Cardinals Rookie Hurlers of the Past: Larry Jaster

Over the last few weeks, the United Cardinal Bloggers have been collecting their top stories from the 2010 season. While each contributor had a slightly different list, the emergence of Jaime Garcia was included by nearly every writer. The youngster had a remarkable rookie season and Cardinals Nation is anxiously awaiting the start of his sophomore campaign. Thirty-five years ago, the Cardinals farm system produced another pair of remarkable lefties. Everybody knows about Steve Carlton, but one year before “Lefty”, another youngster had a historic rookie season. That pitcher was Larry Jaster and this is his story.

Busting Out

On September 17, 1965, a torch was passed, although we did not know it at the time. Ray Sadecki and Curt Simmons were a pair of lefties that helped the Cardinals win the World Series the previous year, and both had struggled this season, going a combined 15-30. Neither would finish next season in St. Louis as they gave way to a new pair of young lefties who would take the Cardinals to their next World Championship. On this night, Curt Simmons had battled one of the best in the game, Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Typical of Simmons 1965 season, he had pitched well, certainly well enough to win the game, but found himself on the short end of a 3-0 score when he was taken out of the game for a pinch hitter in the fifth inning. A bases loaded single and sacrifice fly was all Simmons allowed, but it was just enough to earn him another tough luck loss.

Relieving Simmons in the sixth inning was a hard throwing left-hander named Larry Jaster. He was making his major league debut, and it was brief. He would face the tail end of the Dodgers batting order, but Jaster made quick work of them, retiring the side in order. We (and the Dodgers) would see much more of this in 1966, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves – the 1965 season is far from over.

Jaster’s performance against the Dodgers was good enough to earn him a turn in the rotation. The Cardinals were so far behind the Dodgers in the standings, manager Red Schoendienst might as well start figuring out what he had to work with next year. Jaster’s first start would come against the Houston Astros, who were even farther back than the Cardinals. Jaster got the first two batters out, but then started having trouble finding the strike zone. After two walks and a stolen base, Bob Aspromonte, who would break up Al Jackson’s no-hitter in 1967, grounded out to end the inning.

Houston starter Jim Ray was in a similar situation as Jaster, making his first major league start after one impressive inning of relief. He didn’t fare as well as Jaster through. Bobby Tolan would lead off the game with a single. The Cardinals would score their first runs of the game on a very rare event, a two run homer off the bat of Curt Flood. Flood would also homer off reliever Dave Guisti later in the game, only the second multi-homer game of his career.

Those were the only runs the Cardinals would need as Jaster settled into a comfortable groove. In the first eight innings, he would only surrender two hits, a two out single to Sonny Jackson in the second inning and lead-off double by Chuck Harrison in the fourth. His control improved as well, giving up just one more walk in the game, to Jimmy Wynn. If there was an Astros hitter to be careful with, it was the “Toy Cannon”.

The young lefty would take a shutout into the top of the ninth inning. The man he had been so careful with all night long finally got the hit that he’d been looking for: a clean lead-off double by Jimmy Wynn. A tiring Larry Jaster would get Chuck Harrison to fly out, but the pesky Bob Aspromonte would get the fourth and final Houston hit as he singles home Jimmy Wynn. Disappointed, Jaster toughened and ended the game on a high note, a Dal Maxvill (in for the injured Julian Javier) to Jerry Buchek to George Kernek double play. What a first start for the 21 year old, a four hit complete game and two outs away from a shutout.

There would be more like this, and before the end of the 1965 season, and perhaps even more impressive than the first one.

His next start would come against the Giants in San Francisco. The Giants were within a game of first place and battling the Dodgers for the National League pennant. This one was going to go down to the wire, but not tonight as Jaster would mesmerize the Bombers from the Bay. Jaster came out firing early and set the tone for the game. Unlike the Astros in the previous start, the Giants did hit him hard, but every time they did, Jaster bore down even more and retired the next batter, often by way of the strikeout. The lone Giants run would come on a Willie Mays solo home run in the eighth inning. Mays did that once or twice in his career, so the youngster shouldn’t have been disappointed when Mays took him deep.

On the offensive side of the game, Jaster was involved in two key plays, one of them being among the most exciting plays in baseball. In the top of the second inning, Jaster steps up to the plate with two outs and two runners on base: Mike Shannon on third and Julian Javier on first. Jaster is a combined 0-fer his career so far, so manager Red Schoendienst decides to steal a run. Literally. Javier breaks for second base and as the catcher makes the throw, Shannon breaks off third. The Giants are unable to get either runner. A double steal and a run – it doesn’t get much more exciting than that.

