Archive for the ‘Pitchers’ Category

For one night, at least, amid the excitement of a pennant chase, John Curtis showed the Cardinals a flash of the high-caliber talent they had expected when they acquired him as the key player in a trade with the Red Sox.

john_curtisForty years ago, on Aug. 29, 1974, Curtis delivered the best performance of his Cardinals career, pitching a one-hitter in St. Louis’ 3-1 victory over the Padres at San Diego.

The win moved the Cardinals within a half-game of the first-place Pirates in the National League East with a month remaining and raised hopes St. Louis would earn its first postseason berth in six years.

Seeking a southpaw

Curtis, 26, a left-hander, was projected to join Bob Gibson in anchoring the Cardinals’ rotation in 1974. He had earned 13 wins with the 1973 Red Sox. That impressed the Cardinals, whose 1973 rotation consisted of right-handers Gibson, Rick Wise, Reggie Cleveland, Alan Foster and Tom Murphy.

Figuring they needed a left-handed starter to compete in a division whose most recent champions possessed premium left-handed hitters _ Pirates (Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Al Oliver) and Mets (Rusty Staub and John Milner) _ the Cardinals pursued Curtis.

In December 1973, St. Louis acquired Curtis and right-handers Lynn McGlothen and Mike Garman from the Red Sox for right-handers Reggie Cleveland and Diego Segui and infielder Terry Hughes.

“We needed a left-hander badly,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said to the Associated Press. “I think we’ve got him now.”

Said St. Louis general manager Bing Devine: “A left-hander was of prime importance.”

The Cardinals entered 1974 with a rotation of Gibson, Curtis, Foster, McGlothen and Sonny Siebert. Curtis was the lone left-hander.

He got off to a terrible start, losing five of his first seven decisions as his ERA swelled to 5.83.

Still, Schoendienst kept Curtis in the rotation.

Almost perfect

On Aug. 29, a Thursday night, before 6,042 spectators, Curtis got the start against the hapless Padres, who had the worst record in the National League and would finish with 102 losses.

The Padres did have a couple of sluggers who batted right-handed _ Nate Colbert and Dave Winfield, who was in his second season of what would become a Hall of Fame career.

Curtis retired the first 21 batters in a row. Seven perfect innings. Ted Simmons, catching Curtis, hit a home run in the seventh, breaking a scoreless tie.

Winfield led off the Padres eighth. Two months earlier, Winfield had hit a home run off Curtis for the lone run in a 1-0 Padres victory. Boxscore

Now, Curtis was recalling that blast as he faced Winfield while trying to protect a one-run lead and the perfect game.

Winfield watched the first three pitches sail out of the strike zone.

“He’s a pretty free swinger,” Curtis said. “Maybe I was a little too careful.”

Winfield walked. “But that didn’t concern me too much,” Curtis said.

Cito Gaston bunted, moving Winfield to second. Derrel Thomas walked and Dave Hilton flied out to right, advancing Winfield to third.

Fred Kendall was up next. Batting eighth in the order, he had a .237 average and hadn’t gotten a hit in a week.

Kendall singled to left, breaking up the no-hitter and scoring Winfield with the tying run.

Win first

“When Kendall got his hit, I wasn’t too let down,” Curtis said. “It was a sort of purpose pitch inside. I was trying to make him swing at a bad pitch.”

Curtis’ work wasn’t done. With Thomas on second and Kendall on first, left-handed slugger Willie McCovey was sent to pinch-hit for pitcher Randy Jones. McCovey, 36, a future Hall of Famer, would hit 22 home runs that season.

This time, he flied out to center.

In the ninth, Padres reliever Larry Hardy retired the first two batters. Then, the Cardinals got four consecutive singles from Bake McBride, Ken Reitz, Jim Dwyer and Mike Tyson _ the latter two driving in a run apiece.

With a 3-1 lead, Curtis set down the Padres in order, clinching the win and a one-hitter. Boxscore

“I had a ballgame to win, not a no-hitter to pitch,” Curtis said. “The way the season has been going for me, you can’t be too selective of your victories. It’s quite a thrill for me. And it comes late in a year when we’re battling for something. That’s an added thrill.”

