The first place Montreal Expos were visiting the 4th place Cardinals. Just two weeks earlier the Cardinals had been tied for first place, but had gone 2-10 since then to fall to 7 1/2 games out. This is where they would stay until a similar slide in September would seal their fate. Meanwhile the Expos would hold their lead, lose it in August, regain late in September only to be overtaken by the Pirates in the last week of the season. For baseball fans, September 24 proved to a special day as the league lead changed hands twice as Montreal and Pittsburg split a double header. Pittsburgh would take a 1/2 game lead by winning the first game and Montreal took the lead back by winning the second game. Pittsburgh would pound the Expos in the final two games of the series, taking over the lead for good – although it would not be official until the last game of the year.
The 1979 Cardinals were an interesting group of players. Ken Boyer was in his second season as the Cardinals skipper, taking over in 1978. They had just come off a couple of very bad seasons and were playing at about a .500 pace. Eventually the front office would turn control of the team over to Whitey Herzog and he would transform it into a perennial contender, but not before a terrible start to the 1980 season, which would cost Boyer his job. 1979 would see the end of one era with the retirement of Hall of Fame star, Lou Brock. It would also see the beginning of another when fan favorite, Tommy Herr, would make his Cardinals debut in August. The star of the game tonight would part of one of the biggest trades in franchise history, bringing to St. Louis the missing piece to the Cardinals 1982 World Series team.
Montreal would be starting Steve Rogers. He was a tall thin right hander who was finally starting to pitch well for the Expos. Much like the Cardinals Al Jackson, Rogers had the misfortune of playing for some bad Expos teams early in their franchise history, and his record reflects that, losing 22 in 1974 and going 7-17 in 1976 despite a good ERA of 3.21 and 4 shutouts. 1979 would be Rogers breakthrough year, leading the league in shutouts. In 1980, his ERA would fall below 3.00 and Rogers would finish with 14 complete games. His 1982 ERA of 2.40 would lead the league and he would finish second in Cy Young voting behind former Cardinal Steve Carlton. The Cardinals were facing a good right handed pitcher this evening.
The Redbirds would counter with young Silvio Martinez. Only 23 years old, the native of the Dominican Republic was having his finest season in the major leagues – actually the finest of his short career. He entered the game 5-2 and wound finish the season 15-8. Injuries and illness would plague Martinez in 1980 and 1981 and his career would be over soon. He would only appear in 4 games after being traded at the end of the 1981 season, all in the minor leagues. None of that was important on this date – he had some pitching to do, and the first place Expos wanted to prevent him from getting his sixth victory.
The game would get off to a quick start. Martinez was sharp, retiring the first two Expos hitters on grounders to second baseman, Mike Phillips. Phillips was a journeyman infielder and had been with the Cardinals for a couple of seasons. He was about to be part of a blockbuster deal that brought Rollie Fingers to the Cardinals – for a couple of days. Future Hall of Famer, Andre Dawson was the next batter and he hit a liner that Lou Brock misplayed into a 2 base error. For all that was great about Brock’s game, and there was much to admire, his defense could be a bit inconsistent. At the time we didn’t think much of this play, but as the game progressed it became huge. First baseman Tony Solaita would ground out weakly to his counterpart, Keith Hernandez to end the inning.
In the Cardinals half of the first, things would get a bit crazy. Garry Templeton would lead off with a single and immediately swipe second base. Lou Brock was the second place hitter, doing for Templeton what Mike Tyson, Ken Oberkfell and Ted Sizemore had done for him – patiently batting while the speedster causes trouble. Brock would fly out to the opposite field, which meant that Templeton could not advance. Tony Scott would strike out. Dane Iorg, part of the infamous Don Denkinger blown call in the 1985 World Series, would single driving in the speedy Templeton from second. Keith Hernandez would walk and backup catcher, Terry Kennedy would line out to left to end the inning. The Cardinals had an early 1-0 lead.
The Expos would go quietly in the second inning. Martinez would strike out two, with Larry Parrish grounding out to Phillips. Seven Montreal batters, only one ball hit out of the infield. If Martinez can keep this up, he might earn his sixth victory of the season.
The Cardinals would play small ball in their half of the second, sending nine men to the plate. Ken Oberkfell would start things off with a single up the middle that Rodney Scott had to eat. Mike Phillips followed that with a single. Silvio Martinez failed on the bunt attempt, popping out harmlessly to the pitcher. Templeton would single up the middle, much like Oberkfell’s to start the inning. Brock pulls a sharp single to right field scoring Oberfell from third and Phillips from second. Templeton advances to third on the hit. Tony Scott hits a ball in the hole that the shortstop can only hold onto as Templeton scores. Iorg lines out for the second out of the inning. Rogers pitches around Hernandez, eventually giving him a walk. The ninth man to bat in the inning, Terry Kennedy, lines out to Scott to end the inning, but not before the Cardinals extend their lead to 4-0. Three more runs and not a single ball was hit very hard.
Both pitchers would settle down, retiring the sides in order through the sixth inning. In that stretch, Martinez would strike out four more Expos with only 5 balls being hit out of the infield. The only base runner was Andre Dawson,on Lou Brock’s error in the first inning.
Veteran lefty, Rudy May, would take over for Rogers in the sixth inning and set down the Cardinals in order. May was having a great season, his first as a reliever. He had been a starting pitcher to this point in his career. He would go 15-5 with a league leading 2.46 ERA in 1980 with the New York Yankees splitting time between starting and relief, before tailing off to end his career.
In the seventh inning, Martinez would retire the Expos in order. A line drive to Tony Scott in center field and two infield ground outs. Through seven innings, the little right hander had a no hitter – against the first place team.
May would get a little sloppy in the seventh, and the Cardinals would take advantage of his wildness. With one out, Lou Brock would be hit by a pitch. Brock would quickly steal second base. A passed ball would put Brock at third with only one out. Unfortunately Tony Scott would strike out. With a lefty on the mound, Boyer would pinch hit for Iorg, calling on “Silent” George Hendrick. Hendrick would deliver, as he would for several years to come, driving in Brock with a single. The Cardinals extended their lead to 5-0.
Cardinal fans were listening to their radios with great interest as Martinez takes the mound in the eighth inning. Martinez retires the first two batters, but light hitting catcher Duffy Dyer hits a no doubt single to right to break up Martinez’s no hitter. Cardinal fans give Martinez a huge ovation in appreciation of his effort. Martinez does not disappoint, finishing the game with another strikeout and three harmless infield grounders in the ninth inning.
What an amazing performance. A complete game, 1 hit shutout, striking out seven and walking nobody. Four outs from a no hitter, Martinez had pitched the game of his career. Sadly for Silvio, with the Cardinals playing inconsistently for most of the decade, there weren’t many fans attending this game.
Martinez would go on to finish the season strong, ending with a 15-8 record. Injuries and a prolonged battle with flu-like symptoms limited his effectiveness in 1980 and even more in 1981. After the end of the 1981 season, Martinez would be part of a three team trade that brought Lonnie Smith to the Cardinals. Smith would have a career year in 1982, coming in second in MVP voting to Dale Murphy. For those that watched Smith play, we knew he should have won the award.