Playing for a new manager, Vern Rapp, and with a core of young, highly regarded players, such as Keith Hernandez, Garry Templeton and John Denny, the Cardinals enjoyed a successful opening to the 1977 season.
On April 7, 1977, amid strong winds and a mix of rain and light snow, the Cardinals beat the Pirates, 12-6, at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.
That was the last of four season openers the Cardinals have played at Pittsburgh.
On April 3, 2016, the Cardinals are scheduled to start their season against the Pirates at Pittsburgh for the first time in 39 years.
The 2016 Cardinals will open the season at PNC Park as the defending National League Central Division champions. The 1977 Cardinals opened the season as a franchise looking to rebuild.
In 1976, the Cardinals finished 72-90. Red Schoendienst, who had managed the Cardinals since 1965, was fired after that 1976 debacle. He was replaced by Rapp, a St. Louis native who had played and managed in the Cardinals’ system but who never had reached the major leagues.
A disciplinarian, Rapp instructed Cardinals players during 1977 spring training to shave off their moustaches and beards and keep their hair trim.
In the opener at Pittsburgh, the Cardinals started Denny, 24, against Jerry Reuss, a St. Louis native who had began his career with his hometown team.
Along with established standouts such as left fielder Lou Brock and catcher Ted Simmons, the Cardinals’ lineup included Hernandez, 23, at first base and Garry Templeton, 21, at shortstop.
Denny and Templeton were making their first Opening Day starts in the big leagues.
Helped by three Pirates errors, the Cardinals scored four runs in the opening inning off Reuss. The Pirates’ sloppy start prompted “lusty boos from many of the 35,186 spectators,” the Associated Press reported.
The Cardinals never trailed. Denny held the Pirates to three runs in 5.2 innings and got the win. Templeton had two hits and scored three runs.
Hernandez, a left-handed batter, scored twice and had key hits against a pair of left-handed relievers. Hernandez hit a two-run double off Grant Jackson and a two-run home run (estimated at 425 feet) against Terry Forster. For Hernandez, it was his first four-RBI game in the big leagues.
Playing to win
“The thing about Vern Rapp is that he has us playing aggressive baseball, taking the extra base, playing at our maximum,” Hernandez said after the game. “We don’t have a lot of power, but we do have good hitting and exceptional speed and I think we’re going to make the most of it.”
Asked about playing without his signature moustache, Hernandez replied, “I’m here to play baseball. That’s what is important to me. I’ve got five months in the off-season to grow a moustache and long hair, but right now I want to help the Cardinals play winning baseball.” Boxscore
Behind stellars seasons by Hernandez (.291 batting average, 41 doubles, 91 RBI), Templeton (.322 batting average, 200 hits, 18 triples, 28 stolen bases), Simmons (.318 batting average, 21 home runs, 95 RBI) and pitcher Bob Forsch (20 wins), the 1977 Cardinals improved to 83-79.
Hernandez’s effective hitting against left-handers continued through the season. He batted .313 in 201 at-bats versus left-handers in 1977.
Here are the results of the other three Cardinals season openers played at Pittsburgh:
With a three-run seventh inning off starter Bob Klinger, the Cardinals erased a 2-0 Pirates lead and won, 3-2, on April 18, 1939, at Forbes Field. Joe Medwick drove in two of the St. Louis runs and Johnny Mize knocked in the other.
Bob Weiland started for St. Louis and pitched six innings for the win. Clyde Shoun produced three shutout innings of relief for the save. Boxscore
On April 17, 1951, the Pirates beat the Cardinals, 5-4, at Forbes Field behind the pitching and hitting of Murry Dickson.
Acquired by the Pirates from the Cardinals, Dickson started and got the win, though he yielded seven walks and four hits in six innings.
In the fourth, Dickson broke a 3-3 tie with a solo home run off starter Tom Poholsky. It was Dickson’s first big-league home run and one of only three he would hit in 18 years in the majors.
Left fielder Wally Westlake added a solo home run in the sixth off Poholsky.
Bill Werle pitched three shutout innings in relief of Dickson. The Cardinals stranded 10 base runners. Boxscore
The Cardinals led, 5-2, after seven innings behind starter Bob Gibson, but the Pirates rallied for five runs in the eighth and won, 7-5, on April 6, 1973, at Three Rivers Stadium.
After the Pirates loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, Schoendienst lifted Gibson and called on Diego Segui to preserve the three-run lead.
Segui struck out Bob Robertson for the second out of the inning. Then, Richie Hebner hit a two-run double, cutting the St. Louis lead to 5-4, and Gene Clines followed with a two-run triple, giving the Pirates a 6-5 lead. An error by rookie shortstop Ray Busse allowed another run to score for Pittsburgh.
Right fielder Bernie Carbo had two hits, a RBI and a run scored for St. Louis. Boxscore