Archive for the ‘Pitchers’ Category

In one of their worst deals, the Cardinals paid $75,000 and gave up a trio of players for a pitcher who netted them two outs.

memo_lunaIgnoring the Cardinals’ directive to stop pitching during the winter, left-hander Memo Luna, the ERA leader of the Pacific Coast League in 1953, injured his arm, appeared in one game for St. Louis, failed to complete an inning and never played in the big leagues again.

Sixty years ago, on April 20, 1954, Guillermo Romero “Memo” Luna made his big-league debut as the Cardinals’ starter against the Reds at St. Louis. In the first inning, Luna yielded two runs on two doubles, two walks and a sacrifice fly. He was lifted with two outs and dispatched to the Cardinals’ Class AAA Rochester club. Boxscore

Though he continued to pitch in the minor leagues until 1961, Memo Luna never returned to the majors.

His big-league career totals: 0-1 record, 27.00 ERA, 0.2 innings, 2 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 6 batters faced.

Super southpaw

Seven months earlier, on Sept. 23, 1953, the Cardinals acquired Luna from San Diego for $75,000 and players to be named. They eventually sent pitchers Cliff Chambers and John Romonosky and outfielder Harry Elliott to San Diego, completing the deal.

At the time, Luna, 23, seemed worth the price. He had a 17-12 record and a league-best 2.67 ERA with 16 complete games for San Diego in 1953. Jack Bliss, a catcher for the 1908-1912 Cardinals, had watched Luna at San Diego and told Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky, “He’s got exceptional control and a good curve.”

Cardinals scouts also checked him out and were impressed by Luna’s knuckleball and slider.

That fall, Luna pitched in the Cuban League for Almendares and manager Bobby Bragan. The Cardinals had granted permission with the understanding Luna would quit around Dec. 1, The Sporting News reported.

Luna posted a 4-1 record in his first five decisions for Almendares. The Sporting News wrote that Luna “has shown remarkable poise and control, plus a fine knuckler.”

After Luna lost his next two decisions as the Dec. 1 deadline loomed, the Cardinals suggested he leave the Cuban League and rest his arm before reporting to spring training in February. Luna obliged, went from Cuba to St. Louis, passed a physical examination and went home to his native Mexico.

Worn down

Instead of resting, though, Luna pitched in the Veracruz League in Mexico without the Cardinals’ knowledge. On Feb. 19, 1954, pitching for the Mexico City Reds against Aztecas, Luna struck out a batter in the third inning and grabbed his left elbow in pain.

According to The Sporting News, Luna stayed in the game until its completion, yielding five runs and nine hits, and “was throwing with only half speed after the injury.” He earned the win in an 8-5 Mexico City victory.

Luna reported to Cardinals spring training camp in Florida, complaining of a sore arm.

“We asked Luna to quit pitching Dec. 1, but we have no way of controlling what a man does back in his home country,” said Stanky.

In spring training, Luna failed to impress. He gave up three runs in two innings to the Phillies and surrendered a two-run, game-winning home run to the Reds’ Gus Bell.

Still, having paid a high price for him, the Cardinals put Luna on the Opening Day roster.

He got the start in the Cardinals’ sixth game of the season _ and never got another chance with them again.

Previously: Why Cardinals thought they had an ace in Vic Raschi

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Embarrassed by their inability to stop the Dodgers from stealing bases and convinced they needed to find a solution in order to win a pennant, the 1964 Cardinals turned to an unlikely source for help: Bob Uecker.

bob_uecker2The second-string catcher couldn’t slow Dodgers speedsters, but he did provide a defensive upgrade to a 1964 Cardinals club that won its first pennant and World Series championship in 18 years.

On April 9, 1964, the Cardinals traded outfielder Gary Kolb and catcher Jim Coker to the Braves for Uecker.

Even then, 50 years ago, at age 29, well before he became known as a broadcaster and for his comedy roles on television and in the movies, Uecker had a reputation throughout baseball as a funnyman.

Wrote The Sporting News of the deal: “Those who know him regard new Cardinals catcher Bob Uecker as a good-humor man.”

“Yes, I guess you can call me a stand-up type of comic,” Uecker said to St. Louis reporter Jack Herman.

The Cardinals, though, were serious about finding a way to overtake the Dodgers.

