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Performing in an era when two, not five, teams qualified for the postseason from the National League, the best Cardinals club produced by manager Joe Torre wasn’t a September contender, even though its record was similar to, or better than, future St. Louis champions.

joe_torre4On July 27, 2014, Torre and Tony La Russa, who had the most wins of any Cardinals manager, will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Torre primarily was elected for managing the Yankees to four World Series crowns and six American League pennants.

Torre was 351-354 as Cardinals manager from August 1990 until June 1995. His best St. Louis team, the 1993 Cardinals, had an 87-75 record but finished third in the National League East Division, 10 games behind the champion Phillies and seven behind the second-place Expos.

In 2014, the National League qualifies three division champions and two wild-card teams for the postseason. In 1993, only the champions of the East and West divisions advanced.

The 1993 Cardinals had the fifth-best record in the National League. Their 87 wins were one fewer than those posted by the 1996 Cardinals (who were Central Division champions) and the 2012 Cardinals (who qualified for the postseason as a wild-card with the fifth-best record in the league). The 1993 Cardinals had four more wins than the 2006 Cardinals, who were Central Division champions and proceeded to win the World Series title.

Jefferies delivers

First baseman Gregg Jefferies led a 1993 Cardinals lineup that ranked fourth in the National League in runs scored (758) and batted a collective .272, eight percentage points better than the league average. Jefferies batted .342 with 16 home runs, 83 RBI, 46 stolen bases and a .408 on-base percentage.

Joining Jefferies among the top producers were third baseman Todd Zeile (17 home runs, 103 RBI), right fielder Mark Whiten (25 home runs, 99 RBI), left fielder Bernard Gilkey (40 doubles, 16 home runs) and shortstop Ozzie Smith (.288 batting average, 21 stolen bases).

The pitching staff featured closer Lee Smith (43 saves despite a 4.50 ERA) and three starters with winning records and double-figure wins: Bob Tewksbury (17 wins), Rene Arocha (11) and Donovan Osborne (10). But the staff was neither deep nor dominant and it produced a team ERA of 4.09, five percentage points above the league average.

A 20-7 June record put the Cardinals at 45-31 overall. After beating the Braves on July 19, the Cardinals were a season-high 18 wins over .500 at 55-37 and in second place, three games behind the Phillies and 6.5 ahead of the third-place Expos.

One month later, on Aug. 19, the Cardinals were holding steady, 17 wins above .500 at 69-52 and still in second place, but had lost ground to the Phillies, who were eight games ahead of them in the East.

Good group

As late as Sept. 19, the Cardinals were 15 wins above .500 at 82-67, but the Expos had moved past them and into second place. The Cardinals trailed the Expos by four games and the Phillies by eight.

“We have a good group,” Torre told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Sept. 19. “There’s a lot more offense out there than we’ve had for a while. We thought our pitching would carry us, and it did for a while, but we’re a much better team offensively than we thought at the beginning of the season.”

St. Louis then lost eight of its next 11, dashing any hopes of a postseason berth.

The Phillies won the division title at 97-65. The second-place Expos were 94-68.

“You’re happy it’s over because finishing third, when you thought you had a chance for more, it’s frustrating,” Torre said after the season finale.

Said Ozzie Smith: “We competed for a long time, but then we just sort of fell out. That’s the disappointing part.”

Energy drain

In an analysis of the Cardinals’ 1993 season, Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch wrote, “The season must be classified as a disappointment to everyone concerned. A team that should have contended didn’t contend long enough. And a team that most certainly should have finished second didn’t seem to care about that.”

Hummel gave Torre a grade of C-plus for his managing in 1993. “Torre thought he had a team that would be in it until the last few days, at the least … Try as he might, Torre couldn’t infuse enough energy into this team late in the season,” Hummel wrote.

In his three full seasons as Cardinals manager (1991-93), Torre’s teams had winning records. The 1991 Cardinals finished second in the East Division, but 14 games behind the Pirates. Here is a breakdown of Torre’s year-by-year records with the Cardinals:

_ 1990: 24-34. (Hired in August by general manager Dal Maxvill).

_ 1991: 84-78.

_ 1992: 83-79.

_ 1993: 87-75.

_ 1994: 53-61. (Players’ strike halted season in August).

_ 1995: 20-27. (Fired in June by general manager Walt Jocketty).

