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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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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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In a matchup critical to the pennant hopes of the Cardinals, Barney Schultz faced Roberto Clemente on the penultimate Sunday of the 1964 season.

barney_schultzTwo months earlier, Schultz, 38, was pitching in the minor leagues. Clemente, 30, was on his way to the 1964 National League batting title.

Who could have imagined the two would be paired in one of the best baseball dramas of the season?

Steel City success

Fifty years ago, on Sept. 27, 1964, the Cardinals faced the Pirates at Pittsburgh, looking to complete a five-game sweep.

Four days earlier, on Sept. 23, the Cardinals were five games behind the first-place Phillies and 1.5 behind the Reds.

In the book “October 1964″ (1994, Villard), author David Halberstam quotes Cardinals outfielder Bob Skinner saying to teammate Dick Groat, “OK, Dick, the only thing we have to do is sweep the Pirates in five.”

Skinner and Groat, both former Pirates, knew how unlikely it was for any club to accomplish that task at Pittsburgh.

The Cardinals then won both games of a doubleheader versus the Pirates on Sept. 24 and followed that with wins at Pittsburgh on Sept. 25 and Sept. 26.

In the series finale, on the first day of the last week of the season, the Cardinals started Roger Craig. He had lost four consecutive decisions since his last win on Aug. 12.

On this day, though, he delivered a stellar start, holding the Pirates scoreless and limiting them to six singles through 7.2 innings.

Save for Schultz

In the eighth, with the Cardinals ahead, 3-0, the Pirates had runners on first and second, two outs, when Cardinals manager Johnny Keane brought in Schultz to face Clemente, who represented the tying run.

The odds seemed stacked in favor of Clemente. The Pirates outfielder hit .361 with runners in scoring position in 1964 and .374 with runners on base. Clemente would hit .417 (5-for-12) against Schultz in his career.

This time, however, Schultz had the edge.

Clemente struck out.

Inspired, the Cardinals scored twice in the ninth and Schultz retired the Pirates in order in the bottom half of the inning, preserving a 5-0 St. Louis victory. Boxscore

In sweeping the five games at Pittsburgh, the Cardinals played nearly flawless baseball, committing one error and holding the Pirates to eight total runs.

“That was a disgrace in Pittsburgh,” Phillies scout Don Hoak, a former Pirates third baseman, said to Groat. “They just handed you five games.”

Replied Groat: “You forgot to mention the most important thing about those five games _ that we didn’t make a single mistake in all five of them.”

Pennant push

The win moved the Cardinals 1.5 games behind the first-place Reds and just a half-game behind the fading Phillies.

Arriving at the St. Louis airport after their flight from Pittsburgh, the Cardinals were greeted by an adoring crowd of at least 8,000, The Sporting News reported.

“The adrenaline was flowing,” said Cardinals outfielder Carl Warwick to Peter Golenbock in the book “Spirit of St. Louis” (2000, Avon). “All of a sudden you’re saying, ‘We’re not out of this thing.’ “

Back in St. Louis, the Cardinals won four of their last six against the Phillies and Mets, winning the pennant by a game over both the Phillies and Reds.

Previously: Why Gussie Busch fired Bing Devine in championship year

Previously: Why the Cardinals played baseball in Delaware on D-Day

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In the last 40 years, no National League game has gone more innings than the one played by the Cardinals and Mets on Sept. 11-12, 1974.

bake_mcbride2Beginning at 8:08 p.m. on Sept. 11 and ending at 3:15 a.m. on Sept, 12, the Cardinals beat the Mets, 4-3, in 25 innings at New York’s Shea Stadium. Started before a crowd of 13,460, it ended before about 1,000 spectators, including baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, his wife and their son.

The Cardinals-Mets marathon remains the longest National League night game in innings played.

In the longest major-league game by innings, the Dodgers and Braves played to a 1-1 tie in 26 innings on May 1, 1920. That National League game was played on a Saturday afternoon at Braves Field in Boston. Boxscore

Only one 25-inning game has been played in the major leagues since the Cardinals-Mets classic in 1974. In an American League game, the White Sox, managed by Tony La Russa, beat the Brewers, 7-6, in 25 innings at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. That game began on a Tuesday night, May 8, 1984, was suspended after 17 innings with the score tied at 3-3 and completed on May 9. Boxscore

With no National League curfew, the Cardinals and Mets played their 25-inning game without a stop in play.