The Cardinals would finish in second place, 1.5 games behind the Pirates. Curtis was 10-14 in his first year with the Cardinals and led the club in losses. He posted records of 8-9 in 1975 and 6-11 in 1976 before the Cardinals traded him to the Giants.

In 109 games, including 62 starts, Curtis was 24-34 with a 3.88 ERA for the Cardinals.

Previously: Randy Jones held Cardinals to a single in 10 innings

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Dennis Eckersley and Jason Isringhausen, the closers who contributed the most to helping Tony La Russa earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, also played prominent roles in his first win as Cardinals manager.

dennis_eckersley2On April 3, 1996, in La Russa’s second game as St. Louis manager, the Cardinals beat the Mets, 5-3, in New York. Eckersley earned a tension-filled four-out save; Isringhausen was the opposing starter, facing the Cardinals for the first time in his career.

The win was the first of a franchise-record 1,408 for La Russa in 16 years as Cardinals manager.

After successful stints managing the White Sox and Athletics, La Russa would secure his Hall of Fame status with his Cardinals career. He joined another Hall of Famer, Billy Southworth, as the only managers to win two World Series titles with the Cardinals. On July 27, 2014, La Russa and another former Cardinals manager, Joe Torre, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y.

Converted starters

At Oakland, La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan converted a reluctant Eckersley from a starter into a closer. The move transformed Eckersley into a Hall of Fame pitcher. He earned 386 of his 390 saves with La Russa as manager _ 320 in nine years with the Athletics and 66 in two years with the Cardinals.

Isringhausen, who also successfully converted from starter to closer, joined the Cardinals in 2002. Pitching for La Russa and Duncan, Isringhausen compiled a franchise-record 217 saves in seven seasons with the Cardinals and finished his big-league career with 300 saves.

After La Russa left the Athletics to become manager of the 1996 Cardinals, Eckersley was acquired in a trade for pitcher Steve Montgomery and, at 41, became the St. Louis closer.

On April 1, 1996, in La Russa’s debut as Cardinals manager, the Mets overcame a four-run deficit and won, 7-6. Eckersley didn’t appear in that game. Boxscore

Seeking a win

Isringhausen, 23, got the start for the Mets in the season’s second game. He had posted a 9-2 record as a Mets rookie in 1995. A native of Brighton, Ill., near St. Louis, Isringhausen acknowledged that facing the Cardinals was special. “I had more butterflies (than usual),” Isringhausen said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Isringhausen pitched six innings, yielding three runs to the Cardinals. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter, with the Cardinals leading, 3-0. Then, Bernard Gilkey, a former Cardinal, clubbed a three-run home run off starter Todd Stottlemyre in the bottom of the sixth, tying the score at 3-3.

The Cardinals scored a run in the seventh off Robert Person and another run in the eighth against Jerry DiPoto, taking a 5-3 lead. In the bottom of the eighth, the Mets had runners on first and second with two outs when La Russa replaced Stottlemyre with Eckersley.

“No matter how much experience you have, you’re a little uptight when you come into the game,” Eckersley later said to the Post-Dispatch. “I felt very uncomfortable, like I’d never been in a game before.”

Solid swing

The first batter Eckersley faced in his Cardinals debut was Butch Huskey, the Mets’ cleanup batter.

With the count 1-and-2, Eckersley threw a fastball. Huskey swung and launched a drive toward center field. He knew he had made solid contact. “I thought it had a chance to go (over the wall),” Huskey said to the New York Daily News.

Center fielder Ray Lankford raced toward the wall while tracking the path of the ball. “I thought I could tell by the look on (Lankford’s) face that he was going to catch it,” Eckersley said.

The ball carried farther than Eckersley thought. As Lankford neared the 396-foot sign, he leaped, extended his glove and caught the ball, ending the inning and preserving the lead.

“Most definitely, I was robbed,” Huskey told the Post-Dispatch. “The ball jumped off my bat. I thought it was going out.”

In the bottom of the ninth, with the Cardinals still ahead by two, Eckersley retired the first two batters. Then, Jose Vizcaino and Kevin Roberson each singled. Edgardo Alfonzo was up next, representing the potential go-ahead run.

