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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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Five months after it appeared he might pitch his way out of the starting rotation, Ray Sadecki earned his 20th win and propelled the 1964 Cardinals into first place in the National League.

ray_sadecki4This post is a tribute to Sadecki, who died at age 73 on Nov. 17, 2014.

On Sept 29, 1964, Sadecki got the win, his career-best 20th of the season, in the Cardinals’ 4-2 triumph over the Phillies at St. Louis. The victory was the seventh in a row for the Cardinals and moved them into a tie for first place with the Phillies, who lost their ninth in a row after building a 6.5-game lead with 12 to play.

The Cardinals moved into sole possession of first place on Sept. 30 and went on to win the pennant five days later by a game over the Phillies and Reds.

Early troubles

Based on his subpar beginning, few could have predicted Sadecki would be such a stellar pitcher for the 1964 Cardinals.

Sadecki was 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in three April appearances for St. Louis.

Wrote The Sporting News: “Sadecki looked terrible in spring training, was beaten his first three times out during the season and was booed consistently by the normally restrained Cardinals fans.”

Sadecki recovered, earning four wins in each of the next five months, with the last being the 20th on Sept. 29.

In a matchup of left-handers, the Phillies started Dennis Bennett against Sadecki. The Cardinals led, 3-0, after two innings and knocked out Bennett, who was lifted after recording just four outs. Sadecki gave up a two-run single to pinch-hitter Gus Triandos in the fourth. Bill White hit a home run in the sixth off John Boozer, extending the St. Louis lead to 4-2.

In the seventh, the Phillies had the tying runs on first and second, with two outs, when Cardinals manager Johnny Keane replaced Sadecki with Barney Schultz, who got Richie Allen to pop out to first. Schultz pitched 2.1 hitless innings in relief of Sadecki and earned his 13th save. Boxscore

World Series winner

Sadecki became the first Cardinals left-hander since Harvey Haddix in 1953 to win 20 in a season. Sadecki was the only National League left-hander to win 20 in 1964. (Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers won 19; Bob Veale of the Pirates and Sadecki’s teammate, Curt Simmons, each won 18.) The 1964 season was the only time Sadecki won more than 14 during an 18-year major-league career.

A week after winning his 20th, Sadecki started Game 1 of the World Series on Oct. 7 against Whitey Ford and the Yankees. He gave up eight hits and five walks in six innings but earned the win in a 9-5 Cardinals victory at St. Louis. The highlight of Sadecki’s performance was when he struck out Roger Maris to end the second and struck out Mickey Mantle to open the third.

“I had a good curve and was putting it where I wanted, but I had all kinds of trouble with my fastball,” Sadecki said. Boxscore

Previously: How the 1964 Cardinals broke the heart of Gus Triandos

Previously: 1964 Cardinals were menace to Dennis Bennett

Previously: Battle of wills: Bob Gibson, Gene Maych play hardball

Previously: Five-game sweep of Pirates positioned Cardinals for pennant

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At 19, Ray Sadecki replaced Bob Gibson on the 1960 Cardinals staff. As if that wasn’t enough pressure, Sadecki also was given a spot in the starting rotation.

ray_sadecki3Initially, it appeared the Cardinals had made a mistake. Sadecki was 0-2 with a 7.50 ERA after his first five starts for the Cardinals.

So, what happened in his sixth start on June 15, 1960, at Cincinnati couldn’t have been predicted.

Sadecki pitched a three-hit shutout, earning his first big-league win in the Cardinals’ 6-0 victory over the Reds. It was the first shutout by a Cardinals pitcher in 1960.

All three Reds hits _ by Billy Martin, Gus Bell and Frank Robinson _ were doubles.

Sadecki walked eight and struck out nine. The Reds stranded 11 base runners. The eight walks were one shy of Vinegar Bend Mizell’s National League record for a nine-inning shutout win.

“I don’t know whether the pitching is that good, or our batters are that bad,” Reds general manager Gabe Paul said to The Sporting News.

