Opening Day Starters: 1976 – 1994
In Part 2 of this series on opening day pitchers, we will take a look at the hurlers that took the first baseball of the new season immediately following the retirement of Bob Gibson. As with the previous article, several interesting things can be seen when looking back, not all of them expected.
Free agency really started taking it’s toll on the Cardinals pitching staff, following the rise of John Denny. Failure to developed a genuine staff ace, and hold onto him for any appreciable amount of time, created somewhat of a revolving door of opening day starters. The two best pitchers during this era, Joaquin Andujar and John Tudor, only account for three games. One name that did keep popping up year after year was the trusty old warhorse, Bob Forsch. He would be involved in opening day festivities as late as 1988, but before then, there were a few memorable performances.
Lynn McGlothen (1975) 1-0
When the Cardinals acquired the former Red Sox prospect during the 1973 winter meetings, they thought they had found their next Bob Gibson, and at just the right time. With Gibby’s legs giving him more trouble, the end of his career was fast approaching, and perhaps a few years mentoring the young McGlothen might turn the right-hander into another star. When he jumped out to a 12-4 record at the 1974 All Star break, maybe the wait was over. The youngster would get an invitation to the mid-season classic, the only one he would received in his 11 year career. He would also lead the Cardinals starters in wins, shutouts and strikeouts, trailing only Bob Gibson in innings pitched. A little bit more of this and McGlothen would be the ace of the pitching staff.
Sadly, there wasn’t much more like that first half of 1974.
McGlothen would take the mound on opening day in 1976, to begin the post-Bob Gibson era, and he was brilliant. His opponent was Ray Burris of the Chicago Cubs. Burris was a tall right hander whose career mimicked that of McGlothen – sometimes could be dominating but for the most part, frustratingly average.
In this first game of the 1976 season, McGlothen was as dominant as any time in his career. Unfortunately, some of the Cardinals defense hadn’t made it’s way to St. Louis from spring training, and routine errors threatened to unravel McGlothen throughout the game, but the big right-hander never flinched. He would throw a complete game shutout, and earn the win in his only opening day start.
Following the season, McGlothen would be traded to the San Francisco Giants for former Cardinal, Ken Reitz. Reitz should never have left St. Louis, and it was good to have “The Zamboni” back at the hot corner. Things would not work out so well for McGlothen as he would developed arm troubles the following season and see just limited action for the Giants. The 2-9 record he posted would be the only black mark on an otherwise fine career.
Following one season in the Bay Area, plus a few games into 1978, he would be sent to the Chicago Cubs and begin a second career as a reliever. He became quite effective, but a shortage of Cubs starters in 1979 opened the door for McGlothen and he moved back into the rotation and turned in two fine seasons, much like the ones he had in St. Louis.
Sadly, the Lynn McGlothen story would have a tragic ending. Two years after calling it quits from baseball, the former Cardinals pitcher would die in a mobile home fire, along with the woman who had tried to rescue him. McGlothen was only 34 years old.
John Denny (1977, 1979) 2-0
As Lynn McGlothen was ending his Cardinals career, a quirky young right-hander named John Denny was just beginning his. And an interesting one it would be.
Looking back at Denny’s career, we probably missed the fact that he was the right handed John Tudor, without the icy exterior. He was a control pitcher that didn’t strike out a lot of batters. As a consequence, some of his pitching stats don’t indicate how good he really was – a control pitcher with a K/BB ratio of 1 and a wildly oscillating ERA ? Pitch to contact and getting the hitters to get the small part of the bat on the baseball was Denny’s game, and when he was on, there was nobody better. But, if he started putting the ball over the heart of the plate, that 84 mile-per-hour fastball wasn’t fooling anybody and he could be hit hard. And I mean HARD.
Denny would get the opening day starts in 1977 and 1979, plus the home opener in 1978. He would pitch brilliantly in two, and just good enough to win the other, compiling a 3-0 record.
In the 1977 opener, he would face an old friend, Jerry Reuss of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Reuss had quietly been establishing himself as a top of the rotation pitcher in Pittsburgh, and this was an opportunity to show the Cardinals what the had given away a few years earlier. Unfortunately for Reuss, he would be undone in the first inning as the Cardinals sent 8 men to the plate, scoring four of them. Typical of a Reuss loss, nothing would be hit hard, only one ball would making it out of the infield. But relentless speed at the top of the batting order (Lou Brock, Garry Templeton, Bake McBride) forced error after error, and the game was soon out of reach.