Eckersley struck him out. earning his first National League save and preserving La Russa’s first National League win.

“In this league, it’s hard to get a hit or a save or a win,” La Russa said. “I don’t think there are any ugly ones.” Boxscore

Previously: Cardinals, Hall of Fame link Tony La Russa, Joe Torre

Previously: 2006 was critical to Tony La Russa earning Hall status

Previously: How Sparky Anderson, Tony La Russa differed on cap choice

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Insisting the crime didn’t fit the punishment, Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar threatened to return home to the Dominican Republic rather than pay a $200 fine for an altercation with Giants counterpart Mike Krukow.

joaquin_andujar6Andujar didn’t leave the Cardinals _ instead, he completed a satisfying season in which he led the National League in wins (20) and innings pitched (261.1) _ but the incident and his reaction to it contributed to the legend of the talented, emotional St. Louis starter.

Thirty years ago, on July 17, 1984, the Giants and Cardinals played at St. Louis. In the first inning, Giants batter Manny Trillo was hit by a pitch from Andujar. (The Cardinals right-hander led the National League in most batters hit by pitches in both 1984 and 1985.)

Two innings later, when Andujar batted for the first time in the game, Krukow threw two pitches that brushed back the Cardinals pitcher. After the second delivery, Krukow charged toward Andujar, according to The Sporting News.

Both benches emptied but there was no serious fighting and neither pitcher was ejected.

No surrender

Krukow told The Sporting News that his teammates expected him to answer Andujar’s plunking of Trillo.

“I have to dress next to these guys,” Krukow said. “I couldn’t look them in the eye if I didn’t protect them.”

Said Andujar: “He charged me. What am I supposed to do, run?”

Krukow struck out Andujar and the game remained scoreless through three.

In the fourth, the Giants reached Andujar for three singles, a double and a walk. They swiped two bases in the inning. Andujar uncorked a wild pitch. The Giants scored four times in the fourth and went on to a 7-2 victory. Boxscore

The National League fined Andujar $200 for his role in the incident. Incredulous, Andujar told The Sporting News, “I’m not going to pay that. They’re going to suspend me if I don’t pay. I should go to the Dominican Republic right now. I have enough money. I could live on that. This is lousy.”

Die a Cardinal

Four days before the Andujar-Krukow fracas, Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith suffered a right wrist fracture when hit by a pitch from the Padres’ Ed Whitson. Boxscore

Said Andujar: “Ozzie Smith gets a broken wrist and they don’t throw that pitcher out or fine him. If I broke somebody’s wrist, I’d be suspended for a year.”

A month later, amid speculation he would ask to be traded when his contract expired after the 1984 season, Andujar attempted to squelch such talk. “I like (manager) Whitey Herzog,” Andujar said to The Sporting News. “I want to be here. I don’t want to get traded. I want to die here. I want St. Louis fans to know that. Maybe they will feel better if they know you want to die here.”

Andujar accepted a three-year, $4.5 million deal from the Cardinals after the season. In his book “White Rat: A Life in Baseball” (1987, Harper & Row), Herzog wrote of Andujar in 1984, “If it hadn’t been for Andujar and (Bruce) Sutter, we might have finished in last place … Joaquin was just superb.”

Andujar posted 21 wins for the 1985 Cardinals and helped them win the pennant. But he imploded during Game 7 of the World Series, confronting umpire Don Denkinger, and was traded to the Athletics soon thereafter.

Previously: How Joaquin Andujar made like Babe Ruth for Cardinals

Previously: Joaquin Andujar skipped All-Star Game to barbecue quail

Previously: Given 3 runs, Joaquin Andujar was money in the bank

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For Bob Gibson, a win was more important than a record.

bob_gibson17Forty years ago, Gibson became the first National League pitcher to achieve 3,000 career strikeouts. On July 17, 1974, the Cardinals right-hander struck out the Reds’ Cesar Geronimo to become the second big-league pitcher to strike out 3,000 batters.

Walter Johnson of the Senators struck out 3,509 from 1907-1927.

