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A highly regarded Cardinals outfield prospect died in a violent accident as he was on the verge of fulfilling his potential with the big-league club. The tragic story of Charlie Peete is chillingly similar to that of another star-crossed Cardinals phenom, Oscar Taveras.

Charlie_PeeteOn Nov. 27, 1956, four months after he had made his major-league debut with the Cardinals, Peete, 27, was killed in an airplane crash in Venezuela. His wife and three children also died in the crash.

Fifty-eight years later, on Oct. 26, 2014, five months after he had made his major-league debut with the Cardinals, Taveras, 22, was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic. His girlfriend also died in the crash.

Like Taveras, Peete was a potent left-handed batter. Playing for the Cardinals’ Omaha affiliate, managed by Johnny Keane, Peete was the 1956 batting champion of the Class AAA American Association. Like Taveras, Peete was planning to play winter ball and then report to spring training as a strong contender for a starting spot in the Cardinals’ outfield.

Path to the majors

Peete was born on Feb. 22, 1929, in Franklin, Va. He went to high school in Portsmouth, Va. After serving a two-year hitch in the Army, Peete began his professional baseball career with the independent Portsmouth team in the Piedmont League. The Cardinals signed him in 1954 and he quickly advanced to Class AAA the following year. Because of his thick build (190 pounds) on a short frame (5 feet 9), Peete was nicknamed “Mule.”

In July 1956, Peete was promoted from Omaha to the Cardinals. Hampered by a split thumb, he hit (10-for-52) .192 in 23 games for St. Louis and made 13 starts in center field.

There were some highlights.

Peete got his first major-league hit, a single to left, off the Dodgers’ Roger Craig on July 21, 1956, at St. Louis. Boxscore

Five days later, July 26, Peete had his most significant game in the majors, hitting a two-run triple off Phillies ace Robin Roberts, giving the Cardinals a 7-6 lead and propelling them to a 14-9 victory at Philadelphia. Boxscore

Peete also had a RBI-triple against the Pirates’ Ron Kline on Aug. 1 at Pittsburgh. Boxscore

Peete had his batting average above .250 before going into an 0-for-13 tailspin that led to his being sent back to Omaha. He finished the minor-league season with a .350 batting mark, winning the American Association hitting crown. The runner-up was Yankees shortstop prospect Tony Kubek, who hit .331 in 138 games for Denver.

The Sporting News wrote that Peete’s performance “made him one of the brightest prospects in the Redbirds system” and described him as a “highly regarded outfielder.”

Bill Bergesch, Omaha general manager, predicted to the Associated Press that Peete would be a Cardinals contributor in 1957. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Bergesch said. “He can do everything the rest of them (in the majors) do _ plus hit the ball a little harder than most.”

Disaster in Venezuela

Accepting a chance to play winter ball in Cuba, Peete signed with a Cienfuegos team that included Senators pitchers Camilo Pascual and Pedro Ramos and Dodgers shortstop Chico Fernandez. Peete expected to spend the winter in Cuba. But he slumped early and was released.

The Valencia team in the Venezuela winter league wanted Peete. He could have flown from Cuba to Venezuela to begin play. Instead, Peete chose to return to the United States to meet his wife, Nettie, and their children, Ken, Karen and Deborah, and bring them to Venezuela with him.

At 10 p.m. on Nov. 26, the Peete family boarded a commercial flight at Idlewild Airport in New York. The plane was scheduled to arrive in Caracas at about 7 a.m. on Nov. 27.

The flight was late. At 8:05 a.m., the French pilot, Capt. Marcel Combalbert, 34, radioed to the control tower that he was preparing his approach to the seaside airport.

It was raining and foggy. Clouds limited visibility.

About two miles from the airport, the four-engine Constellation slammed into a 6,000-foot mountain top. All 25 people _ 18 passengers and seven crew _ on board were killed.

“We are terribly shocked,” Cardinals general manager Frank Lane said. “It’s not a question of any effect on the ball club. It’s the terrible tragedy of the thing.”

