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The 10 Most Disappointing Cardinals Losses – The Top Five

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.

The list started with ten through six in a previous post, which can be read here. With that as background, here are my top five Most Disappointing Cardinal losses.

5. October 8, 2009 – Los Angeles 3, St. Louis 2

Chris Carpenter had pitched the opening game of the 2009 National League Divisional Series on short rest, and it looked like it. The Dodgers were hitting the former Cy Young winner hard, and often. They had taken Game One, at home, but were still looking like the underdog in this series.

That was apparent when Cy Young hopeful, Adam Wainwright pitched one of the best games in his short career. 8 innings, 3 hits, 7 strikeouts and just one walk – in a must win game. A Colby Rasmus double in the seventh inning would give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead. It was still 2-1 when Ryan Franklin took the mound with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Manny Ramirez would fly out to center field for the second out. One more out, and the Cardinals would leave Los Angeles with a split in the series, and all of the momentum.

Oops

That’s what we all thought would happen when James Loney lines out to left field. But Matt Holliday lost the ball in the lights, and dropped it for a two base error. Two walks, a passed ball, and two singles later, the Dodgers won the game, and the 2009 season came to an end for the Cardinals.

Oh, there was still one more game to be played, Game Three in St. Louis. That was just a formality as a truly defeated Cardinals team just went through the motions for nine innings to complete the Dodgers sweep.

It is hard to believe that there are more disappointing losses than this one, but there are.

4. October 1, 1974 – Montreal 3, St. Louis 2

This is a game that has been somewhat forgotten over the years, and it is unfortunate. The Cardinals and Pirates entered the last game of the season in a tie for first place. The winner of the division will have the monumental task of playing the Cincinnati Reds at the peak of their Big Red Machine days.

The two teams were playing their respective games at nearly the same time, so there was a huge emotional swing as we paid as much attention to the scoreboard as we did to the game we were watching.

The Cubs would take an early lead against the Pirates, as would the Cardinals in their game with the Expos. Bob Gibson was on the mound for St. Louis, and while he had struggled though injury and sore legs through most of the season, he was vintage Gibson in this game. As the clock passed through 8:15 pm in St. Louis, it seemed as if the Cardinals would win the National League east. By 8:30, that all changed on a pair of home runs, one in Pittsburgh, the other in Montreal. Pittsburgh would win the NL East by one game, and St. Louis would not return to post-season for nearly a decade.

This is perhaps an alternate ending for the fans who questioned Tony La Russa’s decision to remove Chris Carpenter from a tie game with the Cubs on night following the Thursday Afternoon Meltdown. Like Gibson, Carpenter had struggled through most of the season, but had found one more A+ game. Red Schoendienst chose not to remove Gibson, and he would end up taking the loss.

There is a huge difference between these two. Gibson’s game was a must win, Carpenter’s was just a really good one to win. That’s the difference between game 162 and 156. There is still time in 2011.

3. October 2, 1964 – New York (NL) 1, St. Louis 0

After nearly completing a miraculous comeback in 1963, the Cardinals again found themselves in a playoff race in the final series of the season. Holding a slim one game lead over the Reds and Phillies, and facing the New York Mets, still playing like an expansion team, you had to like your chances if you were a Cardinals fan.

Oh, let’s also add in that Bob Gibson, winner of 17 games so far, was on the mound for the Cardinals. Bring on the Yankees.

Not so fast. Al Jackson, the little left-hander with an awful career win/loss record had a different idea. Ed Kranepool would single home George Altman in the third inning for the Mets. It would be the only run of the game as Jackson throws a complete game shutout. The little guy that would flirt with no-hitters several times in his career, held the Cardinals to just 5 hits.

To make matters worse, Ray Sadecki would get bombed in the next game as the Mets won, 15-5. Johnny Keane was forced to use eight pitchers in the game, which left his bullpen in shambles for the final game. What looked most promising on Friday night, was now a Sunday afternoon nightmare.

When Curt Simmons struggled in the final game, Keane took a chance and went to Bob Gibson, pitching on one day rest after throwing 8 innings. It was the gutsiest performance in Cardinals history, pitching on fumes while the Cardinals bats finally woke up, giving him his 18th win.

That final weekend in 1964 was supposed to have been played without any drama.

2. October 10, 1968 – Detroit 4, St. Louis 1

Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich and the Detroit Tigers had an amazing season, but they were supposed to be just a speed bump on the Cardinals path to their second consecutive World Series title, the third in five years. That was apparent when Bob Gibson dominated in Games One and Four, and the Redbirds steamrolled to a 3 games to 1 lead. It didn’t matter that the Tigers had roared back to force a Game Seven, so did the Red Sox a year earlier.

For the first six innings in Game Seven, this was as good as baseball gets. Mickey Lolich and Bob Gibson are putting up zeros at an alarming rate. The turning point in the game happened in the home half of the sixth inning. Both Lou Brock and Curt Flood were picked off first base. That just didn’t happen, especially to those two. The momentum swung to the Tigers side of the diamond, and they capitalized in the top of the seventh.