Gibson, 38, achieved his milestone by getting Geronimo to strike out on a high fastball to end the second inning. The crowd of 28,743 at Busch Stadium II in St. Louis gave Gibson a lengthy standing ovation. As he neared the Cardinals dugout, he doffed his cap to the appreciative fans.

With Tim McCarver catching on that Wednesday night, Gibson recorded three more strikeouts, including Johnny Bench and Geronimo again, before being lifted for pinch-hitter Luis Melendez in the seventh with the score tied at 4-4. The Reds won, 6-4, in 12 innings.

Pensive occasion

Afterward, reporters discovered Gibson had departed quickly and wasn’t available to talk about his achievement.

In his book “Stranger to the Game” (1994, Viking), Gibson wrote, “It wasn’t a grand occasion. I was taken out in the (seventh) for a pinch-hitter and we lost the game.”

Gibson yielded 4 runs and 10 hits, walking 2.

“I thought he was getting a little tired,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said to the Associated Press in explaining why he removed Gibson. “He was also leading off the (seventh) inning and I thought we might get a run.” Boxscore

Adding to a pensive atmosphere, despite the milestone strikeout, was the news that Dizzy Dean, 64, had died that day. The Hall of Fame pitcher had held the Cardinals’ record for career strikeouts (1,095) until Gibson surpassed the mark. Gibson finished his Cardinals career with 3,117 strikeouts and remains the franchise’s leader in that category.

Geronimo struck out nine times in 21 career at-bats versus Gibson.

Big-name victims

The players who struck out the most against Gibson:

_ Willie Stargell, 41 strikeouts

_ Donn Clendenon, 37 strikeouts

_ Ron Santo, 35 strikeouts

_ Hank Aaron, 32 strikeouts

_ Roberto Clemente, 32 strikeouts

_ Tony Taylor, 32 strikeouts

The first big-league batter Gibson struck out was Willie “Puddin’ Head” Jones of the Reds on July 30, 1959. Boxscore

Jim Pagliaroni of the Pirates was the 1,000th batter to strike out against Gibson and Clemente was the 2,000th batter to do so.

In 2014, Gibson ranks 14th on the all-time strikeout list, one ahead of Curt Schilling (3,116) and 37 behind the pitcher just ahead of him, Pedro Martinez (3,154).

Join the club

Ever since Bob Gibson joined Walter Johnson as the only pitchers to have 3,000 strikeouts, 14 others have achieved the feat. Here is the list of pitchers with 3,000 strikeouts:

_ Nolan Ryan, 5,714

_ Randy Johnson, 4,875

_ Roger Clemens, 4,672

_ Steve Carlton, 4,136

_ Bert Blyleven, 3,701

_ Tom Seaver, 3,640

_ Don Sutton, 3,574

_ Gaylord Perry, 3,534

_ Walter Johnson, 3,509

_ Greg Maddux, 3,371

_ Phil Niekro, 3,342

_ Ferguson Jenkins, 3,192

_ Pedro Martinez, 3,154

_ Bob Gibson, 3,117

_ Curt Schilling, 3,116

_ John Smoltz, 3,084

Previously: Slider was key to 15 wins in row for Bob Gibson in 1968

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(Updated July 12, 2014)

Adam Wainwright has the lowest earned run average before the All-Star Game break for a Cardinals starting pitcher since Steve Carlton in 1969.

steve_carlton4Wainwright, a right-hander, has a 1.83 ERA in 138 innings for the 2014 Cardinals.

Carlton, a left-hander, posted a 1.65 ERA in 142 innings before the all-star break for the 1969 Cardinals.

Wainwright in 2014 is the first big-leaguer to pitch seven or more scoreless innings in nine of his first 18 starts of a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Carlton pitched seven or more scoreless innings in three of his first 18 starts in 1969.

In five consecutive 1969 starts between June 27 and July 16, Carlton yielded a total of five runs, getting wins in all five games. That stretch boosted Carlton’s record to 12-5, earning him the National League starting pitching assignment for the All-Star Game.

Carlton credited an effective slider for his streak of success in the first half of 1969.