Previously: Ted Simmons helped put pal Joe Torre on path to Hall

Previously: George Kissell, Cardinals inspired Joe Torre to be manager

Previously: Cardinals, Hall of Fame link Tony La Russa, Joe Torre

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Dennis Eckersley and Jason Isringhausen, the closers who contributed the most to helping Tony La Russa earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, also played prominent roles in his first win as Cardinals manager.

dennis_eckersley2On April 3, 1996, in La Russa’s second game as St. Louis manager, the Cardinals beat the Mets, 5-3, in New York. Eckersley earned a tension-filled four-out save; Isringhausen was the opposing starter, facing the Cardinals for the first time in his career.

The win was the first of a franchise-record 1,408 for La Russa in 16 years as Cardinals manager.

After successful stints managing the White Sox and Athletics, La Russa would secure his Hall of Fame status with his Cardinals career. He joined another Hall of Famer, Billy Southworth, as the only managers to win two World Series titles with the Cardinals. On July 27, 2014, La Russa and another former Cardinals manager, Joe Torre, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y.

Converted starters

At Oakland, La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan converted a reluctant Eckersley from a starter into a closer. The move transformed Eckersley into a Hall of Fame pitcher. He earned 386 of his 390 saves with La Russa as manager _ 320 in nine years with the Athletics and 66 in two years with the Cardinals.

Isringhausen, who also successfully converted from starter to closer, joined the Cardinals in 2002. Pitching for La Russa and Duncan, Isringhausen compiled a franchise-record 217 saves in seven seasons with the Cardinals and finished his big-league career with 300 saves.

After La Russa left the Athletics to become manager of the 1996 Cardinals, Eckersley was acquired in a trade for pitcher Steve Montgomery and, at 41, became the St. Louis closer.

On April 1, 1996, in La Russa’s debut as Cardinals manager, the Mets overcame a four-run deficit and won, 7-6. Eckersley didn’t appear in that game. Boxscore

Seeking a win

Isringhausen, 23, got the start for the Mets in the season’s second game. He had posted a 9-2 record as a Mets rookie in 1995. A native of Brighton, Ill., near St. Louis, Isringhausen acknowledged that facing the Cardinals was special. “I had more butterflies (than usual),” Isringhausen said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Isringhausen pitched six innings, yielding three runs to the Cardinals. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter, with the Cardinals leading, 3-0. Then, Bernard Gilkey, a former Cardinal, clubbed a three-run home run off starter Todd Stottlemyre in the bottom of the sixth, tying the score at 3-3.

The Cardinals scored a run in the seventh off Robert Person and another run in the eighth against Jerry DiPoto, taking a 5-3 lead. In the bottom of the eighth, the Mets had runners on first and second with two outs when La Russa replaced Stottlemyre with Eckersley.

“No matter how much experience you have, you’re a little uptight when you come into the game,” Eckersley later said to the Post-Dispatch. “I felt very uncomfortable, like I’d never been in a game before.”

Solid swing

The first batter Eckersley faced in his Cardinals debut was Butch Huskey, the Mets’ cleanup batter.

With the count 1-and-2, Eckersley threw a fastball. Huskey swung and launched a drive toward center field. He knew he had made solid contact. “I thought it had a chance to go (over the wall),” Huskey said to the New York Daily News.

Center fielder Ray Lankford raced toward the wall while tracking the path of the ball. “I thought I could tell by the look on (Lankford’s) face that he was going to catch it,” Eckersley said.

The ball carried farther than Eckersley thought. As Lankford neared the 396-foot sign, he leaped, extended his glove and caught the ball, ending the inning and preserving the lead.

“Most definitely, I was robbed,” Huskey told the Post-Dispatch. “The ball jumped off my bat. I thought it was going out.”

In the bottom of the ninth, with the Cardinals still ahead by two, Eckersley retired the first two batters. Then, Jose Vizcaino and Kevin Roberson each singled. Edgardo Alfonzo was up next, representing the potential go-ahead run.

Eckersley struck him out. earning his first National League save and preserving La Russa’s first National League win.

“In this league, it’s hard to get a hit or a save or a win,” La Russa said. “I don’t think there are any ugly ones.” Boxscore

Previously: Cardinals, Hall of Fame link Tony La Russa, Joe Torre

Previously: 2006 was critical to Tony La Russa earning Hall status

Previously: How Sparky Anderson, Tony La Russa differed on cap choice

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In 2000, Edgar Renteria established the Cardinals single-season record for most home runs hit by a shortstop. In 2014, Jhonny Peralta is likely to top that mark.

edgar_renteria5Peralta, in his first season as the Cardinals’ shortstop, entered the 2014 All-Star Game break with 14 home runs.

