When Lou Brock began the Cardinals’ half of the first inning with a hit in six consecutive games in 1974, it was an indicator he was headed for a special season.
Thirty-eight years later, Rafael Furcal is the first Cardinal to achieve the same feat as Brock. Could it mean Furcal also is headed for a special season?
Brock, the Cardinals’ left fielder, opened the first inning with a hit in six consecutive games from April 30, 1974, through May 7, 1974. In those games, Brock hit .500 (12-for-24), with seven stolen bases and six runs scored. He would finish 1974 with 118 steals (shattering the single-season big-league record of 104 held by the Dodgers’ Maury Wills) and bat. 306 with 105 runs scored.
Furcal, the Cardinals’ shortstop, led off the first inning with a hit in six consecutive games from April 29, 2012, through May 5, 2012. In those games, Furcal hit .417 (10-for-24). with two stolen bases and seven runs scored.
Besides achieving the same feat on almost identical dates, Brock and Furcal share something else in common. Brock was a month shy of his 35th birthday when he accomplished his streak. Furcal turns 35 in October.
When Brock began the streak, he was hitting .286. When it ended, his batting average was .330.
Brock was consistently effective at igniting the Cardinals’ offense. In 1974, he hit .325 (136-for-419) with the bases empty.
Here is a look at the six consecutive games in which Brock led off the first with a hit:
_ April 30, 1974, Cardinals 7, Braves 2, at St. Louis: Brock led off the bottom of the first with a single to left against Ron Reed, stole second, was bunted to third by second baseman Ted Sizemore and scored on catcher Ted Simmons’ double. Boxscore
The game was notable for much more. Before the first pitch, Stan Musial presented Braves left fielder Hank Aaron with a plaque commemorating Aaron’s first big-league home run (against Cardinals starter Vic Raschi on April 23, 1954, at St. Louis.)
In the seventh inning, Aaron hit his 720th home run _ a solo shot against Cardinals starter Lynn McGlothen. It would be Aaron’s last career home run hit in St. Louis. Overall, Aaron hit 44 homers in St. Louis _ 29 at Busch Stadium I (formerly Sportsman’s Park) and 15 at Busch Stadium II (which opened in 1966).
An inning later, Brock upstaged Aaron with a 430-foot, two-run blast to right field off Buzz Capra. “It wasn’t even coming down when it landed,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said to the Associated Press. “Aaron hit the heck out of the ball, but Brock flattened it.”
_ May 1, 1974, Braves 6, Cardinals 5, at St. Louis: Facing Carl Morton, Brock opened the bottom of the first with a double to right, was bunted to third by Sizemore and scored on right fielder Reggie Smith’s groundout to shortstop. Boxscore
_ May 3, 1974, Astros 4, Cardinals 1, at Houston: Brock started the game with a single to left, stole second and scored on Sizemore’s single to right off Claude Osteen. Boxscore
_ May 4, 1974, Astros 3, Cardinals 2, at Houston: Brock opened with a single to right, stole second and scored on Smith’s two-run home run off Dave Roberts. Boxscore
_ May 5, 1974, Cardinals 3, Astros 1, at Houston: For the first time during the streak, Brock didn’t score in the opening inning. He led off the game with a single to center and stole second, but was stranded there. Larry Dierker retired Sizemore and Simmons on pop-ups to the catcher and struck out Smith. Boxscore
_ May 7, 1974, Cardinals 1, Reds 0, at Cincinnati: In the final game of the streak, Brock opened with a single off Fred Norman and swiped second. Second baseman Mike Tyson and Smith each struck out. Simmons singled to right, but Brock was tagged out at home plate by catcher Johnny Bench, who fielded the throw from right fielder Ken Griffey. Boxscore
The streak ended the next day, May 8, when Brock led off the game with a groundout to second off Don Gullett. Still, Brock had a double and a single and scored twice, helping St. Louis to a 2-0 victory over the Reds. Boxscore
Brock had been caught stealing by Pirates catcher Mike Ryan in the season opener, then was successful on 28 consecutive steal attempts before being caught by Phillies catcher Bob Boone.
Asked whether he could break Wills’ single-season mark, Brock downplayed his chances. “To reach 100, you have to steal third base 20 to 25 times,” Brock said to The Sporting News. “It’s not that important to steal third, usually. If you have pretty good hitters behind you and you get to second base, they usually can get you in.”
Brock stole third base only six times in 1974, but he swiped second 112 times.
Previously: Bill White: We thought Brock deal was nuts