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The 2014 Cardinals could become the first St. Louis pitching staff in 67 years to lead the National League in strikeouts.

adam_wainwright8In 2013, Cardinals pitchers placed fifth in the league in strikeouts. That was their first top-5 finish since 1978 and their highest league ranking in strikeouts since 2000.

With Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez expected to get more innings in 2014 than they did in their rookie seasons of 2013, a Cardinals staff that includes Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist and, possibly, Jason Motte has the potential to match the feat of the 1947 Cardinals, the last St. Louis staff to lead the league in strikeouts.

The 2013 Cardinals staff had 1,254 strikeouts. Only the staffs of the Reds (1,296 strikeouts), Dodgers (1,292), Pirates (1,261) and Giants (1,256) had more.

Among the top strikeout artists for the 2013 Cardinals were Wainwright (219 in 241.2 innings), Lynn (198 in 201.2 innings), Miller (169 in 173.1 innings), Rosenthal (108 in 75.1 innings), Wacha (65 in 64.2 innings), Martinez (24 in 28.1 innings) and Siegrist (50 in 39.2 innings). Motte, seeking a bullpen role in 2014 after being sidelined in 2013 because of an injury, has 273 strikeouts in 260 career innings for St. Louis.

Wainwright ranks second in career strikeouts among Cardinals pitchers, with 1,127. He trails only Bob Gibson (3,117).

Yet, no Cardinals staff with either Gibson or Wainwright led the league in strikeouts.

Remember Red Munger

The fifth-place showing in strikeouts by the 2013 Cardinals in the 15-team National League is the highest by a St. Louis staff since the 2000 Cardinals were sixth in a 16-team league, with 1,100. The top strikeout pitchers for the 2000 Cardinals were Rick Ankiel (194 in 175 innings) and Darryl Kile (192 in 232.1 innings).

The 2000 Cardinals and 2013 Cardinals were division champions. The 1978 Cardinals finished 69-93. Yet that 1978 staff was fourth in the 12-team National League in strikeouts, with 859, and was the last St. Louis club to rank among the top 5 in the league in strikeouts until the 2013 Cardinals. Leading the 1978 Cardinals pitchers in strikeouts were Pete Vuckovich (149 in 198.1 innings) and Mark Littell (130 in 106.1 innings).

Only eight teams were in the National League the last time a Cardinals staff finished at the top in strikeouts. The 1947 Cardinals had 642 in 154 games. The top performers for a St. Louis team that placed second in the league that year at 89-65 were Red Munger (123 strikeouts in 224.1 innings) and Murry Dickson (111 strikeouts in 231.2 innings).

Dizzy dominated

Cardinals staffs ranked first in the league in strikeouts five times in the 1940s (1941, 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1947) and six times in the 1930s (1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 and 1935). Dean was the individual league leader in strikeouts for four consecutive years (1932-35).

The highest a Cardinals staff ranked in strikeouts during Gibson’s 17 seasons (1959-75) with the team was second in 1960 (with 906 in 154 games). Gibson, in his second season, struck out 69 in 86.2 innings that year. He led the league in strikeouts once, with 268 in 1968.

Having a staff with a high strikeout total is no guarantee of team success. The last St. Louis club to win a World Series championship in a year in which its staff led the National League in strikeouts was the 1944 Cardinals.

The 1982 Cardinals, who won the World Series title, placed last in strikeouts among National League staffs that year. The two St. Louis World Series championship teams under manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan ranked near the bottom of the league in staff strikeouts. The 2006 Cardinals pitchers were 14th in strikeouts and the 2011 Cardinals pitchers were 13th.

In 1968, the year Gibson led the league in strikeouts for the pennant-winning Cardinals, the staff with the most strikeouts was Houston. Topped by Dave Giusti (186 strikeouts), Don Wilson (175) and Larry Dierker (161), Astros pitchers totaled 1,021 strikeouts.

Houston also finished last that season in the 10-team National League, 25 games behind the Cardinals.

Previously: Cardinals century club: Mark Littell, Trevor Rosenthal

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Lance Berkman is one of only five National League players to score four runs in a World Series game. Of those five, three achieved the feat as Cardinals.

lance_berkman8When Berkman announced his retirement as a big-league player on Jan. 29, 2014, it prompted me to reflect on his two seasons (2011-12) with the Cardinals. Though his hitting heroics in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series are well-documented, what often gets overlooked is that Berkman tied a World Series record in that epic.

