Tag Archive | "Perfect Game"

Triple Play: Shelby Miller, Adam Wainwright, Ubaldo Jimenez

It was definitely a Happy Mother’s Day at our house. Hope it was at yours as well. This week, we’re looking back at the gems the Cardinals’ pitched against the Rockies this weekend, a marquee outfielder who can’t get going, and more. Here we go:

Molina r1

Who’s Hot?

Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals

How do you pick which start was more impressive? I finally had to choose Miller’s since I’ve seen Adam Wainwright’s greatness before. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that the 22-year-old pitched the single best game by a rookie starter since Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece against the Astros in 1998. Miller struck out 13, walked NONE and allowed only a broken-bat base hit against the Rockies. Some of the strikeouts were absolutely jaw-dropping. Perfectly placed fastballs. Breaking balls that dropped right over the plate. You name it. Miller had it all working for him. He said after the game on MLB Network that it was the best game he had ever pitched. Among the many stats and charts I’ve seen over the weekend about the pure greatness of this start, this one really jumped out at me: in the past 10 years, how many starts have there been where the pitcher allowed one hit (or none), struck out at least 13 batters, while walking none? Three. That’s it.  Here they are:

  • 5/18/2004 – Randy Johnson, age 40, Arizona vs. Atlanta (perfect game)
  • 6/13/2012 – Matt Cain, age 27, SF vs. Houston (perfect game)
  • 5/10/2013 – Miller

The fact that the Big Unit pitched a perfect game at age 40 quite a feat as well, but a subject for another day. This is a damn impressive list. Miller is 22 and just scratching the surface of his abilities. If you own Miller on your fantasy team, here are a couple of other stats that will have you patting yourself on the back: he has yet to allow more than three earned runs in a start and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 51-to-11. That is dominating for any starter. Of course, it is important to remember that Miller has less than a dozen major-league starts under his belt and there is bound to be some adjustment as opposing teams become more familiar with him. It would be unrealistic to expect no regression. Then again, as he matures, he figures to get even better. So far, it appears that the #1 starter-like projections predicted for Miller are right on target. After Friday night, Rockies hitters are in position to argue that point.

Who’s Not?

Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

When your most noteworthy accomplishment of the season is a post-game altercation with another player, you know you’re off to a bad start. Someone please alert Kemp that the 2013 season started over a month ago. Entering Sunday’s games, Kemp’s batting line looked like that of a fourth outfielder on a good team: 1 HR, 14 RBI, 5 SB, .268 average. Okay, the RBI total is a little better than that of a reserve, but that’s about it. He just can’t get on track. How much longer can fantasy owners keep saying, “it’s early – he’ll be fine”? Fantasy owners cannot be happy to see that he is on pace for 4 HRs and 71 runs scored. Kemp has driven in one measly run and stolen a single base since Cinco de Mayo. He might have had an 11-game hitting streak going, but those hits aren’t translating to other stats for fantasy owners (or the Dodgers). Since you likely paid big auction dollars or used a high draft pick on Kemp, you really have no realistic choice but to wait and hope that he gets going soon. Trading him now would be a pennies-on-the-dollar move.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .298/.365/.632, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 10 runs, 1 SB

Player B: .285/.379/.551, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 10 runs, 0 SB

Player A is the Angels’ Mike Trout. Player B is the Indians’ Mark Reynolds. Trout is being viewed by some baseball analysts as a bust, while Reynolds is being hailed as the best bargain free-agent signing of the year. Both are incorrect. Trout is on pace for 27 homers, 112 RBI, 22 steals and 100 runs scored. Reynolds is not going to hit 50 homers and drive in 150, as he is currently on pace to do. But it’s a mighty nice hot streak for the Sons of Geronimo and fantasy owners to enjoy. Anyone who considers Trout a bust, or who thinks Reynolds is going to maintain his current numbers, is an idiot. Let’s check back in a month.