Renteria, in his second season as the Cardinals’ shortstop, hit 16 homers in 2000. Those are the most home runs hit by a Cardinals shortstop in a season since Solly Hemus slugged a career-best 15 in 1952.

During spring training in 2000, Renteria told Marlins manager John Boles he intended to hit 20 home runs for the Cardinals. Tony La Russa, the Cardinals’ manager, flinched when he heard Renteria’s remark, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. La Russa wanted Renteria focused on hitting for average, not power.

Renteria did both. He led the 2000 Cardinals in hits (156), doubles (32) and stolen bases (21). He batted .278 and was second on the club in RBI (76), behind only Jim Edmonds (108). Renteria was named to the National League Silver Slugger team, the first Cardinals shortstop to have done so since Ozzie Smith in 1987.

Record rocket

On Aug. 29, 2000, Renteria hit a solo home run off Marlins rookie Chuck Smith. It broke Hemus’ club record and was Renteria’s last home run of the season.

“I think that was the only mistake (Smith) made the whole game,” Renetria told the Post-Dispatch.

Said La Russa: “He’s been the complete shortstop. You can’t ask for any more than he’s done.” Boxscore

Many of Renteria’s home runs in 2000 came in bunches.

He hit a home run in each of three consecutive games from April 9-11. Those blasts came off Valerio de los Santos of the Brewers and the Astros’ Jose Lima and Doug Henry.

Renteria also hit home runs in back-to-back games against the Giants’ Russ Ortiz and Kirk Rueter on May 9-10.

Hungry hitters

Renteria, a right-handed batter, contributed to a homer-happy 2000 Cardinals team that ranked second in the National League in home runs at 235, trailing only the Astros (249). Nine Cardinals in 2000 hit 12 homers or more, led by Edmonds (42) and Mark McGwire (32).

“All these guys are coming to home plate hungry,” Cardinals hitting coach Mike Easler said to the Post-Dispatch. “That’s what I like about it. They’re never satisfied with the at-bat before. The next at-bat is always like their last one. Their intensity at home plate is much higher than last year.”

Renteria, who turned 24 in 2000, hit 12 of his 16 home runs on the road. Eleven of the 16 were struck versus right-handed pitchers. Ten were solo shots.

The 16 home runs in 2000 were Renteria’s single-season high in 16 major-league seasons. He hit 140 homers in the big leagues, 71 in six seasons (1999-2004) with the Cardinals.

Previously: Edgar Renteria had epic season at shortstop for 2003 Cardinals

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Insisting the crime didn’t fit the punishment, Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar threatened to return home to the Dominican Republic rather than pay a $200 fine for an altercation with Giants counterpart Mike Krukow.

joaquin_andujar6Andujar didn’t leave the Cardinals _ instead, he completed a satisfying season in which he led the National League in wins (20) and innings pitched (261.1) _ but the incident and his reaction to it contributed to the legend of the talented, emotional St. Louis starter.

Thirty years ago, on July 17, 1984, the Giants and Cardinals played at St. Louis. In the first inning, Giants batter Manny Trillo was hit by a pitch from Andujar. (The Cardinals right-hander led the National League in most batters hit by pitches in both 1984 and 1985.)

Two innings later, when Andujar batted for the first time in the game, Krukow threw two pitches that brushed back the Cardinals pitcher. After the second delivery, Krukow charged toward Andujar, according to The Sporting News.

Both benches emptied but there was no serious fighting and neither pitcher was ejected.

No surrender

Krukow told The Sporting News that his teammates expected him to answer Andujar’s plunking of Trillo.

“I have to dress next to these guys,” Krukow said. “I couldn’t look them in the eye if I didn’t protect them.”

Said Andujar: “He charged me. What am I supposed to do, run?”

Krukow struck out Andujar and the game remained scoreless through three.

In the fourth, the Giants reached Andujar for three singles, a double and a walk. They swiped two bases in the inning. Andujar uncorked a wild pitch. The Giants scored four times in the fourth and went on to a 7-2 victory. Boxscore

The National League fined Andujar $200 for his role in the incident. Incredulous, Andujar told The Sporting News, “I’m not going to pay that. They’re going to suspend me if I don’t pay. I should go to the Dominican Republic right now. I have enough money. I could live on that. This is lousy.”

