The 2011 Cardinals appear to be marching towards the magical date of September 1 with a seemingly insurmountable number of games to make up in order to catch the division leading Milwaukee Brewers. If I can trust what I read from some of my buddies on Twitter, Cardinals fans are beginning to give up on the team, and turning their attention to either football or anxiously awaiting the start of the hockey season.
When faced with a similar situation last year, many of us have turned back to the legendary tale of the 1964 Cardinals, and how they overcame adversity and won a most improbable NL Pennant. In those stories, it appears as if the Cardinals all grew about 6 inches rode white horses into the stadium each night. Let’s take a slightly different look at that amazing run and see what actually happened – there were far more disappointments than the history books generally share.
August 17-19 St. Louis at Houston – 5th place, 9 games out
The Cardinals entered this series 9 games out of first place. The Phillies appeared to be on cruise control with a 7 1/2 game lead over the Reds, who had just dropped 2 of 3 in this very ballpark.
The first two games were terribly exciting, with late inning heroics playing a big part, as they would throughout the Cardinals run to the NL pennant.
Roger Craig would pitch a gem in the opener, only to face a 1-0 deficit when he turned the game over to a young hard throwing Mike Cuellar. Two errors by Houston in the 9th inning allowed the Cardinals to score 3 runs, and win the opener 3-1. Timely hitting by Dick Groat, Mike Shannon and Tim McCarver were the story, but Craig was the forgotten hero of the game.
Ray Sadecki won a typical Sadecki game the following day. He struggled with control early, a wild pitch allowing a run to score. His team bailed him out, tying the game at 2 when he steps to the plate in the seventh inning. He rips a triple and scores the game winner moments later on a Lou Brock single. Some insurance runs later off future Cardinal Hal Woodeshick ice the game for the Cardinals.
As good as the first two were, this final game of the series was a genuine heart breaker. This would be the last of Bob Gibson’s struggles before going on a 9-2 tear, absolutely dominating the National League hitters. The future Hall of Famer would only last 6 innings, but another ninth inning rally would erase all of his troubles, and those of the normally reliable Ron Taylor. The Cardinals would enter the bottom of the ninth inning with 7-6 lead, but it would not hold up. Mike Cuellar would retire the first two Colt 45s, but a single and hit batsman would put the tying run in scoring position. The veteran knuckleballer, Barney Schultz, would give up a hit to tie the game, and a Lou Brock error nearly ended it right there. It would end an inning later on a rare error by Curt Flood that put Cardinals killer Al Spangler in scoring position with 2 outs. Johnny Keane went to his bullpen again and Gordie Richardson gave up the walk off hit to future Hall of Famer, Nellie Fox.
The Cardinals take 2 of 3 from Houston, but fail to move up in the standings as Philadelphia also wins 2 of their 3 games. The Cardinals did manage to leap over one team ahead of them as Pittsburgh became the first casualty of the pennant race, falling into fifth place. Pre-season favorites, San Francisco also lost ground on the Phillies, but still hold onto second place. For the moment.
August 21-23 St. Louis at San Franscisco, 4th place, 9 games out.
A wonderful opportunity to gain ground on a team ahead of them in the standings went for naught as the Cardinals drop 2 of 3 to the Giants. Another ninth inning rally, including a key base hit by Dal Maxvill gave the Cardinals a win in the opener, but the Giants pitching was just too good, and the Cardinals lost following two games. The last one was especially disappointing because it was another combination of a bullpen loss and an error by a normally dependable defender, in this case Dal Maxvill. It would be the only error by Maxie in 1964, but it could not have come at a worse time.
The Reds and Giants hold ground on the Phillies while the Cardinals fall back to 11 games out. This would be farthest the Cardinals would be out of first place all season, tying July 9 when an Al Jackson win over Curt Simmons also put the Cardinals 11 games out.
Things are about to change. Break out the vuvuzela’s (and yes, there was one at the World Series), this is going to be a wild finish. But think tortoise, not hare.
August 24-26 Pittsburgh at St. Louis, 4th place, 11 games out
If there was a turning point in the pennant race, these last two series with the Pirates would have to be at the top of the list. The Cardinals would win all eight games, due in large part to some fantastic outings from their starters. In this three game series, Bob Gibson would shut down the Bucco’s in the opener, as would Mike Cuellar in the finale.
It was the middle game of this series that gave Cardinals fans some hope for a strong finish. Curt Simmons had been given an early 4-0 lead, but gave it all back in a rough seventh inning. Once again, a rare Cardinals error nearly cost the Redbirds an important game.
In the 12th inning, both teams would send 8 men to the plate, scoring 2 runs each. It was a crazy inning for both clubs with the only ball being hit hard being a one out double by Mike Shannon. 13 turned out to be a lucky number for the Cardinals as Lou Brock sent the big crowd home happy with a walk-off home run. The Cardinals win, 7-6.
Frustratingly, the Cardinals didn’t manage to gain any ground on the Phillies. The Reds and Giants continued to leapfrog each other, but neither was making any real progress either.
August 28-31 Los Angeles at St. Louis, 4th place, 9 games out
The starting pitching is the story of this four game series with the Dodgers. Ray Sadecki, Bob Gibson and Curt Simmons would all throw complete games. Sadecki allowed 3 runs, and Gibson and Simmons just one run apiece. The Dodgers avoided the sweep by tearing into Mike Cuellar in a 12-3 blowout.
Two weeks have passed and little progress has been made in the standings. The Cardinals are still in 4th place, and looking at a 7 1/2 game deficit heading into September.
