On September 22, a rain delayed Thursday afternoon game, the Cardinals lost a heartbreaker to the New York Mets. Trailing Atlanta by just 1 1/2 games, the Cardinals were just three outs from closing that gap to just a single game, when a tired and perhaps over-used bullpen blew up, and the Mets won.
I70-baseball writer, Dathan Brooks, suggests that the loss is not the end of the season in his most recent article, If Ya Gotta Lose (And You Do), Lose That Game. We now know that the Cardinals also lost the following game to the Cubs, making it that much more difficult to win the NL Wild Card. With fans suddenly exiting the Cardinals bandwagon, I thought it might be interesting to look back at some other disappointing losses, to see if we can put that Thursday afternoon catastrophe in some sort of perspective.
With that as background, here are my top 10 Most Disappointing Cardinal losses.
10. July 6, 2010 – Colorado 12, St. Louis 9
August 2010 was one of the hardest months to be a Cardinals fan. It simply could not have ended soon enough. Agonizing loss after agonizing loss. Looking back a year later with more of an objective eye, this game in Colorado was really the turning point in the 2010 season.
The Cardinals had put runs on the scoreboard in four consecutive innings. Heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, they had a commanding 9-3 lead. All Dennys Reyes needed to do was get three outs. Reyes and Ryan Franklin could only retire two before a 3 run walk-off home run by Seth Smith sent he few remaining fans into a frenzy. Colorado would send 11 men to the plate in that inning, and nine would score.
But it didn’t end there. The next game would also end on a walk off home run. This time it was a solo blast off the bat of Chris Ianetta. Cardinals reliever Evan MacLane was making his major league debut, and the first batter he faced was Ianetta. For the next 11 days, MacLane’s ERA was infinity. The blame for this loss does not lie on MacLane’s shoulders alone because Trever Miller, Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs combined to give the Rockies three runs in the previous inning. Once again, the bullpen could not hold a big lead late.
In the series finale, the Rockies would finish off the three game sweep – at least this time it was not a come from behind win.
9. June 9, 1999 – Kansas City 17, St. Louis 13
This was just a strange game. It went back and forth for the better part of four hours. The Cardinals would collect 18 hits, including home runs by Mark McGwire, Eli Marrero and Fernando Tatis. The score would be tied at 9 runs each as Kansas City came to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning. With one out, Scott Radinsky would put a pair of runners on base with a hit and a walk. Tony La Russa went to his bullpen for former Phillies closer, Ricky Bottalico. Bottalico would face 8 men, retiring just one. When the dust finally settled, Kansas City had a 17-9 lead.
To add to the disappointment of this game, the Cardinals would score four runs in the top of the ninth, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near enough to make up for the 8 they surrendered in the previous inning.
The 1999 Cardinals would fall to .500 with the loss, and all hopes for a post-season berth went with it. They would hover around the .500 mark for the remainder of the summer, until a September collapse made it a season to forget.
8. October 14, 16 and 17, 1996
Pick any one of these three games. These are the final three games of the 1996 National League Championship Series between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals. Both teams had made a strong statement by sweeping their opponents in the divisional series, Atlanta defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cardinals beating the San Diego Padres. The 1996 NLCS was shaping up to be quite a series.
Andy Benes and John Smoltz hooked up in the first game, and it was just as good as everybody had hoped. The game went into the bottom of the 8th tied at two runs each. The Braves took a page out of the Cardinals playbook when they played small ball to score two runs on an ineffective St. Louis bullpen. As many disappointing losses do, it started with a leadoff walk, and then two relievers later, Javy Lopez singles with the bases loaded, giving Atlanta a two run lead. Atlanta takes the first game.
A five run outburst in the seventh inning of Game Two would make a winner out of Todd Stottlemyre. As in the previous game, the big blow would come with the bases loaded. This time it would be Gary Gaetti with a grand slam off Greg Maddux, putting the game out of reach.
A pair of Ron Gant home runs off Tom Glavine gave the Cardinals the win in Game Three. Donovan Osborne pitched a great game, and a combination of Mark Petkovsek, Rick Honeycutt and Dennis Eckersley held the lead for the final two innings.
