A Different Look at September 1964 – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we took a look at how the 1964 Cardinals were beginning to turn things around and make a run at the NL Pennant.  It was a long process with very little progress being made from week to week.   The best thing that had happened thus far is that the Pirates have totally fallen out of contention.  Perhaps more important is the Cardinals catching up with both the Reds and Giants, although that is more a case of those teams dropping back to the Cardinals.

Throughout all of this, the Phillies still keep winning.

The worst thing for the Cardinals right now would be a long road trip, and this one was a killer.   They would not return to St. Louis until September 28 – 18 total games, thanks to some unfortunate rainouts earlier in the year.   We are not used to trips of this length in an era of inexpensive and plentiful air travel, but teams used to load up these mammoth trips as they would run through the east or west coast twice a year.

If something good was going to happen for the Cardinals, it would have to happen far far away from the home town crowds in St. Louis.

September 9-10  St. Louis at Philadelphia, 2nd place, 6 games out

Thanks to a Phillies loss against the Dodgers the day before, all three teams moved up a half a game in the standings.   In this short two game series on the road, the goal is a split.  Given how well the Phillies were playing, and that the Cardinals had the misfortune of drawing both Jim Bunning and Chris Short, the odds were not in their favor.   On paper, this looked like a Philly sweep and potential end to the Cardinals season.

In the first game, ex-Phillies Whiz-Kid Curt Simmons got the call against one of the games best in Jim Bunning.   It would be the retooled and crafty veteran lefty against the nasty buggy-whip slider.

Jim Bunning

Neither pitcher would dominate, but it would be Simmons with the quick exit.  In the fourth inning, Simmons would come apart, giving the Phillies a big 4-1 lead.  With the heart of the Phillies order coming up, Johnny Keane goes to his bullpen for Ron Taylor and he gets out of trouble with one of the strangest plays to end an inning I’ve ever seen.   Wes Covington pinch hits for one of the fastest players in the game, Alex Johnson.   Covington hits a comebacker to Taylor, who turns to second to make the force out.   Richie Allen, who had been intentionally walked, beats the throw, so Dick Groat continues on as if it is a double play and throws out Covington at first base.  I wonder if Taylor lost track of the number of outs, because it was such a strange play.

The Cardinals would get a pair of those runs back the next inning on solo home runs by Lou Brock and Ken Boyer.

The potential back breaker came in the 8th inning, which would be Barney Schultz third inning of work.  A single and double would give the Phillies a much needed insurance run, and they now lead 5-3.   At the time, they didn’t realize how important that run was.

In the top of the ninth, the Cardinals would start off with a pinch hitter for the pitcher, and then the top of the batting order.  Charlie James, the pinch hitter, started things off right with a single, but was forced out when Curt Flood grounded out.  Not a big base stealer, Flood was very fast and as a result, hard to double up.   Lou Brock would follow that with a single, putting runners on the corners.  That takes us to the turning point in the game.

Of course, down 2 runs, everybody expected Lou Brock to steal second base.  It doesn’t mean that they could do anything about it, especially with a runner on third and Bill White at the plate.   Brock does steal second base and it turns out to be the play of the game when Bill White grounds into what would have been a tailor made game ending double play.   That doesn’t happen.  Curt Flood scores on the ground out with Lou Brock moving on to third base.  Up to the plate steps Ken Boyer, and he ties the game with a single.

Gordie Richardson and Bobby Humphreys set the Phillies down in order in the 9th and 10th innings respectively.   That takes us to the 11th inning where the Cardinals would send 10 men to the plate, scoring an incredible 5 runs.   Humphreys would return for a quick bottom of the 11th inning to preserve the win.

The Cardinals have accomplished their first task, split the series.   Now for the kill.

Chris Short would prevent that from happening with a masterful 12 strikeout complete game.  Ray Sadecki struggled early and was tagged for 5 runs in the second inning.  A Chris Short (yes, that Chris Short) triple and Johnny Calliston three run homer gave the Phillies all the runs they needed, and the Cardinals fall to the Phillies, 5-1.

