The Cardinals’ Ten Greatest Games
October 27, 2011: When One Comeback Isn’t Enough…
The 2011 edition of the Cardinals was all about the comeback. Time and time again, the Redbirds rose from the canvas when all looked lost. Ten games out of the playoff picture near the end of August, they stormed back to eclipse Atlanta for the National League wild card spot on the regular season’s final day; rallied to win the final two games of the NLDS to knock off top-seeded Philadelphia; dropped the first game of the NLCS against Milwaukee, then won four of the next five to grab the NL pennant; and now, against the Texas Rangers in the World Series, they were in St. Louis for Game Six, down three games to two.
The Cardinals had the Rangers just where they wanted them.
It was a tight contest through the first six innings, hardly lacking for excitement, imperfect play and head-scratching managerial decisions. Tied at 4-4, the Rangers appeared ready to bolt away with the game—and the series—in the top of the seventh when they placed a three-spot on the strength of home runs from Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz. The Cardinals notched one run back in the eighth, but they reached the bottom of the ninth trailing 7-5 and facing Texas closer Neftali Feliz. With one out, Albert Pujols—in yet the latest at-bat many St. Louis fans figured might be his last as a Cardinal—doubled to give the home crowd hope. Lance Berkman next walked to become the tying run on base, but when early Series hero Allen Craig struck out, that left David Freese, the local St. Louis product having a phenomenal postseason, all that stood between the Rangers and their first championship. Down in the count at 1-2, Freese launched an opposite-field drive to right that the Rangers’ Cruz, all too strangely, approached with tepidity—and failed to catch up to, the ball ricocheting off the wall back toward the infield. Both runners scored, the Cardinals gave themselves renewed life and the game extended itself to the tenth.
The Rangers would not shrink at the shock of the blown opportunity. Texas star slugger Josh Hamilton, playing in pain, stunned Busch Stadium with a blast in the tenth to return the Rangers’ two-run cushion back into place. Again, the Cardinals found themselves backed against the ropes with three outs to spare—and once more wasted no time playing havoc with the Rangers. Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay both singled to start the frame, but the next two batters were retired, scoring Descalso but leaving Jay halfway home as the tying run at second. Pujols approached the plate with first base open, and the Rangers made the risky move of intentionally walking the right-handed slugger as the winning run so they could face what they perceived as the lesser of two evils: The switch-hitting Berkman, hardly no cream puff with the bat. Berkman made the Rangers pay; with two strikes, he lifted a single to center, scoring Jay. For the second time in two innings, the Cardinals kept the game alive after being down to their last strike.
Texas went quietly in the 11th; St. Louis did not. Freese led off—and finished it, stroking a straight-away drive that cleared the center-field wall and drove the Cardinals and their faithful into delirium, the wild climax of what many within baseball instantly hailed as one the greatest games ever played—and the signature moment for an improbable championship season for which St. Louis would win a day later over the emotionally staggered Rangers.
October 10, 1926: The Hangover
Future Hall-of Fame pitcher Pete Alexander was 39, an alcoholic, epileptic and battered war veteran; he was also still very good, having produced a 2.91 ERA in 23 appearances for the Cardinals in 1926 after an early-season trade from Chicago, where he had clashed with young Cub manager Joe McCarthy. In the World Series against the almighty New York Yankees, Alexander went the distance and won both of his starts—each at Yankee Stadium—including a 10-2, Game Six triumph that evened the series and kept the Cardinals alive. In celebration, Alexander drank, and drank, and drank some more—believing his season was done with the deciding Game Seven the next day to be handled by far more rested pitchers. Little did he realize what he had in store for him during the next 24 hours.
Back at Yankee Stadium, Jesse Haines got the call to start for the Cardinals and was solid, allowing just two Yankee runs—one on a Babe Ruth home run in the third inning. The Cardinals, meanwhile, gave him a slim lead thanks to a fourth-inning rally that produced three unearned runs on two Yankee errors. But by the seventh, Haines loaded the bases with two outs, and that’s when player-manager Rogers Hornsby discovered that his pitcher had developed a blister on his throwing hand. Knowing Haines was done, Hornsby looked to the dugout… and called for Alexander.
Sitting hungover and, possibly, still a tad inebriated, Alexander must have pointed to himself as if to say, “Who, me?” But he answered the call, not even bothering to warm up lest Hornsby caught onto his state of being. Facing rookie Tony Lazzeri—who knocked in 114 runs during the season—Alexander dodged a major bullet when one wicked line drive sailed just to the foul side of the pole. That was strike two; Lazzeri swung and missed at the next pitch, and Alexander rescued the Cardinals from one of baseball’s most famous bases-loaded jams.