Die a Cardinal

Four days before the Andujar-Krukow fracas, Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith suffered a right wrist fracture when hit by a pitch from the Padres’ Ed Whitson. Boxscore

Said Andujar: “Ozzie Smith gets a broken wrist and they don’t throw that pitcher out or fine him. If I broke somebody’s wrist, I’d be suspended for a year.”

A month later, amid speculation he would ask to be traded when his contract expired after the 1984 season, Andujar attempted to squelch such talk. “I like (manager) Whitey Herzog,” Andujar said to The Sporting News. “I want to be here. I don’t want to get traded. I want to die here. I want St. Louis fans to know that. Maybe they will feel better if they know you want to die here.”

Andujar accepted a three-year, $4.5 million deal from the Cardinals after the season. In his book “White Rat: A Life in Baseball” (1987, Harper & Row), Herzog wrote of Andujar in 1984, “If it hadn’t been for Andujar and (Bruce) Sutter, we might have finished in last place … Joaquin was just superb.”

Andujar posted 21 wins for the 1985 Cardinals and helped them win the pennant. But he imploded during Game 7 of the World Series, confronting umpire Don Denkinger, and was traded to the Athletics soon thereafter.

Previously: How Joaquin Andujar made like Babe Ruth for Cardinals

Previously: Joaquin Andujar skipped All-Star Game to barbecue quail

Previously: Given 3 runs, Joaquin Andujar was money in the bank

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Frankie Frisch didn’t try to hit home runs, but he had the ability to produce them in bunches.

frankie_frisch3In 2014, Kolten Wong became the first Cardinals second baseman to hit five home runs over a seven-game span since Frisch achieved the feat in July 1930, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Frisch, a 5-foot-9 switch hitter, slugged only 105 home runs in 2,311 big-league games during a stellar 19-year Hall of Fame career. Yet he was such a dangerous hitter that he batted cleanup for the 1930 Cardinals during his home run tear.

“The secret of hitting is to pick out a good ball and hit it properly,” Frisch said in an interview published by The Sporting News after the 1930 season. “Do not swing too hard. (Jim) Bottomley and (Chick) Hafey, two sweet hitters, do not take a vicious cut at the ball. (Babe) Ruth is the only player I know who takes a real cut. The player who hits the ball squarely will get as much distance as the next fellow. It is just like hitting a golf ball.”

Frisch’s power surge for the 1930 Cardinals occurred during a road trip to his native New York in games against the Giants at the Polo Grounds and against the Dodgers (also known as the Robins) at Ebbets Field. All five of his home runs in that span of seven games in four days were hit against right-handers.

Here is a look at what Frisch did:

July 18, 1930

On a Friday afternoon at the Polo Grounds, Frisch, who played for the Giants before being traded to the Cardinals for Rogers Hornsby after the 1926 season, hit a three-run home run off starter Pete Donohue in the third inning.

In the eighth, Frisch connected for a two-run shot off Joe Heving, giving the Cardinals a 7-3 lead.

The Giants, however, scored five times in the bottom of the ninth against starter Bill Hallahan and Burleigh Grimes and won, 8-7. Frisch was 2-for-4 with 5 RBI and 2 runs scored. Boxscore

July 19, 1930

The Cardinals swept a doubleheader against the Giants, but Frisch went a combined 0-for-9 in the two games.

July 20, 1930

Frisch hit a two-run home run off Sloppy Thurston in the ninth, capping a 15-6 Cardinals triumph over Brooklyn. Frisch, who also doubled, had 6 RBI and 2 runs scored. Boxscore

July 21, 1930

In a Monday afternoon doubleheader, Frisch hit a solo home run off starter Ray Phelps in the sixth inning of Game 1. The Cardinals led, 8-6, until Brooklyn scored three in the ninth to win, 9-8. Frisch was 3-for-5 with a RBI and a run scored. Boxscore

Frisch helped the Cardinals recover in Game 2, hitting a two-run home run off Dolf Luque in the first and launching St. Louis to a 17-10 victory. Frisch was 3-for-6 with 3 runs scored and 2 RBI. Boxscore

Frisch produced 14 RBI in those five games in which he homered. He finished the 1930 season with 10 home runs, 114 RBI, 121 runs scored, 46 doubles, 187 hits and a .346 batting average.

