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Branch Rickey is well known for being the Dodgers general manager who broke baseball’s color barrier by bringing Jackie Robinson to the major leagues. What is less known is that Rickey was the Cardinals general manager who made Mike Gonzalez the first Cuban manager in the major leagues.

mike_gonzalezOn Dec. 17, 2014, President Obama announced that relations between the United States and Cuba would be reopened, ending more than 50 years of hostility between the two nations.

Long before that, Gonzalez, a Havana native, helped form a connection between the Cardinals and Cuba.

A catcher, Gonzalez had three stints with the Cardinals as a player: 1915-18, 1924-25 and 1931-32. He also played for the Braves, Reds, Giants and Cubs.

During his 17-year playing career in the majors, Gonzalez developed a reputation for his baseball savvy. It was while scouting for the Giants that Gonzalez wired a report to manager John McGraw about a prospect: “Good field, no hit.” The phrase became part of baseball’s lexicon.

Shrewd strategist

In 1934, Gonzalez became a coach on the staff of Cardinals manager Frankie Frisch. Four years later, when Frisch was fired on Sept. 11, 1938, Rickey named Gonzalez as manager of the Cardinals.

Though it was a stopgap measure _ most reports indicated Rickey would hire someone from within the minor-league system to manage the 1939 Cardinals _ the move was significant.

In reporting that Gonzalez, 47, was the first Cuban to manage in the big leagues, The Sporting News described him as “a shrewd diamond strategist, a keen judge of talent and a capable instructor.”

Frisch called Gonzalez “a great guy, loyal and true and one of the smartest birds I ever knew.”

Citing his stellar reputation as a coach for the Cardinals, The Sporting News wrote of Gonzalez, “The athletes who have played under his coaching direction have learned to respect his judgment and to take his orders implicitly.”

Gonzalez also had the ability to decode the signs flashed by opponents. “One year, the Cardinals won almost all their games with one of the second-division clubs, largely because Gonzalez was able to call virtually every pitch and tell exactly when the enemy was going to hit-and-run or try to steal,” The Sporting News reported.

Successful start

Gonzalez made his debut as Cardinals manager on Sept. 14, 1938, in the first game of a doubleheader at Philadelphia. Despite yielding nine runs and 13 hits, starter Max Macon pitched a complete game and got the win in a 12-9 Cardinals victory. Boxscore

The Cardinals swept the doubleheader, winning the second game, 3-2, behind starter Mort Cooper, who pitched a complete game three-hitter while walking eight in his big-league debut. Boxscore

Gonzalez led the Cardinals to wins in his first five games as manager, then lost six in a row. He finished with an 8-8 record.

Ray Blades became manager of the 1939 Cardinals and Gonzalez remained as a coach.

Second stint

In June 1940, Blades was fired and Gonzalez was named to his second stint as Cardinals manager. Again, it was an interim role. The Cardinals were 1-5 under Gonzalez. Billy Southworth took over as Cardinals manager and he kept Gonzalez as a coach.

The Cardinals would win two World Series titles and three pennants under Southworth, who would earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 1946, Southworth left the Cardinals to become manager of the Braves. He was replaced by Eddie Dyer, who maintained Gonzalez as a coach.

The 1946 season would be the 13th and final season for Gonzalez as a Cardinals coach. It ended memorably. In Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, Enos Slaughter scored the winning run on a mad dash from first base on a hit by Harry Walker. Slaughter ran through a stop sign from Gonzalez, who was coaching third, and later claimed he thought the Cuban had yelled “Go, go, go” instead of “No, no, no.”

Cuban managers

Gonzalez was the first of seven Cubans who managed in the majors, according to baseball-reference.com. The others:

_ Preston Gomez: 1969-72 Padres, 1974-75 Astros and 1980 Cubs.

_ Marty Martinez: 1986 Mariners (one game).

_ Cookie Rojas: 1988 Angels and 2001 Marlins (one game).

_ Tony Perez: 1993 Reds and 2001 Marlins.

_ Carlos Tosca: 2002-04 Blue Jays.

_ Fredi Gonzalez: 2007-10 Marlins and 2011-14 Braves.

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

Previously: Baseball and romance: Cardinals’ Cuban adventures

Previously: The top 5 Cubans to play for the Cardinals

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Tracy Stallard had a reputation for being a victim. The Cardinals gave him a chance to be a victor. The right-handed pitcher took advantage of the opportunity.

tracy_stallardFifty years ago, on Dec. 7, 1964, in one of Bob Howsam’s first deals as Cardinals general manager, St. Louis traded outfielder Johnny Lewis and pitcher Gordon Richardson to the Mets for Stallard and shortstop Elio Chacon.