September 1-3 Milwaukee (Braves) at St. Louis, 4th place, 7 1/2 games out
The Cardinals would take 2 of 3 from the Braves. Ray Sadecki would pitch one of his typical 1964 wins in the opener. A rough inning would give the Braves an early 4-0 lead, but the Cardinals chipped away at it, inning by inning. A 2 run homer by Ken Boyer would cut that lead in half. A solo shot by Bob Uecker (yes, that Bob Uecker) would cut it again in half. Ken Boyer would later double and score on a wild pitch to tie the game. The Cardinals would win another walk off when Bob Uecker (yes, that Bob Uecker) singles home Julian Javier in the ninth.
Bob Gibson would throw another dominating game the next day, but a Wade Blasingame shutout in the finale prevented the Cardinals sweep.
No change in the standings. Are the
Brewers Phillies ever going to lose again ?
September 4-6 Chicago at St. Louis, 4th place, 7 1/2 games out
Forget the NL pennant race, this is Cubs vs Cardinals. More important than that, this is Lou Brock vs Ernie Broglio. While this series didn’t appear to have any impact on the standings, a pair of late inning comebacks may have saved the season for the big club, and Brock played a part in one of them.
Perhaps the most exciting play in the 1964 season came in the series opener. The Cubs had taken an 8th inning 5-4 lead, and looked poised to win the game. How many times have we seen this same thing happen to the Cardinals in recent years ? But the ’64 team was a plucky bunch, and were not to be defeated this easily.
With 2 outs in the bottom of the 8th inning, singles by Mike Shannon and pinch hitter Bob Skinner put runners at the corners. Dal Maxvill replaced Skinner on first base, and that proved to be an important decision by manager Johnny Keane. Dal Maxvill had great speed, although not known as a base stealer. He did steal a base here, and when he did, Mike Shannon broke off third to complete a successful double steal. The Cardinals just stole victory away from the Cubs, although that would have to wait for a few more minutes, and some late inning heroics from another Cardinals favorite.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Ken Boyer steps up to the plate with 2 runners on base. If there was ever a Cardinal who could deliver a big hit, it was Boyer, and what a big hit this was. The 1964 NL MVP delivers a three run walk-off home run to give the Cardinals an 8-5 win.
The Cardinals were unable to overcome an 8 run second inning off Mike Cuellar in the second game, although a 4 inning outburst in the bottom of the ninth made it seem closer than the 8-5 score indicated.
That set up an exciting series finale, and Abner Doubleday had to be smiling because Ernie Broglio would be on the mound for the Cubs. Although he had been somewhat of a disappointment for the Cubs following the mid-season trade, he would pitch well enough in the game to earn a win, if not for some late inning mishaps from former Cardinals reliever, Lindy McDaniel. Ray Sadecki and Barney Schultz both had problems with the long ball, but an errant pickoff throw from McDaniel in the 7th and a huge RBI single by Bill White with 2 outs in the ninth sent this game in to extra innings.
That’s when the other half of the “big trade” came up…. “big”.
In the 11th inning, still facing Lindy McDaniel, Tim McCarver would lead off with a single. Keane decides to leave Bobby Humphreys in the game, and let’s him bunt McCarver into scoring position (Keane’s pitchers could lay down a bunt, unlike most of the current roster of Cardinals hurlers). McCarver would move to 3rd on a ground out by Curt Flood, bringing Lou Brock to the plate. Brock sends the huge crowd home screaming with a single, scoring McCarver with the game winner.
Three very exciting games to be sure, but they all appeared to be for nothing as the Phillies kept pace. At least the Giants were beginning to fade as they dropped into a third place tie with the Cardinals after their series.
September 7, Cincinnati at St. Louis, 3rd place, 7 1/2 games out
A pair of earlier rain outs set up this most interesting double header with the second place Reds. If the Cardinals can’t make any progress on the Phillies, maybe they can at least close some of the gap with the Reds.
Bob Gibson took the mound in the opener and was spectacular. A 2 run homer by Ken Boyer in the third, followed by a solo shot by Cardinal’s nemesis, Deron Johnson, set up an exciting top of the ninth inning. A pair of doubles by future Cardinals catcher Johnny Edwards and Leo Cardinas ties the game at 2 runs each. As brilliant as the pitching had been for the first 8 1/2 innings, the final few minutes of this game were among the ugliest the Cardinals would see all season.
Reds reliever Bill Henry would start things off by walking Bill White. He would then throw two pitches past Don Pavletich, who had just coming into the game as a pinch hitter. That proved to be the difference in the game as the Cardinals catcher, Tim McCarver singled, scoring White easily from third base. Another walk off win.
It almost seems impossible, but the second game would also feature a walk off win. With the score tied at 2 runs each, Tim McCarver would start things off in the ninth with a single. He would be forced at second base on a ground out by Julian Javier. In hindsight, the Reds might have wanted to keep Javier off the bases instead of McCarver. That’s because Javier would soon steal second base, getting into scoring position. With a huge crowd on their feet, roaring, Curt Flood delivers the key hit, scoring Javier with the game winner. Another 3-2 walk off win for the Cardinals.
A huge day for the Cardinals as they gain ground on everybody in the standings. Cincinnati falls back to 6 1/2 games out and it is now a three team tie for second place.
Things are getting very interesting.
Tomorrow, we will look at the remainder of the season when an 18 game road trip proved to be just what the Cardinals needed. At this point, however, the wins all seemed to be futile as they were still 6 1/2 out, and the remaining games were counting down very quickly.