There was joy in Budville as the Cardinals ended a 17-year postseason drought and won the National League pennant on the last day of the regular season. It was a tough battle for the Birds. A meandering first two and a half months of the season was briefly jump-started when general manager Bing Devine pulled the trigger on a trade deadline deal with the Chicago Cubs to acquire Lou Brock. The lift was short-lived, however, and St. Louis ended play on August 23 with a 65 - 58 mark and 11 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. A 17-5 streak provided hope, but losing three of the next four left the Cards 6.5 out with only 13 games to play.
The Phillies magnanimously opened the door by losing ten straight in late September and the Cards walked right in by compiling an eight-game winning streak. The two streaks intersected in the final three games as St. Louis swept the Phils in a three game series at Busch Stadium behind the Big Three rotation stalwarts of Bob Gibson, Ray Sadecki and Curt Simmons. The Birds had a 2.5 game lead on Philly and had clinched no worse than a tie vis a vis the Pennsylvanians. However, the Cincinnati Reds had gotten hot as well and trailed the Cards by only a game with three to play. Incredibly, the San Francisco Giants were mathematically alive as well.
St. Louis proceeded to drop a pair to the hapless New York Mets. The Reds split a pair and the two teams entered the final day of the regular season tied. By beating Cincinnati on the second to last day of the season, Philadelphia moved to within a game and created a scenario in which there could be a three way tie at the end of the 162nd game. When Jim Bunning reversed a long slump created largely by his panicky manager Gene Mauch starting him four times in September on two days rest and threw a complete game shutout for Philly, the door was open for the Redbirds to clinch without a playoff. Trailing 3-2 in the fifth, the Cards rallied behind key hits from Ken Boyer, Bill White, Tim McCarver and Curt Flood and prevailed 11-5; earning them a Fall Classic date with the New York Yankees.
The World Series began three days after the regular season ended. With both Gibby and Simmons having each thrown at least four innings in the clincher (Gibson on one day rest and Simmons on three), Manager Johnny Keane turned to 20 game winner Ray Sadecki as his starter.
Backup catcher Bob Uecker kept his teammates loose. During the run up to Game 1, there were marching bands on the field. While a band was on break, Uecker spied an unattended tuba. He then proceeded to shag fly balls with the instrument and managed to catch a few to the delight of his teammates. Cardinal owner Gussie Busch got the last laugh, however, when he deducted tuba damage from Mr. Baseball's World Series check.
When the game started, neither Sadecki nor his Yankee counterpart, Future Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, were sharp. Sadecki lasted six innings, but allowed 13 base runners, four of whom crossed the plate. A few weeks shy of his 36th birthday, Ford was in the twilight of his career. He was also dealing with an arm injury and was unable to pitch in the Series after Game 1.
The game turned in the Cardinals' half of the sixth. Nursing a 4-2 lead, Ford gave up a single to Boyer but recovered to strike out White. Mike Shannon stepped into the batter's box. Shannon had endured a season in 1964 that resembled Kolten Wong's 2014. The Moon Man broke camp with the Cards, but found himself demoted to the minors in early May hitless in but four plate appearances. Shannon returned shortly after Independence Day and solidified right field. Facing a tiring Ford, he blasted a mammoth home run off the left field scoreboard to tie the game.
The ball struck between the "B" and the "U" of the Budweiser sign. Various estimates placed its length at 450 to 500 feet. When McCarver followed with a double into the left center field gap, Ford's day was done. Al Downing came in and retired Charlie James on a popout, but then gave up a game tying hit to pinch hitter Carl Warwick. Flood followed with a long triple and St. Louis had a 6-4 lead. 38 year old closer Barney Shultz tossed his trademark knuckleball for three shaky innings and the Redbirds prevailed 9-5.