The trade energized Stallard, who went from the last-place club in the National League to the newly crowned World Series champions. Stallard rewarded the Cardinals by producing the best season of his big-league career in 1965.

Until then, Stallard largely had been associated with setbacks. Most notable:

_ Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single-season record when he hit his 61st home run in the 1961 season finale against Stallard at Yankee Stadium. It accounted for the lone run in a 1-0 Yankees triumph over the Red Sox. Maris accomplished one of the most memorable and controversial baseball feats. Stallard became the answer to a trivia question. Boxscore

_ Stallard posted a 6-17 record for the 1963 Mets. He followed that with a 10-20 mark for the 1964 Mets and led the major leagues in losses that season.

Seeking a starter

Though Stallard was 1-3 against the 1964 Cardinals, he yielded just 20 hits (and no home runs) to them in 22 innings and had a 3.27 ERA.

Uncertain whether Ray Washburn would recover from a shoulder injury, Howsam sought a starter to join a rotation of Bob Gibson, Ray Sadecki and Curt Simmons.

The Mets were seeking an outfielder. Lewis, a rookie, began the 1964 season as one of the Cardinals’ regulars. He started 28 games in right field, but batted .234 with two home runs and seven RBI. In June, slowed by an ankle injury, the Cardinals sent Lewis to Class AAA Jacksonville.

Mike Shannon became the Cardinals’ right fielder and Lou Brock, acquired by the Cardinals in June 1964 from the Cubs, became the left fielder.

Bing Devine, the Cardinals general manager who engineered the deal for Brock before being fired in August 1964, had joined the Mets as an assistant to team president George Weiss. Devine recommended Lewis, 25, to the Mets. Weiss and his vice president, Johnny Murphy, negotiated with Howsam on the trade. “Devine stayed out of the picture,” The Sporting News reported.

Asked his opinion of the swap, Devine replied, “With Brock and Shannon having come along and with Washburn still a big question mark, I can see why the Cardinals went for pitching and were willing to give up a promising young outfielder like Lewis. You can never have too much pitching.”

Said Howsam: “We can’t tear our club apart _ we don’t dare. It’s tough when you can offer only young players. You have to deal mostly with clubs like the Mets that are building and can use the young players every day.”

Stallard’s reaction to joining the Cardinals: “It’s wonderful.”

Cardinals contributor

In a story headlined “Tracy Ticketed For Starter Job On Cards Staff,” St. Louis manager Red Schoendienst told The Sporting News, “Stallard is a tough competitor and he ought to do a lot better for us because our club can score some runs for him. His best pitches are a slider and a fastball.”

Said Howsam: “We wanted a fourth starter and we think we’ve got him.”

A week later, though, Howsam acquired another starting pitcher, Bob Purkey, from the Reds for outfielder Charlie James and pitcher Roger Craig.

Stallard, 27, began the 1965 season in the Cardinals’ bullpen. He lost his first start April 24 to the Reds, then won his next three decisions as a starter, beating the Pirates twice and the Dodgers. After a win over the Phillies July 18, Stallard was 7-3 with a 2.80 ERA.

His best game for the 1965 Cardinals came on Sept. 1, a day after his 28th birthday, when Stallard pitched a three-hit shutout in a 9-0 victory over the Cubs at Chicago. Stallard struck out eight and yielded only a double by Don Kessinger and singles by Joe Amalfitano and Ernie Banks. Boxscore

Stallard finished second on the 1965 Cardinals in wins (11) and third in innings pitched (194.1). His 3.38 ERA was better than the team average of 3.77. His 11-8 record was the only time in seven big-league seasons that he posted a winning mark.

In 1966, Stallard was 1-5 for the Cardinals, who demoted him to the minor leagues. He never returned to the majors. His big-league career totals: 30-57 record, 3.91 ERA.

Previously: Why 22-game loser Roger Craig appealed to Cardinals

Previously: Cubs knew Lou Brock was on verge of stardom in 1964

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(Updated Dec. 8, 2014)

Jim Kaat is a candidate for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame because of his pitching and fielding achievements. He also accomplished base running and hitting feats for the Cardinals that enhance his status as a special baseball player.

jim_kaat4Kaat, one of 10 finalists on the Golden Era ballot for election to the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., was 41 when he stole a base and hit a home run in separate games for the 1980 Cardinals.