Berkman became the 11th and most recent player to score four runs in a World Series game.

His teammate, Albert Pujols, achieved the feat three games earlier. Berkman and Pujols are the only teammates to each score four runs in a game in the same World Series. Berkman is one of three to do it in a Game 6. (Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Kirby Puckett are the others.) No player has scored four runs in a World Series Game 7.

Another Cardinal, Enos Slaughter, was the first National League player to score four runs in a World Series game. He did it in Game 4 of the 1946 World Series.

The only other National League players to accomplish the feat are Lenny Dykstra of the Phillies in the 1993 World Series and Jeff Kent of the Giants in the 2002 World Series.

Berkman scored four runs in game just twice in his 15-year big-league career. The first time was in a 2008 regular-season game while with the Astros against the Nationals. The other was on Oct. 27, 2011, in World Series Game 6 against the Rangers at St. Louis. His first run put the Cardinals ahead; each of his other three tied the score.

Here’s a look at those Game 6 runs by Berkman:

_ First inning. Berkman hit a two-run home run, erasing a 1-0 Rangers lead.

_ Fourth inning. After reaching base on an error by first baseman Michael Young, Berkman scored from third on Yadier Molina’s ground out, tying the score at 3-3.

_ Sixth inning. Berkman singled and, after the Cardinals loaded the bases, scored from third on Molina’s walk, tying the score at 4-4.

_ Ninth inning. With one on and one out, Berkman walked. He scored on David Freese’s two-run triple, tying the score at 7-7. The Cardinals won, 10-9, in 11 innings, avoiding elimination and setting up their championship-clinching victory in Game 7.

Berkman told MLB.com that Game 6 was the greatest game he ever played in. “What a roller-coaster. That was awesome,” Berkman said.

In chronological order, the 11 players who scored four runs in a World Series game:

_ Babe Ruth, Yankees, 1926, Game 4 vs. Cardinals. Boxscore

_ Earle Combs, Yankees, 1932, Game 4 vs. Cubs. Boxscore

_ Frank Crosetti, Yankees, 1936, Game 2 vs. Giants. Boxscore

_ Enos Slaughter, Cardinals, 1946, Game 4 vs. Red Sox. Boxscore

_ Reggie Jackson, Yankees, 1977, Game 6 vs. Dodgers. Boxscore

_ Kirby Puckett, Twins, 1987, Game 6 vs. Cardinals. Boxscore

_ Carney Lansford, Athletics, 1989, Game 3 vs. Giants. Boxscore

_ Lenny Dykstra, Phillies, 1993, Game 4 vs. Blue Jays. Boxscore

_ Jeff Kent, Giants, 2002, Game 5 vs. Angels. Boxscore

_ Albert Pujols, Cardinals, 2011, Game 3 vs. Rangers. Boxscore

_ Lance Berkman, Cardinals, 2011, Game 6 vs. Rangers. Boxscore

Tony La Russa is the only manager who had three players score four runs in a World Series game: Lansford, Pujols and Berkman.

Previously: Lance Berkman and his greatest games as a Cardinal

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Mark Littell and Trevor Rosenthal are Missouri natives who earned reputations as hard-throwing right-handed Cardinals relievers.

They are the only Cardinals relievers to strike out 100 batters in a season.

mark_littellIn 70 relief appearances for the 1978 Cardinals, Littell struck out 120 in 97.1 innings. In 74 relief appearances for the 2013 Cardinals, Rosenthal struck out 108 in 75.1 innings.

Littell’s average of 11 strikeouts per nine innings is the best single-season ratio for any pitcher in Cardinals history.

Among the relievers who fell just short of achieving 100 strikeouts in a season as Cardinals: Lindy McDaniel (95 in 1960), Diego Segui (93 in 1973), Todd Worrell (92 in 1987) and Jason Motte (86 in 2012).

The top strikeout totals in a season for other prominent Cardinals relievers: Al Hrabosky (82 in both 1974 and ’75), Bruce Sutter (77 in 1984), Adam Wainwright (72 in 2006), Jason Isringhausen (71 in 2004), Lee Smith (70 in 1990) and Dennis Eckersley (49 in 1996).

