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St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago.

Yeah, when I posted my Top 10 Memories from 1985, I knew I’d miss a couple.  This one was originally on the list, but I couldn’t recall the details of the particular play and didn’t want to make up something because it sounded cool.   As I was watching the documentary “1985: A Heck of a Year”, I found it.  And yes, it was just as bizarre as I recalled – but seeing it again after 25 years was unbelievable.

Here’s the setup.

Vince Coleman leads off against the Cubs starter Scott Sanderson with a single.  Willie McGee follows that with a walk.  With Tommy Herr batting left handed against the right handed Sanderson, McGee and Coleman go on a double steal.  This is such a low percentage play with the catcher having an unobstructed line of sight to the third baseman, but with Vince Coleman, rules of thumb were pretty much thrown out the window.

Coleman slides into third base Lou Brock style, meaning a late and very hard slide.  He beats the throw but Cubs third baseman Ron Cey thinks he’s out and takes a couple of steps towards the shortstop, looking at the umpire.  Coleman overslides the base pretty badly.  When Cey realizes that Coleman is safe, but off the base, he starts moving to tag Coleman.  Coleman reacts quickly and breaks for home, getting into a rundown.   The idea here is that since Coleman is out, he can at least delay the play long enough for McGee to get to third base.  That would have worked fine, except the Cubs forgot to cycle in another defender behind catcher Jody Davis.  When Davis throws the ball back to Cey, there is nobody between Coleman and home plate.  Coleman scoots home on the play, scoring the first run of the game.  McGee never stopped running, so when Cey looked down all frustrated by their defensive blunder, McGee slides safely into third base behind him.

This gave the official scorer fits.  How do you score this particular play ?  There was no errant throw, nobody dropped the ball (literally, as Leon Durham should have covered home after the Davis throw) so while there was a mental error, in the baseball sense, no error can be given.  The proper scoring is that Coleman stole two bases on the play.  McGee is also credited with a clean steal of second base, with no play.  Since he continued running while Coleman was in the rundown, McGee is also awarded a second stolen base for reaching third safely.

So there you have it.  One pitch, four stolen bases.   I’ve looked through a lot of baseball history and can find no record of this happening before, and it certainly hasn’t happened since.

Oh, what about the game ?  The Cubs would jump out to a huge lead, but the Cardinals would inch their way back.  The game would go into extra innings and a rare bullpen failure by Ken Dayley would give the Cubs the win.  It didn’t matter as the Cardinals were cruising at this point in the season. They were in first place, beating just about everybody they played.   The Mets were the last hurdle to postseason, and they would take care of that in a bit over a month.

One play, 4 stolen bases.  You tell me these weren’t the most exciting group of Cardinals you’ve ever seen, or read about.


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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.

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Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis

The only thing hotter than the temperature in St. Louis was the battle for the 1967 National League pennant, which had suddenly become a three team race. The visiting Cincinnati Reds had led the league for most of the season, but the Cardinals kept pace, never falling more than 4 1/2 games behind. It had been a two team race until the Cubs went on a tear, winning 16 of their last 19 games, including a 3 game sweep of the Reds. That knocked the Reds out of first place and put the Cubs into contention for the  first time in a couple of years.  At the start of this series, the Cardinals and Cubs were tied for first place and Cincinnati was starting to fade, now 5 games behind. The Cubs would give back nearly all of the ground they gained over the next two weeks, but it is this Independence Day series between the Cardinals and Reds that will set the tone for the remainder of the 1967 season.

The Cardinals seemed to be in good shape entering the series. Orlando Cepeda (.348) and Tim McCarver (.346) were chasing Roberto Clemente for the batting title, and were second and third in the league, respectively. Curt Flood was also in the mix, batting .306 at the time. Lou Brock, Roger Maris and and Julian Javier were also flirting with .300, each hitting .294.