Player A: 1-0, 3.85 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 22 Ks, 14 IP

Player B: 2-0, 2.31 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 16 Ks, 11 2/3 IP

Player A is Yu Darvish of the Rangers. Player B is Ubaldo Jimenez of the Indians. I had to read those numbers three times to make sure I wasn’t mixing them up with, say, James Shields or another front-line AL starter. Jimenez has actually put together back-to-back quality starts for the Tribe. In fact, Jimenez out-pitched Justin Verlander on Saturday, his third straight win.  Results like that are more in line with what the Indians had in mind when they dealt two of their top pitching prospects to the Rockies for the former All-Star starter in  July 2011. Personally, I wouldn’t trust that Jimenez has made some sort of breakthrough, but his success and that of Scott Kazmir, Cleveland is on a roll the past couple weeks and is bearing down on Detroit for first in the AL Central. The Indians have plenty of hitting. If, by chance, Jimenez can continue pitching this effectively, the Indians will be a big step closer to being a genuine contender.

Random Thoughts

  • One final note on Shelby Miller: he has been quoted as saying that he has not shaken off a single pitch Yadier Molina has called for all season. Not only do you not run on Yadi, you don’t shake off Yadi, either.
  • Let’s not forget Jon Lester. He pitched a beauty of his own last Friday night against the Blue Jays. He allowed just one hit, a double by Maicer Izturis in the 6th inning. For the season, Lester is 5-0 with a 2.73 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. It’s not a coincidence that he is pitching like an ace and the Red Sox are winning again.
  • Wainwright’s shutout of the Rockies on Saturday was no slouch, either. He didn’t strike out as many batters as Miller did Friday, but he had dazzling command of that 12-to-6 bender that gets hitters bailing out of the batter’s box, only to watch the ball drop right in the zone. When he gets that pitch going, he’s as fun to watch as any dominant ace.
  • Wainwright Walk Watch: 4. That’s four batters that Wainwright has walked this season (in a National League-high 58 2/3 innings), compared with 55 strikeouts. That’s a 13.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is so far beyond ridiculously good that it’s, well, ridiculous.
  • On the other hand, there’s poor Philip Humber of the Astros. First he was banished to the bullpen by Houston. Then, after getting hammered out of the pen Saturday night, his stats sit thusly: 0-8, a ghastly 9.59 ERA, 2.02 WHIP, 43 ERA+. When you see that Humber has allowed 14 hits and nearly four walks per nine innings, it’s no wonder he has been charged with the loss in eight of his nine appearances this season. How did he ever pitch a perfect game?
  • I think enough has been said and written about how terrible Angel Hernandez as an umpire. On second thought, no, it hasn’t been enough – his continued employment in an embarrassment to baseball. Likewise with Bob Davidson. A scientific poll (read: not scientific at all) reveals that the overall quality of umpiring would double if just those two were pink-slipped.
  • As incompetent as Hernandez’s blown home run call was, it pales in comparison to the fiasco the following night with Astros manager Bo Porter just making up rules regarding pitching changes. Botching a call is nothing compared to not knowing the stinking rule book. My idea for an outside-the-box punishment for those umpires? Having to umpire a game while wearing dunce caps.
  • They could borrow them from the ESPN executives who think it’s a good idea to pay John Kruk a salary to talk about baseball on TV.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Cardinals/Rockies: Three things to walk with

The last thing that you’d think would rule a weekend between the St. Louis Cardinals and Colorado Rockies would be pitching. But not only was that the case, it was a historical level of pitching effectiveness. Between Shelby Miller, Adam Wainwright and Jorge De La Rosa, 21 complete hitless innings were tossed, and in the two of the starts, no-hitters were far from speculative; they were within grasp of being real.

Miller-Wainwright

The Cardinals took home the first two games of the series behind the masterful performances of their ace in the making and current rotation captain, before not being able to mount any offense until a very overdue Rockies lineup took control of game three. Yet, the Cardinals still won their third out of their last four series, and continue to keep a share of the best record in baseball at 23-13. Here’s three points to how they made that possible.

