The St. Louis Cardinals were coming home from a disappointing east coast road trip. They went 7-5 over the twelve games, but had dropped two of three in the final series to the first place Cincinnati Reds. It was more than losing two games to the Reds, it was how the last game ended that could have sent the team into a prolonged slump.
Rookie sensation, Dick Hughes, had taken a perfect game through a rain delay and into the eighth inning. A couple of bloop hits later, the Reds had a lead. The Cardinals didn’t give up and did mount a rally in the ninth inning, getting the tying run on third base with nobody out. Then came the play nobody expected – a game ending triple play. I can still hear Harry Caray grasping for words to describe what he had just witnessed.
This game on the following day was just what the Cardinals needed – one so strange that they could forget all about the base running blunder in Cincinnati.
For this one game series against the Atlanta Braves, the visitors would go with one of their left handed veterans, Denny Lemaster. Lemaster was an innings eater, but was susceptible to the long ball and that kept him from stringing together a significant number of wins. He would generally keep his team in the game, but not dominate.
For the Cardinals, a home town favorite would be on the mound: Ray Washburn. For trivia buffs, it was Ray Washburn that threw out the first pitch in the new Busch Stadium a year earlier. Washburn was a tremendous talent, but a series of injuries had kept him from putting together that season we all knew he had in him. In just a few days, another freak injury will cost him a month on the disabled list, but he had a game to pitch tonight first.
Don’t Mess with Hank
The game started off like many others against the Braves in the 60s: two quick infield groundouts and then one mistake to Henry Aaron for very loud 1-0 Braves lead. That didn’t bother the Cardinals veteran starter. Washburn responds by striking out Mack Jones to end the inning.
Lemaster would also have a typical first inning with Julian Javier reaching base on an error by Clete Boyer and a walk to Orlando Cepeda, but the inconsistent Alex Johnson fails to extend the inning.
A case against the Designated Hitter
It looked as if Washburn would have a quick second inning, striking out Joe Torre strikeout and getting Felipe Alou to ground out. Clete Boyer would atone for his error in the first inning by pulling a double into left field. The Cardinals would play the odds by walking eighth place hitter Dennis Menke to get to the Braves pitcher. Denny Lemaster would only get 7 hits in 1967 and should have been over-matched by Washburn, but he would hit a bloop single to center, driving in Boyer for a 2-0 lead.
As he did in the first inning, Washburn would bear down after limit the damage to just the single run. Not just this inning, the next five. Once in a groove, Washburn was nearly unhittable. Ask the San Francisco Giants whom he would no-hit in 1968.
Lemaster would continue to struggle, retiring the Cardinals in order only once – the 7-9 hitters in the fourth. With all of these base runners, the Cardinals had to break through, eventually.
They did in the fifth inning. After two quick outs, a walk to Curt Flood would come back to haunt the Atlanta hurler. 1967′s NL MVP, Orlando Cepeda, would rip a double into the left field corner putting the tying runs in scoring position. The light hitting platoon outfielder Alex Johnson would get another chance, and this time he would deliver, lining a single to center scoring both Flood and Cepeda for a 2-2 tie.
Both pitchers would put up zeros in the sixth inning with the Cardinals pulling off a nifty double play started by Cepeda and a strong relay throw by Maxvill to Washburn covering first to complete the twin killing. The Cardinals infield defense was the best in baseball – Maxvill and Javier being one the best middle infield combinations in team history.
Late Inning Trouble
The Braves would regain the lead in the top of the seventh inning.
Against a tiring Ray Washburn, Felipe Alou would hit a one out double in the right field gap. Clete Boyer again would hurt the Cardinals with a single up the middle. Javier was able to get to the ball but unable to throw Boyer out. Alou held at third and things momentarily looked good for the Cardinals. Washburn had already induced three double plays and he would try for his fourth. And he almost did. Charlie Lau hit the ball slowly to Maxvill who made the force throw to Javier but Lau beat the play at first and Alou scored the go ahead run.
The Braves would extend their lead in the next inning. Woody Woodward would lead off with a single to left field. The Braves would play for the single run and sacrifice Woodward to second base. Up to the plate steps Henry Aaron, and not wanting to repeat the first inning, Aaron is intentionally walked to set up another double play chance.
Cardinals manager, Red Schoendienst, would play this conventionally going to his bullpen with the hard throwing young left-hander, Larry Jaster, to face the left handed hitting Mack Jones. The Braves would counter by pinch hitting with Rico Carty – one of the best pure hitters of the era. Carty would miss the entire 1968 season fighting tuberculosis and would put up huge numbers in 1969 and Pujols like in 1970. But this was 1967 and Larry Jaster would win this battle, for now. Carty hit the ball back to Jaster and the Cards would turn a nifty 1-6-3 double play – their fourth of the evening.