Two more games have been taken off the schedule, and there is no change in the standings.  The Cardinals, Giants and Reds are all tied for second place, still 6 games out.   Remember those Pirates – well, they are now 12 1/2 games out and sinking.   And yes, that is a ship pun.

September 11-13 St. Louis at Chicago, 2nd place, 6 games out

Strike 'em out BobThe Cardinals headed west, to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field for a fun three game series.  In the opener it was the new Cardinals ace against their former ace.   Gibson did not disappoint as he throws a 2 hit shutout.   The Cardinals would put a pair of runs on the board in the first inning on a Ken Boyer homer, and three more in the ninth.  Gibson even got in on the action with an RBI in the final frame.

The middle game of the series is one we would see many more times before the end of the year.  Roger Craig pitched a gem of a game, but earned a hard luck loss due to lack of run support.   The game started out right, with the first two Cardinals scoring on a Lou Brock homer, but that was all that they could get against the Cubs’ Bob Buhl.   Craig would make one bad pitch to Ernie Banks, and the Cubs win, 3-2.

The only thing that could make this series better is an old-fashioned blow-out.   And that’s exactly what happened in the finale.   The Cardinals would score at least one run in every inning, often twice.   The top three in the batting order would collect 9 hits, and none of them were cheap.   The Cards would pummel the Cubs, 15-2.

The Phillies had kept pace with the Cardinals, but both the Reds and Giants lost a game in the standings.

September 15-16 St. Louis at Milwaukee (Braves), 2nd place, 6 games out

Thanks to a rainout on Monday, the Cardinals not only lost half a game to the Phillies, but they now face a double header, which can tear up a bullpen.   That’s the last thing they need because the next stop on the road trip in Cincinnati.

Brock, Javier and Gibson

The Cardinals would continue their offensive success in the opener, playing a lot of small ball.   A double steal, Flood swiping second while it was Javier scoring this time kicked things off, and several innings with timely hitting doomed the Braves.   The final score was 11-5, with Ray Sadecki earning another win on his way to 20.

The second game was exceptional.   Bob Gibson, who last threw a 2 hitter in Chicago, was just as good in Milwaukee.  He would allow just 4 hits.  If not for a couple of errant pitches, he might have collected another shutout.   The offensive star was Julian Javier, whose 2 run homer provided all the offense Gibson needed.

Thanks to the double header, Ron Taylor would get a spot start in the finale.   He pitched well, and made just one mistake, but that would cost him the game.  A Dennis Menke three run homer gave the Braves a 3-2 win, and prevented the sweep.   The hero of the game for the Cardinals was Mike Cuellar, who turned in another great long relief appearance.

Once again, the Cardinals are unable to make up any games on the Phillies.  The Reds and Giants are still in the hunt at 7 1/2 games back, but time is running out very quickly.

September 19-20 St. Louis at Cincinnati, 2nd place, 6 games out

A rainout following a travel day helped the Cardinals, who had to use a lot of their bullpen in the Milwaukee series finale.  Now rested, they were ready to take on Cincinnati, who were now in sole possession of third place.

As with the previous series, these three games would be played as a double header followed by a single game.  With an odd number of games, somebody was going to change positions in the standings.   That would have to wait for the finale as the Cardinals split the double header.

In the opener, Bob Gibson would take a heard breaking loss, one that Johnny Keane probably wishes he could have back.  Gibson had been staked to a 5-0 lead early on home runs by Mike Shannon and Ken Boyer.   But the Reds bullpen were effective and prevented any more runs from scoring.   Meanwhile they pecked away at the Cardinals lead, one home run at a time.   Still with a 5-4 lead, Gibson took the mound in the ninth.  He managed to get two outs, but in the battle of Hall of Famers, Frank Robinson wins this one with a walk off three run homer.  Cincy wins the opener 7-4 after tailing for nearly two hours.

