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mark_grudzielanek2Batting leadoff for one of the few times in his Cardinals career, Mark Grudzielanek hit for the cycle. Ten years later, he remains the last Cardinal to achieve the feat.

On April 27, 2005, Grudzielanek, a second baseman in his lone season with St. Louis, became the 15th Cardinal to hit for the cycle, collecting a home run, triple, double and single against the Brewers at Busch Stadium II.

Grudzielanek is one of three Cardinals to hit for the cycle at Busch Stadium II, the team’s home from 1966-2005. The other two to do so _ Lou Brock in 1975 against the Padres and Ray Lankford in 1991 versus the Mets _ also batted leadoff in those games.

A right-handed batter, Grudzielanek was the first Cardinal to hit for the cycle since John Mabry did it against the Rockies at Denver in 1996.

Mabry, a reserve with the 2005 Cardinals, witnessed Grudzielanek’s performance. “I was hoping for him to get it,” Mabry told MLB.com. “They say it’s more rare than a no-hitter. It’s special.”

The cycle by Grudzielanek was the 16th in Cardinals history. Ken Boyer is the only Cardinal to achieve the feat twice (in 1961 and 1964). Joining Boyer, Brock, Lankford, Mabry and Grudzielanek as Cardinals who hit for the cycle: Cliff Heathcote (1918), Jim Bottomley (1927), Chick Hafey (1930), Pepper Martin (1933), Joe Medwick (1935), Johnny Mize (1940), Stan Musial (1949), Bill White (1960), Joe Torre (1973) and Willie McGee (1984).

Top of the order

Shortstop David Eckstein normally batted leadoff and Grudzielanek sixth for the 2005 Cardinals. When manager Tony La Russa rested Eckstein against the Brewers on April 27, he put Grudzielanek in the leadoff spot against right-hander Victor Santos. Grudzielanek entered the game 7-for-16 (all singles) in his career versus Santos.

In the bottom of the first, Grudzielanek led off with a home run. He singled in the second.

With Santos still pitching, Grudzielanek hit a RBI-double in the fourth.

“It seemed like everything I threw to him he was right on it,” Santos said to the Associated Press. “As soon as I made a mistake, boom, he was right on it.”

Tough task

To complete the cycle, Grudzielanek needed a triple, or “the baseball equivalent of making an inside straight,” wrote Matthew Leach of MLB.com.

In his previous three seasons with the Dodgers (2002) and Cubs (2003-04), Grudzielanek had produced a total of two triples.

Facing left-hander Jorge De La Rosa in the sixth with one out and the bases empty, Grudzielanek said, “I was just trying to come up there and have the same approach that I did the previous at-bats and try to hit the ball hard.”

De La Rosa got two strikes on the batter. Then, Grudzielanek sliced a shot down the right-field line. The ball eluded right fielder Geoff Jenkins and rattled into the corner. Grudzielanek steamed into third with the coveted triple.

In the eighth, Grudzielanek grounded out against left-hander Tommy Phelps. He finished 4-for-5 with 3 runs and 2 RBI in a 6-3 Cardinals victory. The win boosted the Cardinals’ record to 14-5, their best start since the 1968 team had the same mark. Boxscore

Grudzielanek batted leadoff just six times in 2005, hitting .381 (8-for-21). Overall, he hit .294 for the 2005 Cardinals with 155 hits in 137 games.

Previously: Mark Grudzielanek fit a need for 2005 Cardinals

Previously: George Hendrick influenced hitting style of John Mabry

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While facing the Cardinals at St. Louis in 2008, Mark Reynolds of the Diamondbacks became the first big-league player to strike out 200 times in a season.

mark_reynoldsSix years later, Reynolds has joined the Cardinals as a role player.

A free agent who played for the 2014 Brewers, Reynolds signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Cardinals on Dec. 11, 2014. The Cardinals hope Reynolds will provide right-handed power. They know, though, he also will strike out a lot.

Starting in 2006, total strikeouts in the majors have increased each season, according to The Sporting News. Reynolds is the model for that trend.

Poor plate discipline

On Sept. 25, 2008, Reynolds struck out in the second inning against Cardinals starter Joel Pineiro. It was Reynolds’ 200th strikeout that season. He struck out again in the seventh. Boxscore

After the game, Reynolds told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “It’s obviously something I have to work on for next year. It’s not the greatest of records to have. It’s a matter of pitch recognition and being more patient and more selective. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten to 3-and-2 and swung at ball four.”

Reynolds finished the 2008 season with 204 strikeouts, breaking the big-league record of 195 set by Adam Dunn of the 2004 Reds. The record had been 189 strikeouts by Bobby Bonds of the 1970 Giants until Dunn topped the mark 34 years later.

“Records are made to be broken. Maybe somebody will come along and break my record,” Reynolds told Hummel.