Impressed, Hornsby kept Alexander in for the eighth and ninth innings. Firing away as if he was plenty sober, Alexander pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and retired the first two batters of the ninth. Then he walked Ruth. Perhaps sensing that Alexander, in spite of his solid pitching to the moment, was not all there, Ruth immediately attempted to sneak a stolen base in with Bob Meusel at the plate and Lou Gehrig on deck; he failed, as Bob O’Farrell’s throw to Hornsby was in time to nab Ruth and end the game and the series in the Cardinals’—and Alexander’s—favor.
September 8, 1998: The Big Mac Attack
Power slugger Mark McGwire, whose muscular frame had grown to bunyanesque proportions as his bats looked like toothpicks by comparison, had captured the nation’s attention as he surged through 1998 on a manic pace to not just break, but shatter, Roger Maris’ 1961 season home run record. Right on his tail, however, was Chicago Cub bopper Sammy Sosa—who over a relatively short period emerged from a skinny prospect to a massive, broad-shouldered superstar. On Labor Day, McGwire squared off against Sosa to start a short two-game series at St. Louis with Big Mac ahead in the season home run derby, 60-58; he tied Maris in the Cardinals’ 3-2 win.
McGwire set out the next night to own the record for himself. Fox preempted its Tuesday night prime time lineup to broadcast the game nationally. The sellout crowd of 50,000 at Busch Stadium all but viewed the game and the Cardinals’ efforts to win as a side attraction to McGwire-Sosa, so woe was spared when the Cubs took a 2-0 first inning lead—but not when McGwire grounded out in his first at-bat in the bottom of the inning. That would change with his next appearance in the fourth.
With two outs, McGwire hit a sharp liner off Steve Trachsel that at first looked destined to settle into the left-field corner—but it never dipped, depositing itself just over the fence next to the foul pole. It was an unorthodox McGwire shot for the times, far from the many majestic, tape-measure blasts he had been hammering all year. Dazed by the moment, McGwire forgot to touch first base as he went into his home run trot, having to backup to make contact. He gave high-fives to every infielder along his way, hugging Chicago third baseman Gary Gaetti, released from the Cardinals weeks earlier. Hugs at home plate and beyond went to his son (serving as the team bat boy), Sosa (who had run in from his outfield spot) and family members of the late Maris, seated behind the first base dugout. The home run ball was retrieved to McGwire from Tim Forneris, a stadium groundskeeper who collected the ball under the reach of fans who had paid many-fold the face value for their bleacher tickets.
The Cardinals went onto to defeat the Cubs 6-3 as McGwire stayed in the game, walking two times to complete the evening; Sosa was homerless, collecting only a single in four at-bats. The night was a culmination of what was considered baseball’s return to popular standing with a general public turned off by the game’s near self-destruction four years earlier from the devastating players’ strike. McGwire would go on to finish the year with 70 homers, a spectacular rewriting of the home run record almost too amazing to be believed; in a sense, it was. Seven years later, McGwire plundered all the good vibes from the Maris-breaker by refusing to answer questions in front of Congress on whether he took steroids during his pursuit. In 2010, he finally admitted that, in fact, he had; Sosa, too, would be ratted out.
October 15, 1946: The Mad Dash
Baseball’s first postwar World Series met the expectations of spectacle as the dynastic Cardinals faced off against the Boston Red Sox—making their first Fall Classic appearance since being allegedly cursed by Ruth’s trade to the Yankees in 1920—and star hitter Ted Williams. The series itself did not disappoint with a mostly taut first six games in which both teams exchanged wins leading into the climactic seventh game.
The Cardinals broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning with two runs, knocking Boston starter Boo Ferriss out of the box. St. Louis counterpart Murry Dickson lasted into the eighth but it was then that the first two Boston hitters reached; Harry Brecheen, pulling an Alexander by taking the ball late after winning Game Six—albeit it sober and on a day’s rest—couldn’t hold down the Sox as Dom DiMaggio, Joe’s older brother, doubled in both runners to tie the game at 3-3.
In the bottom of the eighth, Enos Slaughter—nursing a badly sore elbow after getting hit by a pitch in Game Five—singled to lead off. One of baseball’s most recklessly aggressive baserunners, Slaughter could only sit at first while the next two batters innocently popped out. Then Harry Walker lined a shot into center field; running on contact, Slaughter frantically raced to third—and kept running, to the amazement of almost everyone in the ballpark, including his own third base coach (Mike Gonzales, who desperately tried to get him to stop) and, most importantly, Boston shortstop Johnny Pesky—who took outfielder Leon Culbertson’s throw and, surprised at the situation, threw a panicked relay to home plate that was late and off the mark. Slaughter’s run, which would serve as the game- and series-winning run for St. Louis, lives on as “The Mad Dash”—while Red Sox fans still debate whether Pesky hesitated before making his fateful throw towards home plate.