 

1.  Once in a Century Shelby: Shelby Miller, a veteran of a mere eight career starts, is beginning to make everyone take notice that the hype was well worth it. On Friday night he authored one of the greatest starts in not only Cardinal, but baseball history. After surrendering a base hit to lead the game off, he shut the door for the rest of the evening and retired the next 27 Rockies to hold down a 3-0 win. And while he didn’t join the ranks of the no-hit or Perfect Game club, but he did dominate in a way that no pitcher has since at least 1900. His nine-inning, one hit effort, with no walks and at least 13 strikeouts was a one of a kind feat that no other pitcher has done. His record improved to 5-2, and his ERA on the season now sits at 1.58, the third best mark in the Majors.

2. Weekend Warrior: Adam Wainwright is usually not one to be outdone, and he nearly wasn’t. A day after Miller’s masterpiece, Waino continued the Rockies woes by keeping them off-base until a fifth inning Todd Helton walk, a streak of 50 consecutive batters. Nolan Arenado broke up the no-hit bid in the eighth inning, which ended a remarkable shutdown streak by the two Cardinal hurlers. The 49 consecutive hitless at-bats was the longest streak in 29 years. For Wainwright, his impressive weekend work at home continued: he now has two complete game shutouts, surrendering only six hits and one walk against 19 strikeouts.

3. Against the odds: Jaime Garcia’s home dominance is well known; his 2.41 ERA entering Sunday was the best in the history at Busch Stadium III. Yet for his career against the Rockies, he has sported his worst performance against any team, with an 0-3 record and an ERA of 10.53 to drive it home. Sunday’s performance wasn’t his worst, but he caught a mixture of the law of averages coming back around (Colorado is the NL’s best hitting team on the season), as well as a couple of bad situations. Troy Tulowitzki is one of the worst batters possible catch in the middle of the perfect storm of both issues the team was facing before hitting his third inning, three run homer (0 for the series, five strikeouts). Add in the fact that Jorge De La Rosa turned in a matching performance to the two Cardinal starters the day before nearly, and it wasn’t in the cards for Garcia in finishing up the sweep.

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Minor League Playoffs

Over the weekend, the Royals AAA affiliate moved forward to their league’s championship series while the AA affiliate’s season came to a close. Below are the respective press releases from both clubs:

Kila

Ka’aihue Powers Chasers into PCL Championship Series
Dramatic walk-off home run in 10th gives Omaha American Conference Title

Mike Feigen / Omaha Storm Chasers

OMAHA, Neb. — Kila Ka’aihue has been a man of few words this season, so it was no surprise that with the Chasers on the brink of a playoff series victory, he let his bat do the talking. Ka’aihue’s 316-foot drive down the right-field line had just enough juice to hit the foul pole, giving the Storm Chasers a dramatic 4-2 series-winning victory over the Round Rock Express in 10 innings Saturday afternoon at Werner Park. Video clip of Ka’aihue HR

Long before the Chasers celebrated their win, the hero of the day was Omaha right-hander Sean O’Sullivan. Tasked with holding back the potent Express offense, O’Sullivan carried a perfect game into the seventh inning and a no-hitter into the eighth, with the Chasers clinging to a 2-0 lead.

However, with just six outs to go, disaster struck. Joey Butler hit a grounder directly at second baseman Kurt Mertins, who was unable to field it and was charged with an error. No-hitter still intact, O’Sullivan then served up a mammoth two-run home run to Luis Cruz, knotting the game at 2-2 and giving Round Rock its first hit of the day.

O’Sullivan bounced back to close out the inning, but the damage had been done. Not only had the dream of a no-hitter been dashed, but the Chasers were in jeopardy of losing the game altogether. O’Sullivan finished his day with eight innings pitched, giving up two runs (one earned) on two hits, with one walk and seven strikeouts.