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The Yankees weren't about to lay down. The Bronx Bombers were in their fifth consecutive World Series and at the end of a run that saw them reach the Fall Classic in 14 of 16 campaigns - winning nine times. Rookie midseason call up Mel Stottlemyre took the mound for the New Yorkers in Game 2. Todd's father had sparkled while compiling a 9-3 record with an impressive 2.06 ERA. The Cards countered with Gibby on three days rest. Gibson battled through eight innings with nine strikeouts but was touched for four runs on eight hits and three walks. The son of Hazelton, MO was better. Stottlemyre shut down the Birds on a sole run over seven innings. Brock singled home a run on a ground out in the eighth to draw the Cards to within 4-2, but a ninth inning meltdown by the Redbird bullpen led to an 8-3 loss. The Yankees had the split in the Midwest that they wanted.
Game Three was a classic pitchers' duel. Jim Bouton made the start for New York manager Yogi Berra. Bouton would go on to fame as the author of the seminal tell-all book Ball Four, but at the time he was one of the best pitchers in the American League with 39 wins to his credit over the previous two years. Redbird journeyman Curt Simmons was also coming off a strong 18-9 campaign. Ken Boyer's brother and opposing third baseman Clete doubled home a run in the second and the Cards countered when Simmons' infield grounder plated McCarver.
As Simmons related to me in a telephone interview this past spring, "I pitched well. We're 1-1 into the ninth. I drove in our run by the way." With two on and one out Manager Johnny Keane sent Bob Skinner up to hit for Simmons. "It was the right move. He hit the ball good." But Skinner's deep fly ball was caught. While McCarver was able to advance to third, he was stranded when Flood lined out to right. "I'm out after eight and Barney (Schultz) pitched to Mantle. I'm under the stands on the way to the clubhouse when I heard the roar and knew what happened. It was a knuckleball that didn't knuckle." Mantle had given the Yankees a 2-1 series lead with a walkoff home run.
Sadecki was back on the bump on three days rest. Downing (who is best remembered as the man who gave up Hank Aaron's 715th home run) took Ford's spot in the rotation. While the Cards went down meekly 1-2-3 in the first, the bottom of the inning started ominously for Sadecki as Phil Linz led off with a double. The Kansas City native appeared to get a reprieve when McCarver threw out Linz stealing third, however, Boyer dropped the ball and Linz was safe. Bobby Richardson also doubled and when Maris and Mantle followed with singles, Manager Keane had seen enough and threw swingman Roger Craig into the breach. Craig was delighted to be wearing the Birds on the Bat in 1964 - the previous two seasons he had lost 46 games for the woeful expansion New York Mets who dropped 231 contests between 1962 and 63. Craig (who would later go on to manage the San Diego Padres and San Francisco (Humm Baby) Giants for ten combined seasons), gave up a single that plated the third Yankee marker but then settled down and retired the next seven Yanks in order - four on strikes. Craig wriggled out of a two on, two out jam in the fourth by picking Mantle off second.
Downing, meanwhile, was brilliant as he allowed only a walk and a single over five shutout innings. Entering the sixth, the Cards were down to a Win Expectancy (WE) of 16%. Another pinch hit single by Warwick was followed by leadoff batter Flood singling as well. The Cardinal chances dimmed, though, when Brock was out on a fly ball and Dick Groat hit a grounder to second. Richardson, though, bobbled Groat's slow roller and the bases were loaded. Boyer stepped in and delivered one of only three grand slams in St. Louis postseason history. It was the eighth highest rated Redbird postseason long ball with a Win Probability Added (WPA) of 40%.
Having been pinch hit for, Craig was out of the game after contributing 4.2 stellar innings. Ron Taylor was summoned from the bullpen. Taylor was lights out as the Canadian allowed only a harmless two out walk in the eighth as he pitched around the dangerous Mantle. The series was knotted at two games apiece and the Redbirds had guaranteed that the match up would return to the Arch City.