October 9, 1934: A Riotous Rout
The baddest of the bad “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals of the 1930s, full of a rambunctious group of characters that played the game well, took a raucous World Series against the Tigers to Game Seven in Detroit—and bulldozed to victory in apt fashion.
The Cardinals definitively set the pace in the third inning by sending 13 men to the plate and scoring seven runs off four Detroit pitchers; even star pitcher Dizzy Dean collected two hits in the inning, including the very first of the frame with a double. The 7-0 lead remained until the sixth when, with two outs and Pepper Martin at second base, star slugger Joe Medwick roped a extra-base hit that ended as a triple when he slid hard into the third base bag—and Tiger infielder Marv Owen, who took exception and confronted the ornery Medwick, leading to a quick separation of the two by others. The 40,000 partisan Tiger fans were not amused by what they felt was an in-your-face move by Medwick with the Cardinals well out in front; when he took his spot in left field for the bottom of the sixth with the St. Louis lead extended to 9-0, he was the target of numerous debris including cushions, bottles and fruit. The field was cleared, and then the fans littered anew; after 20 minutes, Medwick was summoned over by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, present behind the first base dugout—and was told that for the game to continue, he had to leave. Medwick grudgingly bowed to Landis’ absolute powers and departed, slamming his mitt to the ground as he left.
The Cardinals’ offensive onslaught and the near-riot that followed overshadowed an outstanding performance by the 30-game winner Dean, who tossed a six-hut shutout just two days after going eight solid innings in Game Six. The 11-0 whitewashing would give the Cardinals their third world title in nine years.
October 15, 1964: Ending the Dynasty
For generations, baseball was overrun by the New York Yankees, the elitists among the average Joes. But the NL champion Cardinals, having bounced back from a six-game deficit with two weeks to play in the regular season, were gifted and confident enough to have respect for—but little awe in—the (again) AL-winning Yankees at the World Series. An exhilarating series between the two teams commenced, leading to a seventh game.
Taking the hill for the finale at Busch Stadium would be Bob Gibson, the emerging ace who had pitched brilliantly in his first two Series starts but with a split decision; he’d be dialing on two days’ rest, as would his opposite number, Yankee rookie Mel Stottlemyre. In a test of which one would blink first, Gibson easily won; Stottlemyre gave up three fourth-inning runs to undo the dual goose egg on the scoreboard, and when replacement Al Downing failed to get a single out while giving up three more tallies in the fifth, Gibson looked ready to coast with a 6-0 lead. Mickey Mantle halved the cushion with a three-run shot in the sixth, but the Cardinals added insurance in the seventh inning on a solo homer by Ken Boyer.
The Yankees desperately gave it one last shot in the ninth, getting two more runs off Gibson, but the Cardinals ace held, finished off his third complete game of the series, and put St. Louis on the championship podium for the first time in 18 years—while the Yankees would be sent into a prolonged funk that last over the next dozen seasons.
October 26, 1985: The Stolen Championship
Game Six has often been the Cardinals’ best friend in their World Series battles; four times, the Redbirds have won after trailing three games to two to force a victorious decisive matchup—but they also know how lousy it feels to be on the other side. And it was never lousier than in 1985 at Kansas City when the Royals—and umpire Don Denkinger—denied them a series-clinching victory.
For the first seven innings, a terrific pitcher’s duel evolved as the Cardinals’ Danny Cox and the Royals’ Charlie Leibrandt exchanged zeroes on the scoreboard with nary a threat. Then in the eighth, the Cardinals had their shot and took advantage of it; manager Whitey Herzog lifted Cox for benchwarming pinch-hitter Brian Harper with two men on and two outs, and Harper delivered with a single that scored Terry Pendleton to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead. It stayed that way through to the bottom of the ninth, when the Cardinals gave the ball to rookie closer Todd Worrell—who, in his last appearance against the Royals in Game Five, struck out all six Kansas City batters he faced.
Veteran Jorge Orta pinch-hit to lead off the frame and hit a grounder to the right side; first baseman Jack Clark scooped it up and tossed it to Worrell covering at first, beating Orta by a good half-step. To the naked eye, the play appeared to be an obvious out, yet Denkinger ruled Orta safe. Denkinger’s incompetence would be quickly matched by that of the Cardinals; Clark misplayed a foul pop-up from Steve Balboni, who then singled; after Orta was forced at third on a bunt attempt, the two remaining runners moved 90 feet into scoring position when a passed ball was charged to St. Louis catcher Darrell Porter. Two batters later, Duane Iorg pinch-hit and poked a single to right, scoring both runners and giving the Royals a dubious 2-1 win.