If that wasn’t enough for the Reds to deal with, the Cardinals starter on the night was Bob Gibson (9-6). But it wasn’t just any Bob Gibson. This was Gibson at his absolute meanest, and that meant trouble for the Reds. Gibson was coming off the worst outing of his career, giving up 9 runs in just 2/3 of an inning against the San Francisco Giants. When he took the mound, it looked like he had something to prove – we just didn’t quite know what it was.

Facing the Cardinals was veteran right hander, Milt Pappas. Pappas had recently come over to the National League after an impressive record with the Baltimore Orioles. This was his 9th consecutive season with more wins than losses, and 10th if you are willing to include his rookie season where he went 10-10 as a 19 year old. In spite of all of his success, he seemed to have trouble with the Cardinals.

Gibson made quick work out of the Reds in the top of the first, as he would do for most of the game. A strikeout, an infield ground out and another strikeout and it was the Cardinals turn to hit.

And did they hit. And hit. And hit.

Lou Brock would lead off with a double, followed by singles by Curt Flood, Roger Maris and Orlando Cepeda. Before Pappas could even work up a sweat, the Cardinals had a 2-0 lead and were threating for more. Tim McCarver would hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Maris for the 3rd Cardinals run. Infield singles by Mike Shannon and Julian Javier would load the bases and end the day for the Reds starter. Don Nottebart, a former starter turned long reliever, would take over and he would be greeted rudely by light hitting Dal Maxvill who would clear the bases with a loud double in the right field gap. An errant throw allows Maxvill to score and the Cardinals now had a commanding 7-0 lead, with still only one out. Bob Gibson would extend the inning with a single.

What happens next united a team that was lacking a bit of identity, and they would need that over the coming months as they faced enough adversity to demolish a lesser team.

Lou Brock would make the second out of the first inning with a fielders choice, forcing Gibson at second base. There was no chance of doubling up the speedy Brock, fortunately for the Cardinals. With a 7 run lead, Brock attempts to steal second base and is thrown out, ending the inning.  And upsetting the Reds in the process.   Apparently the Reds did not appreciate Brock running in that situation, and would soon retaliate.  Not once, but twice – and that was one too many.

Gibson would shut down the Reds quickly in the second and third innings, striking out seven of the first nine batters he faced. The Cardinals would go quietly in the second, but started another rally against Nottebart in the third. Tim McCarver and Mike Shannon would start the inning with singles, putting runners at the corner. Deciding this was the time to make a statement, Nottebart brushes back Julian Javier, inviting the ire of Cardinals fans that remember Javier paying a similar price in 1965. Javier would ground into a fielders choice with McCarver being thrown out at home. The inning would end without a further incident, but tempers were clearly heating up.

In the fourth inning, Gibson would strike out two more Reds, bringing his total to 9. He was also throwing a perfect game, retiring the first 12 Reds rather quietly.

Nottebart would again voice his displeasure of Brock’s running in the first inning by hitting the Cardinals left fielder to start the home half of the 4th inning. If he had not dusted Javier in the previous inning, that might have passed without a response. One was OK, but two batters could not be tolerated.

A message was clearly delivered in the top of the 5th. Gibson would throw one of his best fastballs behind the head of Tony Perez, one of the leaders of the young Reds team. Just because he didn’t hit Perez didn’t mean he wasn’t sending a loud and unambiguous message: this ends here and now. But it didn’t. Far from it.