Denny would be on cruise control until two outs in the sixth inning. Al Hrabosky would come in to relieve Denny and turn in 2 1/3 innings of solid relief. John Sutton would be touched up for a couple of runs in ninth in one of his few (31) major league appearances. The Cardinals would win the game 12-6.
On the strength of his only 20 win season, Bob Forsch would get the opening start in 1978. As a consolation prize, Denny would get the home opener, also against the Pirates. This time he would face Jim Rooker, who didn’t even make it out of the first inning. Unlike Reuss in the previous opener, the Cardinals hit Rooker hard and often. The final blow was a three run homer from eighth place hitter Mike Tyson. The 6-0 lead that blast gave the Cardinals was enough as Denny went the distance and the Cards won big, 11-2.
Denny saved his best for last as he took the ball on opening day for the last time as a Cardinal on April 6, 1979. He was facing a former Cardinal, and one of the best in the game – Steve Carlton. It was a pitchers duel through the first three innings with each hurler giving up a solo home run. That’s when Carlton ran into trouble. He would surrender three runs in the fourth and another one in the sixth. The final blow in the game would come in the seventh inning, when Carlton would load the bases. Reliever Doug Bird got George Hendrick to pop up to the shortstop (infield fly rule), but he could not get past Tony Scott. Scott tripled to clear the bases and the Cardinals increased their lead to 7-1. Scott would score the final run of the game on a double by Ken Reitz. The final score was 8-1 as Denny again went the distance.
Following the 1979 season, Denny would be traded to the Cleveland Indians. Although he had pitched well, leading the league in ERA in 1976 and posting another sub-3 in 1978, he never won more than 14 games and was around a .500 pitcher for his five seasons in St. Louis. His fortunes might have been much different if he had managed to hang on until Whitey Herzog arrived.
After a few frustrating seasons in Cleveland, Denny would return to the National League late in 1982, this time with the Philadelphia Phillies. He would lead the league in wins in 1983 with 19 and post a career low ERA of 2.37. That would be good enough to earn him the Cy Young Award for 1983.
As good as he pitched in 1983, he was even a bit better in 1984, but injuries limited his number of starts, so his mediocre 7-7 record doesn’t accurately reflect the quality of his work. He would become a workhorse in 1984, but that pinpoint control was starting to diminish, and as a result he would post a rather lackluster record.
Denny would finish his career with the Cincinnati Reds, in 1985.
Bob Forsch (1978, 1981-1983) 2-2
After an unbelievable 20-7 record in 1977, there was no question who would take the ball on opening day in 1978. He would face the Philadelphia Phillies, and that meant Lefty. And again, Lefty was not sharp. To get some idea of how this game would go, look no farther than Steve Carlton’s fourth inning.
Ken Reitz, not a power hitter by any measure, leads off with a solo home run. Tony Scott grounds out for the first out of the inning. Carlton stikes out Mike Tyson, but the slider was one of those 59ft varieties and got past former Cardinal backstop, Tim McCarver, allowing Tyson to reach base. A sacrifice bunt by Forsch and single off the bat of Lou Brock scored Tyson, who should never have been on base.
Carlton would not make it out of the fifth inning.
On the other side of the diamond, Forsch was cruising until tiring in the 8th. Pete Vukovich would take over and and finish things, retiring former Cardinal Ted Sizemore for the last out in the game. Forsch would earn the win with Carlton taking the loss.
Forsch would get the opening day start in 1981, again facing the Philadelphia Phillies. This time it would be against a tough right-hander, Dick Ruthven.
Forsch worked himself into a corner early in this game. The first two men would reach base. With one out, Mike Schmidt stepped up to the plate and did what you expected him to do – hit a three run homer. That, and a later solo shot by Bob Boone would be all the Phillies needed as Ruthven would cruise to a complete game win, defeating Forsch and the Cardinals 5-2.
Perhaps we should also give Bob Forsch credit for another opening day start when he took the mound on August 10, after the 60 day lockout. It was more of a spring training type game as none of the pitchers were conditioned to go for very long in the game. As he had done in the opener, he drew the Philadelphia Phillies with Larry Christenson getting the start. In five innings of work, Forsch was as sharp as we’d ever seen him be. He would allow just one hit, a two out double by Mike Schmidt in the first.
Christenson would take a hard luck loss in this one as he would give up three runs in his five innings. Sparky Lyle would give up a pair of runs in relief, but the high point in the game came in the top of the ninth inning. Sexto Lezcano and Gene Tenace would hit back to back home runs of Mike Proly, putting the game out of reach. Forsch would earn the win and Bruce Sutter would earn a save in 1 2/3 innings of relief.
