St. Louis at Cincinnati and Chicago at St. Louis
Cardinals fans will remember “the catch” that left fielder Matt Holliday failed to make in the second and pivotal game of the 2009 divisional series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Older fans still talk about the “the call” that umpire Don Denkinger got wrong that may have cost the Cardinals the 1985 World Series. Given the number of things that have to go in your favor to win a championship, an entire season can come down to outcome of a single play. And you may not be aware of it at the time. This is the story of two such plays, separated by eight weeks, that may have determined the outcome of the 1967 World Series. More than that, it is a tale of a team that refused to quit no matter what was thrown at them.
The 24-15 Cardinals were visiting the 29-17 Reds in a short three game series that started on Memorial Day. The schedulers gave the Cincinnati fans a treat with a double header on the holiday and over 30,000 turned out to see the Cards and Reds split the two games. Bob Gibson won the opener with a heroic 11 inning performance, allowing just 6 hits and striking out 13. Mel Queen, an outfielder turned pitcher, dueled Gibson for the first nine of those innings but the Reds bullpen could not keep the Cardinals from scoring as Tim McCarver and Julian Javier would each double in the top of the 11th inning to give Gibson the 2-1 victory.
The second game would go to the Reds as they got to starter Al Jackson early. The Cardinals would come back, as they would do all throughout the 1967 season, eventually tying it on a 2 run homer by Curt Flood in the seventh. In the bottom of the ninth, Tony Perez would lead off with a triple. After walking the bases loaded, Dick Simpson would hit a fly ball to center, allowing pinch runner Chico Ruiz to score the winning run.
Two great games, and the Cardinals were still 1 1/2 games behind the Reds.
This brings us to May 30, and the rubber game of the series. Rookie pitcher Dick Hughes (2-1) would face veteran Jim Maloney (3-1) in one of the most exciting games of 1967. Maloney was nearing the end of a fantastic run with the Reds. In the previous four seasons he had gone 23-7, 15-10, 20-9 and 16-8 with an ERA consistently under 3 runs per game. He was still one of the game’s best strikeout men, averaging over 8Ks per 9 innings. He would be facing a Cardinals pitcher that was two years older and had been struggling in the minors. All of that would change with this game – the greatness of Dick Hughes was about to be unleashed on the National League.
Both hurlers got off to a good start, although Maloney had a hard time finding the strike zone early. The Cardinals would get the first run on a one out homer by future Reds star, Bobby Tolan. Tolan was emerging as one of the most exciting young players on the Cardinals roster and would be a big part of both pennant winning seasons.
Meanwhile Hughes was a machine, setting down Reds batters as soon as they came up to the plate. Hughes had retired the first 21 of them, striking out 12 and allowing only 3 balls to reach the outfield. We would see this more than once in 1967, but this hurler had one of the nastiest sliders in the game – and this was in the Bob Gibson era. In the bottom of the eighth, Hughes would lose the perfect game and shutout as he gave up just three hits: a lead off triple to Tony Perez, a double to future Cardinal Vada Pinson and single to Leo Cardinas. This gave the Reds a slim 2-1 lead, with one inning to play.
This brings us to the ninth inning, and “the play”. Orlando Cepeda would lead off the Cardinals ninth with a single to center. Tim McCarver would follow that up with a single to right, which allowed Cepeda to move to third. Manager Dave Bristol would go to his bullpen and bring in veteran Don Nottebart to face the light hitting Phil Gagliano. Like Dal Maxvill, Gagliano could barely hit his weight, but somehow seemed to come through in situations like these. The Cards third baseman hits the ball to short and the Reds concede the tying run to prevent a big inning as they choose to go 6-4-3 for the double play. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Cepeda breaks late off of third and is thrown out at the plate as the Reds end up turning a 6-4-3-2 triple play.
This was a back breaking loss as just a few minutes earlier it looked like the Cardinals would pull to within a half a game of the Reds. Even after surrendering the lead, the Cardinals were fighting back only to lose on a triple play. A lesser team might have folded at this point, but not the 1967 Cardinals. They did struggle for the next few games, falling as far back as 4 1/2 games before Bob Gibson ignited a rally that the Cardinals were able to maintain until their next obstacle. This would happen on July 12, when Gibson would break his leg on a line drive hit by Roberto Clemente.
They would struggle again before young hurler Nelson Briles would step up and fill the void left by Gibson by winning his last nine regular season decisions and his first start in the World Series.
That brings us to the second of “the plays”. The date is July 25 and the Cubs were visiting St. Louis for an important three game series. It is not yet August, but the fate of the National League may be settled in these three games. The Cubs won the first game and were now tied with the Cardinals for first place. In the second game, the Cardinals would get to Cubs starter Rob Garder, scoring 3 runs before he could record the second out. The Cardinals would add another run later, for a 4-0 lead. The Cubs would get two of those back in the sixth inning, but Cards starter Ray Washburn would limit the damage.
In the top of the ninth, Ernie Banks would lead off with a single. Red Schoendienst would go to his bullpen and bring in his closer, Hal Woodeshick. Woodeshick hits former Cardinal Ted Savage, putting the tying run on base. Savage had been a highly rated outfield prospect in the Cardinals system, sort of like Joe Mather. He didn’t make the big club in the final spring training cut and refused to report to the AAA affiliate in Tulsa. The Cubs would eventually buy out his contract and Savage would finally make it on a major league roster. Little did they know he would be a part of the biggest play in the 1967 season.
Red would again go to his bullpen and call for his right handed closer, the hard throwing Ron Willis. Willis would get the first two men as Randy Hundley flied out to left and Adolfo Phillips (there’s that pesky Phillips again) popped out to short. On a 3-2 count with two outs, the Cubs start their runners and Al Spangler hits a single to center. Savage was flying around the bases and was being waved home on the play. A perfect throw from Bobby Tolan to the cutoff man, Julian Javier and a perfect relay to Tim McCarver got the speedy Savage and the Cardinals had a 4-3 win, and a one game lead in National League. One that they would not surrender for the rest of the year. A heads up play by the Reds in May put some doubt in minds of Cardinals fans. A spectacular defensive play in July put any remaining concerns aside.
The Cardinals would go on to win the third game and widen their lead en route to a 101-60 finish, 41 games over .500. Many consider this the finest team in franchise history, and I tend to agree. This was a team that did not have adversity in their vocabulary. What they had instead were World Series rings.