Previously: Oscar Taveras, Eddie Morgan: Flashy starts to Cardinals careers

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Teetering on the brink of another letdown in their bid to end a pennant drought, the Cardinals got the matchup they sought against the Astros in Game 6 of the 2004 National League Championship Series. Jim Edmonds provided the desired result.

jim_edmonds4Ten years ago, on Oct. 20, 2004, Edmonds launched a two-run, walkoff home run in the 12th inning, ending a tense drama and carrying the Cardinals to a 6-4 victory at St. Louis.

At the time, Edmonds joined Ozzie Smith (Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship Series) as the only Cardinals to end postseason games with walkoff home runs. Edmonds was the first Cardinals hitter to do so in an elimination game. Since then, two others _ David Freese (Game 6 of 2011 World Series) and Kolten Wong (Game 2 of 2014 National League Championship Series) _ have produced walkoff home runs in Cardinals postseason victories.

Kept alive by Edmonds’ home run, the Cardinals won Game 7 _ helped, in part, by a diving catch by Edmonds that prevented two runs from scoring in the second inning _  and earned their first National League pennant in 17 years.

Under manager Tony La Russa, the Cardinals had gotten to the National League Championship Series three previous times (1996, 2000 and 2002) but couldn’t clinch a pennant.

It appeared for a while during Game 6 in 2004 that the Cardinals would fall short again.

Sense of dread

After scoring four runs in the first 2.1 innings off starter Peter Munro, the Cardinals were held scoreless by four Astros relievers _ Chad Harville, Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler and Brad Lidge _ over the next 8.2 innings.

Lidge, the Astros’ closer, had been especially dominating. Bernie Miklasz, columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, described Lidge as “bulletproof.”

Lidge, who entered in the ninth, retired all nine batters he faced. He struck out five, including Edmonds. Only one batter, pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson, who flied to left in the 11th, hit a ball out of the infield against Lidge.

Miklasz wrote that “a growing sense of dread spread through Busch Stadium” as Lidge mowed down the Cardinals.

Lidge, though, had been stretched to the limit with his three innings of relief. He had appeared in 80 games during the regular season and never had worked more than a two-inning stint.

In the 12th, manager Phil Garner lifted Lidge and, in so doing, lifted the spirits of the Cardinals and their fans.

High pitch, high drive

Dan Miceli, 34, a right-hander pitching for his 10th big-league team, replaced Lidge.

Miceli walked the leadoff batter, Albert Pujols. Scott Rolen then popped out to the catcher.

Edmonds stepped to the plate. This was the matchup La Russa wanted.

In the 2004 regular season, left-handed batters hit .307 versus Miceli, with seven home runs.

Edmonds, with his upper-cut swing, had hit 37 of his 42 home runs against right-handers in 2004. More than half of Edmonds’ hits (83 of 150) that season were for extra bases.

“I was yelling at him, ‘Hit a line drive. Let’s get first and third.’ That’s all I wanted,” La Russa said to the Associated Press.

On an 0-and-1 pitch, Edmonds got a high, tight fastball. He whipped the bat around and connected, sending the ball on a majestic arch over the right-field fence before it crashed against the wall behind the Cardinals’ bullpen. Check out the You Tube video.

“I got the pitch up again and they hit it out again,” said Miceli, who had yielded home runs to Pujols and Rolen in the eighth inning of Game 2.

Said Edmonds: “I wasn’t trying to go deep. I was just trying to hit the ball hard.”

La Russa, delighted Edmonds hadn’t settled for the single his manager had been urging him to hit, said, “I didn’t feel too smart. Just happy. Happy and stupid.” Boxscore

Previously: Slugging, fielding give Jim Edmonds hope for Hall of Fame

Previously: How Jim Edmonds got Tony La Russa an April champagne toast

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A decade after the Cardinals and Dodgers were matched again in a National League Division Series, the result was familiar. So was the touch of class.

jim_tracyAfter the Cardinals eliminated the Dodgers from the 2004 National League Division Series, players and staff from both teams met on the field and shook hands.