Armed for defense

In 1963, the Cardinals finished in second place at 93-69, six games behind the National League champion Dodgers. The Cardinals were 6-12 against the 1963 Dodgers. Stolen bases were a significant reason for that.

The Dodgers were successful on 27 of 33 stolen base attempts (82 percent) against the 1963 Cardinals.

“Our games with them have been so close that, if we have a catcher who can throw well, they might think twice about running,” Cardinals manager Johnny Keane said.

Tim McCarver became the starting catcher for the 1963 Cardinals after Gene Oliver was traded to the Braves in June that year. The primary backup was Carl Sawatski.

McCarver nailed 38 percent of runners (28 of 73) attempting to steal in 1963. Oliver threw out 32 percent (9 of 28) for St. Louis and Sawatski nabbed 30 percent (7 of 23).

When Sawatski retired after the 1963 season, the Cardinals went looking for a backup for McCarver, 22.

Uecker spent seven seasons in the Braves’ minor-league system. The Braves had groomed Joe Torre to replace veteran Del Crandall as their everyday catcher.

In stints with the 1962 and ’63 Braves, Uecker impressed with his arm. He caught 5 of 7 runners attempting to steal in 1962 and 1 of 2 in 1963.

“We got Uecker to help Timmy and make our catching solid,” Keane said. “We’re certainly not vulnerable behind the plate anymore.”

Tough test

The 1964 Cardinals didn’t have long to test their catching against the Dodgers. They opened the season at Los Angeles on April 14. With left-hander Sandy Koufax starting for the Dodgers, Keane put Uecker, a right-handed batter, in the Opening Day lineup rather than McCarver, a left-handed batter. (Uecker, the prankster, posed in a left-handed batting stance for his 1965 Topps baseball card that is pictured here.)

Uecker went 0-for-2 at the plate and 0-for-3 in attempting to prevent stolen bases that night. Willie Davis, Maury Wills and Jim Gilliam swiped bases against Uecker and starting pitcher Ernie Broglio.

Wrote The Sporting News: “Uecker’s arm was not at fault. The Dodgers speedsters just got too much of a jump on Ernie Broglio and the catcher’s strong throws were a little too late.” Boxscore

The 1964 Cardinals were unsuccessful in preventing the Dodgers from stealing bases. The Dodgers had 11 steals in 14 attempts (78 percent) against the 1964 Cardinals.

Overall, Uecker threw out 38 percent (8 of 21) of all attempted base stealers in 1964. He was 0-for-5 against Dodgers attempting to steal; 8-for-16 (50 percent) against the rest of the National League. He hit just .198 (21 hits, 1 home run, 6 RBI), but his defense and his clubhouse popularity enabled him to stick with the Cardinals throughout the season.

The Phillies and Reds, not the Dodgers, turned out to be the Cardinals’ main competition for the crown. Each finished a game behind St. Louis. The Dodgers were 80-82, in sixth place, 13 games behind the Cardinals.

Previously: How Bob Uecker helped the Cardinals win 1964 title

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Facing the defending World Series champion Pirates, Cardinals starter Pete Vuckovich knew he couldn’t look scared.

pete_vukovichFortunately, he didn’t pitch scared either.

In a high-wire performance that left him emotionally drained, Vuckovich pitched a complete-game three-hitter in the Cardinals’ 1-0 season-opening victory over the Pirates on April 10, 1980, at St. Louis.

It was the first of only two times that the Cardinals won a season opener by a score of 1-0. The second occurred March 31, 2014, against the Reds at Cincinnati.

In the 2014 game, the Cardinals escaped an eighth-inning jam in which the Reds had runners on first and third with none out. Boxscore

In the 1980 game, Vuckovich performed a Houdini act by striking out the side with runners on second and third in the ninth.

Strikeout pitch

Using a variety of off-speed pitches called by catcher Ted Simmons, Vuckovich retired 14 Pirates in a row between the first and sixth innings.

The Cardinals scored off Bert Blyleven in the second. Bobby Bonds, in his Cardinals debut after being acquired from the Indians, walked and scored on a George Hendrick double.

Vuckovich held the Pirates to two hits through eight innings. In the ninth, it began to unravel.

Pinch-hitter Lee Lacy led off with a single, Omar Moreno walked and a wild pitch enabled the runners to advance to second and third with none out.