Pete Vuckovich (1980) 1-0
Pete Vuckovich was certainly one of those pitchers that got away, and we knew it the moment that it happened. He was an unfortunate victim of the Whitey Herzog clubhouse cleansing in 1981. Although the particular deal he was in did not work out well for the Cardinals, it set things in motion that put two teams into the 1982 World Series, with Herzog and the Redbirds standing as winners when the last pitch was thrown.
Simply put, Vuckovich was a horse. From the moment he arrived from Toronto in 1977, everything about the big right hander was done to the extreme. He logged a huge number of innings and could be as intimidating as anybody in the game. He also led the Cardinals staff in wins in 1979 with 15 (tying the fragile but exciting Silvio Martinez). That earned him the opening day start in 1980, and he did not disappoint.
How about a complete game 3 hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates and future Hall of Famer, Burt Blyleven? That’s what the scruffy Vuckovich did on April 10, 1980. The difference in the game was a leadoff walk Blyleven gave to Bobby Bonds to start the second inning. George Hendrick would rip a double and Bonds easily scored for the only run in the game. Vuckovich would go the distance in the 1-0 shutout, striking out 9 Pirates on the day.
Sadly, 1980 would be the last time we would see Vuckovich in the Cardinals uniform, but not his last time at Busch Stadium. After being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers following the 1980 season, Vuckovich would have two brilliant seasons, leading the league in wins in 1981 with 14 and posting an 18-6 record in 1982. Just as Joaquin Andujar had taken over the Cardinals staff, Vuckovich transformed the Brewers rotation into a powerhouse and took them to two post-season births, going all the way to the World Series in 1982. For his efforts, he would win the Cy Young Award in 1982.
His success would not last long however. Some time in the pennant stretch of 1982, he injured his rotator cuff. Displaying a level of toughness normally reserved for the hockey rink, the big right-hander pitched through the extreme discomfort. Ultimately it would cost him not only the 1983 and 1984 seasons on injured reserve, but his career as he would never pitch as effectively again.
Dave LaPoint (1984) 1 no decision
Thanks to some curious scheduling with the Cardinals opening on a West Coast road trip, lefty Dave LaPoint would take the mound for both the season and home openers, almost two weeks apart.
In the season opener at Los Angeles, LaPoint would face another crafty left-hander, Fernando Valenzuela. Neither pitcher was sharp, and both would be gone by the end of the third inning. Danny Cox would take over and pitch 4 shutout innings, allowing just two hits. He kept the Dodgers at bay long enough for the Cardinals bats to take revenge on Valenzuela and reliever, Pat Zachary. Cox was on cruise control until being lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning. Fortunately for Cox and the Cardinals, they managed to extend their lead in the inning to 9-3. With Neil Allen coming in to pitch the bottom of the inning, they would need nearly every one of those runs.
Allen would not get a single out in the inning, and when he left the game the Dodgers had pulled to within two runs. Bruce Sutter would be called on to get a long save. Early on, it didn’t look good as Sutter was wild. He hit one batter and walked the next, putting the tying runs on base. If you are feeling a Jason Isringhausen moment while reading this, you are not alone. Sutter righted himself after the walk and got an infield ground out and double play to end the rally. He would only face six more batters in two innings of work for an excepti0nally long save, preserving the win for Danny Cox.
Things would go much better for LaPoint in the home opener against John Candeleria and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although “The Candy Man” put on a clinic, striking out 11 Cardinals in seven innings of work, a three run homer off the bat of Ozzie Smith was the difference in the game as the Cardinals won 4-1. Bruce Sutter pitched two solid innings of relief for his second save of the season.
Joaquin Andujar (1985) 1 no decision
A few weeks ago, we took a look at the Cardinals career of Joaquin Andujar in a two part series. One of the most surprising facts about his time in St. Louis is that he only got one opening day start. That would happen in 1985 against the team that would chase them all the way to finish line, the New York Mets. And in nearly 50 years of watching Cardinals baseball, this was one of the most disappointing games I can remember.
The game would feature two of the best right handers, the veteran Andujar against the young phenom, Dwight Gooden. They, along with John Tudor, would fight for the NL Cy Young Award with Andujar and Tudor splitting some of the vote, leaving Gooden as the winner. And it is hard to blame the voters as Gooden’s 1985 ranks right along some of the best since Gibson’s 1968.