In the top of the sixth inning, Jaster delivers the knock-out blow – with his bat. Again he steps to the plate with runners on the corners and two outs. Again, Javier steals second, but this time Tim McCarver was the runner at third and he stays put. Then the young lefty gets his first major league hit, a 2 RBI single scoring both McCarver and Javier. The Cardinals lead was now 6-0 and Jaster was cruising.

Any questions about Jaster getting lucky against a weak Houston team were silenced when he records his second complete game victory against a contender.

Jaster would get one more start in 1965, against the team he beat in his first start, the Houston Astros. This time Houston would get off to an early lead, but Jaster would settle down and the Cardinals bats, largely silent all season, came alive to give him his third complete game victory in as many starts. In three complete games and one inning of relief, the young lefty would give up just 5 runs for an ERA of 1.61.

Rookie Sensation

With Bob Gibson, Ray Washburn, Curt Simmons and Ray Sedecki set in the rotation, Jaster earned the fifth spot out of spring training, but he would not stay there when the rosters got trimmed down in May. But not before Jaster would pitch one of the best games of his young career, shutting out Claude Osteen and the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 25. In that game, Jaster would strike out 7.

Jaster’s next break would come in late June when the Cardinals sent Curt Simmons to the Cubs for cash. The rookie would take the veteran’s spot in the bullpen, until July 3 when he would get a start against the same Don Drysdale and the Los Angeles Dodgers that he faced in his debut. To say that Jaster eclipsed his one previous inning against Drysdale is an understatement. He would throw a complete game, 3 hit shutout and beat the Dodgers 2-0. Interestingly, the 2 runs Drysdale gave up is exactly the same as in Jaster’s debut. The difference is that this time, Jaster pitched the entire game.

The young lefty’s inconsistency would continue, sometimes he would would dominate in long relief and other times he might get a quick hook from the Cardinals manager.

The turning point in Jaster’s rookie season would come in the next series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and again it would be against Don Drysdale in St. Louis on July 29. Drysdale was a bit less effective, giving the Cardinals 4 runs on the night. Jaster, however, was lights out with another complete game shutout, striking out 8 and surrendering just 5 hits.

Jaster would stay in the rotation for the rest of the season and pitch quite effectively. Including the July 29 victory against Drysdale and the Dodgers, he would go 6-3 down the stretch with 55 strikeouts to just 28 walks. His ERA for the period would drop to 2.71 – that’s in Bob Gibson territory. Overall he would finish his rookie season with a record of 11-5 with an ERA of 3.26. He would also throw for 151 2/3 innings, which isn’t bad considering he spent 7 weeks in the minors.

But there’s just a bit more to his rookie season.

Jaster would face the Dodgers two more times in 1966. The next would be in Los Angeles on August 19. This time he would face left hander Claude Osteen whom he had beaten 2-0 back in April. The results would be nearly the same this time. Osteen would spot the Cardinals 4 runs while Jaster threw another complete game, 5 hit shutout. This time he would strike out 7.

The last time the young lefty would face the Dodgers would be on September 28, in St. Louis. This time it would be future Hall of Famer Don Sutton that would fall victim to the Legend of Larry Jaster. Sutton would pitch brilliantly, but Jaster was just a bit better throwing another complete game shutout.

Let’s put all of this together. Larry Jaster would face the Los Angeles Dodgers 5 times, and shut them out each time. These five shutouts would also give him the league lead for the 1966 season. But these shutouts weren’t thrown against a team in the bottom of the division – the Dodgers were the reigning World Champions and would go on to win the 1966 National League Pennant. Jaster’s five consecutive shutout victories against one team in a single season is still a major league record.

Simply amazing. Here is the breakdown of Larry Jaster versus the Dodgers.

Date IP Hits Runs Earned Runs Walks Strikeouts HR
April 25 9 7 0 0 0 7 0
July 3 9 3 0 0 1 5 0
July 29 9 5 0 0 2 8 0
August 19 9 5 0 0 3 7 0
September 28 9 4 0 0 2 4 0

The remainder of the staff would go 3-10 against the Dodgers with 2 of those victories by Al Jackson, who was nearly as stingy as Jaster. Bob Gibson and Ray Washburn would combine for an 0-6 record with an ERA over 5.00.

An amazing rookie season. But there’s more.

Nearly Perfect

Jaster would put up nearly identical numbers in his sophomore season in 1967. His pitching was actually a little bit better, but he was not getting the benefit of much run support, so his 9-7 record is a little bit misleading. Not only did he do well as a starter, but also in relief late in the season as Red started getting his post-season rotation in order.