Tested in Japan

After the 1968 season, the Cardinals went on an exhibition tour of Japan. Carlton primarily had been using a fastball and a curve in the National League. He wanted to develop a third pitch and decided to use the games against the Japanese teams to test a slider.

“I needed something to keep the right-handed batters away from the plate,” Carlton said to The Sporting News. “I wasn’t throwing the fastball inside on right-handers enough and sometimes, when I got it inside, it would sail right over the plate _ and that’s a bad pitch.”

Carlton struck out Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh on a slider. Confident in his ability to throw the pitch, Carlton informed Cardinals pitching coach Billy Muffett at spring training camp in February 1969 that he intended to add the slider to his mix.

“Billy said he wanted to think about it,” Carlton said. “The slider puts more strain on your arm than a fastball or a curve.”

After Carlton lost four of his first six decisions in 1969, Muffett gave approval to use the slider.

“Billy said it was OK to try the slider so long as it didn’t strain my arm and didn’t take anything away from my curve,” Carlton said.

Salute from Sandy

The Sporting News hailed Carlton’s development of the slider to go with “one of the best curveballs in the business.”

Sandy Koufax, the retired Dodgers left-hander who was broadcasting games for NBC, congratulated Carlton after a win. “He said he was very impressed with my slider,” Carlton said.

In explaining why the slider was so effective, Carlton said, “Now a batter can’t come up to the plate knowing he has to guess only curve or fastball. He has to think about the slider. The right-handed batters can’t just sit and wait for the fastball outside. I’ve been throwing the slider about 25 percent of the time. It’s easier to control than a big, sweeping curve.”

Carlton was the winning pitcher in the 1969 All-Star Game, yielding solo home runs to Frank Howard and Bill Freehan in three innings. He finished the 1969 season with a 17-11 record and ranked second in the National League in ERA at 2.17, behind only Juan Marichal of the Giants (2.10) and just ahead of Cardinals teammate Bob Gibson (2.18).

After a 20-win season for the Cardinals in 1971, Carlton was traded to the Phillies. He won the Cy Young Award four times and finished his Hall of Fame career ranked second all-time in wins among left-handers at 329, behind only Warren Spahn (363).

Previously: Steve Carlton vs. Nolan Ryan: fateful 1971 finale of aces

Previously: How Chase Riddle got Steve Carlton for Cardinals

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After the Cardinals acquired Jim Brosnan from the Cubs in 1958, they thought they had a premier reliever. What they didn’t know was they had a premier author.

jim_brosnanBrosnan, who pitched for the Cardinals from 1958-59 and wrote baseball books such as “The Long Season,” “Pennant Race” and “The Ted Simmons Story,” died on June 28, 2014. He was 84.

“The Long Season” (1960, Harper & Brothers) chronicled Brosnan’s 1959 season with the Cardinals and Reds. “Pennant Race” (1962, Harper & Brothers) was a diary about Brosnan’s season with the 1961 National League champion Reds. Both books rank among the best and most influential written about baseball. Brosnan, nicknamed “Professor” during his playing days, wrote with sly wit and intelligence.

I discovered “Pennant Race” at a public library while in grade school in the 1960s. The book was so compelling that I spent the better part of the day with it there in a library chair.

“The Ted Simmons Story,” written while the all-star catcher was at the height of his Cardinals career, is a gem, a perfect pairing of author and subject. Brosnan and Simmons are two of the smartest, original thinkers to play the game.

Scholar joins St. Louis

Traded by the Cubs for shortstop Al Dark on May 20, 1958, Brosnan, 28, was put into the Cardinals starting rotation. He earned wins in his first three Cardinals starts, including a complete game in an 8-1 St. Louis victory over the Giants on May 30. Boxscore

Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson discovered, though, that Brosnan was more effective as a reliever. In 21 relief appearances for the 1958 Cardinals, Brosnan was 4-1 with 7 saves and a 1.67 ERA.

Oscar Kahan of The Sporting News wrote, “The scholarly, bespectacled right-hander … developed into one of the sharpest bullpen men in the National League.”

In 12 starts for the 1958 Cardinals, Brosnan was 4-3 with a 4.50 ERA. His overall numbers for the 1958 Cardinals: 8-4, 3.44 ERA, in 33 games.

