October 3 has been an extraordinarily successful date in St. Louis Cardinal history. The Redbirds sport a 7-1 record with the sole blemish occurring in Game 2 of the 1968 World Series. Highlights of the victories:
1926 World Series: Grover Cleveland Alexander pitches a complete game 6-2 win over the Yankees in Game 2.
1934 World Series: Dizzy Dean pitches a complete game 8-3 win over the Tigers in Game 1.
1942 Word Series: Ernie White spins a complete game shutout, 2-0, over the Yankees in Game 3.
1996 NLDS: Brian Jordan scores the tiebreaking run in the 8th on Tom Pagnozzi’s groundout as the Padres are edged 5-4 in Game 2.
2002 NLDS: Miguel Cairo singles up the middle to break a ninth inning tie as the Diamondbacks are edged 2-1 in Game 2.
2006 NLDS: Chris Carpenter gets the win with six sharp innings as the Padres go down 5-1 in Game 1.
But today I will focus on Game 1 of the 2000 NLDS where the Cardinals faced off against the Atlanta Braves.
2000 was a redemptive year for the Cardinals. After manager Tony La Russa led the Redbirds to the NLCS during his first season in 1996, the Cards were 23 games under .500 from 1997-1999 with no postseason appearances. In 2000, however, the Birds blitzed through a 95 win campaign and coasted to a 10 game margin over the Reds to win the NL Central. Jim Edmonds powered the offense in his first season with the Birds on the Bat. Edgar Renteria, Fernando Vina, Mike Matheny, J D Drew, Ray Lankford, and Fernando Tatis started most every day while Eric Davis, Shawon Dunston, Craig Paquette, and Placido Polanco filled in. Mark McGwire played well when his feet allowed it, but by the end of the season he was reduced to one plate appearance per game as he was unable to play in the field. Will Clark was brought in to close out his career with a flourish.
The pitching staff saw the five mainstays of the rotation combine for 155 starts – Darryl Kile, Pat Hentgen, Garret Stephenson, Andy Benes and rookie Rick Ankiel. However, by the end of the season, Benes, Hentgen, and Stephenson were all breaking down and Britt Rheames started seven games down the stretch. Dave Veres was the closer and tallied 29 saves. Matt Morris, Mike James, and Heathcliff Slocumb made plenty of appearances and were joined by Mike Timlin at the trade deadline.
As the NLDS approached, starting pitching was a major concern. During a pre-series press conference, La Russa had Kile answer questions as though he were the Game 1 starter. Afterward, TLR announced the start would go to Ankiel. The rookie was shaky from the get-go. A leadoff single from Rafael Furcal was fortuitously erased when backup catcher Carlos Hernandez (filling in for Matheny who had been injured in a hunting knife accident) gunned him out on a stolen base attempt. A pair of walks caused anxiety, but the threat was quelled when former Cardinal Brian Jordan fouled out.
Future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux took the hill in the bottom of the first and the Cards had their work cut out for them. Still in his prime, Maddux was in a stretch where he finished in the top five in Cy Young balloting in eight of nine seasons – winning four times. Vina reached when his grounder caromed off first base and Drew was aboard as well when he sent a broken bat single to right. Edmonds sent a lazy fly ball to left center that either Andruw Jones or Reggie Sanders could have caught. Neither did and the Cards were on the board. A Clark single scored Drew and when Chipper Jones erred on a Lankford grounder, a third run scored. A Renteria sacrifice was followed by an intentional pass to Hernandez and Polanco stepped in with the bases jammed. His grounder up the middle plated two and when a subsequent throw from catcher Paul Bako sailed into center field, Hernandez scored as well and the Redbirds had half a dozen.
Ankiel got through the second primarily because a Javier Lopez line drive was caught by Renteria and Walt Weiss was doubled off second. Ankiel still had a six run cushion when he toed the rubber in the third. A walk to his pitching counterpart was a tell-tale sign of trouble and a pair of wild pitches verified it. After Furcal fouled out, another walk and another wild pitch preceded a strikeout of Chipper. That was the last out Ankiel would record as the next four batters went walk, single, walk, single. Before being mercifully lifted for Mike James, Ankiel had recorded four walks and five wild pitches in the third inning.
James was magnificent over two and a third and Timlin, Rheames and Veres held the Braves scoreless the rest of the way until the ninth. An Edmonds homer had provided valuable insurance, and Veres quelled the Braves’ ninth inning rally by stranding the tying runs. The Cards had won 7-5 and in doing so had exacted some revenge for the 1996 NLCS defeat they had suffered at the hands of Atlanta.