At an age when most players are retired, Kaat still pitched effectively and remained a complete ballplayer.

Speed demon

On June 23, 1980, two months after he had been acquired from the Yankees, Kaat earned the win and pitched a complete game for the Cardinals in their 6-1 victory over the Pirates at St. Louis. Kaat didn’t allow a walk or an extra-base hit. He held the Pirates scoreless over the last seven innings and earned his 266th career win, tying Hall of Famer Bob Feller.

In the seventh, he stole a base.

Bobby Bonds was at the plate when Kaat dashed for second. Bonds took a pitch from Enrique Romo. Catcher Steve Nicosia gunned a throw to Phil Garner, covering second. Kaat beat the peg.

The fans at Busch Stadium rewarded him with a standing ovation.

In its account of the game, the Associated Press wrote, “It was the aging hurler’s speed that brought the customers to their feet … The accomplishment nearly overshadowed his hurling.”

Said Kaat: “It was the element of surprise. I had a good lead. It was worth it.” Boxscore

The steal was Kaat’s first in nine years. He was 32 when he swiped a base for the Twins against Yankees pitcher Stan Bahnsen and catcher Thurman Munson on July 30, 1971.

His stolen base for the Cardinals was Kaat’s fifth and last in a 25-year career (1959-83) in the majors.

Sultan of swat

Two months after his steal for the Cardinals, Kaat hit a home run for them.

On Aug. 26, 1980, Kaat homered off the Astros’ Joe Niekro at St. Louis.

“He hit a knuckleball up,” Niekro said to the Associated Press. “He’s a pretty good hitter. I’ve got a brother (Phil) who is 41 and he hits home runs. It’s not the first time I gave up one to a pitcher and it probably won’t be the last.” Boxscore

The home run was the last of 16 hit by Kaat. He slugged his first 18 years earlier on June 19, 1962, off Dom Zanni of the White Sox.

(The oldest player to hit a big-league home run was Mets first baseman Julio Franco, 48, against Randy Johnson of the Diamondbacks on May 4, 2007. Franco was three months shy of his 49th birthday.)

Going strong

Exactly one year after his home run, Kaat, 42, got his last big-league hit, a single for the Cardinals against 25-year-old Giants rookie Bob Tufts on Aug. 26, 1981. Boxscore

The next year, Kaat, 43, appeared in 62 regular-season games for the Cardinals (earning five wins and two saves) and pitched in four games of the 1982 World Series against the Brewers.

He pitched his last game at 44, tossing 1.1 scoreless innings in relief of Joaquin Andujar for the Cardinals against the Pirates on July 1, 1983, at Pittsburgh. Boxscore

Kaat was 19-16 with 10 saves in four seasons (1980-83) with the Cardinals.

He’s a Hall of Fame candidate primarily because his 283 career wins rank eighth all-time among left-handers and because he won 16 Gold Glove awards for fielding. He has more career wins than several Hall of Famers, including Jim Palmer (268), Carl Hubbell (253), Bob Gibson (251) and Juan Marichal (243).

Kaat and three other former Cardinals players _ Dick Allen, Ken Boyer and Minnie Minoso _ and former Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam are being reviewed by a 16-person Golden Era committee for Hall of Fame consideration. The other five on the ballot are former players Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills.

The Golden Era covers the period of 1947 to 1972. A Golden Era candidate must receive 75 percent of the votes (12 of 16) to earn election. Kaat received 10 votes when Golden Era candidates were considered in 2011.

Results will be announced Dec. 8, 2014. (Update: None of the 10 finalists was elected. Allen and Oliva each received 11 votes. Kaat got 10. Wills got nine. Minoso got eight. Receiving three or fewer votes were Boyer, Hodges, Howsam, Pierce and Tiant.)

Committee members are Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; baseball executives Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson; and media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby.

Kaat was a teammate of Carew (Twins), Smith (Cardinals) and Watson (Yankees). Pepe co-wrote a book with Kaat.

Previously: Jim Kaat revived both his career and the Cardinals

Previously: Jim Kaat interview: 1982 Cardinals were most close-knit club

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(Updated Dec. 8, 2014)

In 1964, Ken Boyer showed the qualities one would expect in a Hall of Fame player. The Cardinals third baseman consistently excelled with the glove and with the bat. He was a champion and a leader. He achieved feats that ranked him among the elite at his position all-time.

ken_boyer8Fifty years later, in 2014, Boyer still hasn’t been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. The only other third basemen of the 1958-64 era who fielded and hit at the same level as Boyer were Brooks Robinson of the Orioles, Eddie Mathews of the Braves and Ron Santo of the Cubs. All three have been elected to the Hall of Fame.