Instead, Reynolds broke his own record the next season.

Whiffs pile up

In 2009, Reynolds struck out 223 times. That remains the big-league record.

“Deep down inside, I’m sure it bothers him more than he likes to portray,” said 2009 Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch.

Reynolds has reached 200 strikeouts in a season three times: 204 in 2008, 223 in 2009 and 211 in 2010. He was with the Diamondbacks all three seasons.

Since Reynolds broke the barrier, three others have struck out 200 times in a season: Dunn (222 with 2012 White Sox), Chris Carter (212 with 2013 Astros) and Drew Stubbs (205 with 2011 Reds).

Jim Edmonds holds the Cardinals club record for striking out the most times in a season. Edmonds fanned 167 times in 2000, breaking the franchise mark of 162 set by Ron Gant in 1997.

Power potential

The reason Reynolds remains in the majors is he hits home runs. Reynolds has hit 20 home runs or more in each of his last seven seasons. He has 224 home runs in his eight-year career in the majors, ranking him ahead of contemporaries such as Nelson Cruz (197), Josh Hamilton (192) and Jayson Werth (186)

Reynolds hit 22 home runs in 378 at-bats for the 2014 Brewers. In 2009, when he established the strikeout record of 223, Reynolds produced 44 home runs and 102 RBI for the Diamondbacks.

“When that production is coming with the strikeouts,” Hinch said, “it (the record) is almost a moot point.”

In 1,118 career games, Reynolds has 871 hits and has struck out 1,398 times. He ranks 10th among active players in striking out. The leader among active players is the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez at 2,075.

“Guys that are good hitters and hit for a high average should probably be striking out 10 percent of the time,” Twins manager Paul Molitor told The Sporting News in 2014.

In a 21-year big-league playing career, Molitor produced 3,319 hits and never struck out 100 times in a season. In 2,683 games, he struck out 1,244 times, or 154 fewer times than Reynolds has fanned.

“I don’t know if it’s the mentality of the players,” said Molitor, “but they’re definitely not concerned about it.”

Previously: The 19-year-old who struck out 12 Cardinals

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(Updated Dec. 8, 2014)

In 1964, Ken Boyer showed the qualities one would expect in a Hall of Fame player. The Cardinals third baseman consistently excelled with the glove and with the bat. He was a champion and a leader. He achieved feats that ranked him among the elite at his position all-time.

ken_boyer8Boyer still hasn’t been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. The only other third basemen of the 1958-64 era who fielded and hit at the same level as Boyer were Brooks Robinson of the Orioles, Eddie Mathews of the Braves and Ron Santo of the Cubs. All three have been elected to the Hall of Fame.

Special player

Though one outstanding year doesn’t qualify anyone for the Hall of Fame, Boyer’s 1964 season is important because it caps a seven-year stretch of consistently high quality and puts into context how Boyer elevated himself into a special category of third basemen.

Boyer, 33, played in all 162 Cardinals regular-season games in 1964. He led the major leagues in RBI with 119. Boyer also ranked in the top five in the National League in triples (10) and walks (70). He hit .295 with 185 hits, 30 doubles and 24 home runs. He scored 100 runs. His on-base percentage was .365.

Among NL third basemen in 1964, Boyer ranked second in both assists and double plays turned.

Calm and steady

His immense value to the Cardinals was proven with these statistics: Boyer hit .335 with 91 RBI in the Cardinals’ 93 wins in 1964; .238 with 28 RBI in the Cardinals’ 69 losses.

Remarkably consistent, Boyer in 1964 hit .296 against right-handed pitching; .291 versus left-handers.

Boyer was at his best against the Cardinals’ closest competitors, the Phillies and the Reds. Each finished a game behind the pennant-winning Cardinals. Boyer hit .351 with 17 RBI in 18 games against the 1964 Phillies; .309 with 13 RBI in 18 games versus the 1964 Reds.

In a profile of the Cardinals team captain in the Nov. 14, 1964, edition of The Sporting News, Ed Wilks wrote that Boyer “does everything well, but in the calm, steady, unspectacular fashion of a professional.”

Said Boyer: “The (1964) season couldn’t have been more satisfying. I think I did just about everything I had hoped to do.”

Rewarding year

Among the feats Boyer achieved in 1964:

_ He won the NL Most Valuable Player Award. Boyer became only the second NL third baseman and just the fourth in the big leagues to win a MVP Award. The others were Bob Elliott of the 1947 Braves in the NL and Al Rosen of the 1953 Indians and Brooks Robinson of the 1964 Orioles in the American League.

The top five in balloting for 1964 NL MVP were Boyer, Johnny Callison of the Phillies, Bill White of the Cardinals, Frank Robinson of the Reds and Joe Torre of the Braves. Boyer received 14 of 20 first-place votes.