“We couldn’t ask to be in a better situation,” Pirates manager Chuck Tanner told United Press International.

Tim Foli was the batter. In 1979, Foli had been the toughest National League batter to strike out, fanning 14 times in 532 at-bats.

Vuckovich struck him out.

Next, Dave Parker. Nicknamed “The Cobra” for his ability to uncoil quickly and lash line drives, Parker would produce a .421 batting average (8-for-19) in his career against Vuckovich.

Vuckovich struck him out.

Willie Stargell followed. First base was open. John Milner was on deck. Stargell had hit 32 homers in 1979 when he was co-winner with the Cardinals’ Keith Hernandez of the National League Most Valuable Player Award. He would be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame because of his power and run production.

Vuckovich opted to pitch to him.

“You can’t do anything but respect these guys,” Vuckovich said to United Press International. “There’s no room for getting scared or nervous because they can sense that, too. If they get that feeling, they can get you.”

Vuckovich struck out Stargell, setting off a celebration among the 42,867 spectators at Busch Stadium II. Boxscore

Praise from Stan

“I was lucky,” Vuckovich said. “It could just as easily have gone the other way.”

Vuckovich delivered 111 pitches, striking out nine and walking two.

“Today was an emotional drain,” Vuckovich said to the Associated Press.

The performance earned Vuckovich the admiration of everyone who witnessed it.

“Amazing,” Stan Musial, the Cardinals’ all-time greatest player, said to The Sporting News. “He throws the best right-handed breaking pitches I ever saw.”

Claude Osteen, Cardinals pitching coach, told the Associated Press, “The thing about him is he’s got great motion on the off-speed pitches. You just don’t know what to look for. I don’t think there’s anybody that has that many pitches under control.”

Summed up Stargell: “The guy wants to be a good pitcher and he is.”

Vuckovich finished 12-9 with three shutouts and a 3.40 ERA for the 1980 Cardinals.

After the season, he, Simmons and reliever Rollie Fingers were traded to the Brewers. Vuckovich led the American League in winning percentage in each of his first two years with Milwaukee and won the 1982 Cy Young Award.

Previously: Bert Blyleven: Mighty matchups versus Cardinals

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Pat Neshek might be the most interesting newcomer on the 2014 Opening Day Cardinals roster.

pat_neshekSigned as a free agent in February 2014 and invited to spring training, Neshek, 33, appeared to be a longshot to earn a spot on a staff loaded with strong, young arms. The right-hander with the mesmerizing sidearm delivery beat the odds by performing well in exhibition games (11 strikeouts in 8.1 innings and a 3.24 ERA) and joining left-handed counterpart Randy Choate in providing a veteran presence.

Though 2014 represents Neshek’s eighth big-league season, his Cardinals connections are few and he may be a relatively unfamiliar figure to many St. Louis fans.

Here are 10 things you should know about Cardinals reliever Pat Neshek:

1. Sidearm story

Neshek threw from over the top throughout his prep career at Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park, Minn.

In his final high school game, he was hit in the right wrist by a pitch. The pain caused Neshek to alter his throwing style.

“I spent that whole summer (1999) playing only shortstop and throwing from the side,” Neshek said to Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2006. “When I got to Butler University, I was pitching sidearm and the coach (Steve Farley) said, ‘What’s this?’ We tried to get my delivery back on top. The wrist hurt too much.

“After a month, the coach said, ‘You have good movement on your pitches from down there and not many pitchers throw like that. You might as well stick with it.”

2. Brooklyn Park pride

Neshek was born in Madison, Wis., but spent most of his youth in Brooklyn Park.

A leafy northwest suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Brooklyn Park also was the home of humorist and author Garrison Keillor.

The mayor of Brooklyn Park from 1991-95 was Jesse Ventura, the professional wrestler and actor who served as Minnesota governor from 1999-2003.

3. Butler Bulldogs

Neshek is the last Butler University player to be selected in the major-league amateur draft and the only one drafted from the Indianapolis school to reach the big leagues.

4. Sixth-round ties

Neshek signed with the Twins in June 2002 after he was chosen by them in the sixth round of that year’s June amateur draft.

Also taken in the sixth round that year were three other future Cardinals: left-handed pitcher Troy Cate by the Mariners, infielder Brian Barden by the Diamondbacks and left-handed pitcher Barret Browning by the Red Sox.