In this 1985 opener, neither pitcher brought their A game. Andujar didn’t even bring his B game, it seemed, as the Mets jumped out to a quick 2-0, and then 5-2 lead. Late in the game the Cardinals started getting to Gooden and when manager Davey Johnson went to his bullpen, the Cardinals tied the game – on a bases loaded walk to Jack Clark. That is until Gary Carter came up to the plate to face Cardinals pitcher Neil Allen in the bottom of the 10th inning. Carter sent all the Mets fans home happy as he took Allen deep for a walk-off home run.
What a terrible way to start the season. And we would see more of that out of Allen until he was shipped off to the Yankees in early summer. Almost immediately after the deal, the fortunes of the Cardinals improved, and they sprinted their way to the World Series. None of that seemed possible after watching this agonizing opening day loss to the Mets.
Bob Forsch would get the home opener a week later against the Montreal Expos. Earlier that day, the Cardinals announced a long term contract extension for Ozzie Smith, and the buzz associated with that good news make Busch Stadium electric by game time. And the Wizard did not disappoint, going 2-3 with a home run. In fact, the entire lower part of the batting order did damage as Forsch cruised to an easy complete game 6-1 win. Perhaps a bit of sting was taken away from the horrific opening day loss to the Mets. At least for a day.
John Tudor (1986-1987) 2-0
With the “in the dead of night” deal that sent Joaquin Andujar to the Oakland Athletics following the end of the 1985 season in Kansas City, there was little doubt who would get the next few opening day starts, John Tudor. There may have been better pitchers in St. Louis, but have been none that displayed the degree of cool that Tudor did on the mound. It didn’t matter if he was facing an 8th place hitter that was afraid of his own shadow, or the heart of the New York Mets lineup with a 1 run lead, Tudor was just one cool customer.
He would get two opening day starts, both against the Chicago Cubs. He would win both, but the 1986 opener was one for the ages.
Tudor would face Rick Sutcliffe in this first game in 1986. The big right-hander did everything he could do to win the game for his team. If his team had tried as hard, perhaps they would have emerged victorious instead of the Cardinals.
The turning point in the game happened in the top of the 4th inning. With both hurlers putting up quick zeroes, Sutcliffe hit a bit of a bump facing the heart of the Cardinals order. Tommy Herr would lead off the inning with a walk. Somewhere, Harry Caray was telling a fan that lead-off walks always come back to haunt the pitcher, and this one certainly would. Jack Clark followed with a screaming single to center field that Bob Dernier could not play cleanly. On the miscue, Herr would take third and Clark would take second. That would turn out to be significant as Andy van Slyke followed that with a single, scoring both runners.
Those were the only two hits Sutcliffe would give up in the game, and he was behind 2-0. The Cubs would get one of those runs back, but that’s all Tudor would allow as he goes the distance in a brilliant 2-1 win.
For Sutcliffe, it was a heartbreaking loss. 8 innings, 2 hits and 7 strikeouts. But one of the 4 walks on the day was the difference in the game.
Tudor and Sutcliffe would hook up again in the 1987 opener, in Chicago. Tudor was shaky early, giving the Cubs three quick runs. Things would turn around in the Cardinals third inning when Sutcliffe would fall apart, giving up 5 runs before turning things over to the bullpen. Taking over for Sutcliffe was a young right hander making only his seventh appearance in the major leagues. He would not figure in the outcome of this one, but Greg Maddux would haunt the National League for the next couple of decades. Another youngster that would see action later in his game was a lefty named Jamie Moyer.
Tudor would toughen and not allow another run. Newcomer, Bill Dawley would take over in the sixth inning and throw 4 scoreless innings, allowing just a single hit. For the second time in two years, Tudor would get the opening day win and Sutcliffe would suffer the loss. Bill Dawley would get the save, one of only two he would earn on the season.
Greg Mathews would get the home opener in 1987 against the Montreal Expos. It was a cold and wet night, and that was just the beginning of the troubles for the young Cardinals lefty. After striking out the first two batters, the wheels would fall off. A single, three consecutive walks and then a bases clearing double gave the Expos a 4-0 lead. Another walk and single to start the second inning would send Mathews to the showers early. The Cardinals were never in the game and the big home town crowd would go home disappointed. There would be lots of disappointment early in the season, but somehow this plucky group managed to find ways to win, until the seventh game of the World Series.
Joe Magrane (1988-1990) 0-1 2 no decisions
Thanks to a microscopic and league leading ERA of 2.18 in 1987, Joe Magrane would get the next few opening day starts for the Redbirds.