Rosenthal, 23, from Lee’s Summit, Mo., is in his first full major-league season with the 2013 Cardinals. Littell, 25, from Cape Girardeau, Mo., was in his first season with the Cardinals in 1978 after being acquired from the Royals for Hrabosky.

Rosenthal pitched primarily in the eighth inning of games until becoming the closer late in the season for a Cardinals club that won a division title and posted the best record in the National League. Littell was a closer for a Cardinals club that started poorly and never recovered.

The 1978 Cardinals lost 10 of their first 15 games and manager Vern Rapp was fired in late April.

In a 24-hour period, Littell was the losing pitcher in three games. Facing the Giants at San Francisco, Littell took the loss in a Saturday game, May 13, and he was the loser in both games of a Sunday doubleheader on May 14.

Littell entered June with a 1-6 record and no saves. He didn’t earn a save until June 8 against the Braves at St. Louis. In that game, Littell relieved starter Pete Vuckovich with runners on first and second and two outs in the eighth. He struck out Jeff Burroughs, ending the threat. In the ninth, Littell secured the Cardinals’ 2-0 victory by striking out Gary Matthews and Dale Murphy before getting Darrel Chaney on a ground out. Boxscore

Wrote The Sporting News: “After getting off to a miserable start, the ex-Royal began to get his bullet fastball and slider on the same wavelength. Results: many strikeouts, few hits allowed and his first save of the season.”

One of Littell’s most impressive strikeout efforts occurred on July 20 in earning the save in the Cardinals’ 3-2 victory over the Padres at St. Louis. Littell got six outs, all on strikeouts. The first two batters he struck out: Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield. Boxscore

Previously: Mike Matheny can learn from pitfalls of Vern Rapp

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In a game filled with excellent catchers, the one who stood out was the unlikeliest of all.

jose_oquendo4Twenty-five years ago, Jose Oquendo caught an inning for the Cardinals in a game against the Mets at St. Louis.

In doing so, Oquendo became the first National League player in 70 years to play all nine positions in one season.

Before Oquendo, the last to accomplish the feat in the National League was Gene Paulette, primarily a first baseman for the 1918 Cardinals. Cesar Tovar of the American League Twins had played all nine positions in 1968.

On Sept. 24, 1988, the Mets, who already had clinched the National League East crown, jumped to a 6-0 lead in the second inning against the Cardinals.

Oquendo, 25, had started the game at his primary position at second base and moved to shortstop in the sixth inning, replacing Ozzie Smith.

With the Mets ahead, 10-1, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog, looking to give the home crowd something to cheer, decided the time was right to play Oquendo at catcher.

Move over, Tony

In the seventh, Oquendo moved from shortstop to catcher, replacing starter Tony Pena, the National League leader among catchers in fielding percentage in 1988.

First up for New York with Oquendo behind the plate was Gary Carter, the Mets’ 1988 all-star catcher.

“I told (Carter), ‘Don’t foul it off. I don’t want to get hit,’ ” Oquendo said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Facing left-handed reliever Steve Peters, Carter obliged, flying out.

Tim Teufel was the next batter. With the count 3-and-1, Peters shook off Oquendo’s sign. Before he could offer another, Peters went into his wind.

“I told Teufel, ‘Get ready. I don’t know what’s coming,’ ” Oquendo told St. Louis writer Rick Hummel. “He was laughing. That’s why he fouled the pitch off.”

On the next pitch, a 3-and-2 curve called by Oquendo, Teufel swung and missed, striking out.

Easy as 1,2,3

Kevin Elster then lined out to third. It was the only one of the nine innings that the Mets were retired in order.

His goal accomplished, Herzog lifted Oquendo and replaced him with catcher Tom Pagnozzi in the eighth.

“It was fun,” Oquendo said. “I felt pretty good. I didn’t feel nervous at all.”

Said Peters to the Associated Press: “He called a good game … He’s got a nice, low target.” Boxscore

In 1988, Oquendo appeared in 69 games at second base, 47 at third base, 17 at shortstop, 16 at first base, nine in right field, four in center field, two in left field, one at catcher and one as a pitcher.