The nightcap was an unexpected pitching duel.   Sure, you expect Bob Gibson to throw a shutout, but Ray Sadecki ?   It is true that a lot of Sadecki’s wins in 1964 came from a bonus of run support.   That doesn’t mean the young lefty didn’t have shut down stuff, and through the first 8 innings, that’s exactly what he threw.  The only problem for Sadecki was that Billy McCool was just as good.

If the Cardinals gave away the first game, they stole the second.  Literally.   The only two runs of the game would come in the top of the second inning.   With one out, Bill White would single.   Julian Javier would follow that with a single.    With Mike Shannon at the plate, both White and Javier take off on a double steal.   Reds catcher Don Pavletich throws the ball into the left field corner.  Not only does White score from third base, but Javier comes all the way around from second.   Those were the only runs in the game.  Unbelievable.

The double header split meant that all eyes were on the series finale.  The last time the Cardinals were in this situation, Ron Taylor got the call.  This time Keane went with the lefty, Gordie Richardson.

The Cardinals took a huge early lead on back to back home runs by Lou Brock and Dick Groat, and one of the most improbably plays in the 1964 season.   After a Ken Boyer triple, the Cardinals pull off a suicide squeeze play with Bill White at the plate.   That would be like Albert Pujols or Matt Holliday doing that today.   That was the beauty of the play, the Reds never saw it coming.

Unfortunately, that would not help the Cardinals as the bullpen was not able to save the game for Richardson.

Cincinnati and the Cardinals are now tied for second, with the Giants a half game back in third.   There are only two weeks left in the season and the Cardinals are still 6 1/2 games out.   Are the Phillies ever going to lose a game ?

September 22-23 St. Louis at New York, 3rd place, 6 1/2 games out

The Cardinals would split a pair of 2-1 games in New York.   Curt Simmons threw a complete game gem in the opener with Ken Boyer, Bill White and Dick Groat combining to give the veteran port sider all the runs he would need.   Once again, a brilliant outing by Roger Craig would be wasted because the Cardinals couldn’t get anything going against Galen Cisco of the Mets.

Thanks to the Reds winning a pair in Cincinnati, the Cardinals actually gained some ground on the Phillies, but fall back into a third place tie with the Giants.   The Reds are now just 3 1/2 games out.

September 24-27 St. Louis at Pittsburgh, 3rd place,  5 game out

An earlier series with the Pirates was instrumental in getting the Cardinals season turned around.  Although their progress had been disappointingly slow, this five game series might just what the Redbirds need.   Thanks to a double header, the Cardinals have to make some movement in the standings.  Just how much, nobody could have imagined.

As with the previous series in Cincinnati, Bob Gibson and Ray Sadecki would take the mound in the opener.   This time there would be no late inning comeback as Gibson dominates, striking out 11 on the way to a 4-2 victory.   Ray Sadecki throws a gem in the nightcap, actually outdoing Gibson.   He would also go the distance while striking out 10 and allowing just 5 hits.  It would be Sadecki’s second consecutive shutout, and it it couldn’t come at a better time because the Braves defeated the Phillies.   That’s a 1 1/2 game jump in the standings.

Gordie Richardson would get the call in the third game, and he would combine with Ron Taylor and Barney Schultz on a 5-3 win.   Twice Steve Blass would load the bases with nobody out, and both times a pair of groundouts yielded runs.   About the time this game ends, Milwaukee defeats the Phillies in extra innings.

Once again, it was a pair of walks that sunk the Pirates in the fourth game.   This time it was Bob Veale, and the hero was Mike Shannon who would clear the bases with a single to right field.   A Roberto Clemente error allowed Shannon to take second base which proved to be the game winner when Tim McCarver singled him home.   Curt Simmons cruised through the Pirates lineup until two outs in the ninth when Barney Schultz would come in to save the game.

A peek at the scoreboard shows that Milwaukee has defeated the Phillies again.