His first start in 1988 would be against Mario Soto and the Cincinnati Reds. Magrane would struggle through 6 innings, but what we remember of that game was his bat. In his second plate appearance of the season, he would hit a three run homer to put the Cardinals out in front, 4-1. Unfortunately, he would give all of those runs back before leaving the game in the seventh inning. As shaky as Magrane was, the bullpen was incredible. Scott Terry, Ken Dayley, Todd Worrell, Steve Peters and Bob Forsch managed to get the game into the 12th inning without allowing a single run. Of course, on the other side of the diamond, the Reds relievers were just as good.
A leadoff walk in the 12th inning given to the Reds by Bob Forsch would be the difference in the game. That runner would come around to score when Larry McWilliams gave up a walk off single to Kal Daniels. Forsch would take the hard luck loss, and former Cardinals reliever, Pat Perry would earn the win.
Danny Cox would get the home opener in 1987 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. It would be a back and forth game, with the Pirates winning 4-3.
In 1989, Magrane would get both the season and home openers, both against the Mets. He would get shelled in both of them, losing both. Don’t feel bad for Magrane though as he would only lose seven more games all season, to go with 18 wins. The 24 year old had put together a rather impressive season. Unfortunately, elbow trouble was about to derail him, but that’s a story for another day.
Joe Magrane would get one more opening day start. That would be on April 9, 1990 against current Springfield Cardinals pitching coach, Dennis Martinez. Magrane was sharp, allowing just one run before leaving the game in the sixth inning. Martinez had been shaky, but limited the damage to just three runs.
When the bullpens got involved, things turned ugly. Ken Hill would allow three runs before getting the final out in the sixth inning. Frank DiPino followed suit in the seventh, allowing a run of his own. Fortunately, Cris (no-H) Carpenter, Howard Hilton and Ken Dayley righted the ship and managed to get the game into the 11th inning. That’s when another lead-off walk, this time to the Cardinals Milt Thompson, would prove to be the game winner when Uncle Milty came home on a Willie McGee walk-off single two batters later.
Bryn Smith (1991) 1 no decision
The Joe Torre era would start in earnest in 1991 with a game against the Chicago Cubs. The new Cardinals manager gave the opening day start to Bryn Smith, who had been a horse for the Montreal Expos over the last 8 season, winning as many as 18 games in 1985.
Smith pitched a gem of a game allowing just a single run in seven innings of work. On the other side of the diamond, Danny Jackson was the unfortunate victim of the the last remnants of Whitey Ball as the still speedy Cardinals legged out infield hits and beat throws on fielders choices, inning after inning.
The turning point in the game would come in the top of the 8th. The score was tied at one when Jose Oquendo stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded. He would hit a weak grounder and beat the throw to first base, allowing Felix Jose to score the game winning run. Craig Wilson would follow with a well placed dribbler between the pitcher and first baseman that would score another run. Rex Hudler would ground out, scoring Tom Pagnozzi for final run of the inning, and the game. The Cubs pitchers had just beaten up by a bunch of moths, or so it must have seemed. Former Cub, Lee Smith, earned the first of his NL leading 47 saves in the game, just to add a bit of insult.
Bob Tewksbury would pitch seven strong innings in the home opener against the Philadelphia Phillies. Terry Mulholland would pitch well for the Phils, but not well enough as Tewks picks up the win. Lee Smith would earn his fifth save on the young season in relief.
Jose DeLeon (1992) 1 no decision
Jose DeLeon would get the opening day call to start the 1992 season. His opponent would be David Cone and the New York Mets. Both starters were effective with DeLeon allowing just one run in 7 innings and Cone, 2 runs in 8 innings. The story of the game was relief pitching. The Mets had some and the Cardinals didn’t. In a rare blow-up, Lee Smith allowed the tying run to score in the top of the ninth inning, and lost it when Bobby Bonilla hit a 2 run homer in the 10th. On the other side, the Mets bullpen was sharp, putting up two innings of zeroes.
Bob Tewksbury (1993-1994) 1-1
Of all the pitchers to come through the Cardinals system in the last 50 years, Bob Tewksbury might have been the best actual pitcher. To be able to stand on the mound knowing your fastball topped out at 81 miles per hour (with a tail wind) and face hitters like Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Ryne Sandberg and Freg McGriff, and have the courage to throw the ball anywhere near the plate took a special cunning, and lack of fear. He had nothing intimidating, couldn’t throw inside and his out pitch was something you were likely to see in a co-ed softball game. In six years in St. Louis, he put up a 67-46 record with an ERA of 3.48. And this is in the beginning of the steroids era.