On May 14, 1988, Oquendo pitched four innings of relief against the Braves at St. Louis. Oquendo held Atlanta scoreless for three innings before the Braves scored twice in the 19th inning for a 7-5 victory. Boxscore

Oquendo took the loss, becoming the first non-pitcher to get a decision in a major-league game since the Yankees’ Rocky Colavito in 1968. Boxscore

Previously: Whiteyball: Willie McGee at shortstop; Ricky Horton in right

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Like a scene from the movie “The Natural,” Stan Musial achieved one of baseball’s rarest hitting feats with flair.

stan_musial28Shedding the bandages from his ailing wrists, Musial took just five swings in the Cardinals’ game against the Braves at Boston on Sept. 22, 1948.

Each swing produced a hit.

It was Musial’s fourth five-hit game of the season. No major-league player had done that in 26 years. Only two have done it in the 65 years since.

Joining Musial as the only big-league players with four five-hit games in a season: Willie Keeler (1897 Orioles), Ty Cobb (1922 Tigers), Tony Gwynn (1993 Padres) and Ichiro Suzuki (2004 Mariners).

Musial had jammed his left wrist making a diving catch at Brooklyn on Sept. 17, 1948. The next day, he was hit on the right hand, near the wrist, by a pitch.

With his wrists taped, Musial remained in the lineup as the Cardinals pursued the National League-leading Braves.

A win over the Cardinals on Sept. 22 would clinch for the Braves their first pennant in 34 years. The Braves started their ace, left-hander Warren Spahn.

Going for broke

When Musial arrived at the Boston ballpark that day, he noticed the wind was blowing out toward right field, favoring a left-handed batter.

St. Louis writer Bob Broeg approached Musial at the batting cage and said, “A great day for the hitters.”

“Yeah, but I can’t hit like this,” Musial responded.

In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story” (1964 Doubleday), Musial wrote, “I held up the wrists with the flesh-colored tape. Angrily, I ripped it off.”

Without the tape to restrict him, Musial wanted to be able to snap his wrists, no matter how painful, and try to take advantage of the favoring wind and the short carry (319 feet) to the right-field bleachers.

Musial’s first two hits that day came against Spahn.

In the first inning, Musial singled to left. He wrote that he punched the ball in that direction “to minimize wrist strain.”

In the third, Musial lined the ball over the head of left fielder Mike McCormick for a double.

Musial batted in the fourth against right-hander Red Barrett, who had been a teammate on the 1946 Cardinals.

Wrote Musial: “He tried to fool me with a 2-and-0 change-up, but I saw it coming and said to myself, ‘To hell with the wrists.’ “

Musial pulled the pitch over the right-field wall for a two-run home run, his 38th of the season.

Swing away

In the sixth, Musial singled off left-hander Clyde Shoun. Musial wrote that he was “entirely aware” then that Cobb had been the last player to achieve four five-hit games in a season.

“I wanted that fifth hit,” he wrote.

In the eighth. Musial got his chance against Al Lyons.

The first two pitches from the right-hander missed the strike zone. Musial didn’t want a walk.

“I made up my mind, with the Cardinals far ahead (8-2), that I’d swing at anything close to the plate _ wrists be hanged,” Musial wrote.

“The next pitch was a bit outside, but I jerked it around … It bounced in the hole between first and second and got through. Saving the sore wrists as much as possible, I had hit safely five times by taking the absolute minimum number of swings _ just five.” Boxscore

All four of Musial’s five-hit games in 1948 came away from home.

“If I could have played the 1948 season on the road, I might have hit .400 and ripped the record book apart,” Musial wrote.

Instead, Musial batted .376 overall _ .415 on the road and .334 at home.

Here is a look at his other five-hit games in 1948:

_ April 30, 1948, at Cincinnati: Musial hit a home run, two doubles and two singles off four right-handers in the Cardinals’ 13-7 victory over the Reds. The homer, a two-run shot, was off starter Howie Fox. Musial batted .447 (21-for-47) at Crosley Field in 1948. Boxscore

_ May 19, 1948, at Brooklyn: Musial singled twice off right-hander Rex Barney, tripled against right-hander Erv Palica and had a single and double off left-hander Preacher Roe in the Cardinals’ 14-7 victory over the Dodgers. Musial batted .522 (24-for-46) at Ebbets Field in 1948. Boxscore

_ June 22, 1948, at Boston: Musial had five singles, four off right-handed starter Bill Voiselle and another against Shoun that snapped a 2-2 tie in the ninth inning, in the Cardinals’ 5-2 triumph over the Braves. Musial hit .467 (21-for-45) at Braves Field in 1948. Boxscore

In his 22-year big-league career with the Cardinals, Musial had eight five-hit games. In addition to the four in 1948, the others were:

_  July 21, 1943, versus the Giants, at St. Louis. It was his only five-hit game at home.