This post is a tribute to Sadecki, who died Nov. 17, 2014, at age 73. Sadecki had a 68-64 record in eight seasons (1960-66 and 1975) with the Cardinals. He was 20-11 for the 1964 Cardinals and won Game 1 of the World Series that year versus Whitey Ford and the Yankees.

Bonus baby

Signed by Cardinals scout Runt Marr for $50,000 after graduating from high school in Kansas City, Kan., at age 17 in 1958, Sadecki opened the 1960 season at Class AAA Rochester. He was 2-1 with a 1.76 ERA in six games for Rochester when the Cardinals promoted him in May. Sadecki replaced Gibson, who was sent to Rochester after posting a 9.72 ERA in five appearances for the Cardinals.

Sadecki failed to go beyond six innings in any of his first five starts for St. Louis.

Still, manager Solly Hemus stuck with the teenager as part of a rebuilt rotation that also included Larry Jackson, Ernie Broglio and Curt Simmons.

Change and speed

Against the Reds on June 15 at Crosley Field, Sadecki displayed “a brilliant changeup to go with a hopping fastball,” The Sporting News reported.

The Reds had a runner on base in every inning except the seventh and ninth, but Sadecki consistently worked out of trouble. In the fourth, the Reds had the bases loaded and two outs when Sadecki got Martin on a fly out to left, ending Cincinnati’s biggest threat.

Sadecki got support from center fielder Curt Flood, who hit a pair of home runs off starter Joe Nuxhall. Flood, batting seventh, hit a three-run home run in the second and a solo shot in the fourth. It was the first time he hit two homers in a big-league game. Boxscore

Enjoying a midnight snack after his triumph, Sadecki said, “It was a big one, that first major-league victory.”

Sadecki stayed in the Cardinals’ rotation for the remainder of the 1960 season, finishing 9-9 with a 3.78 ERA in 26 starts.

Said Hemus: “Sadecki came along real good for us … His last few games were his strongest.”

Previously: Cardinals swept series in initial visit to Dodger Stadium

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A central figure in a trade unpopular with many Cardinals loyalists, Al Dark responded with a hitting display that endeared him to St. Louis fans and gained him satisfaction against his former team.

al_darkThis post is dedicated to Alvin Ralph Dark, who died on Nov. 13, 2014, at 92.

A three-time all-star shortstop with the Giants and 1948 National League Rookie of the Year with the Braves, Dark played for 14 seasons in the major leagues. He hit a combined .323 in 16 World Series games for the Braves (1948) and Giants (1951 and 1954). Dark also managed four big-league clubs, winning a pennant with the 1962 Giants and a World Series championship with the 1974 Athletics.

Daring deal

On June 14, 1956, St. Louis general manager Frank Lane upset Cardinals fans when he traded popular second baseman Red Schoendienst, a nine-time all-star, to the Giants. The key player the Cardinals received in return was Dark.

The full trade was Schoendienst, outfielder Jackie Brandt, catcher Bill Sarni and pitchers Dick Littlefield and Gordon Jones to the Giants for Dark, outfielder Whitey Lockman, catcher Ray Katt and pitcher Don Liddle.

Lane made the trade because Don Blasingame, out of position at shortstop, was better suited for second base. To open a spot for Blasingame at second, Lane decided to deal Schoendienst and acquire a shortstop in return. Lane had been trying since the previous winter to convince the Giants to deal Dark to the Cardinals.

“The Giants wanted a second baseman, the Cardinals a shortstop and everybody was pleased except the Cardinals fans, who, understandably, loved Red. He was the finest second baseman in the game,” Dark said in his book “When in Doubt, Fire the Manager.”

Said Lane to The Sporting News: “We let Schoendienst go with great reluctance, naturally, but to get a star like Dark you’ve got to give a star.”

Cardinals fans swiftly expressed their displeasure. “The switchboard at Busch Stadium lighted up like a Christmas tree and stayed that way for more than two hours June 14,” wrote The Sporting News.

