Reading through United Cardinals Bloggers postings of their top iconic moments, you quickly come to the conclusion that Cardinals fans are fortunate to have so many wonderful memories. From Ozzie Smith’s home run to Mark McGwire’s 62nd, I think my favorite was from Bill Ivie when he talked about a game he attended with his father. Surely, those are the most special of all.
I have one of those as well, although it didn’t have a happy ending at the time. But it has changed the way I look at baseball, and made me the fan that I am today. As Game Six of the 2011 World Series unfolded, I looked up to the sky and thanked my dad for a game in which we did not see the ending.
The date was September 18, 1969, a Thursday afternoon game in St. Louis. A disappointing season for the Cardinals was winding down. The Pittsburgh Pirates were in town for a quick two game series before the Cardinals left on a long road trip. For some reason, my dad took the day off work and took me out of school to go to this particular game. I have no memory of why, but I do remember the game as if it happened yesterday.
Both Nelson Briles of the Cardinals and Steve Blass of the Pirates got off to a good start. The Cardinals would score first, putting three runs on the board in the third inning. A two out walk to Curt Flood followed by a double by Vada Pinson gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. Then Joe Hague hit a home run to extend that to 3-0. The tiny crowd made a huge noise as Hague rounded the bases.
In the fifth inning, Briles began to show signs of trouble. Since he was not a strikeout pitcher, he had to be perfect with his control, and that was slipping. The Pirates were starting to get to him. They would continue to peck away at Briles in the sixth inning as well, but Nelly managed to keep the Pirates off the scoreboard.
Briles luck finally ran out in the seventh. After striking out Manny Sanguillen to start the ininng, Richie Hebner singled. Bob Robertson followed that with an RBI double. That brought Red Schoendienst out of the dugout, and the afternoon was over for Briles.
Mudcat Grant came into the game and immediately gave up a two run homer to the Pirates pinch hitter, Jose Pagan. The game is now tied and my dad is starting to stir. Grant would give up a single to Matty Alou and a double to Dave Cash. The Pirates are threatening to break this game open with runners in scoring position and the scary part of their batting order coming up (Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Al Oliver). And my dad is threatening to get up and leave the ballpark.
Again, Red went to his bullpen, this time for Ray Washburn. Washburn would intentionally walk Willie Stargell to load the bases. Considering that Washburn and his tremendous curveball could easily induce an inning ending double play, this seemed like a good idea. If Red had to do it all over again, he might have let Grant walk Stargell instead of Washburn.
After the intentional pass, Washburn snapped off one of those breaking balls, but it fell short of the plate and Ted Simmons could not corral it. Alou scampers home, giving the Pirates the lead. OK, let’s try this again. Now Washburn intentionally walks Clemente to face the left handed hitting, Al Oliver. Joe Hoerner is warming up in the bullpen as quickly as he can, but he’s not ready to come into the game yet, so Washburn has to face the left handed hitter. Washburn strikes out the pesky Oliver. Now he is one pitch away from ending the rally and limiting the damage. Unfortunately for Washburn, the Pirates are one pitch away from breaking the game open.
The Pirates win this battle when Manny Sanguillen, who led off the inning with a strikeout, rips a double to left field. Cash scores, Stargell rounds third base and scores. It’s now 6-3 and my dad begins picking up his things and motioning towards the stairs. I must have given him the sad puppy dog face because he sits back down and is willing to give Joe Hoerner a chance.
Well, that didn’t last long. Hoerner couldn’t find the strike zone either, and a wild pitch made the score 7-3. That was it for my dad, and we started our long walk up the steps, around Busch stadium and over to the garage where our car was parked. My dad apologizes several times on the journey, disappointed that the Cardinals didn’t give me a better game. He didn’t understand my sadness was from leaving the game early, not the score. The score didn’t matter as much as just being there with my dad. The walk signaled that this special day was about to come to a conclusion.
As we walked around the stadium, we kept hearing crowd noise. It was eerie, what was there to cheer about ? Just as we were about to leave the stadium, I turned around for one last look at the field and saw Jerry DaVanon standing on second base. Then I heard a crack of a bat, and DaVanon raced all the way home. Standing there for as long as I could, I watched Vada Pinson step up to the plate and hit the ball well out of sight. From that particular angle, I could only see the infield, but the speed of Pinson and Curt Flood rounding the bases, together with the noise of the crowd, told me that the ball had left the field of play. Mentally, I added the score (DaVanon, Flood, Pinson, that’s three). The Cardinals were within just one run, at 7-6.
My dad had already mentally checked out of the game and was now more interested in beating rush hour traffic out of downtown, so we left the stadium. As a consolation, we did listen to the game on the radio. I leaned against the passenger side window, closed my eyes and let the pictures painted by Harry Caray and Jack Buck’s voice fill my mind for the short drive home.
Sal Campisi struggled in relief of Hoerner. Apparently he could not find the strike zone. In two innings of work, Campisi would walk four batters. What had been a swiftly moving game had suddenly come to a near stand-still. This had to be agonizing to watch if we were still sitting in the stadium, but the slow pace actually allowed us to get all the way home so we could finish listening to the game in the comfort of our living room.
As we walked into the house, we were greeted by my mother, who had a bit of a puzzled look on her face, not expecting to see us home so soon. She did have the game on the radio, as she did whenever the Cardinals were playing, so we all sat down to listen to the end.
Phil Gagliano, one of our favorite utility players, led off the inning with a single. He represents the tying run. Vic Davillio, one of those really pesky scrappy guys with great speed, pinch runs for Gagliano. Lou Brock strikes out, and my mom makes a sour face. Curt Flood follows that with a single, but Davillio has to stop at second. Vada Pinson strikes out, for the second out of the inning. My mom makes another sour face. The Pirates are now one pitch away from winning the game, but that pitch would never come.
Joe Torre steps up to the plate. Torre had come into the game as a pinch hitter during the Cardinals big rally in the seventh inning. Like Matt Holliday, Torre could swing that big bat and hit the ball very hard. He hit one right at Al Oliver, who was really an outfielder and not a first baseman, and he boots it. Davillio is flying around the bases and scores all the way from second base on the error. The game is tied at 7, and the speedy Curt Flood is now in scoring position.
Ted Simmons would be the final batter in the game, as he would line a single to right field that easily scored Flood. Somehow, the Cardinals had engineered a late inning comeback, erasing that horrific seventh inning where the Pirates scored seven runs. The Cardinals won the game 8-7. What an unbelievable game.
But it filled a very young baseball fan with a lot of conflicting emotions. There was the exuberance of the win, certainly enhanced by Jack Buck’s description of the actual events. At the same time there was the disappointment that I could have, and if it were totally up to me, would have been there to see this comeback, rather than listen to it on the radio. In hindsight, an additional element of sadness is added as this was the last time I would see Ray Washburn, Curt Flood and Joe Hoerner in a Cardinals uniform, and the visual memory was of them struggling.
But this is not a sad story, because on that day my relationship with baseball changed. Never again would I give up on a game until the last out is recorded. Deficits on the scoreboard become late inning opportunities, not obstacles. I realized on that afternoon in 1969 that my dad and I were just different types of baseball fans. Looking back, I have to thank him for opening up that world by taking me to all of those games when I was young. More than that, I have to thank him for letting me get away with things like hiding a transistor radio under my pillow so I could listen to those late night west coast games.
That’s why, when the Cardinals overcame not one, but two late inning deficits in Game Six, I had to thank my dad for making me the kind of baseball fan that did not give up, sticking with it until the final out was recorded. Although he has been gone for nearly two decades, I know that he was watching that game too, knowing how much I was enjoying it. Thanks, Dad.