Tony Perez would fly out, but while heading back to the dugout he yelled something at Gibson. There are two things you can’t do to Bob Gibson: cheat on the inside of the plate and bark at him. Perez and Gibson would share several verbal exchanges, both men getting more animated as they went on. Orlando Cepeda comes over from first base to try to intervene, according to Cepeda’s version of the story.  This move is misinterpreted by the Reds reliever, Bob Lee who comes running in from the Cincinnati bullpen.  Lee is a mountain of a man, listed at 6ft 3in and 225 pounds, but he looked much bigger at that particular moment.   Both teams ran out on the field and punches were thrown, hard and repeatedly.   The scrum moved quickly into the Reds dugout and players started jumping in just as quickly as others were being thrown back onto the field of play.   Even some fans got in on the conflict, helping out the home team.  St. Louis police officers were soon dispatched to break up the fight, and they were eventually able to restore order.    Unfortunately, not before several players were hurt, as was one of the officers.  The Reds manager had to be treated for lacerations from being spiked.  The Reds reliever, Don Nottebart, received several facial cuts, but would stay in the game and pitch the bottom of the inning.    Bob Gibson would jam the thumb on his pitching hand and it would bother him later in the game, prompting a call to the bullpen in the 8th inning.   The most humorous of the injuries was to Tommy Helms, who broke a tooth – presumably the result of a Gibson punch.  Helms would end the night 0-4 causing a sports writer to note that Gibson got more hits on Helms than Helms did on Gibby.

When play resumed, only one player was ejected: Bob Lee.   While his actions had led to the escalation, the reason for his ejection was that he had entered the field of play illegally.

The game would continue, but it was clear that the fight had taken a toll on both teams.  The Reds went quietly until the top of the 8th.  Gibson was starting to struggle with his control, and the Reds started hitting him hard.  After giving up 3 runs, manager Red Schoendeinst would go to his bullpen and Nelson Briles would quickly shut things down.  Perhaps this was an omen as Briles would be called on to fill the spot in the rotation when Gibson lost two months to a broken leg.

The Cardinals would end up splitting the 4 game series, winning the first and last games while dropping the middle two.   More important than this series, something had awakened in the Cardinals clubhouse.  In a few weeks, Orlando Cepeda would stand up on a trunk and proclaim “Viva el Birdos”, and the Cardinals would go on to win the pennant and defeat the Red Sox in the fall classic.  Looking back at the season, that bird might have taken flight in the 5th inning of this game.  July 3, 1967.

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It has been three years since the Whitey Herzog managed St. Louis Cardinals shocked the baseball world by beating the seemingly invincible Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series. While those Cardinals were labeled as the Running Rabbits, they were a balanced lineup compared to what Herzog had to work with in 1985.

Injuries and poor performance created an unproductive platoon situation at catcher between Darrell Porter and Tom Nieto. Jack Clark had replaced Keith Hernandez, and what he gave up in batting average, he more than made up in power. A young switch hitting Terry Pendleton was the new third baseman but had yet to match Ken Oberkfell’s offensive production. He would prove his worth many times in the 1987 season, but that was still two years in the future. Andy van Slyke was the new right fielder, and while a defensive star, his offensive numbers were a big step down from his predecessor, George Hendrick.

There were a few notable upgrades though. If Lonnie Smith had been a catalyst at the top of the 1982 batting order, Vince Coleman was a like a herd of charging buffalo. He was a light hitter and susceptible to striking out, but when he did get on base, exciting things happened. And they happened quickly. Coleman’s 110 stolen bases terrorized pitchers and catchers throughout the National League and led to a Cardinals trademark of scoring a first inning run without the benefit of a hit. The other notable improvement was in the pitching staff, both starters and the bullpen. With two 21 game winners at the top of the rotation, and Danny Cox not far behind with 18 wins, the Cardinals seemed well equipped to play a short series but unlikely to be able to withstand the tests of a long season. What seemed like a liability when the season started, suddenly became one of the most feared bullpens with the emergence of Todd Worrell to complement one of the best lefties in the game, Ken Dayley.

The Cardinals had battled the heavily favored New York Mets all season long. Thanks to the amazing 19-1 turnaround from John Tudor, the Cards outlasted the Mets and won the division by 3 games with an unbelievable record of 101-61. Thanks to the season long fight, this Cardinals team learned how to win – in every way imaginable.

In the National League Championship Series, just expanded to a best of seven format, the Cardinals would face the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even though the Cardinals had won 6 more games than the boys from Hollywood, the Dodgers were heavily favored in the series. The Cardinals were supposed to be just a speed bump on the Dodger’s road to the World Series.

