July 17, 1954 – The Other “Almost” Comeback
When the New York Giants (57-27) came into St. Louis on July 15, 1954, manager Eddie Stanky knew he had his hands full. The Giants were a very solid team and were playing exceptional baseball. Their pitching was very good, and if the opposition somehow got into the bullpen, they had to contend with the likes of Hoyt Willhem (12-4) and Marv Grissom (10-7), both with ERA’s hovering around 2 runs per game. If that wasn’t enough, manning center field was a young slugger named Willie Mays. Mays would go on to win the first of his two Most Valuable Player awards, the other coming in 1965.
The Cardinals would split the first two of this early summer three game series. They would be shut out in the opener, 4-0, but after nearly blowing a lead late, Ray Jablonski drove in Wally Moon with a 2 out walk off single in the ninth. That set up an exciting rubber game on Saturday.
Royce Lint would get the start for the Cardinals. The rookie left-hander would start the season in the bullpen, and had been shaky at times. He had also been able to work long relief, often 5 innings or more. Thanks to a doubleheader in Chicago on July 4, Lint would make his first major league start and it was a dandy – a complete game shutout at Wrigley Field. That would earn him another start, and he pitched well enough to win, but the Cardinals bats did not cooperate. This game would be his third start, and also the shortest of his brief career, lasting just 1/3 of an inning.
Three of the first four Giants batters would reach base against Lint. With the score 2-0, Stanky goes to his bullpen for Cot Deal. Deal was a veteran who had been called up several times, but failed to stay with the big club for long. Entering the game in a difficult situation, he gets Willie Mays to hit into a double play, ending the inning without any further damage.
Deal would retire the Giants in order in the second inning, but totally fell apart in the third. Deal would face seven men in that brutal inning, not retiring any of them. A pair of errors by Ray Jablonski, the late inning hero the day before, extended the inning and led to a barrage of subsequent hits and runs.
Ralph Beard would enter the game with runners on the corners and a 7-0 deficit. A pair of fly balls would give the Giants two more runs and a seemingly insurmountable 9-0 lead. Or that’s what the modest crowd at Sportman’s Park thought.
Beard would pitch three more scoreless innings, doing all that he could to give the Cardinals a chance for a comeback. That comeback would start in the sixth inning.
Giants starter, Johnny Antonelli, had been cruising until the Cardinals bats came to life in the sixth inning. And that inning reads like a Who’s Who in Cardinals history: Wally Moon, Stan Musial, Joe Cunningham and Red Schoendienst. The big blow in the inning was a two out double by Red, cutting the Giants lead to 9-5. The Cardinals also managed to chase Atonelli, with Hoyt Willhem taking over in relief.
The Cardinals would pull even closer in the seventh. With Ray Jablonski on first base with two outs, pinch hitter Solly Hemus draws a walk. Pinch hitter Joe Frazier would rip a triple, scoring Jablonski and Hemus. That would be the end of Wilhelm’s appearance, a rare short and ineffective outing. Frazier would not stay on third base for long. A Rip Repulski single brought the Cardinals to within a run at 9-8.
Meanwhile the Cardinals bullpen was just brilliant. The Giants had not been able to mount anything resembling a rally against Ralph Beard, Joe Presko, and the new Cardinals hurler, Al Brazle.
With the score still 9-8 in favor of the Giants, the Cardinals were about to accomplish the unthinkable. After chasing Hoyt Willhem, they were about to tie the game against the Giants All Star reliever, Marv Grissom. And it was just the kind of run you would expect in a game like this. With runners at first and second base with one out, Joe Cunningham grounded into what looked like an inning ending double play. But the 3-6-3 is one of the hardest to turn, and the Giants failed to do so. Dick Schofield, grandfather of the Washington Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth, scored from second base when a throw went wild, tying the game. Solly Hemus would extend the inning with a single, putting the go-ahead run on third base. Unfortunately, Peanuts Lowrey was unable to drive Cunningham home.
The game would go into the ninth inning tied at 9 runs apiece. Marv Grissom and Harvey Haddix were now the pitchers of record. They would still be on the mound when the Giants took the lead in the 11th inning, and it was a beautifully manufactured run, typical of how that Giants team won many of those 58 games. A lead-off single, sacrifice bunt and infield single would put the potential winning run on third base. That run would score on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Don Mueller. Haddix limited the damage to just one run, but that would prove to be enough as Windy McCall retires the now disappointed Cardinals in order in the bottom of the 11th.
Marv Grissom failed to earn the save, but a courageous long relief effort was enough to earn him the win. McCall would pick up the save. Harvey Haddix would take the loss for the Cardinals.
Following this series, the Giants would continue steamrolling over opponents in the National League. They would go on to win 97 games, capturing the NL Pennant by 5 games over their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers. In a workman like fashion, they would sweep the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.
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.