Let there be light

Fortunately for Lane and the Cardinals, Dark, 34, had a torrid start to his Cardinals career, hitting .366 in his first 28 games for St. Louis.

On July 12, the Giants visited St. Louis for the first time since the trade and opened a three-game series with the Cardinals.

Dark was spectacular. He had nine hits in 11 at-bats in the three games. He drove in seven runs in the series and sparked St. Louis to a sweep.

Schoendienst, in his first Giants appearance in St. Louis, had three hits in 11 at-bats and walked twice.

Despite their continued affection for Schoendienst, Cardinals fans responded warmly to Dark’s performance, wrote St. Louis journalist Bob Broeg. “Dark, since his acquisition by the Cardinals, has played inspirationally and spectacularly,” Broeg reported.

Super series

In the first game of the Giants-Cardinals series on July 12, Dark drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly off reliever Marv Grissom in the seventh, snapping a 3-3 tie in a game the Cardinals would win, 5-3. Dark was 2-for-3 and scored a run. Boxscore

Dark drove in the winning run again in Game 2 of the series on July 13. With the score tied at 5-5 in the eighth, Dark hit a two-run double off reliever Hoyt Wilhelm, lifting the Cardinals to a 7-5 victory. Dark was 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles and three RBI. He got his four hits against four different pitchers. Boxscore

In the series finale on July 14, Dark was 3-for-3 with three RBI against starter Al Worthington in the Cardinals’ 5-2 triumph. Boxscore

Dark had seven hits in his last seven at-bats of the series.

“He’s a polished professional, a real leader who leads without being ostentatious,” Lane said of Dark.

Dark delivers

Dark hit .286 in 100 games for the 1956 Cardinals.

In 1957, his only full season with St. Louis, Dark batted .290 in 140 games, including 134 starts at shortstop. One of his best performances that season occurred on July 24 when he tripled twice _ first, off Sal Maglie, and then off Sandy Koufax _ and scored twice in a 3-0 Cardinals victory over the Dodgers. Boxscore

By 1958, Dark, 36, still could hit consistently but had lost fielding range. The Cardinals had a replacement, shortstop Eddie Kasko, on the roster. Dark hit .297 in 18 games for the 1958 Cardinals before he was traded to the Cubs on May 20 for pitcher Jim Brosnan.

Dark had 306 hits in 258 games over three seasons for the Cardinals and batted .289. He produced four hits in a game seven times for St. Louis.

Previously: Kolten Wong, Don Blasingame: Similar St. Louis 2nd sackers

Previously: Ken Boyer converted from infield to center field

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Jerry Reuss Banner

Jerry Reuss, left-handed pitcher and St. Louis native, joined his hometown Cardinals at age 20 in 1969. He was a neophyte on a team of championship-tested veterans such as Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Tim McCarver, Lou Brock and Curt Flood.

On Nov. 11, 2014, I visited the Dodgers Adult Baseball Camp at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., to seek out Reuss for an interview about his time with the Cardinals. I found him as he climbed the stands at Holman Stadium after coaching a morning game between campers.

Dressed in a home white Dodgers uniform with the familiar No. 49, Reuss, 65, quickly and graciously accepted my request for an interview, inviting me to find a seat with him in the shade in the stands. We sat near the top row along the first-base line. Reuss answered every question and was patient, thoughtful, articulate and polite.

A graduate of Ritenour High School in St. Louis, Reuss was selected by the Cardinals in the second round of the 1967 amateur draft. (Their first-round pick was catcher Ted Simmons.) Reuss debuted with the Cardinals in September 1969 and pitched for them in 1970 and 1971. He had a 22-22 record with the Cardinals before he was traded to the Astros in April 1972.

In a 22-year major-league career, primarily with the Dodgers (nine years) and Pirates (six years), Reuss was 220-191 with a 3.64 ERA. In 2014, he published a book “Bring in the Right-hander,” an anecdote-rich retrospective on his career. You can order an autographed copy at his Web site www.jerryreuss.com.