As the series opened in Los Angeles, it appeared that the experts might be right. The Dodgers won the first two games rather convincingly. Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser seemed to be invincible, and their bullpen didn’t even break a sweat.

The series moved to Busch Stadium and the Cardinals hung on to win game 3. The Cardinals got to Bob Welch early and a combination of Danny Cox, Rick Horton, Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley kept the Dodgers at bay.

This brings us to a Sunday night game on October 13, 1985. Every one of the 53,000 in attendance knew the importance of this game. A win and the series is tied. A loss with as many as two games to be played in Los Angeles would be a very difficult hill to climb. It was now or never time for the Cardinals.

Whitey Herzog would call on game 1 loser, John Tudor. Even though he took the loss, the lefty had pitched well in the game, and there was no reason to think he would not be able to do so again tonight. In the first of a series of questionable managerial decisions from Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers would counter with former Cardinal and St. Louis native, Jerry Reuss. Reuss had some success in Los Angeles, and while not a top of the rotation guy, he was a solid fourth starter.

Cardinal fans were way more engaged in this game, and it had little to do with it being the pivotal game in the series. Expectations had been high when Ruess broke in with the the Cardinals in 1970. The tall blonde lefty had been a star in high school and had suddenly become an ace at AAA Tulsa. His fortunes with the Cardinals were much different as moments of brilliance were overshadowed by struggles with the strike zone. We had hoped for a second Steve Carlton, but those wishes would not be granted. As Ruess enjoyed success with the Pirates and Dodgers, our desire to see the Cardinals beat him increased. Since this was the 17th season for Ruess, there was a lot of frustration that needed to be released.

That would happen in a big way in the second inning. After a scoreless first inning, Jack Clark and super sub Cesar Cedeno would lead off the home half of the second inning with singles. Tito Landrum, filling in for an injured Vince Coleman, would single Clark home. The Dodgers made a huge defensive error in letting Pedro Guerrero’s throw go to the plate as it allowed both Cedeno and Landrum to take the extra base. That turned out to be significant when Terry Pendleton grounds out to second base in what would have been an easy double play. The Dodgers only had one play, retiring Pendleton, and the Cardinals would score their second run of the inning. Light hitting Tom Nieto would walk in front of ninth place hitter John Tudor. The Dodgers hoped for an inning ending double play and an end to the rally. The Cardinals sensed that this was an opportunity to break the game wide open. Forget the Ozzie Smith “go crazy folks” home run in game five and the three run Jack Clark bomb to win the series in game six, what happened next was the play of the series.

It was not if, but when would Herzog would put on the squeeze play. Aggressive base running is what got the Cardinals this far, and it would have to carry them to the World series. Everybody in the stadium knew it was coming. The Dodgers were certainly expecting it. Everyone except Ruess. With Landrum running from third, Tudor lays down the bunt and Ruess is unable to field it and everybody was safe. The Cardinals had a three run lead, had been given another out, and the Dodgers were clearly rattled. This is when the Cardinals really poured it on, ending the post season career of Jerry Reuss.

In a rare productive out, leadoff hitter Willie McGee would hit an opposite field line drive which would allow Tom Nieto to move up to third base. That turned out to be important as Ozzie Smith followed that with a ground ball deep in the hole at short which scored Nieto. Tommy Herr followed that with a single, scoring Tudor. That would be all for Ruess and the Cardinals fans gave him a sarcastic ovation as he left the field. Future Cardinal Rick Honeycutt would come in to try to end the rally. Honeycutt was the fifth starter who was sort of an odd man out in a short series. He would face four hitters and fail to retire any of them. Jack Clark would single, Cesar Cedeno would walk, and both Tito Landrum and Terry Pendleton would get their second RBIs of the inning with singles. Both Landrum and Clark were 2-2 in the inning. Tommy Lasorda would go to his third pitcher of the inning, the right hander Bobby Castillo. With a blowout in the making, Castillo was going to be in the game for a long time so that the Dodgers didn’t wear out their bullpen in case they were needed tomorrow afternoon. Castillo finally gets the last out by striking out Tom Nieto to end the inning, but not before the Cardinals had a 9-0 lead. With John Tudor pitching, it might as well have been 200-0.