After each team got two runners on in the ninth but couldn’t score, Kevin Pucetas (1-0) pitched a 1-2-3 top of the 10th to set up the game-winning sequence.

With one out, Clint Robinson drew a five-pitch walk, bringing Ka’aihue to the plate. He worked the count to 1-1 before connecting off Round Rock’s Tanner Scheppers (0-1) to end the game, setting off a celebration at home plate and an even more wild party in the clubhouse moments later.

The walk-off home run was Ka’aihue’s second of the season at Werner Park, also delivering on June 28 against Memphis. Over his last two games, the left-handed swinging first baseman has gone 3-for-6 with two homers and six runs batted in, picking up a two-run homer and two-run double in Friday night’s extra-inning loss.

With the 3-1 series victory, the Chasers advance to their first-ever PCL Championship Series in their 14th season in the league. They also earned their first postseason series victory since 1990, when they won the Triple-A Championship as a member of the American Association.

The Chasers will begin the PCL Championship Series at home, as they host either the Reno Aces or Sacramento River Cats. Games 1 and 2 will be played Tuesday, September 13 and Wednesday, September 14 at Werner Park, with both games scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

Travs win, bounce Naturals from playoffs
Jimenez’ two homers, four RBI end up the difference

SPRINGDALE, AR – The Naturals, like so many times late this season, fell behind early and mounted a spirited comeback. But unfortunately the magic ran out as they fell 9-5 to their in-state rival Arkansas Travelers, as the Travs advance to the Texas League Championship Series.

A first inning error gave the Travelers an extra out to work with and they capitalized as Luis Jimenez gave the Travs the early lead with a three-run homer off Jeremy Jeffress with two out in the frame.

That put the Travs up 3-0 and gave their starter Eddie McKiernan some backing. McKiernan, who had a dubious start to the season for North Little Rock had limited the Naturals to just four runs in his past three starts against Northwest Arkansas. In the past two his team had staked him to a lead before he toed the rubber, and Saturday was no different.

North Little Rock got three more in the fourth before the Naturals began to claw their way back. But in the top of the fourth, Jeffress allowed a leadoff single to Alberto Rosario who would come around to score on an RBI single from Matt Long. An RBI groundout later and the Travs owned a 5-0 lead. Gabe Jacobo also added a two-out RBI single to score another run which chased Jeffress, who was on a limited pitch count and was relieved by Kendal Volz.

The Naturals finally began to get to McKiernan in the bottom of that same frame as Tim Smith led off the inning with a solo homer to right to cut the lead to 6-1. Jamie Romak and Paulo Orlando followed with back-to-back singles and Wil Myers was plunked. Jeff Bianchi followed and one of the pitches to him went wild to score Romak for a 2-0 lead. Bianchi grounded out to score Orlando and cut the Travs’ lead to 6-3, but McKiernan was able to get Mario Lisson to strike out and Ryan Eigsti to fly out to prevent further damage as the Naturals failed to claw closer in the frame.

One thing that ultimately kept the Naturals from closing the gap was struggles with runners in scoring position as the team was 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position Saturday as opposed to 5-for-16 for North Little Rock.

One of the other things was Luis Jimenez. The Travelers’ third baseman drove in his fourth run of the game to leadoff the fifth as he took Volz deep to extend the lead to 7-3.

Christian Colon’s one out single in the fifth ultimately chased McKiernan and prevented him from collecting the win. Instead that went to the tallest pitcher in the minors, Loek Van Mil, who relieved to pitch to Tim Smith, who had taken McKiernan deep earlier in the game. Smith lined out sharply as Travs’ shortstop Darwin Perez speared the ball and took away a hit from Smith and, with Colon at second after a wild pitch, likely a run from the Naturals.

One inning later the Naturals did get a pair and close to within 7-5, the closest they’d get in the ballgame. Jeff Bianchi had an RBI double and Eigsti plated a run on a groundout.

