In my latest article for I-70baseball, I went back to the 1964 World Series, looking for the tipping points in each game. There had to be something more than Bob Gibson’s pitching mastery, Lou Brock and Curt Flood’s speed, and Mickey Mantle’s historic home runs. In all but Game 6, it turns out that it was a defensive play that figured heavily in the outcome. For the most part, it was the Cardinals playing spectacular defense, keeping the Yankees threats to a minimum. On the other side of the field, when the Yankees failed to make a play, the Cardinals generally capitalized on the miscue, often with devastating results.
For a fan of the Tony La Russa era Cardinals, Game 4 featured a few extra plot elements that we would find quite familiar. For starters, and that is an unintended pun, it featured a young left hander that lost his confidence after a defensive miscue put the first runner of the game on third base with nobody out, instead of one out with the bases empty. For the 23 year old Ray Sadecki, that was a big difference, and clearly rattled the youngster. He would only face four batters in the game, recording just a single out on a great play by Mike Shannon. The three men he allowed on base would all score, and the Yankees had a quick and commanding lead. Yes, this is eerily reminiscent of Rick Ankiel’s famed meltdown in the 2000 divisional series against the Atlanta Braves.
Johnny Keane had seen this before from Sadecki, and quite recently. In his last start of the regular season, a must win game for the Cardinals, Sadecki got into trouble in the first inning, on nearly the same sequence of events. An error followed by three consecutive hits gave the Mets a quick lead. Keane left Sadecki in that game, and the results were disastrous. Sadecki would give up 5 runs before Keane finally went to his bullpen in the second inning. The Cardinals never got close in the game, and their National League Pennant hopes seemed to fade with each pitch. Keane turned that game over to Roger Craig, and he would not fare much better. The Cardinals ended up losing that game, 15-5.
With history repeating itself with the other team from New York, Keane again went to his veteran right hander, Roger Craig, hoping this is where the similarities end.
The always dangerous Elston Howard was the first batter Craig would face. When Howard singles home Roger Maris for the 3rd Yankees run of the game, it starts looking like the World Series may not even return to St. Louis.
Craig would retire Joe Pepitone and Tom Tresh to end the first inning, and limit the damage to just the three runs.
When Roger Craig took the mound in the second inning, he was a completely different pitcher. This more like the Roger Craig that posted an 11-5 record for the 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers after being called up in mid-season. Craig would strike out the side in the second inning. In the third he would get two infield grounders, give up two walks, but pick Mickey Mantle off second base to end the inning. Craig would strike out three more in the fourth, with a single and a walk sandwiched in the middle. In his last inning of work, Craig would retire the heart of the Yankees order, fanning Mickey Mantle for his 8th strikeout in 4 2/3 innings of work.
Roger Craig had done a heroic job, stopping the Yankees bats. Now it is time for the Cardinals bats to do some damage. That would happen in the Cardinals half of the 6th inning.
Carl Warwick would pinch hit for the Hero of the Hour, and tie a World Series record with his third pinch hit single. Warwick had been in all four games as a pinch hitter, and reached base in all four at-bats. Curt Flood followed that with an opposite field single. A harmless fly out from Lou Brock set the stage for the turning point in this game, and perhaps the entire World Series.
Yankees starter, Al Downing, made the perfect pitch to Dick Groat, and the Cardinals shortstop hit a tailor made double play ball to Bobby Richardson at second. Richardson could not get the ball out of his glove in time to make the exchange to shortstop Phil Linz, and the ball drops harmlessly between the two defenders as Curt Flood slides hard into second base.
As we have learned many times this season, when you fail to turn an inning ending double play, bad things generally happen. It took just two pitches as Ken Boyer ripped an Al Downing change-up deep into the left field bleachers for a grand slam. It was only the ninth grand slam in World Series history. More important, it gave the Cardinals a 4-3 lead and a new life in the game, and series.
But the game was far from over. There were still 12 outs to get, and prior to Craig’s heroics, the bullpen had not be very effective.
Keane chose Ron Taylor to pitch in the home half of the sixth inning. Taylor would become a star out of the bullpen for the Amazin’ Mets later in the decade. This was his second season with the Cardinals. He’d pitched brilliantly in relief in 1963, but had been inconsistent this season. Keane got the good Roger Craig – would he also get the dominating Ron Taylor ?
Oh, did he ever !
In four innings of work, Taylor allowed just a single base runner, a 2 out walk to Mickey Mantle in the 8th inning. It was the play prior to that walk that sealed the Yankees fate. Roger Maris hit a sharp grounder back up the middle. It deflects off Taylor and was heading into centerfield for a clean single. Out of nowhere comes Dick Groat with a play that would make Brendan Ryan blush. Somehow Groat reaches the sharply moving grounder and is able to turn himself back towards first base. He fires a strike over the head of Dal Maxvill, who was also running for the ball, but had to dive to get out of the way of Groat’s throw. An unbelievable play that silenced 66,000 fans at Yankee Stadium.
Thanks to the spectacular relief work of Roger Craig and Ron Taylor, plus a timely piece of hitting from Ken Boyer after the fatal Yankees miscue, the Cardinals would win the game and tie the series at 2 games apiece. With Bob Gibson available to pitch two of the remaining three games, it is time to start planning for the celebration in the Gateway City.