(The Cardinals’ selection in that round, third baseman Cody Haerther, never reached the big leagues.)

5. Linked with Lohse

In his major-league debut on July 7, 2006, at Arlington, Texas, Neshek relieved another future Cardinals pitcher, Kyle Lohse. Boxscore

Neshek had been promoted to the Twins as a replacement for pitcher Boof Bonser. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had wanted to promote Neshek from Rochester a month earlier, but general manager Terry Ryan overruled, calling up Lohse instead.

6. Cardinals crusher

Neshek was the winning pitcher for the Padres against the Cardinals in the 2011 season opener at St. Louis.

In his National League debut, Neshek pitched a scoreless 10th, even though he walked two. After he walked Colby Rasmus, Neshek got Albert Pujols to ground into a double play. He walked Matt Holliday before inducing Allen Craig to fly out to right.

When the Padres scored twice in the 11th and won, 5-3, Neshek had his first major-league win since 2007. It would be his only win in his lone National League season. Boxscore

7. Solved by Adams

Neshek faced the Cardinals most recently on June 29, 2013, while with the Athletics.

After retiring the Cardinals in order in the seventh _ Yadier Molina flied out and Craig and Carlos Beltran struck out _ Neshek got Holliday to ground out to start the eighth. Then Matt Adams hit a home run, his second of the game. Boxscore

Neshek yielded six home runs in 40.1 innings in 2013. Four were to left-handed batters. (Pujols and Rasmus hit two of the six.)

Right-handed batters have hit .181 versus Neshek in the big leagues. Left-handed batters have a .237 average against him.

8. No saves

Neshek has pitched in 226 big-league games, all in relief, and has no saves, even though he finished 64 games.

In nine seasons in the minor leagues, Neshek earned 97 saves.

9. No hits

Neshek is listed as a switch hitter. But he never has had a plate appearance or an at-bat in seven seasons in the big leagues.

10. No errors

Neshek never has committed an error in the big leagues. He has handled 27 chances flawlessly over 214.1 innings played.

Base runners have been successful on 12 of 18 stolen base attempts against him in his major-league career. That’s a caught-stealing rate of 33 percent.

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(Updated March 31, 2014)

Adam Wainwright has made 16 career starts against the Reds. Johnny Cueto has started 16 games versus the Cardinals. Only twice, though, have Wainwright and Cueto been matched as starting pitchers in the same game.

johnny_cuetoOn Opening Day, March 31, 2014, at Cincinnati, Wainwright and Cueto faced one another as starters for the second time in their careers.

Cueto pitched well. Wainwright was better.

Wainwright struck out nine in seven scoreless innings and earned the win in a 1-0 Cardinals victory. Cueto struck out eight in seven innings, but yielded a home run to Yadier Molina. Boxscore

Wainwright is 6-9 against the Reds. Cueto is 4-5 against the Cardinals. In nine decisions at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark, Wainwright is 5-4.

When they faced one another as starters on April 7, 2010, each pitched well that time, too. Wainwright got the win and Cueto a no-decision in a 6-3 Cardinals victory at Cincinnati in the second game of the season.

Wainwright pitched seven innings and gave up three hits, walking two and striking out six. Orlando Cabrera followed a walk to Drew Stubbs with a two-run home run off a 2-and-2 Wainwright fastball in the sixth. “The walk is really what killed me in that inning,” Wainwright told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis-Post Dispatch.

Cueto pitched six innings and gave up five hits, walking three and striking out three. He yielded a RBI-single to David Freese in the second and a RBI-single to Ryan Ludwick in the third.

The score was tied at 2-2 when Cueto was lifted after throwing 109 pitches. The Cardinals scored four in the seventh against Reds relievers Danny Herrera, Logan Ondrusek and Arthur Rhodes. The biggest hit was a two-run double by Matt Holliday off Ondrusek.

“Adam pitched so well … that as an offense you like to respond,” Holliday said. “If you’ve got a pitcher like that, you’ve got to give him a lead.”

Said Wainwright: “That’s my goal _ to outlast the other starter.” Boxscore

Jon Jay is the 2014 Cardinal with the best career batting average versus Cueto. Jay has hit .476 (10-for-21 with three home runs) against the Reds right-hander. Jay has more career home runs against Cueto than he does versus any other pitcher.