But in the top of the eighth, North Little Rock put two more runs on the board and that seemed to take the wind out of the Naturals’ sails. Facing Ryan Dennick, a lefty reliever making his Double-A debut after spending all season with Advanced Class-A Wilmington, Dennick allowed a one-out single to Darwin Perez and a two-out RBI double to Roberto Lopez. Dennick walked pinch hitter Chris Pettit and then Gable Jacobo doubled to the left-field wall to score Lopez.

An eighth inning single by Paulo Orlando was the lone hit the Naturals recorded the rest of the way as their season ended at the hands of the Travelers, who earn their second trip to the Texas League Championship Series in the past four seasons. They beat the Frisco RoughRiders to win the league title in 2008, a playoff run that began with a three-game sweep of the Naturals.

The series will be remembered somewhat for the absence of Naturals’ Pitcher of the Year Will Smith, who led the league in both wins and innings pitched. Smith was shut down at the behest of the Royals and the Naturals had to work without one of their most reliable arms down the stretch. As it was, should the Naturals had forced a game five, they’d have turned the ball over to southpaw Justin Marks, another pitcher who would have been making his Double-A debut.

The 2012 season opener will be on the road as the Naturals open the season with a six-game road trip beginning Thursday, April 5th. The home opener at Arvest Ballpark for the fifth season of Naturals Baseball will be on Thursday, April 12th as the Naturals host the Corpus Christi Hooks. The Naturals would like to thank all their fans and corporate partners for their continued support this season!

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July 27, 1970 – The Curse of Clay Kirby

Ervin Santana

On July 27, 2011, Ervin Santana of the Los Angeles Angles thew a no-hitter against the Indians, in Cleveland. What makes this game somewhat unusual is that it was not a shutout. Cleveland managed to score a run in the first inning without getting a hit. They did it on a walk, stolen base, ground out and wild pitch. The Angels won the game, 3-1, thanks to five Cleveland errors on the night.

No hitters where the opponents were not held scoreless are incredibly rare, more scarce than perfect games. In the last 50 years, there have been 8 such games, while 14 perfect games were tossed. The previous non-shutout no-hitter was Darryl Kile’s against the New York Mets on September 8, 1993, while a member of the Houston Astros. It is even possible to lose a no-hitter, as Andy Hawkins did, not once, but twice.

July 1, 1990 Chicago White Sox 4, New York Yankees 0

Andy Hawkins

Andy Hawkwins started his career with the San Diego Padres, which will curiously come into play later in this story. Following the 1988 season, Hawkins became a free agent and the New York Yankees were quick to sign the big right hander. These were not good times for the Yankees, and Hawkwins’ record from his 2 1/2 years with the team reflects that. But there was one game he pitched that nobody will forget.

The last place Yankees were in Chicago to visit the AL West leading White Sox. Andy Hawkins would face the lefty, Greg Hibbard. Both pitchers were sharp early. Razor sharp.

The first base runner came with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning when Andy Hawkins would issue one of five walks he would give the White Sox. A passed ball and second walk made for a sloppy inning, but the frame ended with Hawkins no-hitter in tact.

Hibbard would lose his perfect game and no-hitter moments later when he gave up a pair of singles to Bob Geren and Alvaro Espinoza. He would retire Roberto Kelly and Steve Sax to end the inning, preserving the shutout. Hibbard would have a nearly identical inning in the seventh before turning the game over to the bullpen in the eighth.

Meanwhile, Hawkins had not surrendered a hit, nor would he for the remainder of the game. Not even Steven King or Clive Barker could have imagined the horrors that would befall Hawkins in the eighth inning.