The nightmare for St. Louis continued into Game Seven, where a Cardinals team still visibly enraged from the events of the night before handled the chance to rebound badly as the Royals routed their way to a world title, 11-0.
September 30, 1934: To Dizzying Heights
The Cardinals entered the final day of the regular season one game ahead of the New York, who were hosting a Brooklyn team that Giant manager Bill Terry had earlier laughed at by asking in jest if it was actually still in the league. Back in St. Louis, the Cardinals were taking on an equally woeful opponent in the cellar-dwelling Cincinnati Reds, but manager Frankie Frisch would leave no stone unturned in his quest to win the pennant outright by placing on the mound braggin’ ace hurler Dizzy Dean. There were multiple milestones at stake; the Cardinals were one win away from the pennant, and Dean was one win away from his 30th of the season. It didn’t matter to Dizzy that he shut out the Reds just two days earlier.
From the start, the contest was never in doubt. The Cardinals plated two runs in the first, grabbed three more in the fourth and ultimately added four more partially thanks to home runs from Ripper Collins and catcher Bill DeLancey (who had three hits and knocked in four on the day). It all turned out to be more offense than the Cardinals needed, as Dean was pulling a repeat performance against the Reds. Confident as always, Dean gave up seven hits and walked three, but all ten runners were stranded as he polished off his second shutout in three days—becoming the first NL’s 30-game winner in 17 years, and its last to date.
Even before Dean fired the last out, the St. Louis pennant was official; back in New York, the Giants lost their finale to Brooklyn in ten innings, giving the Dodgers the ultimate satisfaction of providing payback for Bill Terry’s preseason diss.
October 14, 1985: “Go Crazy, Folks, Go Crazy!”
Before experiencing the lows of losing the 1985 World Series, the Cardinals took in the highs of one the most unlikely of finishes furnished by future Hall-of-Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith.
The Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers entered Game Five of the NLCS at St. Louis with the series tied at two games apiece; facing the Redbirds would by Fernando Valenzuela, having just completed one of his strongest seasons with a healthy 2.45 earned run average. But he walked the first two batters he faced—the first two of eight he would give up on the day—and they both scored when Tommy Herr doubled them in. The 2-0 Cardinals lead held until the fourth, when Bill Madlock’s two-run homer knotted the game and knocked St. Louis starter Bob Forsch to the showers. The St. Louis bullpen held from there, as did Valenzuela—settling in after his rough first frame. But he was spent after eight innings and replaced in the ninth by Tom Niedenfuer.
After Willie McGee popped out to start the inning, up came Smith—and the Wizard, known for his defense, his speed but never for his power stroke—lifted a deep liner that cleared the right field wall for the first homer he had ever hit left-handed in eight years as a major leaguer (he would eventually hit five in 19 years during the regular season off right-handers). The game-winning shot electrified Busch Stadium and handed the Cardinals the all-important 3-2 series lead, followed two days later at Los Angeles when Niedenfuer was again victimized—this time by a come-from-behind, two-out, three-run blast by Jack Clark that secured the Cardinals’ ticket to the World Series.
October 4, 1968: The Ultimate Pitching Duel
In the Year of the Pitcher, the dream matchup everyone awaited finally took place in Game One of the 1968 World Series: Bob Gibson, owner of a stunning 1.12 ERA that was the lowest recorded in modern NL history, against Detroit’s Denny McLain, the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season. Two hours and 29 minutes after the first pitch, it was apparent that, on this day, quality would trump quantity.
In the first inning, Gibson struck out two Tigers. An inning later, he struck out the side. Two more went down on strikes in the third. By the end of five innings, Gibson had struck out nine batters, allowed just two hits and was rolling. McLain, meanwhile, was done; the Cardinals had taken the strut out of the Tiger ace, striking gold with a three-run rally in the fourth inning. He might have continued on, but his spot came up to bat in the sixth and the Tigers, desperate for offense as Gibson stayed hot, pinch hit for him. It didn’t matter. Tommy Matchick, the replacement hitter, went the way of the other Tigers on the day, unable to make a dent in Gibson’s armor.
Up 4-0 in the top of ninth, Gibson saved his best for last. After giving up a leadoff single to Mickey Stanley, the heart of the Tiger order—Al Kaline, Norm Cash and Willie Horton—all struck out against him. Gibson’s K on Kaline tied a World Series record with his 15th on the day, and when Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver tried to point Gibson to the scoreboard acknowledging the fact, the intensely focused pitcher wasn’t interested—yelling at McCarver, “Just give me the damn ball!” The 17 overall strikeouts set the record, one that has not since been broken in the Fall Classic.
St. Louis Cardinals Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Cardinals, decade by decade.
The Cardinals' Ten Greatest Hitters: A list of the ten greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Cardinals' Ten Greatest Pitchers: A list of the ten greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
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