“That’s a lot when there are only 20 votes altogether and you have all that strong competition,” Boyer said. “Fourteen must be my lucky number. That’s my uniform number.”

_ The Sporting News named Boyer its Major League Player of the Year. He became the third Cardinals player to earn the honor, joining Marty Marion (1944) and Stan Musial (1946 and 1951).

_ For exemplifying the qualities of Lou Gehrig on and off the field, Boyer was presented the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award by the late Yankees first baseman’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Columbia University. He joined Musial (1957) as the second Cardinals player to receive the honor.

Run producer supreme

_ He became the first third baseman to lead the NL in RBI since Heinie Zimmerman (102) of the 1917 Giants. Boyer also was the first Cardinals player to lead the major leagues in RBI since Enos Slaughter (130) in 1946 and the first Cardinals player to lead the NL in RBI since Musial (109) in 1956.

_ Named to the all-star team for the seventh and last time, Boyer started at third base in the 1964 Midsummer Classic at Shea Stadium in New York and went 2-for-4, with a home run off Athletics reliever John Wyatt, in a 7-4 NL victory. Boxscore

_ Despite a hamstring injury, Boyer played in all seven games of the 1964 World Series against the Yankees. He hit a grand slam off Al Downing for all the Cardinals’ runs in a 4-3 Game 4 triumph Boxscore and produced three hits, including a solo home run against Steve Hamilton, in the Cardinals’ championship-clinching 7-5 victory in Game 7. Boxscore

_ The 1964 season was the last of seven in a row in which Boyer hit 23 or more home runs and produced 90 or more RBI.

Previously: If Ron Santo goes into Hall, Ken Boyer should, too

Previously: Ken and Clete Boyer: 1st brothers to each hit 25 HRs

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Seventy-five years ago, a Cardinal was National League batting champion, but it wasn’t the player who nearly hit .400.

don_padgettIn 1939, Cardinals first baseman Johnny Mize won the league batting title with a .349 mark in 153 games. At that time, a player needed to appear in 100 games in a season to qualify for the National League batting crown.

Mize’s teammate, catcher Don Padgett, hit .399 in 92 games for the 1939 Cardinals. Padgett produced 93 hits in 233 at-bats. No National League player with at least 200 at-bats in a season has had a higher batting average since then, according to baseball-reference.com.

If not for bad timing, Padgett, 27, would have hit .400 that season.

Untimely time out

On Oct. 1, the last day of the 1939 season, the Cardinals played the Cubs at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Padgett, a left-handed batter, was sent by manager Ray Blades to pinch-hit for pitcher Max Lanier against the Cubs starter, right-hander Claude Passeau.

Padgett lined a single to center, according to author John Snyder in the book “Cardinals Journal,” but the hit didn’t count. First-base umpire Bick Campbell had called time out just before Passeau delivered the pitch because a ball had rolled from the bullpen onto the field.

The hit in his final at-bat of the season would have given Padgett a .402 batting average.

Instead, Padgett returned to the batter’s box and drew a walk, settling for the .399 mark. Boxscore

Ripping righties

Two years later, Ted Williams of the Red Sox became the last big-league player to hit .400 in a season with at least 200 at-bats. Williams hit .406 in 1941.

Padgett was used almost exclusively against right-handed pitchers in 1939. He hit .399  (89-for-223) versus right-handers and .400 against left-handers (4-for-10). He was especially productive at home, hitting .455 (46-for-101) for the 1939 Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.

Primarily a backup to starting catcher Mickey Owen, Padgett enjoyed a torrid June (.441 batting average) and July (.484). His batting average was .400 on Sept. 27. Then he went 1-for-3 against the Reds on Sept. 28, dropping his batting mark to .399 and setting up that final at-bat versus the Cubs three days later.

In five years with the Cardinals, Padgett hit .292 in 525 games. His career mark in eight big-league seasons with the Cardinals, Phillies, Dodgers and Braves was .288.

Previously: The strange case of Hugh Casey versus 1940 Cardinals

Previously: Baseball and romance: Cardinals’ Cuban adventures

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Trevor Rosenthal is the youngest Cardinals reliever to earn 40 saves in the regular season. If he learns to reduce the number of walks he allows, Rosenthal should challenge Lee Smith for most 40-save seasons by a Cardinals pitcher.

trevor_rosenthalRosenthal had 45 saves for the 2014 Cardinals. He is the only pitcher younger than 30 to achieve 40 saves in a season for St. Louis. Rosenthal turned 24 on May 29, 2014.

The other four Cardinals pitchers with 40 saves in a season _ Bruce Sutter, Jason Isringhausen, Jason Motte and Smith _ all were at least 30 when they achieved the feat:

_ Sutter turned 31 in 1984 when he had 45 saves for St. Louis.