After getting two quick outs, an error by Mike Blowers allowed Sammy Sosa to reach base, and extend the inning. Sosa, yes – that Sammy Sosa, would steal second base. Hawkins would then load the bases by walking both Ozzie Guillen and former Cardinal Lance Johnson. When he gets Robin Ventura to hit a fly ball to Jim Leyritz, Hawkwins thinks he has worked out of this jam. But not so quick. Leyritz drops the ball and two runs score on the play.

If Hawkins can just retire Ivan Calderon, maybe things will still work out. Two runs isn’t that bad, is it ? And what just happened can’t happen again, can it ?

It can, and it did. Calderon hits a fly ball to right field this time, and Jesse Barfield misplays it, allowing two more runs to score. It is now 4-0 and the White Sox don’t even have a hit.

That’s all the scoring in the game as the Yankees go quietly in the top of the ninth inning. Andy Hawkins takes the loss in spite of not allowing a single hit in 8 innings pitched. But he still has his no-hitter, right ?

Um no. In addition to losing the game, he would officially lose his no-hitter a year later when an official statistics rule clarification required that a no-hitter last at least 9 innings. Since Hawkins only threw 8 innings in the loss, he would lose his no-hitter. For the second time.

What does this have to do with Clay Kirby ? We have to go back to July 21, 1970 to get that answer.

July 27, 1970 – New York Mets 3, San Diego Padres 0

This mid-season matchup between the reigning World Champion Mets and expansion Padres gave the fans in San Diego a rare treat – a pitchers duel from two unlikely hurlers: Jim McAndrew and Clay Kirby. Kirby’s history is interesting because there is a St. Louis tie-in.

Clay Kirby

Clay Kirby was drafted by the Cardinals in 1966 and worked his way through the farm system as you would have wanted. A year in rookie ball was followed by a year at class A. After a dominating start at Arkansas (AA) in 1968, he was promoted to Tulsa (AAA) where he would play alongside future stars Wayne Granger and Mike Torrez. He held his own on a very good Oilers pitching staff, and looked like someone that might pitch for the Cardinals some day.

The 1969 expansion draft ended that possibility when the San Diego Padres drafted him in in the 12th round. The Cardinals had too many pitching prospects (Jerry Reuss, Mike Torrez, Al Santorini, Chuck Taylor) to protect Kirby, so he was off to San Diego. Instead of continuing his development in top notch minor league system, he would have to learn his craft at the major league level.

Kirby would get off to a very rough start in this game. Tommy Agee would start things off with a walk and immediately steal second base, getting into scoring position. Bud Harrelson would fail to move the runner along when he popped up to short. A walk to Ken Singleton sets up the play of the game.

With Art Shamsky batting, Agee and Singleton take off on a successful double steal – one of the most exciting plays in baseball. Agee scores moments later when Shamsky grounds out. Kirby strikes out Cleon Jones to end the inning, but the Mets had a 1-0 lead, in spite of not getting a hit.

Former Cardinal utility man, Ed Spezio, gets the first Padres hit, a double to lead off the third inning. He would be stranded there as the next three hitters would make outs. McAndrew lost the no-hitter, but the shutout was still in tact.

McAndrew would give up another double in the fourth inning, this time to Al Ferrara. As with the previous inning, he would be stranded at second base when Nate Colbert flies out to end the inning.

The Mets right-hander would give up his third and final hit in the next inning, a two out single to Bob Barton. That’s as far as Barton would progress as the next hitter was Clay Kirby. He would strike out to end the inning.

Meanwhile, Kirby had not allowed a hit. He had given up an earned run, but not a hit.

He almost gave up a second run when a leadoff walk to Joe Foy to start the eighth inning led to a most exciting play. After Foy steals second base, Jerry Grote would ground out, allowing Foy to take third base with just one out. Jim McAndrews came up to bat with a chance to break up Kirby’s no-hitter, or at the very least, to get an insurance run.

Neither happened.

McAndrew grounded out to first baseman Nate Colbert, who quickly threw home in time to catch the speedy Foy trying to score. The inning would come to an end with the Mets holding onto a slim 1-0 lead.

