A huge crowd turned out for this battle between the World Champion Cardinals and the no longer embarrassing New York Mets. Fans were hoping for a rematch of the earlier extra inning thriller between Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver. The Mets did their part sending Seaver to the mound but the Cardinals were starting the big left hander, Larry Jaster. On paper this should have been a massacre. On paper.
A bit more background is needed before we look at the game. Jaster was a big hard throwing lefty that broke in, more like burst onto the scene when the rosters expanded in 1965. His first appearance was in relief on September 17 taking over when Curt Simmons was lifted for a pinch hitter. It was a very close game against the always tough Don Drysdale and Simmons would take a hard luck loss in spite of pitching pretty well. Jaster would make quite an impression making short work of the bottom of the Dodgers batting order.
That earned him a spot in the rotation and he would take advantage of it. And the Houston Colt 45s. Jaster would pitch a complete game allowing only 1 run on 4 hits, two of those coming as he was tiring in the ninth inning. Five days later he would pitch another complete game, only allowing 1 run late as the Cardinals beat the Giants 9-1. And in the last Saturday game of the year, Jaster would pitch another complete game beating Houston again, 6-3. What a debut – 3-0, 3 complete games in 3 starts and an ERA of 1.61. Clearly the Cards had a gem in the young lefty.
He pitched very well in 1966 going 11-5. He tossed 6 complete games and led the league in shutouts with 5. Tthe press would notice too as he finished 4th in Rookie of the Year voting. He would put up nearly identical numbers in 1967, lowering his era a bit and ending the season 9-7. He made one appearance in the World Series in Game 6 and got hit hard. But then again, several other Cardinal greats were hit hard in that game too.
That brings us to 1968. The Cardinals would start the season with a strong 4 man rotation of Bob Gibson, Ray Washburn, Nelson Briles (the super sub from the 67 season where he won 10 games in a row) and young lefty Steve Carlton. Dick Hughes who went 16-6 the previous season and finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting would get the occasional spot start as would newcomer Mike Torrez (the Jose DeLeon of that era). Jaster would start the season in the bullpen. That is until a game on May 16 when Jaster would take over for Ray Washburn. Washburn was pitching a typical Washburn game in Pittsburgh – lights out until all of a sudden a cluster of hits from the Pirates leading to a couple of runs. Taking a gamble of breaking through against the big lefty Bob Veale (no, the Cards couldn’t hit lefties back then either), Red Schoendienst pinch hit for Washburn when the Cards might be getting something going, but alas Ed Spiezio (father of future Cardinal Scott Spiezio) struck out. Jaster pitched the seventh inning and got into a bit of trouble with a single, walk and a couple of stolen bases. But he held his ground getting out of the inning with no damage. Then he shut down the heart of the Pirates order the next inning with a strikeout to Willie Stargell and a couple of groundouts to Maxvill at short.
The Cardinals were in the middle of a long stretch without an off day so Red took a chance with the lefty and put him into the rotation with just three days rest. In front of a small crowd at home, Jaster dominated the Dodgers pitching a complete game 2 hitter. A bit of early wildness and an ex-Cardinal would hurt Jaster in the first inning as a walk, passed ball and groundout by Ken Boyer would score an unearned run. The Cardinals would quickly get that back as Bobby Tolan would single and score on an Orlando Cepeda double. Then both pitchers would get into a groove with Jaster getting the better of Don Sutton. The only Dodgers to get a hit were light hitting (oh the irony) infielder Paul Popovich to lead off the fifth and with 2 outs in the ninth, Wes Parker would single up the middle. The Cardinals would win this pitching duel 2-1. And Jaster had just been put back into the rotation. For a while.
In his next start he would lose a heartbreaker to the Phillies. Only once would the Phillies get more than one hit in an inning, but that was enough as veteran Larry Jackson shut out the Cardinals 1-0.
That brings us to his next start, May 31 in New York against one of the games greatest right handers, Tom Seaver. And Seaver pitched a typical Seaver game. If you were to get to him, you better do it early. And the Cardinals tried in the first inning as they loaded the bases but Mike Shannon grounded into a force out. The next time this part of the order would face Seaver things would be different. That was in the third inning as Lou Brock led off with a triple. Curt Flood then singles home Brock. After two quick outs to Roger Maris and Orlando Cepeda, Seaver throws one wild moving Flood into scoring position. Not wanting to mess with a hot Tim McCarver, Seaver walks Timmy to get to Shannon who grounded out in the first. This time Shannon makes him pay with a single to center easily scoring Flood. The Cardinals had an early 2-0 lead. Seaver would settle in later, but the Cardinals had a few good chances, but were unable to put anything else on the scoreboard.
So how did Larry Jaster do ? Ahhhh, that’s the story. Jaster was amazing, pitching even better than his outing against the Dodgers. He took a perfect game into the bottom of the 8th inning, striking out seven Mets along the way. We were all glued to our radios, wondering if we were listening to something historic. Then with 2 outs in the eighth, Mets first baseman Greg Goossen hit a no doubter single to left. With the perfect game and no hitter gone, Jaster still had to earn the win. The lead was slim at 2-0 and Seaver was suddenly getting stingy. Jaster toughened even more allowing just one more baserunner, a 2 out single in the ninth as he was pitching on fumes. Four outs from pitching immortality, Jaster completed finished one of the greatest runs in Cardinals pitching history. He tossed two complete game 2 hitters, lost one 1-0 heartbreaker in between. And he had outpitched the great Tom Seaver in his home ballpark. All at the tender age of 24.
Jaster and hard throwing future closer Wayne Granger would pair up and win a couple of nice games on his next two starts (3-1 against Houston and 4-3 against Atlanta). He would continue to pitch extremely well, especially with Granger following him in late innings. A couple of tough luck losses broke up his string of wins until July 28 when the wheels fell off. He would lose his next 6 starts although at least 3 of them were winnable while he was still pitching. He would be sent to the bullpen where his struggles would continue. Maybe it was a case of a tired arm, or an unknown injury – but Jaster was never the same after that.
He would be selected by the Montreal Expos in the 1969 expansion draft (the same one that claimed Dave Giusti causing the Cardinals to trade for him twice in the same offseason.
Jaster would struggle with the new franchise as his he lost his control and both his WHIP and ERA soared. Jaster would be sent back to minor leagues – he was still only 25 years old. The young man had already seen a lot of baseball, but was still very young. While in the minors he would be traded to the Atlanta farm system and get a couple of chances in 1970 and 72. At age 28 he would play his last game in the majors.
But on the night on May 31, 1968 – he pitched one of the greatest games the Cardinals had seen in a long time. Well, since the beginning of the 1967 season, anyway. We’ll leave that for another day.
Unfortunately all of this has been forgotten as Steve Carlton flirted with a couple of no hitters later that summer, and Ray Washburn did pitch a no hitter on September 18 against the Giants (the day after Gaylord Perry threw one against a celebrating 93-58 Cardinals team that had just won the NL Pennant – spoiling an equally brilliant 4 hitter by Bob Gibson).