And John Tudor did not disappoint as he pitched seven strong innings, allowing just three hits. The lone blemish was a home run by Bill Madlock to lead off the seventh inning. Tudor would be lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh, saving him for a possible return in game seven, if needed. Rick Horton and Bill Campbell each pitched an inning to seal the 12-2 victory, and the once overmatched Cardinals were beginning to look like National League champions. That would come later with two dramatic late inning home runs, but Cardinal fans knew that with this victory, the series was all but over.

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One of my favorite St. Louis sports commentators, Bernie Miklasz, is reporting that the Milwaukee Brewers were altering their starting rotation to send three left handers against the Cardinals for an important series starting on June 4, 2010. This is not the first time this has happened, nor is it a particularly huge gamble. If you want to see some real courage, take a look at June 26-29, 1967.

The Cardinals had just taken the lead for the first time since getting out of the gate quickly in 1967. Key to taking over the lead in the National League was a three game series on June 16-18 in San Francisco when the Cardinals took two of three from the Giants. Ray Washburn defeated former Cardinal Lindy McDaniel and the suddenly dominating Dick Hughes beats one of the best in baseball, Gaylord Perry. The lone game that the Cardinals lost was to veteran left hander, Joe Gibbon. Gibbon had been a starter earlier in his career, but was being used more often out the bullpen. In fact, Gibbon would make his last start in 1967, working exclusively in relief until he hung up his glove after the end of the 1972 season.

The first of the gambles played out in this series when Giants manager Herman Franks chose to skip Juan Marichal’s turn in the rotation to put a left hander in front of the Cardinals. The Cardinals had faced Marichal earlier in the season and had lit him up like a candle, but that was more the result of Marichal missing spring training on a contract holdout and trying to start the season without proper preparation. The real motivation for the switch was that the Redbird’s vulnerability to left handed pitching was being noticed around the league, and Franks chose to put that to the test. And the results were what he had hoped to see.

This brings us to an important four game home series against the Giants starting on June 26. While there is still a lot of baseball to be played, it is beginning to look like the Cardinals are running away with the National League pennant and this may be the Giants best chance to stop them and kickstart their own charge. From the earlier experience, Franks takes the chance of the year and sits Marichal again, opting to start lefties for three of the four games.

The lone Giant right hander would be Gaylord Perry and he would face Jim Cosman who was just called up to replace Ray Washburn. Washburn was injured late in his last start in Los Angeles when catcher Johnny Roseboro hit a line drive off his pitching hand and broke his thumb, requiring some delicate surgery to repair. Cosman had a brilliant debut in 1966, but was sent back to the minors when the rosters were trimmed down in May. While Cosman had pitched well to that point, his lack of control was become a concern and it was hoped that some time in Tulsa would help him straighten it out.

Cosman battled Perry for 8 1/3 innings, allowing just a single run. While the young right hander was in trouble most of the night, he seemed to be able to make the big pitched when needed. Cosman would only allow just four hits, but would give up 7 walks. To make the evening even more magical, Cosman would drive in the game winning run in his first at bat, scoring Ed Spezio with a two out single. Father of future Cardinal Scott Spezio, Ed would also drive in an insurance run later in the game.

The crowd would give Cosman a standing ovation when he was taken out of the game in the ninth inning, after putting the tying runs on base with walks. Manager Red Schoendienst wasn’t going to let the tiring kid lose the game and he called on Nelson Briles, who got the final two outs preserving the victory for Cosman.  This was Cosman’s second career victory, and sadly his last.

It was a truly magical night in St. Louis. Unfortunately it would not last as the Franks gamble won big, although in retrospect it was more luck than a good plan.