The Curse of Clay Kirby

Jim McAndrew would quickly retire the first two Padres batters in the eighth inning. That presented manager Preston Gomez with a difficult decision. Does he pinch hit for Kirby, or leave him in to finish his no-hitter ? Tony La Russa faced a similar situation with Bud Smith on September 2, 2001, and chose to leave the young left-hander in the game. Ironically, that game was against the San Diego Padres.

Gomez chose differently, and lifted Clay Kirby for a pinch hitter. The Curse of Clay Kirby started the moment Clarence (Cito) Gaston stepped up to the plate. Naturally, he would strikeout, which would give the curse-hunters one more piece of evidence.

The ninth inning was a complete disaster for Padres reliever and former Phillies closer Jack Baldschun. The Mets would send seven men to the plate and give McAndrew a pair of much needed insurance runs. He didn’t need them as he retired the Padres in order in their half of the inning, without a ball even leaving the infield. McAndrew earns the win with a nifty 3 hitter while Kirby goes 8 innings without allowing a single hit. But takes the loss.

Did Gomez’s decision to remove Clay Kirby from a no hitter really curse the Padres ? I don’t know, but in their 42 year existence as a franchise, no Padres pitcher has thrown a no hitter, although a few have come close.

Steve Arlin came close in 197 two years after Kirby’s game. After throwing several two hitters, and even a 1 hitter, he took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies. Denny Doyle would break up the no-hitter with a single. After a balk, Arlin loses the shutout when he gives up the second hit of the game.

Chris Young would also come close on September 22, 2006. He would take a no hitter into the ninth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates. With one out, a walk to Jose Bautista would bring pinch hitter Joe Randa to the plate. With one swing of the bat, Young loses the no-hitter and shutout when Randa hits a 2 run homer. Young would not even finish the game.

And finally, earlier this season, four Padres pitchers (Aaron Hurang, Chad Qualls, Mike Adams and Josh Spence) would hold the Los Angeles Dodgers hitless into the ninth inning. The fifth Padres pitcher, former Cardinal Luke Gregerson would retire the first two Dodgers before giving up a double and single to lose the game.

Is there a curse ? The Padres have been no-hit seven times, including twice to Cardinals pitchers (Bud Smith, Bob Forsch). They have never thrown one, and bad things seem to happen when they come close. Dont tell Andy Hawkins, who started his career in San Diego – he knows. I’ll let you decide whether or not the Padres are cursed. Perhaps it is just an interesting set of coincidences.

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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June 1, 1967 – A Wild Wild Wild Game

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.

Denny Lemaster

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 ?

Phil Niekro

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.

Bobby Tolan

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.

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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These Guys Are Fun To Watch!

You know what’s no fun to watch? Drying paint, growing grass, and blowouts. The lack of drama and excitement in a blowout can make for a long, boring experience when you’re watching a game. Mostly, this holds true when your team is on the wrong end of a laugher. Though, one of the most fun games I ever attended was this massacre, likely due to being there with a very good friend of mine. Even a couple of superbowls in recent memory have been one-sided, and I suspect most people who chose to continue watching, did so mostly for the commercials in those instances.

Yadier Molina is enjoying a great year at the plate (not just behind it) so far in 2011.

But, this Cardinals team has been a lot of fun to watch so far this year! 6 extra-inning games so far, and of the first 50 games of the year 30 of them have been decided by 2 runs or fewer! I’m a big fan of close games, and since I fall to the “traditionalist” side of baseball’s fan base, having 60% of the games decided by 2 or fewer runs is very attractive to me…especially of the 2-1 variety. The lineup has been interesting to watch, and the pitching staff has given us plenty of reason to stay on the edge of our seats…whether it’s because of a perfect game in the 7th, or a blown save in the 9th.

The Cardinals haven’t come out of every “exciting” game with the win, but isn’t that what keeps it exciting? I don’t know about you, but I like close games. And while I don’t like the Cardinals to lose, watching them play a game that keeps me entertained has plenty of value to me. I’m more partial to results provided by the recent excitement like we saw on Sunday in Kansas City than I am the kind from a month ago in Houston, but give me a game that’s fun to watch, and I’m a happy fan. Not to say I don’t enjoy the occasional slugfest (as long as its the Cards lineup doing most of the slugging), because those have their place too.

I think we’re off to the kind of start that we expected for the 2011 National League Central–a tough fight with a lot of games that

The Cardinals seem to be having fun as a team so far in 2011.

matter. Though back in March, few might have guessed that the Cards would be perched atop the division with a 3-game lead over the Reds, Cardinal Nation isn’t complaining. The Reds probably aren’t going anywhere, and it looks like the Brewers just might continue to hang around, keeping this an interesting race for at least the foreseeable future. We’ve all seen seasons when the Cardinals run away with the division by double-digit margins (10 games in 2000, 13 in ‘02, 13 in ‘04, 11 in ‘05…etc), and that’s great. But, I’d be very surprised to see anything like that this year, no matter who wins the division. So, if watching a close game that directly impacts the standings of a close division, sit back & have fun, the 2011 National League Central is for you!

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West Coast Swing

Well on the bright side, the Cardinals won’t face Tim Lincecum this trip.

After dropping 4 of 6 at home to start the season, to the expected lowly Padres and the perennially lowly Pirates, St Louis swings west for 9 games. The Left Coast has not been particularly kind or unkind to the Cardinals since Albert Pujols started pummeling baseballs on their behalf.

Of the three cities they will visit – San Francisco, Arizona, and Los Angeles – only the Giants hold a winning record over them at home. St Louis is 13-17 in the City by the Bay since the start of the 2001 season. In contrast, they are 19-16 in the Desert and 16-14 in the City of Our Lady Queen of the Angels (yes the official name of that hamlet is El Pubelo de la Reina de Los Angeles). Most of those wins came in the early part of the past decade. Since their 2006 World Championship, the Cardinals are 6-9 in Arizona, 5-7 in Los Angeles, and 4-8 in San Francisco.

With that recent trend in mind do not expect the Cardinals Opening Week woes to be cured soon. St Louis has yet to score more than 3 runs in any game this season, and San Francisco’s pitching staff is one of the best in the game. St Louis projects to face Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, and Barry Zito. Sanchez won his only start against the Cardinals at home (in 2009), Cain and Zito are each 1-2 lifetime at SBC Park versus St Louis. If the Cardinals were firing on all cylinders, those matchups might be encouraging.

In Arizona they project to face Barry Enright, Armando Galarraga, and Ian Kennedy. Arizona will probably not compete for a playoff spot in 2011 but their team, especially their rotation, is intriguing and bodes of future success. Enright, Galarraga, and Kennedy epitomize that bright future. Enright was a mid-season call-up and posted a 109 ERA+ in 17 starts. He beat the Cardinals in his major league debut. Galarraga is the former Detroit Tiger pitcher who famously almost threw a perfect game last year. He started one game 3 years ago against St Louis and did not figure in the decision. Kennedy is a former New York Yankee who came to Arizona as part of the Curtis Granderson trade. He has never faced the Cardinals.

It is a little early to project the Dodger rotation for their series with St Louis, but it could be Kuroda, Kershaw, and Billingsley if (a) the Dodger rotation stays as is, and (b) they throw their #5 starter on Monday 11 April, whomever that will be. The Cardinals would see Los Angeles’ two top pitchers in that series.

The Cardinals have sputtered out of the gate, but it is unreasonable to expect this team to play .333 ball the entire year. There is just too much talent on the roster. St Louis will break out of it. Given their recent troubles on the west coast, it may not be during the next nine games.

Mike Metzger blogs about the Cardinals at Stan Musial’s Stance.

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