Japanese journal

The Cardinals embarked on an exhibition tour of Japan after the 1958 season. Brosnan filed articles about the trip for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In describing their arrival during a stopover in Hawaii, Brosnan wrote that the team was greeted “by girls with leis who did their celebrated walk forward, placed the garlands around each blushing player’s neck and whispered ‘Aloha’ while nuzzling the right cheek.”

Aloha, Brosnan informed his St. Louis readers, “is used to say hello, to say goodbye and even just to be friendly when having nothing else to say.”

In “The Long Season,” Brosnan wrote how his Cardinals teammates, Don Blasingame and Joe Cunningham, were out to “see everything and do everything” during the Japan trip.

Wrote Brosnan, “The Japanese bath is an unusual custom for an Occidental to enjoy, but it is an easy habit to get into. If it’s not the first thing to do after you land in Japan, it may well be the last before you leave … Cunningham and Blasingame, in their anxiety to do the right thing by the Japanese as well as themselves, absorbed a maximum of Oriental culture on the last day and night of our stay in Tokyo. The rising sun found them padding quietly and contentedly through the lobby of the Imperial Hotel. Sleepless, perhaps, but loose as a goose, like they say.”

St. Louis stumble

Solly Hemus replaced Hutchinson as manager, but Brosnan remained firmly in the Cardinals’ bullpen plans for 1959.

He experienced a disastrous Opening Day against the Giants at St. Louis.

With the Cardinals ahead 4-3, Hemus lifted starter Larry Jackson after seven innings and brought in Brosnan. The Giants scored twice against him in the eighth (Willie Kirkland homered and Andre Rodgers hit a RBI-triple) for a 5-4 lead.

In the bottom half of the inning, Alex Grammas had a RBI-single, tying the score at 5-5. Hemus could have removed Brosnan for a pinch-hitter, but allowed him to remain in the game to pitch the ninth.

Brosnan walked the leadoff batter and, one out later, Jackie Brandt hit a RBI-double. The Giants won, 6-5. Brosnan got the loss and was booed. Boxscore

In “The Long Season,” Brosnan wrote, “It doesn’t take very long, really, to lose your confidence. To embarrass yourself, jeopardize your position, maybe lose your job. Hemus went a long way with me. He could have taken me out. He should have taken me out.”

Heading to hometown

Brosnan allowed eight runs in six relief appearances from May 1 to May 10. In The Sporting News, Ralph Ray wrote, “From one of the best relief men in the NL a year ago … Brosnan turned into a dud as a fireman.”

Hoping a change in routine would help, Hemus gave Brosnan a start against the Phillies on June 7 at Philadelphia. It was a bust. Brosnan gave up four runs before he was yanked with one out in the first. The Phillies won, 11-9. Boxscore

The next day, back in St. Louis, Brosnan and his wife dined at Stan Musial’s restaurant. When they returned to the George Washington Hotel, where Brosnan resided during the season, a desk clerk called to Brosnan as he crossed the lobby.

“Solly Hemus was here just a while ago, Mr. Brosnan,” the clerk said. “He left this letter.”

Brosnan wrote that he waited to open the envelope until he got to his room. The letter, from general manager Bing Devine, informed Brosnan he had been traded to the Reds for pitcher Hal Jeffcoat.

“I sat back on the couch, half-breathing as I waited for the indignation to flush good red blood to my head,” Brosnan wrote. “Nothing happened. I took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. It’s true. The second time you’re sold you don’t feel a thing.”

Brosnan was 1-3 with 2 saves and a 4.91 ERA in 20 games for the 1959 Cardinals.

Born and raised in Cincinnati, he regained his form with the Reds and was a prominent member of their pennant-winning staff in 1961. Brosnan was 10-4 with 16 saves and a 3.04 ERA in 53 appearances for the National League champions, who were managed by Hutchinson.

In a nine-year major-league career with the Cubs, Cardinals, Reds and White Sox, Brosnan was 55-47 with 67 saves and a 3.54 ERA.

Previously: How Stan Musial helped Cardinal rookie Howie Nunn

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