If the Cardinals were going to complete the sweep of the Pirates, Roger Craig’s luck was going to have to change.   Perhaps it was a pair of early runs that gave the veteran right hander some much needed confidence, but Craig throws an unbelievable game    He and Barney Schultz combine for a shutout, with the Cardinals completing the five game sweep, ironically by the score of 5-0.

Unbelievably, Milwaukee has also completed a sweep of the Phillies, and there is a new leader in the National League.  Unfortunately, it is not the Cardinals, but the Cincinnati Reds.   Philadelphia is one game back, the Cardinals 1 1/2 game out.  San Francisco is now 4 1/5 game behind, and done for the season.

September 28-30 Philadelphia at St. Louis, 3rd place, 1 1/2 games out

After being swept by Cincinnati a week earlier, Phillies manager Gene Mauch gambled by altering his starting rotation.  With Jim Bunning and Chris Short being his only dependable starters, he shortened his four man rotation to just three, with Art Mahaffey and Dennis Benning taking turns in the other start.   The lack of rest for their two aces was about to blow up on Mauch and the Phillies.

Johnny Keane had not shortened his rotation, but the number of unplanned double headers did create a short rest situation for his pitchers too.  Whether planned or just blind luck, Keane had his top three arms set to go in this series.   There were no excuses – let the better team win it all, and now.

Bob Gibson was not as sharp in this game as we’d seen in his previous outings.   But he was good enough to hold the Phillies at bay while his offense tore into Chris Short and the Phillies bullpen.   The game was never close, and the Cardinals inched ever closer.   With Cincinnati idle, the Cardinals leaped over the Phillies and into sole possession of second place.

Ray Sadecki was able to avoid the big inning and pitched into the seventh inning in the next game.  Dennis Bennett didn’t get out of the second, and Gene Mauch had to deplete his bullpen in the hopes that they could mount a comeback.   They didn’t, and thanks to a nice long relief outing from Barney Schultz, the 23 year old left hander won his 20th game.   It would be the only such season for Sadecki.

The Cardinals were also in a tie for first place with the Reds.

With Art Mahaffey being used in the previous game, Gene Mauch had no choice but to call on a tired and suddenly struggling Jim Bunning to prevent the sweep.   The Cardinals hit Bunning hard and often, building up an 8-0 lead after 4 innings.   But it wasn’t just Bunning.   It was as if the entire Phillies team felt the season slipping away.  4 errors prolonged innings, as did several other plays that were not made, but should have.   A handful of late runs off former Phillies ace Curt Simmons makes this game seem much closer than it was.  Simmons pitches into the ninth, saving Keane’s bullpen for the final series of 1964.   Cardinals win 8-5 and sweep the Phillies.   Philadelphia had been atop the National League standings for most of the season and had a huge lead as late as last the last week, but with this third sweep, the Phillies were done.

While this game was going on, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are locked into an epic battle of their own.   The game would go on, well past midnight.   Harry Caray and Jack Buck stayed at Sportman’s Park, calling the play by play of that game as it was relayed over the telephone.   The Pirates won, 1-0 on a suicide squeeze play in the 16th inning.

With 3 games left to play, the Cardinals were finally in first place.  What was once an irrational hope has just become belief.   The Cardinals were about to pull off a miracle, if they could just get past the Mets.

October 2-4, New York at St. Louis, 1st place,  1/2 game lead

You can start icing the champagne because Bob Gibson is on the mound for the first game.   A win here and it’s all but over.   The only thing standing in their way is a little left hander from the Mets by the name of Al Jackson.   Jackson had other ideas.

Both pitchers were sharp, and brought their A game.  The lone run of the game would come on a George Altman single and stolen base followed by an RBI single from Ed Kranepool.   The Cardinals did get one chance against Jackson in the eighth, but the little lefty refused to be beaten.   At least we would see two seasons of that in St Louis later in the decade, but right now, we never wanted to see Al Jackson again.  Ever.