1968 would be something of a different season for Jaster, but not all of his doing. When the Cardinals broke camp in 1968, they had a surplus of exceptional arms, although one of the best, Dick Hughes, was injured late in spring training and would be used sparingly this season. With a healthy Ray Washburn joining Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Nelson Briles and Mike Torrez, Jaster became a forgotten man on the roster. He started the season in the bullpen as a long reliver, often in a mop-up role.

Jaster’s next break would come in late May, during a particularly brutal part of the schedule where the Cardinals did not have many off-days. Instead of taxing his rotation at this point in the season, Schoendienst gave Jaster a spot start against his favorite team on the planet, the Los Angeles Dodgers. And he did not disappoint. In 9 innings of work, Jaster allowed just two hits, a single to light hitting Paul Popovich in the fifth inning and a two out single by Wes Parker in the ninth. An unearned run ruined the shutout, but magic that Jaster had shown in 1966 and much of 1967 was back. Not only did he get a much needed win, but he saved a bullpen that had been used up in the previous start by Steve Carlton.

But that did not prepare us for what came next.

After a heartbreaking loss to former Cardinal great Larry Jackson and the Philadelphia Phillies, Jaster would face Tom Seaver and the Mets in New York on May 31. A huge crowd of over 41,000 fans piled into Shea Stadium hoping for a Bob Gibson/Tom Seaver pitching duel. Instead they nearly witnessed a piece of baseball history, and nobody left the ballpark disappointed.

The reigning NL Rookie of the Year (shared with the injured Dick Hughes) was brilliant. Seaver gave up just two runs in the third inning as Lou Brock, Curt Flood and Mike Shannon did all the damage. But the story of the night was Jaster. He would retire the first 23 batters he faced, taking a perfect game into the bottom of the 8th inning. With two out, light hitting Greg Goosen hit a clean single, ending the perfect game and no hitter. Jaster couldn’t relax because he only had a 2 run lead, and Seaver was getting stronger as the game went on. He coaxed a fly ball from Phil Linz to end the inning, preserving the shutout. Jaster would retire the first two batters in the ninth inning before the even lighter hitting Don Bosch got the Mets second hit of the game. Jaster got the dangerous Cleon Jones to hit into an fielders choice to end the game – one of the greatest pitching performances in my lifetime.

This was a special game. This was something we hadn’t seen out of Jaster since early in his career. He just went after every single Mets hitter, matching Seaver pitch for pitch. His control was so good on the night that he didn’t even get to a 3 ball count on any of the 29 batters he would face.

This game couldn’t have come at a better time for the Cardinals. With Dick Hughes still nursing a sore shoulder, Jaster would take his spot in the rotation and help carry the Cardinals to their second consecutive pennant. Jaster would pitch effectively, running his record to 7-4 with another dominating performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers. At this point in time, the Dodgers were wishing we would trade Jaster to the American League where they would never have to see him again.

That’s when the trouble started. He would have two rough outings to end July, although a rare offensive explosion by the Cardinals bats would make him a winner of one of those games. The wheels came off in August when he would lose all 5 of his starts, although pitched well enough to win one or two of them. Other than two more starts against the Dodgers, which he would lose both, Jaster spent the remainder of 1968 in the bullpen. Ironically, Jaster’s last win for the Cardinals would come in relief of Dick Hughes, whose injury gave Jaster the opportunity to start against the Mets in his near-perfect game.

Heading North

The Cardinals had a difficult decision to make entering the 1969 season. With four new teams entering the league, they left Jaster unprotected, hoping that the decline at the end of the 1968 season would scare off the expansion teams. Unfortunately, that backfired when Montreal selected Jaster as the 47th pick in the draft.

1969 would not be kind for the former Cardinals pitcher. While he didn’t pitch poorly, the expansion Montreal ball club was hardly the reigning NL Champion and they played poorly behind him, dooming the former star to a dismal 1-6 record, but not before he would enter the baseball record book two more times. On April 14, facing his former team, Larry Jaster threw the first major league pitch in Canada. He would also give up the first hit, a scorching double down the left field line by Curt Flood.

Jaster would spend the next season in Atlanta, in relief. He would never regain his dominance, and after five seasons of bouncing between Atlanta and their AAA affiliate in Richmond, Jaster would retire in 1974.

Life after Baseball

That would not be the end of his baseball career though. After taking a few years off, Jaster would return to baseball as a pitching coach in the Atlanta minor league system, from 1986 to 1993 and then return in the Baltimore Orioles system from 1997 to 2007.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at Throatwarbler’s Blog. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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