Boyer is one of 10 finalists on the Golden Era ballot under consideration for Hall of Fame election. He and three other former Cardinals players _ Dick Allen, Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso _ and former Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam are being reviewed by a 16-person Golden Era committee. The other five on the ballot are former players Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills.

A Golden Era candidate must receive 75 percent of the votes (12 of 16) to earn election. Results will be announced Dec. 8, 2014.

(Update: None of the 10 finalists was elected. Allen and Oliva each received 11 votes. Kaat got 10. Wills got nine. Minoso got eight. Receiving three or fewer votes were Boyer, Hodges, Howsam, Pierce and Tiant.)

Committee members are Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; baseball executives Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson; and media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby.

Boyer also received three or fewer votes when Golden Era candidates were first considered in 2011.

Special player

Though one outstanding year doesn’t qualify anyone for the Hall of Fame, Boyer’s 1964 season is important because it caps a seven-year stretch of consistently high quality and puts into context how Boyer elevated himself into a special category of third basemen.

Boyer, 33, played in all 162 Cardinals regular-season games in 1964. He led the major leagues in RBI with 119. Boyer also ranked in the top five in the National League in triples (10) and walks (70). He hit .295 with 185 hits, 30 doubles and 24 home runs. He scored 100 runs. His on-base percentage was .365.

Among NL third basemen in 1964, Boyer ranked second in both assists and double plays turned.

Calm and steady

His immense value to the Cardinals was proven with these statistics: Boyer hit .335 with 91 RBI in the Cardinals’ 93 wins in 1964; .238 with 28 RBI in the Cardinals’ 69 losses.

Remarkably consistent, Boyer in 1964 hit .296 against right-handed pitching; .291 versus left-handers.

Boyer was at his best against the Cardinals’ closest competitors, the Phillies and the Reds. Each finished a game behind the pennant-winning Cardinals. Boyer hit .351 with 17 RBI in 18 games against the 1964 Phillies; .309 with 13 RBI in 18 games versus the 1964 Reds.

In a profile of the Cardinals team captain in the Nov. 14, 1964, edition of The Sporting News, Ed Wilks wrote that Boyer “does everything well, but in the calm, steady, unspectacular fashion of a professional.”

Said Boyer: “The (1964) season couldn’t have been more satisfying. I think I did just about everything I had hoped to do.”

Rewarding year

Among the feats Boyer achieved in 1964:

_ He won the NL Most Valuable Player Award. Boyer became only the second NL third baseman and just the fourth in the big leagues to win a MVP Award. The others were Bob Elliott of the 1947 Braves in the NL and Al Rosen of the 1953 Indians and Brooks Robinson of the 1964 Orioles in the American League.

The top five in balloting for 1964 NL MVP were Boyer, Johnny Callison of the Phillies, Bill White of the Cardinals, Frank Robinson of the Reds and Joe Torre of the Braves. Boyer received 14 of 20 first-place votes.

“That’s a lot when there are only 20 votes altogether and you have all that strong competition,” Boyer said. “Fourteen must be my lucky number. That’s my uniform number.”

_ The Sporting News named Boyer its Major League Player of the Year. He became the third Cardinals player to earn the honor, joining Marty Marion (1944) and Stan Musial (1946 and 1951).

_ For exemplifying the qualities of Lou Gehrig on and off the field, Boyer was presented the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award by the late Yankees first baseman’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Columbia University. He joined Musial (1957) as the second Cardinals player to receive the honor.

Run producer supreme

_ He became the first third baseman to lead the NL in RBI since Heinie Zimmerman (102) of the 1917 Giants. Boyer also was the first Cardinals player to lead the major leagues in RBI since Enos Slaughter (130) in 1946 and the first Cardinals player to lead the NL in RBI since Musial (109) in 1956.

_ Named to the all-star team for the seventh and last time, Boyer started at third base in the 1964 Midsummer Classic at Shea Stadium in New York and went 2-for-4, with a home run off Athletics reliever John Wyatt, in a 7-4 NL victory. Boxscore

_ Despite a hamstring injury, Boyer played in all seven games of the 1964 World Series against the Yankees. He hit a grand slam off Al Downing for all the Cardinals’ runs in a 4-3 Game 4 triumph Boxscore and produced three hits, including a solo home run against Steve Hamilton, in the Cardinals’ championship-clinching 7-5 victory in Game 7. Boxscore

_ The 1964 season was the last of seven in a row in which Boyer hit 23 or more home runs and produced 90 or more RBI.