For the first time in nearly two months, Cardinals fans were grateful for a Phillies victory when they defeated the Reds, keeping the Cardinals in front by just a half game.

As heartbreaking as the last game was, the second was just a disaster.   20 game winner Ray Sadecki picked a bad day to have a bad game.   He didn’t even make it out of the second inning.   Keane had to use 8 pitchers in this 15-5 nightmare, which might prove to be a problem if Curt Simmons struggles in the season finale.

That brings us to the final game of the 1964 season.   With Philadelphia and Cincinnati off the previous day, the standings are

Team Wins Losses Games Back
St. Louis 92 69
Cincinnati 92 69
Philadelphia 91 70 1.0

A Philadelphia win and Cardinals loss would create a three way tie for first place, and give the schedulers a nightmare trying to figure out the playoff procedures.

Curt Simmons got the call for the Cardinals in the finale, and he was sharp early.   The two teams exchanged runs in the fourth inning, but the Mets would score two more against Simmons in the fifth.  Sensing the beginning of a big inning, Johnny Keane makes a huge gamble of his own by bringing Bob Gibson out of the bullpen with only a single day rest.

Gibson bailed Simmons out and ended the inning without any futher damage, but the Mets had a 3-2 lead.   But only momentarily as the Cardinals bats were about to beat up Galen Cisco and Bill Wakefield.   The big blow in the inning was a two out single by Dal Mavill, giving the Cardinals a 5-3 lead.

The Mets would cut that deficit in half in the sixth on a bases loaded walk by Gibson.  Gibson wasn’t very sharp, but somehow got through the inning without any more runs being scored.  Obviously exhausted, Gibson was pitching on sheer will alone, and earning life long fans in the process.

Once again, the Cardinals bats responded to Gibson’s Herculean effort and blew the game open in their half of the sixth inning.   The big blow was a Bill White 2 run homer.   The Cardinals now led 8-3.   Some late insurance runs courtesy of Curt Flood and Tim McCarver gave the Cardinals a comfortable 11-4 lead.

In the top of the ninth, Bob Gibson returned to the mound.   He’d gone about as far as he could go, and to a standing ovation that they could probably hear in Cincinnati, he finally came out of the game, handing the ball to Barney Schultz.   Moments after the Cardinals fans had learned of Philadelphia’s 10-0 defeat of Cincinnati, Ed Kranepool lifts a harmless pop up that Tim McCarver catches, and protects as if it were the last remaining Fabrege Egg.   We can still hear the echoes of Harry Caray screaming “The Cardinals win the Pennant, The Cardinals win the Pennant, Holy Cow”.

After a month and a half, most of which was spent staring at a leaderboard that didn’t change, the Cardinals had pulled off biggest comeback in baseball history.   Although the heroics of Bob Gibson in those final eight weeks stand out, it was a team effort.  Everybody picked up their game and did the little things to win. Double steals, sacrifice bunts, good defense.   It took all of that, plus a little bit of luck.   There was one casualty though – Julian Javier suffered an injury that would keep him out of most of the World Series.  Dal Maxvill would fill in for Javier, and do just fine.

Why this story ?

Hopefully you have enjoyed this rather lengthy look at the end of the 1964 season.  The lesson that I’ve learned is that the comeback didn’t all happen at once, and there were a lot of disappointments along the way.  Week after week of winning series, just to look up and see a 9 game deficit was just maddening.   At the same time, something had to give.   And it did when the Reds swept the Phillies, and the Phillies blinked.

The Cardinals are still a huge number of games out with a little over a month to play.  6 of those games are with the team at the top of the division, and a lot will be determined by their outcome.  Anything more than a split of the two remaining series brings the Brewers that much closer, or – well, let’s not think about that.

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1 Response to A Different Look at September 1964 – Part 2

  1. Pingback: The Top 5 Iconic Moments in Cardinal History « Diamond Diaries

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