_ Smith turned 34 in 1991 when he had 47 saves for St. Louis. He also had 43 saves for the Cardinals in 1992 and again in 1993. He is the only Cardinals pitcher to get 40 saves in a season more than once.

_ Isringhausen turned 32 in 2004 when he matched Smith’s franchise mark with 47 saves for St. Louis.

_ Motte turned 30 in 2012 when he had 42 saves for St. Louis.

Like Rosenthal, all are right-handers.

Get in control

Of the five pitchers to get 40 saves in a season for the Cardinals, Rosenthal had the most strikeouts (87) even though he pitched the second-fewest innings (70.1).

Rosenthal also issued the most walks (42) of any Cardinals pitcher with 40 saves in a season. None of the others had more than 26 walks in a season in which he earned 40 saves.

In 2014, Rosenthal allowed 99 batters to reach base by hits (57) or walks (42).

After averaging 2.4 walks per nine innings for the Cardinals in 2013, Rosenthal averaged 5.4 walks per nine innings in 2014.

He walked 22 right-handed batters and 20 left-handed batters.

Command is key

If Rosenthal throws a first-pitch strike, he’s far less likely to walk a batter.

In 2014, Rosenthal issued 33 walks after falling behind 1-and-0 in the count. He walked only nine after throwing a strike on the first pitch, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Only two batters in 2014 worked a walk off Rosenthal after falling behind 0-and-2 in the count.

Rosenthal has 48 career saves with the Cardinals. With 12 more, Rosenthal will surpass Al Hrabosky (59) for 10th place on the Cardinals all-time saves list.

If Rosenthal gets 40 saves in 2015, he’ll move ahead of Ryan Franklin (84) for the fifth spot among Cardinals saves leaders.

The top four in Cardinals career saves are: Isringhausen (217), Smith (160), Todd Worrell (129) and Sutter (127).

Previously: Cardinals century club: Mark Littell, Trevor Rosenthal

Previously: Al Hrabosky and incredible 1974 Cardinals home finale

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Over the last 90 years, the Cardinals are the only National League franchise to have won three consecutive pennants.

harry_brecheenSeventy years ago, on Sept. 21, 1944, the Cardinals swept a doubleheader from the Braves, clinching the pennant for the third season in a row. No National League franchise has matched that feat since.

Before the Cardinals’ stretch of pennants from 1942-44, the last National League franchise to win three consecutive pennants was the Giants. They won four in a row from 1921-24.

Since 1900, the only other franchises that have won three National League pennants in a row are: Pirates (1901-03), Cubs (1906-08) and Giants (1911-13).

Managed by Billy Southworth, the 1942-44 Cardinals also were the first National League teams with 100 or more wins in each of three consecutive seasons.

Familiar feeling

In 1944, the Cardinals took the National League lead on April 29 and never relinquished it. A September slump kept them from clinching early in the month. They entered the Sept. 21 doubleheader against the Braves at Boston having lost eight of their last nine and 15 of their last 20.

In the doubleheader opener, the Cardinals broke a 4-4 tie in the eighth when backup second baseman George Fallon singled to right with two outs, scoring Whitey Kurowski from second.

Harry Brecheen pitched five innings in relief of starter Mort Cooper and got the win. Brecheen, usually a starter, yielded one run and three hits in five innings.

The 5-4 victory clinched the pennant for the Cardinals, giving them a 13-game lead over the second-place Pirates with 12 remaining. Boxscore

Wrote The Sporting News, “The Redbirds walked off the field as if it had been an ordinary game, probably one of the least demonstrative reactions that has followed a pennant clincher. Except for the customary picture showing the players in a jubilant mood, there was no celebration in the clubhouse.”

Keep on rolling

In the second game, Cardinals pinch-hitter Walker Cooper slugged a two-run home run off starter Jim Tobin in the ninth, tying the score at 5-5, and Marty Marion drove in Ken O’Dea from second with a single in the 10th, lifting St. Louis to a 6-5 victory.

Brecheen pitched two scoreless innings, the ninth and 10th, to get his second win of the day and improve his record to 15-5. Boxscore

In saluting the 1944 Cardinals on their pennant-clinching day, The Sporting News noted, “Every player except two _ Danny Litwhiler and Debs Garms _ bears the Cardinals trademark, having come up through the club’s farm system.”

In an interview with author Peter Golenbock for the book “The Spirit of St. Louis” (2000, Avon), Litwhiler said, “In 1944, we played the same Billy Southworth baseball. He never went for the big inning. Get a man on and get him over. At the time, we defined National League baseball. What I remember most about ’44 was that every day you knew you were going to win … It was so easy. And it wasn’t one person who did it. It was always someone new.”

The Cardinals finished the 1944 season at 105-49, 14.5 games ahead of the runner-up Pirates, and clinched the World Series championship with four wins in six games against the crosstown Browns.

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

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