Previously: If Ron Santo goes into Hall, Ken Boyer should, too

Previously: Ken and Clete Boyer: 1st brothers to each hit 25 HRs

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As an 11-year-old Cardinals fan, Bill Mueller attended Game 7 of the 1982 World Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis and witnessed his hometown team clinch the championship against the Brewers.

bill_muellerTwenty-two years later, Mueller returned to a World Series for the first time.

As a 33-year-old big-league veteran, Mueller was the third baseman for the Red Sox in Game 4 of the 2004 World Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis and witnessed Boston break the hearts of his hometown team by clinching the championship against the Cardinals.

Ten years after that, Mueller has come full circle.

On Nov. 17, 2014, Mueller was named assistant hitting coach of the Cardinals, replacing David Bell, who was promoted to bench coach after Mike Aldrete departed for a coaching job with the Athletics. Mueller had been hitting coach of the Cubs during the 2014 season. He will serve under Cardinals hitting coach John Mabry in 2015.

McGee a favorite

A native of the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights, Mo., Mueller grew up a Cardinals fan. Center fielder Willie McGee was his favorite player, Mueller told Jeff Horrigan of the Boston Herald in October 2004.

As a rookie in 1982, McGee sparked the Cardinals to their first National League pennant in 14 years. After splitting the first six games of the 1982 World Series with the Brewers, the Cardinals faced a Game 7 showdown at Busch Stadium.

Mueller attended the game with his father. Their seats were in the upper deck of the outfield. “The nosebleed section,” Mueller told The Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Mass., in 2004.

The Brewers’ Ben Oglive smacked a home run off Joaquin Andujar near the section where the Muellers sat. That’s one of Bill Mueller’s enduring memories of the game. What’s most memorable, of course, is that the Cardinals won, 6-3, earning their first World Series title since 1967. “Pretty cool,” Mueller said of the experience. Boxscore

Turning pro

Mueller became a baseball standout at De Smet Jesuit High School in Creve Coeur, Mo., and at Missouri State University in Springfield. He was drafted by the Giants and made his big-league debut with them in 1996.

In his first appearance at Busch Stadium with the Giants in August 1996, Mueller got five hits in 10 at-bats during a four-game series. Three years later, on May 25, 1999, Mueller hit a grand slam off Kent Mercker at Busch Stadium before more than 30 family and friends in a 17-1 Giants victory over the Cardinals. Boxscore

After the 2000 season, the Giants traded Mueller to the Cubs. He spent two years in Chicago, became a free agent and signed with the Red Sox. In his first season with Boston, Mueller was the 2003 American League batting champion, hitting .326 in 146 games.

Mueller vs. Rolen

The next season, Mueller helped Boston win the American League pennant, their first since 1986. He would be going to the World Series for the first time as a player and for the only time since he attended as a fan in 1982.

“That (1982) was my last experience with a World Series and now I’m going back for a World Series in St. Louis and I’m part of it,” Mueller said to Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on the eve of the 2004 World Series. “It’s really a pretty amazing thing when you think about it.”

In most media previews of the 2004 World Series, the Cardinals, with Scott Rolen, were rated as having the advantage at third base over Mueller and the Red Sox. Rolen had hit 34 home runs with 124 RBI during the regular season and would win his fifth consecutive Gold Glove Award in 2004.

Mueller, though, proved the experts wrong.

The Red Sox swept the Cardinals, winning the first two games at Boston and the next two at Busch Stadium, and earned their first World Series championship since 1918, ending what some considered to be a curse placed on the franchise after it had traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

Mueller played an integral role in Boston’s dominance of the Cardinals. He batted .429 (6-for-14) with four walks in the World Series. His on-base percentage was .556. He scored three runs and drove in two.

His counterpart, Rolen, was hitless in 15 at-bats.

Previously: Paul Molitor vs. Cardinals: Sensational, strange 1982 World Series

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Because he was the best at generating runs for a team at times desperate for offense, Matt Holliday is my choice for 2014 Cardinals Player of the Year.

matt_holliday6The United Cardinal Bloggers group annually asks members to cast ballots for a series of postseason Cardinals awards. Here are my 2014 selections:

Player of the Year: Matt Holliday

The left fielder led the 2014 Cardinals in key run-producing categories such as RBI (90) and total bases (253) and was second in runs scored (83).