After the Cardinals eliminated the Dodgers from the 2014 National League Division Series, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny tipped his cap to his opponent.

On Oct. 7, 2014, the Cardinals beat the Dodgers, 3-2, in Game 4 at St. Louis and advanced to the National League Championship Series. Boxscore As Matheny entered the field to congratulate his team, he turned toward the Dodgers’ dugout, doffed his cap and, in a gesture of respect, nodded in their direction. Check out the video clip.

Ten years earlier, on Oct. 10, 2004, the Cardinals beat the Dodgers, 5-2, in Game 4 at Los Angeles and advanced to the National League Championship Series. In an unscripted act of sportsmanship prompted by Cardinals outfielder Larry Walker and led by managers Jim Tracy of the Dodgers and Tony La Russa of St. Louis, the teams met near the third-base line and the Dodgers offered congratulations.

A surprised Matheny, then the Cardinals’ catcher, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch afterward, “I didn’t know what was going on. I thought we were going to brawl.”

Hockey lesson

Late in the regular season, after the Cardinals had clinched the 2004 Central Division crown, Walker suggested to La Russa that the Cardinals and their Division Series opponent shake hands on the field after the series finale. Walker, a Canadian, was impressed by how National Hockey League players formed a line on the ice after games and congratulated one another.

“Those guys (hockey players) go out and beat the daylights out of each other and then shake hands,” Walker said. “I think it’s a class thing.”

At the time Walker proposed his idea, the Cardinals didn’t know who they’d face in the first round of the postseason. “It sends a great message,” La Russa said of Walker’s suggestion. “But it depended on who we go up against. I know some managers better than others. But I know Jim Tracy really well.”

Before Game 1 of the Cardinals-Dodgers series, La Russa and Tracy discussed Walker’s idea, but neither mentioned it again.

Impromptu gesture

After the Cardinals’ clinching victory in Game 4, La Russa, like Matheny in 2014, went onto the field and turned toward the Dodgers’ dugout. He waved to Tracy. Then, La Russa made a handshake motion.

Tracy got the message.

He led the Dodgers onto the field.

“It was a class act,” said Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. “Tracy led the way.”

Said an appreciative La Russa: “I know it had to be much more difficult for them to come out of the dugout and meet us halfway. It was impressive.” Boxscore

Walker, who had joined the Cardinals two months earlier in a trade with the Rockies, was delighted.

“This is something I’ve thought about for a long time,” Walker said. “You can laugh at it, but I think it’s something that can be done. It can’t hurt.”

Previously: Mike Matheny sparked Cardinals over Dodgers in 2004 NLDS

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Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen followed the most consistently excellent regular-season performance of his career with a postseason effort that was extraordinarily erratic.

scott_rolen2Rolen is scheduled to throw the ceremonial first pitch before Game 4 of the 2014 National League Division Series between the Dodgers and Cardinals at St. Louis.

Ten years ago, the Cardinals won three of four games against the Dodgers in the 2004 Division Series, even though Rolen went hitless.

Super season

In the 2004 regular season, Rolen achieved career highs in home runs (34), RBI (124), batting average (.314), on-base percentage (.409) and slugging percentage (.598). His RBI total was second only to the 131 of the Rockies’ Vinny Castilla in the National League.

Rolen also was named a National League all-star in 2004, won a Gold Glove Award and finished fourth in the league’s Most Valuable Player balloting, behind Barry Bonds of the Giants, Adrian Beltre of the Dodgers and teammate Albert Pujols.

However, Rolen missed 16 games from Sept. 11 through Sept. 27 because of a calf strain. He still was experiencing soreness in the calf when the Cardinals opened the Division Series versus the Dodgers on Oct. 5, but he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he was “close to being close” to 100 percent.

Like 0-for-a-zillion

What happened next was unexpected. Rolen played in all four game of the Division Series and was hitless in 12 at-bats. He did walk six times, so along with a .000 batting average for the series Rolen had a .333 on-base percentage.

