Most lists of the greatest moments in baseball history are dominated by home runs. There’s the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”, the two World Series-clinching walk-off home runs, Kirk Gibson hitting a home run when he was barely capable of jogging around the bases—we don’t generally think about the greatest bunts in baseball history, nor the greatest sacrifice flies in baseball history.
But perhaps we should. Rather than ranking the ten most dramatic moments in franchise history, there are instead ten different event types with the best moment chosen of each.
The greatest single—Ken O’Dea’s walk-off single to win Game 2 of the 1944 World Series
Regular season hits like, say, Stan Musial or Lou Brock’s 3000th hits are big highlights, but their impact on the team’s season were dwarfed by big-time postseason ones, and they were not record-setters. There are a few reasonable candidates here—of the three postseason walk-off singles in franchise history, O’Dea’s was actually the one which had the lowest Win Probability Added. But it was the only one which took place in a World Series game, and thus the heroics of Ken Oberkfell and Carlos Beltran in the NLCS must take a back seat. It is particularly poignant that O’Dea hit his walk-off against the St. Louis Browns, and thus a win against the de facto inter-league rival happened. But since O’Dea’s single happened in 1944, I couldn’t find video, so here are the other two walk-off singles.
The greatest double—Harry Walker sends Enos Slaughter home in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series
While it was Harry Walker who got the hit, it was Enos Slaughter whose “Mad Dash Home” became the iconic tagline of this moment. It ranks only third by Win Probability Added among Cardinals postseason doubles, trailing Terry Pendleton’s bases-clearing two-out double to take the lead in Game 2 of the 1985 World Series, as well as Matt Carpenter’s seventh-inning bases-clearer in Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS, but as dramatic as these moments were, and as much as I had to pause writing this section to re-live the Carpenter double on YouTube, it’s hard to compete with a hit to win Game 7 of the World Series.
The greatest triple—David Freese’s game-tying triple in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series
This particular moment was what inspired this post when I realized...was this the most famous triple in baseball history? It might be! It probably is! The Cardinals have had other great triples, but none can top David Freese’s hometown heroics.
The greatest home run—David Freese’s game-winning home run in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series
This pick is a bit more negotiable. There were other great walk-offs—Ozzie Smith making the Busch Stadium crowd “go crazy, folks” and Jim Edmonds sending the 2004 NLCS to a seventh game, among them—and Mark McGwire’s single-season record-breaking 62nd home run are impossible to ignore. But the only World Series walk-off in franchise history came courtesy of David Freese, who had the second-most dramatic at-bat of his night.
The greatest walk—Steve Braun’s RBI walk in Game 2 of the 1982 World Series
A Yadier Molina walk in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series actually had a higher WPA (barely), but in the interest of game selection diversity, there is Steve Braun getting a game-winning RBI without swinging his bat. With the Cardinals trailing the Milwaukee Brewers 1-0 in the series, pinch hitter Steve Braun was walked by Pete Ladd in the bottom of the eighth inning, scoring George Hendrick and bring home the go-ahead run which went on to be the decisive winner, as the game ended 5-4.
The greatest (batting) strikeout—Ernie Orsatti in the 1931 World Series
Of the 1558 strikeouts in postseason history by a Cardinals batter, only one improved the team’s win probability. In Game 7 of the 1931 World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics, left fielder Ernie Orsatti struck out, but because of a dropped third strike, catcher Mickey Cochrane was forced to throw the ball to first baseman Jimmie Foxx. In the ensuing action, right fielder George Watkins scored the game’s second run, giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead, while center fielder Pepper Martin advanced to third base.
The greatest (pitching) strikeout—Grover Cleveland Alexander strikes out Tony Lazzeri
This is a deep field, including Adam Wainwright’s legendary freezing of Carlos Beltran and multiple World Series-clinching pitches, but the most integral single pitch thrown en route to a Cardinals World Series title came in the first World Series-winning campaign for the Cardinals, in 1926. Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland “Old Pete” Alexander inherited a one-run lead but a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning. By striking out future Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri of the New York Yankees, Alexander got the Cardinals out of the inning and two innings later, St. Louis won its first World Series. And since video of the game does not exist, I’m going to post the Adam Wainwright strikeout because it was super fun and awesome.
The greatest stolen base—Lou Brock eclipses Ty Cobb
A single-season record is one thing, but to become the greatest base stealer of all-time has even more gravitas. Brock’s 893rd stolen base was the culmination of a tremendous career and he deserved the honor. While rigorous debunking of some of the most lurid stories of Ty Cobb’s sociopathy may dull some of the social implications of an African-American man breaking this record, sports are about re-imagining human limitation. Had Rickey Henderson been a Cardinal, he’d be on this list. This is the way records ought to work.
The greatest sacrifice bunt—So Taguchi in Game 4 of the 2006 World Series
Also the greatest reach on error in franchise history, Taguchi attempted, in the bottom of the seventh inning, to move potential go-ahead run David Eckstein from second base to third base with nobody out. While Detroit Tigers pitcher Fernando Rodney attempted the “safe” move, throwing to first base, the throw went high and Eckstein scored the game-tying run. Later that inning, Taguchi scored the go-ahead run on a Preston Wilson single.
The greatest sacrifice fly—Matt Carpenter in Game 2 of the 2013 World Series
Trailing the series 1-0 and trailing Game 2 of the World Series, Matt Carpenter flew out to Boston Red Sox left fielder Jonny Gomes. He hit it deep enough to score Pete Kozma, but a subsequent throwing error by Craig Breslow also allowed the go-ahead run, scored by Jon Jay, to score. The Cardinals’ win probability went from 49% to 69% on a seventh-inning play in which they recorded an out.
May the 2018 season bring us more immortal moments, even the smaller ones.