The greatest thing about the Cardinals 2011 season for
an old fan a historian is that youngsters are taking a keen interest in the 1964 team, and how they pulled off one of baseball’s greatest upsets, taking the pennant away from the Philadelphia Phillies on the last day of the season. We are all looking for something, some reason to stay invested in the Cardinals for these last two weeks, hoping that history will repeat itself.
An objective view doesn’t really help that cause as the two teams couldn’t be more different. The ’64 team had a relatively new manager in Johnny Keane, and he looked at his young core of players and gave them the ball, no matter what happened. Those players excelled and the team took on a “never say die” approach to the end of that season. The number of ways the ’64 Cardinals won games in the final month of the season is just mind boggling. Let’s not forget that it also took an epic collapse by Gene Mauch’s Phillies, perhaps the result of shortening the starting rotation just a bit too much. Nah, over-managing a pitching staff would never happen in the big leagues.
No, the 2011 Cardinals don’t bear much resemblance to that feisty group of Cardinals from five decades ago. All is not lost, however, because they might in fact be the team from the previous season. And all of that started in this late August game, in Philadelphia.
August 30, 1963
St. Louis entered this three game series with the Phillies, trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers by 7 games. They were in sole possession of second place, but the Giants were hot on their heels, at least for the moment. If the Cardinals were to make up any ground on Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers, it would have to start soon.
This game would feature two young hurlers with very bright futures. For the Cardinals, Johnny Keane would send left hander Ray Sadecki to the mound. Sadecki was an immensely talented young pitcher, but battled moments when he seemed to lose focus on the game, and that’s when he got into trouble. Yes, we are still talking about 1963, although if any of this sounds familiar, it was a similarly talented Jaime Garcia that got the call in Philly on September 16, 2011.
For the Phillies, Gene Mauch gave the ball to his big rookie right hander, Ray Culp. Culp’s best years would come with Boston in the American League, but already in his rookie season, we could see that he was indeed a talent. Much like the youngster taking the mound for the Phillies on September 16, Vance Worley.
Cue the Outer Limits music. This is getting spooky, very quickly. But wait, there more. Lots more.
Culp works a very quick first inning, retiring the side in order. For his half of the inning, Sadecki was not quite as fortunate. A single and walk put two base runners on with just one out, but he managed to work out of the early jam.
In the second inning, a one out single by Charlie James gave the Cardinals their first base runner. It didn’t last long as the inning would end on a double play. At least this one was creative as James was thrown out at second base when George Altman struck out.
In the home half of the second inning, another mental lapse by Sadecki put him in a terrible situation. With one out, an error by Dick Groat put Bob Oldis, the Phillies catcher on base. Bobby Wine would follow that with a single. The big mistake was when Sadecki walked the Phillies pitcher, loading the bases with the top of the order coming up to bat. Somehow, the Cardinals young pitcher found some strength and retired Tony Taylor and Johnny Callison to end the threat, and keeping the game scoreless. To emphasize how big of a moment this was, Callison would finish second to Ken Boyer in the 1964 MVP voting. What Sadecki just did was enormous.
The Cardinals put a pair of runs on the scoreboard in the top of the third. A single by Julian Javier followed by a triple off the bat of Tim McCarver gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. Don’t think that triple by McCarver was a fluke. He would lead the league with 13 in 1967, and hit 57 total over his career. He would also participate in his share of double steals and hit-and-runs.
Sadecki hit a fly ball to right, but it was too short to score McCarver from third. A Curt Flood single moments later scored the Cardinal backstop, and St. Louis had a 2-0 lead. Unfortunately that is all the scoring they would do as Dick Groat ended the inning with a 5-4-3 double play. The second in as many innings.
I told you the parallels were spooky.
Over the next few innings, the tables turned on the two young pitchers. It would be Culp that would start to unravel, and Sadecki would toughen. But if Sadecki had a flaw, it was vulnerability to the long ball. In the bottom of the fifth, that’s exactly what would happen when center fielder Don Demeter hit a homer with two men on base. The Phillies now had a 3-2 lead. With the way Culp has been struggling, that lead did not look to be long lived.
Two batters to be exact. Dick Groat would lead off the top of the sixth with a triple, and score when Bill White grounded out to the pitcher. The game is now tied at 3. Culp continued to struggle, giving up a single to Ken Boyer and walking Charlie James. Once again, a promising rally would come to a screeching halt when George Altman ended another inning with a double play. At least this time, Big George hit the ball, but right at second baseman, Tony Taylor.