Without Holliday, the Cardinals likely would not have been able to achieve 90 wins for the second consecutive season and earn a National League Central Division title. With 585 RBI and 619 runs, the Cardinals ranked below the league averages (607 RBI) and (640 runs) in those two categories. Holliday kept them competitive.

Holliday also ranked second on the Cardinals in hits (156), doubles (37), home runs (20) and walks (74).

His .370 on-base percentage ranked well above the team average of .327 for non-pitchers.

Pitcher of the Year: Adam Wainwright

The right-hander was the ace of the 2014 Cardinals, leading the club in wins (20), innings pitched (227.1), complete games (five) and shutouts (three).

In 2014, Wainwright had the lowest ERA (1.83) before the All-Star Game break for a Cardinals starting pitcher since Steve Carlton (1.65) in 1969.

Wainwright in 2014 became the first big-leaguer to have nine of his first 18 starts of a season be scoreless efforts of seven or more innings, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Game of the Year: Game 1 of National League Division Series

The Cardinals scored eight runs in the seventh, erasing a 6-2 deficit, and withstood a Dodgers rally in the last two innings to win, 10-9, on Oct. 3, 2014, at Los Angeles. The stunning outburst against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw set the tone for the series and gave the Cardinals momentum.

Left-handed batters hit .193 versus Kershaw in the regular season. Cardinals left-handed batters, though, pummeled Kershaw in Game 1 of the Division Series. In the seventh, Matt Adams and Jon Jay produced RBI-singles. Matt Carpenter, who had homered off Kershaw in the sixth, hit a three-run double against him in the seventh. Right-handed batter Matt Holliday capped the comeback with a three-run home run off reliever Pedro Baez. Boxscore

Surprising Player of the Year: Pat Neshek

Signed by the Cardinals at the start of spring training, Neshek initially was considered a longshot to make the team. Instead, he developed into a consistently reliable reliever. Neshek, 34, produced six saves for the 2014 Cardinals after having none in seven previous big-league seasons. The right-hander was 7-2 with a 1.87 ERA in 71 games. Right-handed batters hit .176 against him.

Disappointing Player of the Year: Peter Bourjos

After being acquired from the Angels, Bourjos was expected to ignite the Cardinals’ offense with his speed and provide consistent play in center field. Instead, he struggled to hit. Bourjos had more strikeouts (78) than hits (61) for the 2014 Cardinals. The right-handed batter hit .194 against left-handed pitching.

Cardinals Rookie of the Year: Kolten Wong

The second baseman recovered from a deep slump in June and finished the season with 12 home runs and 20 stolen bases.

Wong is the fourth Cardinals rookie to reach double figures in home runs and stolen bases in a season, joining Wally Moon (1954), Ken Boyer (1955) and J.D. Drew (1999).

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

Acquistion of the Year: Jhonny Peralta

The shortstop provided steady defense and power. Signed as a free agent after an American League career with the Indians and Tigers, Peralta led the 2014 Cardinals in home runs (21) and doubles (38). He ranked second on the club in RBI (75), total bases (248) and slugging percentage (.443).

Most Anticipated Cardinal: Stephen Piscotty

Poised, smart and consistent, the right fielder hit .288 with 32 doubles and 144 hits in 136 games for Class AAA Memphis in 2014. Piscotty committed just three errors in 113 games in right field.

Cardinals Moment of the Year: Matt Adams in Game 4 of Division Series

The Dodgers led, 2-0, after six innings behind Kershaw in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Oct. 7, 2014, at St. Louis. A Dodgers win would shift the series to Los Angeles for a winner-takes-all Game 5.

Kershaw appeared dominant. He had struck out the side in the sixth and he had held the Cardinals to one hit, a Randal Grichuk single in the fourth.

Then, in the seventh, magic happened for the Cardinals. Holliday and Peralta singled. Adams, who had hit .190 against left-handers during the season, followed with a three-run home run. The big first baseman did a jubilant dance along the first-base line as Cardinals fans roared.

The stunning blast carried the Cardinals to a 3-2 victory, earned them a spot in the National League Championship Series for the fourth consecutive year and symbolized the persistence of a franchise that continues to find ways to excel. Boxscore

No blogger votes

The United Cardinal Bloggers ballot also offers opportunities to vote for several best blogger categories. I’m choosing not to vote in those categories; rather I encourage Cardinals blogging colleagues to keep writing and posting and just enjoy the experiences.

Previously: Solly Hemus, Matt Holliday: Different sizes, similar skills

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