Bob Gibson would quickly retire Mickey Stanley and Al Kaline to start the inning. What happens next caught the entire baseball world off guard. Nobody was concerned when Norm Cash and Willie Horton singled – this was Bob Gibson. Then the unthinkable – Jim Northrup rips a line drive into left center field. Curt Flood had been playing Northrup to pull the ball, so was shading him to right field, and somewhat shallow. Flood misread Northrup’s hit initially, and then slipped on the wet turf as he tried to correct his path to the ball. It flies well over Flood’s head and rolls all the way to the wall for a 2 run triple.

That would prove to the the game winner, as Lolich goes the distance and earns the win.

That brings us to THE most disappointing loss. Although we still argue about why the Cardinals lost this game, I doubt that there is any debate about this being the worst loss in Cardinals history.

1. October 26, 1985 – Kansas City 2, St. Louis 1

This game is remembered for Don Denkinger’s ninth inning call that, more than 25 years later, still divides a state. One half wants the other half to get past it, while the other half still have video tapes of the game buried somewhere in a closet.

What has been forgotten about this game are the performances of the two starters, Danny Cox for the Cardinals and Charlie Leibrandt for the Royals. Of the three big horses at the top of the Cardinals rotation, Cox was the guy you wanted on the mound in a must-win game. And he pitched a gem, going seven scoreless innings, striking out 8.

But Leibrandt was just as effective, as the Vince Coleman-less Cardinals just couldn’t do much against the Royals lefty.

The game was still scoreless in the eighth when pinch hitter, Brian Harper singled with two outs, driving in Terry Pendleton. That gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead with just six outs from a World Series title. Ken Dayley worked a quick bottom of the eighth inning to set up the now famous “Call”.

The Call

Todd Worrell would take over for Dayley in the ninth inning. Worrell had been called up just before the September 1 post-season eligibility deadline and had taken over as the Cardinals closer. To underscore his level of experience, he had not appeared in enough games to lose his rookie status for the following season. That’s what makes the first play in ninth inning such a tragedy.

Jorge Orta starts things off by hitting a ground ball to Jack Clark at first base. He tosses the ball to Worrell, covering first base. That’s one mistake. It is still unclear what Don Denkinger thought he saw, but he called Orta safe at first base. Then the wheels came off, and quickly.

Steve Balboni hits a pop up over in foul territory behind first base. Jack Clark gives chase, and is unable to make the catch. That’s mistake number two. Balboni takes advantage of Clark’s miscue by hitting a sharp single.

Jim Sundberg tries to help the Cardinals cause by bunting the ball back sharply to Worrell, and he is able to throw out the lead runner at third base.

Then comes the final mistake, a passed ball. If any of Denkinger’s call, Clark’s error or Darrell Porter‘s inability to block Worrell’s pitch in the dirt don’t happen, the Cardinals probably win the game. But all three did, and that set up the winning run.

With runners at second and third with just one out, Whitey Herzog has no choice but to intentionally walk Hal McCrae to load the bases. That brings Dane Iorg to the plate, and he delivers a walk-off two run single against his former club. The Royals win 2-1, and that forces a Game Seven.

Game Seven seven was a complete disaster. It was a combination of a complete Cardinals meltdown and a terrific pitching performance by Bret Saberhagen. St. Louis would be embarrassed 11-0 and the Kansas City Royals would win the only World Series in their franchise history – at least so far.

Those are 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.

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.

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The 10 Most Disappointing Cardinals Losses – Ten Through Six

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 ?

The Cubs would win the game, 12-11, when pinch hitter Dave Owen singles home former Cardinal, Leon Durham with the game winner.

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.

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.

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I Could Tell You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You

On Wednesday Cardinals GM, John Mozeliak pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallett, and P.J. Walters packing. As part of the deal, Toronto sent Edwin Jackson (who had been a Bluejay for only a few hours, after coming over from the White Sox in a deal made earlier), Corey Patterson, Octavio Dotel, and Marc Rzepczynski. “Rzepczynski”? I had a hard enough time teaching my phone that there’s nothing to autocorrect when I type “Mozeliak”. Hell, “Dathan” STILL gets a red squiggly line.

General Managers (left to right): John Mozeliak (STL), Alex Anthopoulos (TOR), Kenny Williams (CWS)

 

No doubt by this point you’ve read up on the incoming players, and surely you’ve got your own opinions on the Cardinals players who have moved on. Everybody has an opinion on this one, and I’m guessing you didn’t come here to read one more of those. (FYI: The i70baseball rant threat level has just been raised from blue, or “guarded” to yellow, or “elevated”.) Though what you’re about to read isn’t even really a full-blown rant, more like a single-A version of one.

Some things about baseball will never change. It will always be 90 feet between first and second base, for example. The ball will always be 9 inches, 5 ounces (or close enough to be within spec). And second-guessers, armchair GMs, and hindsight specialists will always, ALWAYS be among the most vocal groups, particularly around this time of year. 