A Wild Wild Wild Ending
This brings us to the ninth inning, and not even Barnum and Bailey could dream about what happened next.
Larry Jaster was brilliant in the eighth but quite the opposite in the ninth. Joe Torre would lead off with an infield single. I’m not sure what was moving slower, the ball off the bat or the future Cardinal star running down the first base line, but when the dust cleared Torre was standing on first.
After an Alou fly out to Lou Brock in left field, Jaster would lose his control. He would walk Clete Boyer and Marty Martinez, loading the bases. Red would again go to his bullpen for his big right hander Ron Willis. Willis would get the Braves pitcher to pop out to second, but Woody Woodward would battle Willis eventually drawing a walk, giving the Braves a 4-2 lead. Frustrated and not wanting to see the heart of the Atlanta order, Schoendienst went back to the bullpen for his closer, Joe Hoerner. Hoerner would only face one batter as he struck out Gary Geiger to end the inning.
For most other teams, the game was essentially over. But these were the 1967 Go Go El Birdos and they weren’t going down without a fight. And some serious entertainment along the way.
Journeyman and backup catcher Johnny Romano would lead off the ninth inning by reaching base on Clete Boyer’s second error of the game. His wild throw allows Romano to advance to second base. Lemaster had gone about as far as he could and the Braves went to their bullpen.
You cannot believe what would happen over the next five minutes.
The first strange move goes to Red Schoendienst. He pinch runs for Johnny Romano with Dick Hughes. Yes, Dick Hughes, the pitcher. The pitcher who took the hard luck loss the day before. Hughes was one heck of an athlete, and could run as well as any of the hitters left on the bench, so why not ?
Strange move number two goes to the Braves for bringing in knuckleballer Phil Niekro to close out this game, or at least try. The Cardinals had great success with a knuckleball closer earlier in the decade, but this was an unusual move to say the least. There was one player on the field that hated the knucklball more than all of the Cardinals hitters – poor Joe Torre. He hated to catch a knuckleballer. And would hate it even more before this inning was over.
Niekro immediately threw a wild pitch allowing Dick Hughes to advance to third base. Lou Brock actually hit one of Niekro’s floaters, far enough out to center field to score Hughes and cut the Braves lead to 4-3.
Julian Javier just stood in the batters box while Niekro threw floater after floater. Javier knew he wasn’t going to hit Niekro’s knuckleball, so he took his chances that Niekro would walk him, and Javier won that battle.
This is when Cardinals radio announcer Harry Caray asked “He wouldn’t throw a wild pitch would he?” As if Niekro was listening to Harry, a pitch scooted past a frustrated Torre with Javier taking second base.
Again Caray asks, “He wouldn’t do it again, would he ?” And yes he would. Another floater that evades the glove of Joe Torre and the tying run in now standing on third.
The patient Curt Flood then delivers with a line drive single to left field and the game is now tied 4-4.
Beginning to worry about running out of players, Red Schoendient pulls another switch that not even Tony LaRussa would consider. He pinch runs for Curt Flood using Al Jackson, who had been warming up the Cardinals bullpen.
Future Cardinal pitcher Clay Carrol would strike out Orlando Cepeda and get pinch hitter Roger Maris to fly out to end the inning, but the never say die Cardinals had tied the game and into extra innings we would go. But not for long.
A Walkoff …… Triple ?
Al Jackson would take the mound and Roger Maris would go into right field. This is exactly the opposite of how you would do this. Jackson was a starter and Maris would be taken out of games late for defensive replacements. But this was the carnival of June 1, 1967 and the normal rules do not apply.
In the previous five seasons the little left hander would lose 20, 17, 16, 20 and 15 games. Not too many pitchers lose 20 games in a season, Jackson did it twice. On this evening, and for the duration of a single inning, Jackson pitched like Sandy Koufax making quick work of the heart of the Braves order with the ball never leaving the infield.
The bottom of the tenth inning would go even more quickly.
After an infield ground out by Tim McCarver, the light hitting utility infielder Phil Gagliano would hit a weak grounder to third and beat the throw for an infield single. Gagliano barely hit his weight, but his hits always seemed to be in key situations.
After an infield pop out, Clay Carroll would face Bobby Tolan. And the game would come to an end. One of the most loved players of the era, and one that we let get away, Tolan splits the outfielders with a line drive that goes all the way to the center field wall, scoring the speedy Gagliano from first. Bobby Tolan ends the game with a walk off triple and the Cardinals would have the most improbable 5-4 win.
The Cardinals would sputter a bit over the next few days, but this win ignited a run to the pennant that would have them survive losing both Bob Gibson and Ray Washburn to broken bones. And another World Championship for the Gateway City. More important, the unusual ending of the game gave fans and sports writers something to talk about other than running into a triple play to lose a game.