Batting in the cleanup spot, Rolen drew three walks in Game 4, a 6-2 Cardinals victory that eliminated the Dodgers and advanced St. Louis to the National League Championship Series versus the Astros. Boxscore

Said Rolen, who had sat out most of the 2002 postseason because of a shoulder injury: “I’m standing here after going 0-for-a-zillion and this feels so much better (than 2002). We’ve put ourselves in a position to do something special and I’m just glad to be part of it.”

Asked by Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch how he planned to end his slump before facing the Astros, Rolen replied, “I’m going to assess, approach, focus … Oh, that sounded pretty corny. A LaRussaism. He’s getting it in my head. That’s what Tony would say.”

Actually, what Cardinals manager Tony La Russa told Goold was: “Sometimes you have to go beyond the stats. (Rolen) was not a hitless hitter in the Dodgers series. You watch his at-bats, he had tough bases on balls.”

Timing is key

Cardinals hitting coach Mitchell Page said he told Rolen that six walks are as good as six singles.

“What six walks tells you is that they were pitching him careful,” Page said. “They weren’t just going to put something down the middle for him to hit.”

Rolen, though, acknowledged he had fouled off pitches he should have stroked for hits.

“My timing might have been here and there,” said Rolen. “I’m pulling some balls foul that I don’t normally pull foul.”

Rolen recovered, hitting .310 (9-for-29) with three home runs and six RBI in the League Championship Series. He produced the key hit, a two-run home run off Roger Clemens that snapped a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning of Game 7 and lifted St. Louis to a 5-2 pennant-clinching victory. Boxscore

Then, in the World Series versus the Red Sox, Rolen slumped again, going hitless in 15 at-bats.

Previously: From Les Bell to David Freese: Cardinals third base champions

Previously: Walt Jocketty’s July gems: Chuck Finley and Scott Rolen

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George “Shotgun” Shuba wasn’t an all-star, but he played like one against the Cardinals.

george_shubaThis post is in tribute to Shuba, 89, who died Sept. 30, 2014, at Youngstown, Ohio.

In seven seasons (1948-50, 1952-55) as a Dodgers outfielder, Shuba hit .259.

His career batting average against the Cardinals: .337 (33-for-98).

As a rookie in 1948, Shuba hit .267 in 63 games for the Dodgers.

Against the Cardinals that season, Shuba hit .385 (10-for-26), including .471 (8-for-17) at St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park.

In his 1971 book “The Boys of Summer,” Roger Kahn wrote of Shuba, “His abiding love was hitting. All the rest was work. But touching a bat, blunt George became The Shotgun, spraying line drives with a swing so compact and so fluid that it appeared as natural as a smile.”

Two of the best performances of Shuba’s career came versus the Cardinals as a rookie.

Double trouble

On July 18, 1948, in the second game of a doubleheader at St. Louis, Shuba, a left-handed batter, was a prominent part of a Dodgers onslaught.

Brooklyn scored 13 runs in the first two innings. Each of the first 17 Dodgers batters reached base safely. Each of the three outs in the five-run Dodgers first was recorded on the base paths. The 17 reached base on four doubles, five singles, six walks and two force outs.

In the first, after Pee Wee Reese doubled and Jackie Robinson walked, Jim Hearn’s first two pitches to Gene Hermanski missed the plate.

Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer lifted Hearn and replaced him with Al Brazle. Hermanski drew a walk, loading the bases.

Shuba then ripped a two-run double.

In the second, with Gerry Staley pitching, Shuba doubled again, scoring Robinson, who had singled.

Shuba finished 3-for-5 with 3 RBI and 2 runs scored, sparking the Dodgers to a 13-4 triumph. Boxscore

Cardinals nemesis

The next month, Aug. 30, 1948, Shuba led the Dodgers to an improbable comeback victory versus the Cardinals in the first game of a doubleheader at St. Louis.

Cardinals starter Murry Dickson carried a 5-2 lead into the ninth. Hermanski led off with a single and Shuba followed with a double, advancing Hermanski to third. Pete Reiser doubled, driving in Hermanski and Shuba and cutting the Cardinals’ lead to 5-4.