Here is Part 1 of 2 of my interview with Jerry Reuss:

jerry_reuss3Q.: Early in the 1969 season, you were a 19-year-old left-hander assigned by the Cardinals to Class AAA Tulsa. The manager there was Warren Spahn, perhaps the best left-handed pitcher all-time. What was it like for you to play for him?

Reuss: “Warren was a Hall of Fame player. We weren’t of the caliber he was. We didn’t have the experience he had. Some of the things he was doing, well, it was just new to us. And, at least for me, I had no experience whatsoever. So, whatever Warren said, I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I didn’t even know enough to ask questions.”

Q.: In your major-league debut for the Cardinals on Sept. 27, 1969, at Montreal, you started, pitched seven scoreless innings, gave up just two hits, drove in a run with a single and got the win in a 2-1 Cardinals victory. The bullpen gave up a run in the eighth. Do you recall that your first big-league hit was the game winner in your first big-league win?

Reuss: “That hit turned out to be the difference in the ballgame. It’s the dream of everybody: get to the major leagues, win a ballgame and then have something really special to talk about. It had a little bit of drama.”

Q.:  Your batterymate in your big-league debut was Tim McCarver, who had been the Cardinals’ catcher in three World Series. What was it like pitching to McCarver?

Reuss: “In that particular game, all I know is I wondered whether he could hear my knees shaking. We talk a little bit about that now when I see him. He says, ‘I remember that.’ I think he’s being nice. Here’s a guy who caught some very important World Series games for the Cardinals. If he remembers my first game, that is a hell of a memory.”

Q.: Ted Simmons was your catcher at Tulsa and then with the Cardinals. He’s known for his hitting. Does he get the credit he deserves as a catcher?

Reuss: “Probably not because of contemporaries like Johnny Bench, Steve Yeager. As far as his game-calling ability, Cardinals pitchers later on told me, ‘This guy thinks it through.’ He had a game plan for everybody who came to the plate and then made the adjustments if the hitter made adjustments. He’d go out and let the pitcher know, ‘This is what I’m seeing here. They’re changing their feet or moving this way.’

“He became a student of the game. That may have made up for his lack of ability in other areas. He wasn’t the quickest down to second base and he wasn’t always able to hold on to some pitches, particularly early in his career. But he turned into a pretty good receiver.”

Q.: What was Bob Gibson like as a teammate?

Reuss: “He was tough. He demanded excellence of himself and everybody who played behind him. His feeling was, ‘If I’m going to come out here and work this hard and give what I give _ and he was hurting at this time physically; his elbow was killing him _ then I expect everybody to play like that. I expect that same intensity from anybody else.’ And he wasn’t afraid to let people know about it.

“You respect a guy like that _ You don’t like him because nobody likes to get called on the carpet _ but when you have an earned run average of 1.12 and 28 complete games in 1968 and have what many would consider the greatest season a pitcher could ever have, it’s hard to get right up to him and say no. He knew what he was talking about.”

Q,: What did you think of your fellow left-hander on the Cardinals, Steve Carlton?

Reuss: “With St. Louis, he showed just how good he could be. I don’t know that if he had stayed with St. Louis that he’d have had those same kinds of seasons he later had with the Phillies. When he went to Philadelphia, he changed his mental outlook.

“He didn’t like to run. So there was a Phillies strength and conditioning coach, Gus Hoefling, who said, ‘You don’t have to do that. Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll give you all the conditioning that you need.’ Steve bought into it. He believed it. If you believe something, then there’s a good chance it is going to work for you.

“He believed it would work. As a result, he won 27 games in 1972. He started doing things his way and developed into a Hall of Fame pitcher.”

Next: In Part 2 of the interview, Jerry Reuss offers his views on Joe Torre and Gussie Busch.

Previously: Cardinals home opener links Michael Wacha, Jerry Reuss

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Paul Molitor is linked with Willie McGee and Darrell Porter as central figures in two of the most prominent plays in the 1982 World Series between the Brewers and Cardinals.

paul_molitorThirty-two years after he batted leadoff and played third base for the American League champion Brewers, Molitor was named manager of the Twins on Nov. 4, 2014.

