It's the late innings, with the Cardinals down by a touchdown or two, when it happens: A position player takes the mound. Face lit up with a shit-eating grin, they toss a few warmup pitches, awkward as a baby deer learning to walk. A moment later, a batter steps into the box and in the stadium, at bars and homes across the country, we lean in to see how the hell this is going to turn out.
Who doesn't enjoy watching a position player pitch? It's a rare unscripted moment, almost child-like, in the increasingly buttoned-down world of professional sports.
Many Cardinals players have made a token appearance on the mound over the years. On the last day of the 1952 season, Stan Musial threw one pitch to the man who trailed him in the race for the batting title. The promotional stunt, which Musial regretted, was recently detailed in a great Derrick Goold article.
A 38-year-old Bobby Bonilla made his only-ever appearance as a pitcher for the Cardinals, giving up three hits, a walk and two earned runs over a full inning. Scott Spiezio issued a walk but kept the A's off the board in his lone inning of work.
Cody McKay worked two scoreless innings in his only appearance, allowing only one batter to reach base, via a walk. That was good enough for 0.1 WAR as a pitcher - higher than McKay's career WAR as a batter.
It's a short list of Cardinals position players who have made multiple pitching appearances in the modern era. There is a common thread, as most of them are middle infielders, if not outright utility players. The scrappiness level is very high indeed.
Among the notables:
The Secret Weapon is of course legendary for playing every position on the field during his career. In the case of pitching, that's not to say he played every position well.
Oquendo's most notable outing was May 14, 1988. Having burned all his available pitchers, Whitey Herzog called on Oquendo in the 16th inning. He gave up a leadoff double to Ken Griffey, Sr., then followed that up with an intentional walk and a single, but Griffey was thrown out trying to score. Oquendo got the next two batters to fly out and was out of the inning.
He would keep battling for three more innings, finally surrendering two runs in the 19th. He gave up four hits and six walks, but did record the only strikeout of his career on Braves pitcher Rick Mahler.
A key figure in the Gas House Gang era Cardinals, Pepper Martin was OG scrappy. He first took the mound in a very unusual game. The first of a doubleheader against the Boston Braves, Martin came on in the 4th inning, after three Cardinals pitchers had already surrendered seven runs. He would pitch two innings, giving up one earned run on a hit and no walks, before being relieved by future Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance.
Two years later, Martin would take the mound for the final time. Again, he pitched two innings, giving up a hit, two walks and no earned runs.
It's not a bad career line for "The Wild Horse of the Osage," who also happens to have one of the Greatest Nicknames of All-Time.
If there was one player Tony LaRussa loved writing into the lineup, it was Aaron Miles - even if it meant using the diminutive infielder on the mound. But to Miles credit, he did a pretty good job.
In fact, the only runs he surrendered and three of the five hits against him all came in a 2007 outing against the Astros. In 2008, Miles pitched one perfect inning. In 2010, he tossed two scoreless frames over two appearances, putting up a higher WAR as a pitcher than seven actual Cardinal pitchers, including Kyle Lohse.
Gaetti is the lone outlier from the scrappy middle infielder mold. The Rat had played more than 1,500 games by the time he came to the Cardinals, but it was as a 38-year-old that he threw his first professional pitch. After working just a third of an inning in 1997, LaRussa called on Gaetti again in 1998 and he delivered a scoreless inning.
Despite his pitching prowess, Gaetti was released later that year. He was picked up by the Chicago Cubs, who sent the then 40-year-old to the mound for an inning in 1999. It was then that his scoreless streaked was snapped, as he gave up two runs on two hits and a walk.
For the Cardinals, the Little Middle Infielders That Could continue to be the bullpen backup plan. After one appearance for the Cardinals in 2011, Skip Schumaker has gone on to pitch three scoreless innings for the Dodgers and Reds. Earlier this season, Daniel Descalso retired the only batter he faced in garbage time of a 17-5 loss to the Cubs.
Somewhere, in the bowels of Busch Stadium, Greg Garcia works on an off speed pitch.