Wainwright has been a mystery to one of the Reds’ top hitters, Joey Votto. The left-handed batter, who has a career batting average of well above .300 versus right-handers, is hitting .133 (4-for-30) against Wainwright.

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(Updated April 7, 2014)

Michael Wacha became the youngest St. Louis pitcher to start a Cardinals home opener since Jerry Reuss more than 40 years ago.

jerry_reussWacha, 22, made his second start of 2014 against the Reds on April 7 at St. Louis. He got the win in the Cardinals’ 5-3 victory and became the youngest starting pitcher in a Cardinals home opener since Reuss, 21, faced the Giants on April 10, 1971, at St. Louis.

Reuss, a St. Louis native, got derailed that Saturday afternoon by a baseball legend nearly twice his age.

Willie Mays, less than a month shy of his 40th birthday, hit a two-run home run off Reuss, sparking the Giants to a 6-4 victory. It was Mays’ fourth home run in as many games and boosted his career total to 632, 82 behind the all-time leader at that time, Babe Ruth.

Reuss, a left-hander, had debuted with the Cardinals in September 1969. He made 20 starts for St. Louis in 1970, producing a 7-8 record, two shutouts, five complete games and a 4.10 ERA. At 6 feet 5 and 200 pounds, Reuss was built similar to Wacha.

After the 1971 Cardinals opened at Chicago by splitting a pair of games against the Cubs _ Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton were the St. Louis starters _ they played their home opener on the day before Easter in front of 26,841 at Busch Stadium II. Reuss was paired against Frank Reberger, 26, a right-hander who had started his big-league career as a reliever.

The first time through the Giants batting order went well for Reuss. He struck out Mays looking to end the first inning. He struck out Willie McCovey to begin the second.

In the third, scoreless, Chris Speier walked with two outs, bringing up Mays. Reuss got ahead on the count, 0-and-2. His third pitch was a fastball. Mays turned on it and sent the ball soaring into the left field bleachers.

“I’m just happy to play,” Mays said to Pat Frizzell of the Oakland Tribune. “Not many guys my age can go out there every day. I hit the pitch hard.”

In the fourth, Ken Henderson singled and Dick Dietz belted a two-run home run, increasing the San Francisco lead to 4-0.

“It was a real fastball,” Dietz said of the pitch he hammered off Reuss. “He supplied the power.”

After the next batter, Al Gallagher, singled, manager Red Schoendienst lifted Reuss for right-hander Chuck Taylor.

Reuss’ line: 3 innings, 5 hits, 4 runs, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts. Boxscore

The Giants went on to win the National League West championship that season. The Cardinals finished as runner-up to the Pirates in the East. Reuss made 35 starts for the 1971 Cardinals. He was 14-14 with seven complete games, two shutouts and a 4.78 ERA. He issued a team-high 109 walks in 211 innings. By comparison, the team-high for walks on the 2013 Cardinals staff was 76 in 201.2 innings by Lance Lynn.

In April 1972, two months after the Cardinals traded Carlton to the Phillies, Reuss was dealt to the Astros for pitchers Scipio Spinks and Lance Clemons.

Bing Devine, Cardinals general manager, said team owner Gussie Busch ordered the trade.

In the book “The Spirit of St. Louis” (2000, Avon), Devine told author Peter Golenbock, “This was a deal I had to make because Mr. Busch said, ‘Jerry Reuss is growing facial hair,’ and he didn’t like facial hair on ballplayers, or executives either.”

In an April 1971 edition of The Sporting News, Neal Russo reported, “Schoendienst had criticized Reuss for growing a mustache, but said that had no bearing on his trade.”

Reuss had been offered a $3,000 raise to $20,000, but hadn’t signed. He asked for $25,000, The Sporting News reported. That may have been the most significant factor in why he was traded.

“Reuss didn’t appear to be happy with us, couldn’t come to terms and we were still far apart,” Devine told The Sporting News.

Said Reuss: “Not being signed was the whole thing. I think Mr. Busch is putting his principle ahead of the whole ballclub.”

In a 22-year major-league career, primarily with the Dodgers and Pirates, Reuss compiled a record of 220-191. He was 14-18 versus the Cardinals.


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