Game Five was a rematch between Gibson and Stottlemyre and was the game that began to write the postseason legend of Gibby. Number 45 started a fifth inning rally with a single to left and came around to score the game's first run on a single by Brock. White drove in a second run in that frame and Gibson headed to the ninth with a 2-0 lead. A Groat error on Mantle's leadoff grounder was mitigated when Hoot struck out Elston Howard.
Then, as Gibson stated in his autobiography, Stranger to the Game, "(t)he next batter was (Joe) Pepitone, who had been at the plate when things started going wrong in game two. This time, with the count two and two, he stroked a line drive that caught me on the spot my mother used to whip. My follow-through had me spinning toward first base, but the ball bounded off in the other direction. I reversed my course and caught up with it not far from the third base line, reaching out barehanded with my back to first base. There was no time to brace myself, so instinctively I pivoted in the air, managing to get a good look at Bill White, if only for an instant, and threw as hard as I could. White caught the ball a split second before Pepitone's foot hit the bag. it was a controversial call by the umpire, Al Smith, but replays showed that he was right."
Baseball though, being the game it is, proved legends are not infallible and Tom Tresh homered on the very next pitch to send the game into extra innings.
The Cards quickly struck back in the 10th. A leadoff walk to White was followed by a sacrifice attempt by the cleanup batter Boyer (see VEB - it's not just Matheny). Boyer's perfectly placed bunt went for a hit and one out later runners were on the corners for McCarver. At 23, McCarver was in his fifth season as he had debuted as a 17 year old. He was enjoying a fantastic World Series that he ultimately concluded with a .478 batting average and an OPS of 1.291 while catching every inning. Known as Bulldog or Doggie, according to Simmons, due to his tenacity, McCarver belted a three run dinger to give St. Louis a 5-2 lead that Gibson closed out in the bottom of the 10th.
Back in the Gateway to the West, Game Six was another rematch - this time between Bouton and Simmons. As Simmons relayed, "I was not near as good. I threw Maris a slow curveball and he hits a pop fly that ends up in the short porch in right field. Mantle then goes back to back with a rope to right center." Simmons was out after allowing three runs in 6 and 1/3 and the Yankees cruised behind Bouton to win 8-3.
Having seen Sadecki get shelled in Game 4, Keane turned to Gibby on two days rest after the monumental 10 inning Game 5 effort. Berra went with Stottlemyre - also on just two days rest. St. Louis broke through in the fourth with a three spot highlighted by McCarver's steal of home. New York contributed an error to the rally - one of nine they committed in the series. Downing relieved in the fifth and didn't retire any of the three batters he faced. All three eventually scored and the Birds then led 6-0. However, the Yankees didn't win all those championships on reputation alone and Gibson was running on fumes. A three run homer by Mantle cut the lead in half in the sixth. Boyer pushed the lead back to four with a long belt in the seventh. Gibby was nearing the finish line, but the Yankees weren't done. Clete Boyer went yard with one out in the ninth and Linz did the same with two gone. At this time, nine of the previous 16 plate appearances by the New Yorkers had ended in either a strikeout or a home run as an exhausted Gibby was throwing nothing but fastballs and daring the Yanks to hit it if they could. With Maris on deck as the potential tying run, Richardson stepped in looking to extend the hits record he had set with 13 base knocks in the series. A popup to second was caught by Dal Maxvill and the Redbird faithful exulted.
The drama continued the next day. The Cardinals called a press conference with the intent of announcing that Keane was being brought back to manage in 1965. Keane stunned owner Gussie Busch and GM Bob Howsam by handing them a letter of resignation in front of the assembled media. Keane had been enraged when Busch fired his friend and long time colleague GM Bing Devine in August and had decided in mid-September to leave at the conclusion of the season the organization he had been with for 35 years. Coincidentally, the Yankees fired Berra the same day. Keane went on to manage the Yankees in 1965. Keane lasted only 20 games into his second season as the Yankees skipper before being fired and was dead from a heart attack barely two years after earning his 1964 World Series ring with the Cardinals.