_ Sept. 19, 1946, at Boston. Former Cardinals ace Mort Cooper started for the Braves.

_ Sept. 3, 1947, at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

_ Sept. 27, 1962, two months before his 42nd birthday, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The fifth hit was a single off former teammate Stu Miller.

Previously: How Stan Musial turned in a great comeback year at 41

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The 2013 Cardinals are the first St. Louis team in 82 years to have nine players hit 20 or more doubles.

(Updated on Sept. 29, 2013.)

rip_repulski2Achieving the feat for the 2013 Cardinals: Matt Carpenter (55), Yadier Molina (44), Matt Holliday (31), Carlos Beltran (30), Allen Craig (29), Jon Jay (27), David Freese (26), Daniel Descalso (25) and Pete Kozma (20).

The 2013 Cardinals have tied the 1931 Cardinals, who held the franchise record for most players with 20 or more doubles in a season, with nine.

The 1931 Cardinals led the majors in doubles, with 353. The nine with 20 or more: Sparky Adams (46), Chick Hafey (35), Jim Bottomley (34), Pepper Martin (32), George Watkins (30), Charlie Gelbert (29), Frankie Frisch (24), Rip Collins (20) and Jimmie Wilson (20).

Four other Cardinals teams _ 1929, 1930, 1938 and 1953 _ have had eight players hit 20 or more doubles. The 1953 Cardinals were the last St. Louis team to accomplish the feat until the 2013 Cardinals matched them.

Touted trio

Helped by three newcomers, dubbed the Polish Falcons, the 1953 Cardinals led the major leagues in doubles, with 281. The eight team members with 20 or more doubles: Stan Musial (53), Red Schoendienst (35), Enos Slaughter (34), Solly Hemus (32), Rip Repulski (25), Steve Bilko (23), Ray Jablonski (23) and Del Rice (22).

Bilko, Jablonski and Repulski were the newcomers called the Polish Falcons because of their Polish-American heritage. (Musial, in the majors since 1941, also was Polish-American.)

Eddie Stanky, manager of the 1953 Cardinals, played the trio in nearly every spring training game and they earned his trust. All three opened the season as starters _ Bilko at first base, Jablonski at third base and Repulski in center field.

Bilko, 24, had appeared in 57 games for St. Louis from 1949-52, but never put in a full season with the Cardinals. Jablonski, 26, and Repulski, 24, both were making their big-league debuts with the 1953 Cardinals. All three batted right-handed and had played together in 1952 for Rochester, the Cardinals’ Class AAA team.

In The Sporting News, Bob Broeg wrote, “During the training season, The Brat (Stanky) concentrated on the three Poles from Rochester, playing them daily, and they convinced him the Cardinals would field their strongest right-handed power since, first, Walker Cooper, and then George Kurowski left the Redbird batting order, seven and five years ago, respectively.”

Said Stanky: “A lot of those left-handers who throw lollipops are going to find us an altogether different ballclub.”

In May, The Sporting News followed up with a glowing report on the Cardinals’ hitting: “The pickup in power had been a result largely of the presence of the three Polish Falcons, the newcomers from Rochester … They were hitting just about as had been hoped for.”

Polish power

Bilko, 6 feet 1 and at least 230 pounds, struck out a league-high 125 times in 1953. But he also could punish pitchers with his power. On May 28, Bilko struck out five times in a game against the Reds. Boxscore The next day, against the Braves, Bilko doubled twice in the same inning _ off starter Vern Bickford and then reliever Ernie Johnson. Boxscore

In July, The Sporting News reported, “Although Repulski had been rested eight days after a slump and though Jablonski could look horrible in the field now and then and Bilko helpless against an occasional pitcher, the Falcons passed the first third of the season in fine style.”

The Falcons, all married with children, were friends as well as teammates. “On the road, they take in movies together (and) eat as a unit,” The Sporting News reported.

As the season wound down, the debut of the Polish Falcons was declared a success.

“They’re better hitters than I thought they were and they’ll be even better next year with this season’s experience,” