Here in the Gibson Region, the four World Series champions were narrowed to perhaps an inevitable finale: the two amazing comebacks of 2011 and 1964.
The other regions offer compelling match-ups too:
- Buck Region at I-70 Baseball: 1942 vs. 1985
- Musial Region at Pitchers Hit Eighth: 1967 vs. 1931
- Smith Region at C70 At the Bat: 1968 vs. 1934
So which Cardinals comeback team is better — last year’s #11 in ’11 or the team it was most often compared to as September rolled along? Now comes the tough decision.
The bad: After a 2-6 start, the season actually was good to begin with — the Cardinals ended May 33-23 with a 2 1/2 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central. Following back-to-back Albert Pujols walk-off homer wins over the Cubs, June became a different story with a 7-game losing streak and and an 11-15 record. July was perfectly mediocre — they were 13-13 — and the Cards bounced around from first to second and even third place for a few days. July 26 was their final day in first place for the season.
The ugly: August brought about the season’s low point, a 3-game sweep by the Dodgers that put the Cardinals 10 games behind the Brewers (yet still in second place) and 10 1/2 games behind the Braves in the wild card race on Aug. 25 — though no one was thinking about that at the time. But a team meeting helped get the team back on the same page.
The comeback: From Aug. 25 on, the Cardinals went 23-9 — including a sweep of Atlanta, which went 11-20 during that same stretch. Going into the final game of the regular season, the Cardinals and Braves were tied in the National League wild card race. Behind a complete game 2-hitter from Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals won — and the Braves lost their fifth straight game to end their season.
The post-season: One difference between the 2011 and 1964 teams is the number of games played once the regular season ended. When the 1964 Cardinals ended their regular season with a win on Oct. 4, it claimed the pennant — and Game 1 of the World Series was up next on Oct. 7.
In 2011, of course, the road to the World Series was much longer. First up was the NL Division Series against the Phillies, which went the full five games and included one of Chris Carpenter’s best-ever pitching performances in a 1-0 win over Roy Halladay. Next up: the NLCS against the Central division champ Brewers, which the Cardinals won in six games thanks to NLCS MVP David Freese and the amazing work of the Cardinals bullpen.
Then came the World Series against the Texas Rangers. The Cardinals won Games 1 and 3 (with Albert Pujols hitting three homers in that game to tie a Series record), the Rangers won Games 2, 4 and 5, and had a 7-5 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 6. And we all remember what happened from there — we’ve all watched and rewatched the Game 6 DVD countless times.
Two on, two out, two strikes — David Freese launches a fly ball to deep right that Nelson Cruz can’t catch … Top of the 10th, Josh Hamilton blasts a 2-run homer to put the Rangers back up 9-7. Bottom of the 10th, with the Cards having scored one, it was again two outs and two strikes, Lance Berkman up …
Bottom of the 11th: “We will see you tomorrow night!”
Game 7 was almost anticlimactic after the intensity of Game 6. Yet Chris Carpenter (pitching on three day’s rest), David Freese, Allen Craig and Jason Motte propelled the team to a 6-2 win and World Series Championship No. 11.
The bad: The season began without The Man in left field, as Stan Musial had retired after 22 years at the end of 1963. The team definitely had its ups and downs early on, fluctuating from second to eighth place through mid-June. And eighth place with a 29-31 record was where the Cardinals were on June 15, when general manager Bing Devine traded star pitcher Ernie Broglio — who’d gone 18-8 in 1963 — to the Chicago Cubs for Lou Brock.
At the time of the trade, this actually was considered a bad deal for the Cardinals. According to David Halberstam in his book October 1964, Chicago sportswriters and even Cards players thought the Cubs were the winners of that trade.
The ugly: The addition of Brock and his immediate hitting plus the call-up of prized prospect Mike Shannon in July still didn’t help the team much — they were 10 games back and in seventh place on July 24. On Aug. 16, when they were in seventh place and 9 1/2 games back, owner Gussie Busch fired Bing Devine and considered getting rid of manager Johnny Keane as well.
On Aug. 23, the Cardinals fell to 11 games behind the first place Philadelphia Phillies — the season’s low point.
The Cardinals won six games in a row starting Aug. 24, moving them to seven games back. As September went on, the Phillies struggled with injuries to key players but still managed to maintain their lead — they were up 6 1/2 games over the Cardinals on Sept. 20 with 12 games remaining.
To get a firsthand feel for what the comeback was like, I asked my uncle Jim and his brother-in-law Roger — both lifelong Cards fans — for their recollections. Jim remembered Barney Schultz “was an old knuckerball relief pitcher who was lights out the last weeks of the season. Bill White had his typical slow start-great finish season.”
Anyone who follows Bob Netherton on Twitter or reads his blog likely remembers his description of Ray Sadecki’s September 1964, where he won four straight games between Sept. 15 and Sept. 29.
Roger filled in some of the remaining team:
Brock was such an igniter when he got on base. He was the spark they needed after that trade. Their infield was terrific, both offensively and defensively. Dick Groat was a master of the hit and run and a very smart, heady player. Julian Javier had blazing speed even though he wasn’t that great of a hitter. He covered a ton of ground going to his right, probably the best second baseman I can recall the Cards ever having. Ken Boyer was outstanding. Curt Flood was as good a defensive centerfielder as I’ve ever seen, as good as Mays going after the ball with a lesser arm. Can remember him making some spectacular plays at the wall where he was fearless. And it was a breakout year for Gibson. Shannon had a cannon for an arm in right but he was their weakest link. Tim McCarver was a solid catcher and probably had as good of speed as anybody who caught in that era.
It became a three-team race by late September with the Reds also in the mix. The Phillies “Phold” was complete by Sept. 26, when they fell from first place and the Reds took over with the Cards 1 1/2 games back. In the midst of a three-game sweep of the Phillies on Sept. 29, the Cardinals tied the Reds atop the NL. It was the first time all season for the Cardinals in the top spot. On Sept. 30, they won their eighth straight game and took a 1-game lead over the Reds.
Going into the final game of the regular season on Sunday, Oct. 4, the Cards and Reds had identical 92-69 records while the Phillies were 91-70. The latter two teams played each other, with the Phillies winning, while the Cardinals topped the Mets 11-5. The winning pitcher was Bob Gibson in relief — his seventh win for the month and on just one day’s rest since he was the losing pitcher against the Mets on Friday.
Both Jim and Roger remember one thing in particular about that game — Harry Caray’s call of the final out, which you can hear right now: caraycards64clinch
The post-season: As mentioned above, the Cardinals went straight from winning the pennant on the last day of the regular season into the World Series. They won Games 1, 4 and 5 while the Yankees took Games 2, 3 and 6 — setting up a Game 7 on Oct. 15 in St. Louis.
Bob Gibson started for the third time in the Series. He lost Game 2 but won Game 5 and came into Game 7 on two day’s rest. The Cards took a 3-0 lead in the fourth and increased it to a 6-0 lead in the fifth. Mickey Mantle hit a 3-run homer to make it 6-3 in the sixth, and it was 7-5 in the ninth when Johnny Keane finally removed Gibson. Ray Sadecki came in and closed it out, giving the Cardinals World Championship No. 7.
Gibson was named the Series MVP.
And now it’s time to vote:
For the Gibson Region championship, 2011 or 1964?
- 2011 (72%, 23 Votes)
- 1964 (28%, 9 Votes)
Total Voters: 32
Voting is open through Thursday, March 29, at 8 p.m. Central Time. Then the Final Four moves to the United Cardinal Bloggers website.