Mike McCormick got the next start against a young Steve Carlton. McCormick would get the better of the battle of the lefties, throwing a complete game shutout. The Cardinals had their chances, but failed to hit with runners on base. Carlton didn’t make it out of the fifth inning, but it was a bullpen failure of Hal Woodeshick and Al Jackson that put the game out of reach.

Former Cardinals fan favorite, Ray Sadecki, got the next start against rookie phenomenon Dick Hughes. Sadecki threw a gem, just has he had so many times in his amazing 1964 season with the Redbirds. He would go the distance, allowing a single run on seven hits to go with eight strikeouts. Hughes had a rare bad outing, giving up six runs in just over three innings. Al Jackson, in long relief, didn’t fare much better and the Giants would win this in a blowout.

In the final game of the series, lefty Joe Gibbon would get another rare start, facing the best in the game, Bob Gibson. When the two managers made out their scorecards, neither could have imagined how this one would start. The first eight Giants would reach base against Gibson, six singles, a triple and an intentional pass. Gibbon would make the first out, failing to get a bunt down against a furious Gibson – that had to be a terrifying at bat. A pop out and another walk would end the day for the big right hander. Nelson Briles would come in for some long relief and the beating would continue as he would surrender three more two out hits, including a three run homer to Jim Ray Hart. When the dust settled the Giants had an eleven run lead.

So how would Franks’ lefty gamble work out this time ? Well, good and bad. The Cardinals would get some revenge in their first time at bat, getting consecutive hits from Lou Brock, Julian Javier, Curt Flood and former Giant, Orlando Cepeda. Franks, not wanting to let this lead slip away, goes to his bullpen for Bobby Bolin, a right hander who would have started this game had Franks not fiddled with his rotation. Bolin shuts down the Cardinals quickly and goes the distance, allowing just two additional runs in nine innings of relief.

Looking back at this series with the benefit of some historical perspective, the gamble paid off and turned out to be the right call. It had to be difficult to remove one of the best right handed pitchers in the game, Juan Marichal, not once but twice. If we are judging this managerial move solely on the results, consider that the Giants would have the second best record from this point until the end of the 1967 season. So, goal number 1 (kickstart a Giants pennant chase) accomplished. For goal number 2, the Giants won three of four from the first place Cardinals and stopped the Cardinals from widening their lead in the National League standings. Goal accomplished.

What they did not do was take the wind out of the Cardinals sails. While the Giants had the second best record in the National League down the stretch, it would be the Cardinals who put up the best record, finishing 58-35 including the three losses to the Giants.  Mike McCormick would go on to have a brilliant season, winning the National League Cy Young Award.  But it was the Cardinals who played in October and earned their second set of rings in the decade.

As we look forward to the Brewers visiting the now first place Cardinals, some historical perspective tells us that championship teams may be slowed down by an occasional lefty or two, but the only thing that can truly stop them is the last out in the World Series.   Unless they win it with a walk off.

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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.

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The Cardinals entered the 1968 season with very high expectations. There were very few changes from their World Series Championship team, the most notable being Nelson Briles replacing the injured Dick Hughes in the starting rotation. Expectations would get even higher when the Cardinals would get off to a quick start, racing to a 20-10 record after a dominating 4 hit shutout by Steve Carlton on May 15.

The Cardinals would hit a bit of an early season slump, going 2-11 over the next 13 games, including losing six of seven games against the Philadelphia Phillies. Six of the eleven losses were by one run including two 1-0 heart breakers against the Phils. The low point of the 1968 series would be in the last of these games, on May 29. After losing the first of a three game series with the San Francisco Giants, Nelson Briles and Juan Marichal would hook up in one of the better pitching duels.  Marichal and the Giants would prevail in the nail biter by a score of 2-1  and the Cardinals would fall all the way to fifth place, 3 games behind the  Giants.   Fortunately this slump would come to an end as Steve Carlton would win the final game of the series, defeating former Cardinals favorite Ray Sadecki 6-0. This would get the Cardinals going and they would win 13 of their next 15 games and taking a 4 game lead in the National League. This is closest that the Giants or any other team would get to the Cardinals for the remainder of the 1968 regular season.