When it ended, Cardinals outfielder Reggie Smith told his teammates, “There’s no way that your wives are going to believe you guys were out playing baseball all night.”

Reitz to the rescue

The Mets had been within an out of winning the game in nine innings.

Behind starter Jerry Koosman, the Mets took a 3-1 lead into the ninth. After Joe Torre struck out, Ted Simmons singled and was replaced by pinch-runner Larry Herndon. When Koosman unleashed a wild pitch while pitching to Bake McBride, Herndon advanced to second.

McBride struck out.

The Cardinals’ last hope was Ken Reitz. He had hit just one home run since July.

Reitz lofted a two-run home run against Koosman, tying the score at 3-3.

Cardinals reliever Claude Osteen, who had a clear view of the home run from his perch in the bullpen, held his hands less than a foot apart when he told United Press International that the ball “went out by about that much.”

Scoreless relief

For the next 15 innings, Cardinals and Mets relievers threw shutouts.

Al Hrabosky, Rich Folkers, Ray Bare, Osteen and Sonny Siebert were the Cardinals relievers who stopped the Mets in extra innings. Osteen pitched 9.1 innings _ the equivalent of a complete-game shutout.

A pair of former Cardinals, Harry Parker and Bob Miller, joined Bob Apodaca and Jerry Cram as the Mets relievers who stopped the Cardinals. Cram pitched eight innings.

They escaped several jams.

_ Torre was out at the plate trying to score on a single by McBride in the 13th.

_ In the 20th, the Cardinals had runners on first and second, no outs, until Smith was picked off at second and the threat fizzled.

_ In the 23rd, the Mets loaded the bases with two outs before Cleon Jones flied out.

_ Both teams loaded the bases with two outs in the 24th but failed to score.

Bake was cooking

Hank Webb, making his first appearance of the season for the Mets, relieved Cram in the 25th inning. The first batter he faced, McBride, got an infield single. Reitz was up next.

Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst gave the hit-and-run sign. Webb, sensing McBride might be running, made a pickoff throw, but it sailed over first baseman John Milner and rolled into foul territory in right field.

“I figured I could get to third,” McBride told the Associated Press. “Then, when I turned second, I said to myself, ‘I’m going all the way.’ “

McBride raced around third without looking toward coach Vern Benson. “He was going too fast to see any sign anyway,” Benson said.

Milner, who had retrieved the ball, fired a throw to catcher Ron Hodges. McBride and the ball arrived at the plate about the same time. Hodges caught the ball, then dropped it before he could attempt a tag.

“I don’t think he would have had me, even if he had held the ball,” McBride said. “He was out in front of the plate and I was past him.”

The run gave the Cardinals a 4-3 lead, but the Mets still had their turn to bat.

Happy ending

Siebert retired the first two batters, Ken Boswell and Felix Millan, on fly outs.

Brock Pemberton, appearing in his second big-league game, pinch-hit for Webb. He singled, prolonging the drama with his first big-league hit. When the ball was removed from the game so that Pemberton would have a keepsake, Mets pitcher Tom Seaver yelled from the dugout, “Don’t give it to him. It’s the last ball we’ve got left.” (Fifteen dozen balls were used in the game, The Sporting News reported.)

Milner, the Mets’ top home run hitter, batted next.

Siebert struck him out, ending the game at 7 hours, 4 minutes. Boxscore

Dizzying stats

The Cardinals used 26 players and the Mets, 24. The Cardinals stranded 20 base runners and the Mets, 25.

Nine players played the entire game. They were McBride, Reitz, Smith, Torre and Ted Sizemore for the Cardinals; Millan, Milner, Wayne Garrett and Dave Schneck for the Mets.

McBride, Reitz and Millan each had four hits in 10 at-bats. Garrett was 0-for-10 with four strikeouts. Lou Brock, the Cardinals’ future Hall of Famer, was 1-for-9 and was caught stealing in his lone attempt.

The home plate umpire, Ed Sudol, also had worked the plate in a 23-inning game between the Mets and Giants in 1964 and a 24-inning game between the Mets and Astros in 1968.

Asked to sum up the long night, Mets pitcher Tug McGraw said, “The only thing I regret now is that all the eating places are closed. I’ll have to go home and make myself a baloney sandwich.”

Previously: Reggie Smith and the Cardinals’ after-hours club

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