Tewksbury would take a hard luck loss in the season opener in 1993 against the San Francisco Giants. The most unsettling thing about this game was seeing Willie McGee hitting lead-off for the pumpkins – it just did not look right at all.
A Matt Williams RBI double in the 4th and a Barry Bonds sacrifice fly in the seventh were the only runs allowed by Tewksbury, but that would be enough as John Burkett went six strong innings, allowing just a single run. The Giants bullpen was brilliant, allowing just a single hit in three innings of combined relief.
Tewks would fare a bit better in the 1994 opener against the Cincinnati Reds. He would struggle in six innings of work, but Reds starter Jose Rijo was knocked around rather rudely by Cardinals bats. Rijo did not have an easy inning during the game and he would surrender 6 runs before turning the game over to his bullpen. Tewksbury would earn the win and Mike Perez would pitch a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.
Ken Hill (1995) 1 no decision
This would be the second time for Ken Hill to wear the Birds on the Bat. The first time was as a prospect, acquired from Detroit in 1986, while pitching in his first professional season. He came up through the Cardinals system but stalled a bit at Arkansas (AA). After being promoted to Louisville (AAA), he was quickly called up to the majors when injuries with the big club created an opening. He pitched well enough to stay, at least for the remainder of the year. He would lead the league in walks and losses, but not all of that was his fault as evidenced by a 3.80 ERA that was good for a rookie. Not great, but not too bad either. A shaky defense behind him turned him into a tentative pitcher that didn’t aggressively go after hitters.
He started out the 1990 season with the Cardinals, but after being hit hard in his first three relief appearances, he would be sent back to Louisville where he would light up the American Association to a tune of a 6-1 record with an ERA well under 2 runs per game. That prompted another callup in late July. Hill would start off well, but fade again in September, ending with a 5-6 record with the big club. One more season with the Cardinals in 1990 that mirrored his rookie campaign, except that this time he did get a little bit of run support, and then it was off to Montreal.
That’s when the real Ken Hill showed National League teams what he could do. In three seasons in Montreal, he would post a 41-21 record with an ERA just over 3. Some injuries limited his starts in 1994, but he still managed to win 16 games in that season, to go with only 5 losses.
That prompted an off-season trade with the Cardinals to bring Hill back for another look, and we got exactly what we had in the late 1980s. The tall right hander would not last the entire season before being traded to Cleveland before the non-waiver trade deadline, where he would help the Indians make the playoffs. Hill would pitch brilliantly in the ALDS and ALCS, earning one win in each. He didn’t fare as well against the Braves in the World Series, but his stock had risen significantly.
That would pay off with a free agency deal with the Texas Rangers, where he would find his old form. He would help pitch the Rangers into the playoffs, winning 16 games for the third time in his career. After that, he would be a pennant run pickup by the California Angels where he would have a couple of good seasons before injuries ended his career.
All that success, and we missed every bit of it in St. Louis.
Ken Hill did get the opening day call for the Cardinals in 1995. With a rotation of Mark Petkovsek, Allen Watson, Donovan Osborne and both Danny Jackson and Mike Morgan at the end of their careers, you know it is going to be a long season. And you now understand why it was Hill that got the opening day call.
He would face a young hard throwing right hander from the Philadelphia Phillies named Curt Shilling. Shilling was still a few years away from putting it all together, and a decade from the famed bloody sock heroics in post-season. It would be a fair fight between two struggling right-handers, and neither would be around to get a decision.
Hill would get hit hard in the third inning when the Phillies sent 9 men to the plate, scoring 5 times. The Redbirds would get three of those runs back in their half of the third as they sent 8 men to the plate against Schilling.
A Brian Jordan two run homer off Toby Borland in the sixth pulled the Cardinals to within a run at 6-5. It would stay that way until the Cardinals came to bat in the bottom of the ninth. Former Reds closer, Norm Charlton could not manage to find the strike zone as he tried to close the game out. Bernard Gilkey would start things off with a seeing-eye single through the left side of the infield. Two walks would load the bases for Scott Cooper, and he delivered with a sharp single though a pulled-in infield, scoring Gilkey with the tying run and Ozzie Smith with the game winner. Rene Arocha would pick up the win with one sharp inning of relief.
Next time, we will look at the opening day starters in the Tony La Russa era.
Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at On the Outside Corner. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.