This brings us to June 18 and an important three game series against the Chicago Cubs. All eyes were on the last game which would feature Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins, but there was plenty of baseball to play before then.

In the first game, Nelson Briles would face Bill Hands. Hands was a tall right hander that was on the verge of becoming a force for the Cubs. He would finish the season with a 16-10 record, improve to 20-14 in 1969 and finally 18-15 in 1970. Hands entered this game with a solid 6-2 record and an ERA well under 3. He would pitch seven strong innings, making only one bad pitch. Substituting for an injured Roger Maris, Bobby Tolan would lead off the bottom of the fifth inning with a home run. It would be the only run scored in the game. Briles pitches gem for the Cardinals, finishing with complete game shutout, one of four he would throw in 1968.

The Cubs had their chances, but ran themselves out of several good scoring opportunities. Twice they would be victims of a strikeout-caught stealing double play, the worst being in the fourth inning. With runners at first and third and nobody out, Ron Santo would strike out with Billy Williams running on the pitch. Glenn Beckert broke from third on the double steal and the Cardinals anticipated it with Dick Schofield throwing out Beckert in a 2-4-2 caught stealing. A weak groundout to the shortstop killed that first Cubs rally. Ron Santo would be the victim again in the sixth inning as he would strike out and Don Kessinger would be thrown out trying to steal third base, ending another rally.  Ron Santo was having a really tough day at the plate.

This is the kind of game that we had come to expect from Briles since filling in for Bob Gibson last July. Briles would finish the season with a 19-11 record, but this was one of his best pitched games of 1968.

As good as this game was, it was nothing like the next two.

Two big lefties would face off in the second game. Steve Carlton (7-1) would get the start for the Cardinals against Rich Nye (4-6). Unfortunately for the Cubs, Nye would not make it out of the fourth inning. The Cardinals would break the game open in the third. Lou Brock and Julian Javier would start the inning with singles. Curt Flood would hit the ball to deep short and they had no chance to double up the speedy center fielder, taking the force out at second. Orlando Cepeda would follow that up with a 3 run homer. The top of the order would again get to Nye in the next inning. With two outs, Brock would double and score on a Javier single. That would chase Nye and former Cardinal Jack Lamabe and future Redbird Chuck Hartenstein would close things down in relief.

Meanwhile Carlton was breezing through the Cubs batting order. In the second inning, Carlton would hit Lou Johnson with a pitch. Glenn Beckert would lead off the fourth inning with a single. Billy Williams would force Beckert at second base and Ron Santo would end the inning with a double play. Santo was not having a very good series. The only other Cubs runner would be on a 2 out error by Julian Javier in the fifth inning. Carlton would retire the next 13 batters for a mesmerizing 1 hitter, striking out 9 and walking none.

How can you top a Carlton 1 hitter ? A Fergie Jenkins/Bob Gibson pitching duel. And this one did not disappoint. Jenkins had brought his A game as he tried to prevent the series sweep at the hands of Cardinals. Unfortunately his opponent was Bob Gibson and this was 1968 and Gibson had an A+ game. Both pitchers were stingy with hits, Gibson giving up 5 and Jenkins just 4. Two of the Cardinal hits would come in the third inning. After striking out the first two batters, Lou Brock would triple and Curt Flood follows with an RBI single for the only run in the game. While most of the Cardinal hitters were struggling in 1968, Flood was hot as a St. Louis summer, going 2-3 in this game and increasing his batting average to a cool .322.

In a couple of weeks, the Cardinals would put the pennant out of reach with a devastating 13-1 stretch against Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston. Perhaps more important was this sweep of the Cubs at home because it finally shook off that 2-11 slump in mid-May and reminded the Cardinals that they can beat anybody in this league. More than a sweep, it was three consecutive shutouts. It’s always fun to beat the Cubs, but not allowing a run in three home games was the high point of the 1968 season.

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