I posted about this on (my personal) facebook, because it really just gets under my skin the way the “best, most knowledgeable fans in baseball” know everything. I mean, these people know it all, and aren’t afraid to tell. The office manager who “knew” signing Mark Mulder was a mistake. (after the fact, of course) The auto mechanic who “still doesn’t understand why Bo Hart isn’t a Cardinal”. The employee at the grocery store who “never agreed with getting rid of Ryan Ludwick.” Well, Mr. produce pusher, you should worry more about your banana-handling skills, and less about topics about which you’re ignorant. Luddy’s average is under .250, his strikeouts are up 30% over this time last year, his OBP is barely above .300, and I can’t keep a straight face when I say he’s, um, slugging .376.

Sure he plays in one of the friendliest of pitcher-friendly ballparks. Sure he was only in the same lineup as Adrian Gonzalez for two months. And sure, he’s basically got zero protection in a lineup that regularly faces the reigning World Champion Giants pitching staff of guys like Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner, and Brian Wilson. Chase Headly & Jason Bartlett can’t protect a guy the same way Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday can. Let’s face it, you could put me in a lineup that includes Pujols & Holliday, and I’ve got a chance to make a name for myself with all the pitches I’m sure to see.

But I’m not here to point out all the reasons why Ryan Ludwick is awful…which, by the way, I don’t entirely believe. What I do believe is this: Had the Cardinals not dealt Ryan Ludwick last year at the trade deadline, they likely would not have brought him back for the 2011 season anyway…and still wouldn’t have Westbrook. Or Berkman. You know, Lance “27HR, .993 OPS, 69 RBI & more” Berkman. Big fat puma Elvis himself admits (along with any Cardinals fan I know) that his mid-season numbers would’ve made for optimistic season total projections.

My point is that it’s a darn good thing none of us are running the St. Louis Cardinals. So many things that you or I wouldn’t realize, consider, or even think to think about exist in reality. I think we all want the Cardinals to be successful, and win baseball games. I also think that no less than 75% of the information that goes into evaluating & making trades eludes 99% of fans. Crunch those numbers, and you get an awful lot of reasons to stop second-guessing everything…though, as I said before, won’t happen. It’s part of being a fan, and I accept that.

All I know is that there are reasons behind everything the team does. Sometimes the fans will get some of that info from the organization, and sometimes not. Sometimes the moves work out well, sometimes they don’t. And sometimes the primary goal might be money, with secondary objectives to follow. You can do a lot when you have money, you know.

Let me throw this hypothetical out there: You’ve got a Cardinals team that absolutely blows during a particular decade, and attendance is weak, particularly by St. Louis standards. Then there’s a strike (the work-stoppage kind, not the knee-buckling kind) right in the middle of said decade of suckiness. Along with the other MLB teams, the team’s value declines. Some old rich white guys see a buying opportunity, and they take it, buying the club from a local brewery for $150MM. They fire the manager (who once played for the team), and let another former player finish out the season as manager. The next season, they bring a new manager, and pretty much his entire coaching staff over from another team.

With me so far? I know, hard to use so much imagination, right?

By this point, almost everything that can change about a ballclub has, and has done so in a relatively short timeframe. Let’s say the first year under all these new circumstances, the team makes the playoffs. For argument’s sake, we’ll assume they go up three games to one on a very beatable team, and are knocking on the door to the World Series before they implode, and are outscored 2,500 to 4 over the final three games of the series. The year after that, at the trade deadline, they acquire a prolific power hitter from the team that formerly employed the manager, general manager, and coaching staff.

Now follow me on this path of actual events that occurred starting in the summer of 1997:

  • Cards acquire McGwire at trade deadline
  • Some fans come out to see him, attendance perks up
  • Cards & “Big Mac” reach agreement on a contract in the offseason
  • McGwire returns for the 1998 season in a Cards uniform
  • Fans attend Cards batting practice (home & road) in droves
  • “Home Run Chase” ensues, fans pack the ballparks night-in, night-out
  • Revenue increases

During that 1998 season, truckloads of cash poured into St. Louis as a direct result of the hype. In 1999, the Cards finished in 4th place–they would not finish that low in the standings again until 2008. The Cardinals went to the playoffs in six of the next seven years, including their first World Championship in 24 years in 2006, the year they inaugurated a brand new stadium.

Am I saying Mark McGwire is single-handedly responsible for the success the team has had under the current ownership? Of course not. It’s a team effort, and as much as people want to praise Jocketty, bash LaRussa, kiss ownership’s collective rear end, or curse the way Mark Lamping drinks his morning coffee, no single person is responsible for the success or failure of this team.

Here’s what I am saying: More often than not, when the Cardinals make a move, you & I don’t know the half of what’s going on behind the scenes. There are so many things we simply don’t know, and plans ownership may have that they’re not even communicating with the front office. We rely on folks like Matthew Leach, Derrick Goold & others to help glean some insight into these things. The truth is, no one knows everything that goes into particular deals, trades, and even some roster moves (though, those are usually much easier to figure out). So let’s all just stop suggesting the Cardinals trade Tyler Green for Roy Halladay, watch the next couple of days unfold, go back to our actual jobs, and enjoy this NL Central race. After all, the Cubs are in town.

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