1967 season.
This brings us August 9 and one of the most exciting games of 1967. The ending of this game shows how just the threat of aggressive base running can determine the outcome of a crucial game.
The Dodgers were in St. Louis for a three game series, and had won the first two. In the finale they were facing their Bud Norris, Cardinals lefty Larry Jaster. As he had done several times in 1966, Jaster was facing hall of famer Don Drysdale. Drysdale was having his second tough season, plagued by a bad back and a broken finger in his glove hand, as well as the loss his pitching partner Sandy Koufax who had retired after the end of the 1966 season. Drysdale would pitch well for his seven innings of work, allowing only 2 runs. Jaster would pitch ten strong innings, surrendering only two runs on solo home runs. One more time with Ron Willis in extra inning relief, the Cardinals would rally.
Like the previous two extra inning victories, Mike Shannon would lead off the bottom of the 11th inning with a double. Reliever Phil Regan would intentionally walk Roger Maris to set up the double play. That would backfire when Phil Gagliano refused to cooperate and coaxed a walk to load the bases.
And now to one of the most exciting plays in the 1967 season. Light hitting (as in .148) Eddie Bressoud, giving the slumping Dal Mavxill a few days off, hits a bloop pop fly down the first base line. Unsure of whether the ball would land fair or foul, both Ron Fairly and Wes Parker converge on the fly with first baseman Parker making a great back to the plate catch. Aware that Mike Shannon was on third and was an aggressive base runner, Parker turns around and throws the ball to the plate to hold Shannon at third. Parker’s throw goes wild and all the way to the backstop and Shannon easily scores the winning run.
From here the Cardinals would take three of four from San Francisco and then sweep the visiting Chicago Cubs, building an 11 1/2 game lead and ending any questions about whether or not they would win the National League Pennant. Things would even get better as Bob Gibson would return to the rotation in September and pitch some of the best baseball of his career.
So the next time you think about criticizing Jose Oquendo’s aggressive base running calls from third base, remember the final play on August 9, 1967 when just the threat of base running caused a six time gold glove first baseman to throw the ball away and give the Cardinals a much needed victory. And also remember that even gold glove shortstops need a break from time to time, and sometimes great things do happen in their absence.