The 1930 season was the last of five in which he achieved double figures in home runs. Frisch hit a single-season high of 12 home runs for the 1923 Giants.

Awesome all-star

Frisch played in 50 World Series games and never hit a home run. He did, however, hit homers in each of his two All-Star Game appearances.

In the inaugural 1933 All-Star Game, Frisch hit a solo home run in the sixth off General Crowder of the Senators. Boxscore

Leading off the bottom of the first inning of the 1934 All-Star Game, Frisch hit a homer against the Yankees’ Lefty Gomez.

Joe Medwick, Frisch’s Cardinals teammate, also homered in that game. It’s one of two times that two Cardinals hit home runs in the same All-Star Game. Boxscore The other occurred in 1960 when Ken Boyer and Stan Musial achieved the feat. Boxscore

Previously: Rift with Branch Rickey led Cardinals to oust Frankie Frisch

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For Bob Gibson, a win was more important than a record.

bob_gibson17Forty years ago, Gibson became the first National League pitcher to achieve 3,000 career strikeouts. On July 17, 1974, the Cardinals right-hander struck out the Reds’ Cesar Geronimo to become the second big-league pitcher to strike out 3,000 batters.

Walter Johnson of the Senators struck out 3,509 from 1907-1927.

Gibson, 38, achieved his milestone by getting Geronimo to strike out on a high fastball to end the second inning. The crowd of 28,743 at Busch Stadium II in St. Louis gave Gibson a lengthy standing ovation. As he neared the Cardinals dugout, he doffed his cap to the appreciative fans.

With Tim McCarver catching on that Wednesday night, Gibson recorded three more strikeouts, including Johnny Bench and Geronimo again, before being lifted for pinch-hitter Luis Melendez in the seventh with the score tied at 4-4. The Reds won, 6-4, in 12 innings.

Pensive occasion

Afterward, reporters discovered Gibson had departed quickly and wasn’t available to talk about his achievement.

In his book “Stranger to the Game” (1994, Viking), Gibson wrote, “It wasn’t a grand occasion. I was taken out in the (seventh) for a pinch-hitter and we lost the game.”

Gibson yielded 4 runs and 10 hits, walking 2.

“I thought he was getting a little tired,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said to the Associated Press in explaining why he removed Gibson. “He was also leading off the (seventh) inning and I thought we might get a run.” Boxscore

Adding to a pensive atmosphere, despite the milestone strikeout, was the news that Dizzy Dean, 64, had died that day. The Hall of Fame pitcher had held the Cardinals’ record for career strikeouts (1,095) until Gibson surpassed the mark. Gibson finished his Cardinals career with 3,117 strikeouts and remains the franchise’s leader in that category.

Geronimo struck out nine times in 21 career at-bats versus Gibson.

Big-name victims

The players who struck out the most against Gibson:

_ Willie Stargell, 41 strikeouts

_ Donn Clendenon, 37 strikeouts

_ Ron Santo, 35 strikeouts

_ Hank Aaron, 32 strikeouts

_ Roberto Clemente, 32 strikeouts

_ Tony Taylor, 32 strikeouts

The first big-league batter Gibson struck out was Willie “Puddin’ Head” Jones of the Reds on July 30, 1959. Boxscore

Jim Pagliaroni of the Pirates was the 1,000th batter to strike out against Gibson and Clemente was the 2,000th batter to do so.

In 2014, Gibson ranks 14th on the all-time strikeout list, one ahead of Curt Schilling (3,116) and 37 behind the pitcher just ahead of him, Pedro Martinez (3,154).

Join the club

Ever since Bob Gibson joined Walter Johnson as the only pitchers to have 3,000 strikeouts, 14 others have achieved the feat. Here is the list of pitchers with 3,000 strikeouts:

_ Nolan Ryan, 5,714

_ Randy Johnson, 4,875

_ Roger Clemens, 4,672

_ Steve Carlton, 4,136

_ Bert Blyleven, 3,701

_ Tom Seaver, 3,640

_ Don Sutton, 3,574

_ Gaylord Perry, 3,534

_ Walter Johnson, 3,509

_ Greg Maddux, 3,371

_ Phil Niekro, 3,342

_ Ferguson Jenkins, 3,192

_ Pedro Martinez, 3,154

_ Bob Gibson, 3,117

_ Curt Schilling, 3,116

_ John Smoltz, 3,084

Previously: Slider was key to 15 wins in row for Bob Gibson in 1968

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