Game Five has one of the most unusual innings in any box score I’ve ever seen. If you didn’t know better, you would swear there is an error. Starter Andy Benes gets roughed up in the sixth, and three relievers later, his younger brother Alan comes in to finish the inning. With the Braves in control, and with a three run lead, Denny Neagle runs out of gas in the seventh. The Cardinals would score three runs in that inning, the big blow being a Dimitri Young pinch hit triple. Brian Jordan would give the Cardinals the game winner with a solo home run in the bottom of the 8th.
The Cardinals led the series 3-1, and had won the last three games. They had beaten the two of the best starters the Braves had, and had feasted on their bullpen. Just one game away from another trip to the World Series. But alas, that never happened.
It’s not that the Cardinals lost the final three games, it’s how they lost them. The once dependable starting rotation just couldn’t silence the Braves bats. And once Atlanta started hitting, it seemed like everybody hit. Atlanta would win Game Five by the score of 14-0, and that was not the worst loss. Game Six would be closer, but the Cardinals could not get anything started against Greg Maddux, and lose 3-1. The worst of the three would be in the finale, when the Braves score 15 runs in a Game Seven shutout. The Cardinals would be outscored 32-1 in those final three games. John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were unbelievable in those three games.
7. May 30, 1967 – Cincinnati 2, St. Louis 1
This game was disappointing on three different levels. First, rookie starter Dick Hughes had suffered through a long rain delay to take a perfect game into the eighth inning. Three hits later, the Reds had a 2-1 lead. Second, and more important, it was how the game ended. A pair of singles by Orlando Cepeda and Tim McCarver put runners on the corners with no outs in the top of the ninth. Cepeda was the tying run, and McCarver the potential go-ahead run. Pinch hitter Phil Gagliano grounds out to short. Cepeda breaks late off third, once he sees that the Reds are conceding the tying run by turning the double play. But he is thrown out at home, completing a game ending triple play.
That brings us to the third level of disappointment, that win gave Cincinnati the series win and knocked the Cardinals 2 1/2 games behind in the National League. The team at the top – Cincinnati.
Fortunately, this game happened early in the season, and not in the final two weeks. It proved to be a test of character for a team, and it actually made them play harder. They would soon overtake Cincinnati, and despite losing two of their top starters to injury, the Cardinals would coast into the 1967 World Series.
6. June 23, 1984 – Chicago 12, St. Louis 11 (11 innings)
The Ryne Sandberg Game. As I-70 Baseball editor, Bill Ivie says, “it should have been known as the Willie McGee game”. But it isn’t.
This Saturday afternoon game at Wrigley Field was a national telecast. A big audience tuned in to see Willie McGee put on an offensive show as he would go 4-6 in the game. Those four hits were, in order: a three RBI triple, single, two run homer, and finally an RBI double. He would complete the cycle with that double, but he has to thank Ryne Sandberg for it. If the Cubs second baseman had not led off the bottom of the ninth with a solo home run, McGee never would have had the chance to hit the double. Sandberg’s home run tied the game at 9. To make matters worse, it came off Bruce Sutter.
Oh, we aren’t anywhere close to being done with Sutter and Sandberg.
That McGee double would give the Cardinals a 10-9 lead in the 10th. A pair of infield groundouts would score McGee for an 11-9 lead. Bruce Sutter is now working the bottom of the 10th for the win, instead of a save. He would again be victimized by Ryne Sandberg. For the second time in two innings, Sandberg hits a home run off the Hall of Fame closer, this time it is a two run shot. Are you kidding me ?
As late as the sixth inning, the Cardinals led 9-3. Another Neil Allen meltdown and a pair of home runs by Ryne Sandberg overshadowed Willie McGee’s amazing day at the plate.
27 years later, it still hurts to think about this game.
Those are the first five of my top 10. And no, the Thursday Afternoon Disaster does not make the list. Do you agree or disagree ? Please let me know in the comments section.