Selected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004 after a 21-year big-league career as a player for the Brewers, Blue Jays and Twins, Molitor had 3,319 hits, ranking 10th all-time.

In 1982, Molitor, along with Robin Yount, Cecil Cooper and Ted Simmons, played a prominent role in the Brewers winning their lone league championship.

Molitor then had a World Series versus the 1982 Cardinals that was both sensational and strange.

Here’s a look:

Hits record

Molitor became the first player to get five hits in a World Series game. After grounding out in the first inning, Molitor had five singles in his next five at-bats in Game 1 at St. Louis.

Only one other player, the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series, has had five hits in a World Series game. Boxscore

Molitor got his five hits in Game 1 off three pitchers: Bob Forsch (singles in the second, fourth and sixth), Dave LaPoint (single in the eighth) and Jeff Lahti (single in the ninth). Boxscore

“He’s a heck of a ballplayer,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said to The Sporting News about Molitor. “But he had only one line drive. He had three infield singles and a broken-bat bloop. Nothing you can do to stop things like that.”

In the book “Where Have You Gone ’82 Brewers?,” Molitor said, “Five singles. Ozzie (Smith) dove and knocked down three of them at short and almost threw me out on two of them. It was a heck of a way to have your first World Series game unfold.”

Molitor and Yount (four hits in Game 1) were the first teammates to get four hits apiece in a World Series game since the Cardinals’ Joe Garagiola, Whitey Kurowski and Enos Slaughter each had four hits against the Red Sox in Game 4 of the 1946 World Series. Boxscore

Bashing at Busch

Molitor batted .355 (11-for-31) in the seven-game World Series in 1982.

Surprisingly, though, he hit .526 (10-for-19) in the four games at Busch Stadium in St. Louis and .083 (1-for-12) in the three games at County Stadium in Milwaukee.

After his 5-for-6 performance in Game 1, Molitor hit .240 (6-for-25) for the remainder of the World Series. When he grounded out to lead off Game 2, he missed a chance to tie Goose Goslin (1924 Senators) and Thurman Munson (1976) for the World Series record of hits in six consecutive at-bats.

Molitor was devastating when batting with runners in scoring position, hitting .714 (5-for-7) against the Cardinals.

Porter power

After the Brewers won Game 1, 10-0, at St. Louis, the Cardinals felt pressure to win Game 2 before heading to Milwaukee. In the eighth, the Cardinals scored a run, breaking a 4-4 tie.

Molitor led off the ninth against closer Bruce Sutter. In a matchup of future Hall of Famers, Molitor bunted for a single, increasing the pressure on Sutter and his catcher, Porter.

The next batter was another future Hall of Famer, Yount.

“I told Bruce to be sure to hold him (Molitor) close to the base because I figured they might either try a bunt or a steal,” Porter said to The Sporting News.

Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn called for a hit-and-run.

Said Porter: “I never thought they would try to hit and run.”

Sutter threw his signature pitch, the split-finger fastball. When thrown effectively, the ball dipped sharply into the dirt.

This time, Sutter made a mistake. The pitch stayed up, at shoulder level.

Yount, trying to hit the ball the opposite way to right field, swung and missed.

Porter fired a strike to second base and nailed Molitor on the botched hit-and-run attempt.

Sutter retired the next two batters and the Cardinals had their first World Series win since Game 4 of 1968. Boxscore

Robbed by McGee

In Game 3 at Milwaukee, Molitor led off the bottom of the first by smashing a Joaquin Andujar fastball into the teeth of a 16 mph wind in center field. McGee, the rookie center fielder, raced to the wall, 402 feet from home plate, climbed the canvas and made the catch.

Inspired, McGee went on to have one of the all-time best games in World Series lore, hitting two home runs, driving in four runs and making another leaping grab in the ninth to deprive Gorman Thomas of a two-run home run. Boxscore

Previously: George Hendrick influenced hitting style of John Mabry

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