Ted Wilks relieved Dickson. After the Dodgers tied the score at 5-5, Shuba came to the plate with Arky Vaughan on third and Bruce Edwards on first, one out.

Shuba singled to right, scoring Vaughan with the run that completed a four-run ninth and brought the Dodgers a 6-5 victory. Boxscore

Of all the Cardinals pitchers Shuba raked during his career, Wilks was his favorite. Shuba hit . 833 (5-for-6) with 4 RBI vs. Wilks.

Shuba had two other noteworthy games against the Cardinals.

He drove in three runs, including a two-run, two-out home run off Joe Presko, in a 10-4 Dodgers victory over the Cardinals on Aug. 24, 1952, at St. Louis. Boxscore

A year later, Aug. 1, 1953, Shuba was 3-for-4 with two runs scored in the Dodgers’ 11-4 win against the Cardinals at St. Louis. Boxscore

Previously: How Andy Pafko gave Cardinals inside-the-glove home run

Previously: Duke Snider, Stan Musial put on big show

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mike_matheny8In a pivotal Game 2 of the 2004 National League Division Series, Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny drove in four runs and coaxed reliever Dan Haren through two scoreless innings for the win against the Dodgers.

Ten years later, in the 2014 National League Division Series, the Cardinals again are matched against the Dodgers. This time, Matheny is the Cardinals’ manager and Haren is a Dodgers starting pitcher.

On Oct. 5, 2004, Matheny contributed a solo home run off reliever Elmer Dessens in the Cardinals’ 8-3 victory over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the best-of-five Division Series at St. Louis.

Cardinals fans rewarded him with an ovation and urged a curtain call. A hesitant Matheny went to the top step of the dugout and acknowledged the sustained applause.

“It’s a huge honor,” Matheny, 34, said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s taken me five years (with the Cardinals) and this is the first year I’ve had one. I didn’t know how to get out there.” Boxscore

Hot hitter

Two days later, the Cardinals entered Game 2, knowing a victory would give them control of the series.

In the fifth inning, with the Cardinals ahead, 4-3, Matheny batted against starter Jeff Weaver with the bases loaded and two outs. Matheny stroked a two-run single to center, giving the Cardinals a 6-3 lead and knocking Weaver out of the game.

“He gets fired up,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of Matheny.

Haren, who followed starter Jason Marquis and Cal Eldred, held the Dodgers scoreless in the fifth and sixth, stabilizing the game for St. Louis. It was an impressive effort for a pitcher making his first postseason appearance.

A grateful La Russa called Haren, 24, “a cool dude” and “tough as nails” before adding that Haren’s shutdown of the Dodgers “turned the momentum.”

Said Matheny of Haren: “He came into a tough situation and made pitches right away.”

RBI record

In the seventh, the Cardinals, looking to stretch their three-run lead, had Reggie Sanders on second and Edgar Renteria on third, with two outs. Though first base was open and pitcher Ray King was on deck, the Dodgers decided to pitch to the Cardinals catcher.

Matheny singled to left off a first-pitch curve from Giovanni Carrera, scoring both runners. The Cardinals won by the same score as the opener, 8-3. Boxscore

“The hit (Matheny) got off Weaver, he hit a good pitch,” said Dodgers manager Jim Tracy. “It was a breaking ball down and away and he got it. In the seventh, that wasn’t a good pitch.”

Wrote Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz: “The Dodgers probably wonder how it is that Matheny became Johnny Bench.”

Matheny became the first Cardinals hitter to produce four RBI in a Division Series game.

“I know that I haven’t put up huge (regular-season) numbers offensively, but I also know what my purpose is on this team,” Matheny said. “First of all, it’s behind the plate _ and I put a whole lot more pressure and expectations on myself back there.”

The Cardinals eliminated the Dodgers with a Game 4 triumph, advancing to the National League Championship Series against the Astros. The Cardinals beat the Astros in four of seven games, winning their first pennant in 17 years and progressing to the World Series against the Red Sox.

Previously: Why Mike Matheny ended his playing career as a Giant

Previously: Pitcher for 1964 Cardinals was mentor to Mike Matheny

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