Ray Sadecki responded with a quick 1-2-3 bottom of the sixth inning, which put his team back on the offensive. That would turn out to be important as the Cardinals break the game open in the seventh. It all happened quickly, and started with a pair of errors by third baseman, Earl Averill. The first was on a grounder by Julian Javier, but it was the second on Tim McCarver’s sacrifice bunt that proved to be the turning point. Keane was willing to give up an out, but the Averill and the Phillies failed to capitalize on that. Culp’s final batter was his opposite number, and he ended up walking Sadecki to load the bases. That got Gene Mauch out of the dugout, and Culp’s day was over.
Jack Baldschun, one of the better closers of the era, was on to face the top of the Cardinals batting order. Curt Flood singles home Javier and McCarver. Dick Groat follows that with a 2 RBI single of his own, scoring Sadecki and Flood. A Bill White grounder put Groat in scoring position, and Ken Boyer would cap off the 5 run inning with an RBI single. In the span of just a few minutes, the Cardinals took an 8-3 lead. Now, if Sadecki can just hold it.
With 2 outs in the seventh inning, Sadecki got careless with Earl Averill, and his solo home run got the Phillies one run closer. With two outs in the eighth, Sadecki had another lapse. With Bob Oldis on first base, Sadecki got careless again, this time to the light hitting Bobby Wine. Wine’s 2 run homer made it 8-6, and that got Johnny Keane out of his dugout, and the hard throwing Ron Taylor into the game. Taylor quickly ended the inning, and the last Phillies threat.
The Cardinals would tack on three more runs in the ninth, courtesy of a Ken Boyer three run blast. It might have been more, had Curt Flood not been thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple. Base running blunders, double plays, pitchers having mental lapses – yes, we are still talking about 1963. I think.
The Doctor (Ron Taylor did in fact earn a Medical degree and was a team physician, among other things) slammed the door on the Phillies in the ninth, and the Cardinals earned an important win on the road. The Dodgers lead would remain at seven games, for the moment.
The Other Torre
One last interesting footnote to this game. In the eighth inning, the Phillies used Frank Torre as a pinch hitter. Frank is the older brother of former Cardinals player and manager, Joe Torre. Frank was a big lefty, and played first base, mostly in a platoon over his seven major league seasons. Like his little brother, Frank had come up with the Milwaukee Braves before ending his career in Philadelphia. The two brothers never played together on the same team.
It’s what happens following this game that is so important to the 1964 Cardinals pennant race. The Cardinals would finish the sweep of the Phillies, including a nifty extra inning thriller. They would go on to sweep the Pirates for three, the Mets for two, take three of four in Pittsburgh, and finally a pair of four game sweeps of Milwaukee and Chicago at home. If you add that up, the team would win 19 out of 20 games. They would also pull to within one game of Los Angeles with just 10 games to play.
Unlike Philadelphia in 1964, the Dodgers did not choke going down the stretch. The ’63 Cardinals just played that well over the next three weeks that a seven game deficit was all but erased. Unfortunately, the race would soon end as the much superior Dodgers swept the Cardinals and ended any World Series hopes in St. Louis.
But that experience learned in 1963 played a huge role in how Keane’s club would finish in 1964. Perhaps closer to the situation today, the ’63 team was a good one, but the pieces just didn’t fit together quite right. There were significant defensive troubles in the outfield, and defense was often sacrificed for offensive production. We’re still talking 1963, remember. Over the off-season, and with a couple of important mid-season trades, general manager Bing Devine filled those holes with future stars, one now immortalized in Cooperstown.
The last remaining story to be told about the 1964 Cardinals is how close they came in 1963. The first three weeks of September was some of the best baseball ever played in the Gateway City, and that experience gave Bob Gibson, Ray Sadecki, Julian Javier, Tim McCarver, Curt Simmons, Ron Taylor, Ken Boyer, Curt Flood, Dick Groat and Bill White the experience they would need to finish the job in 1964.
If the Cardinals are going to make the playoffs in 2011, it will take a similar effort over the next two weeks. It all started in 1963 with a young lefty on the mound in Philadelphia, just like it did last night. It could happen again. History is funny in that way. Even if it doesn’t, perhaps this experience will help Jaime Garcia, Jason Motte, Marc Rzepczynski, Adron Chambers, Tyler Greene, Daniel Descalso and David Freese in 2012.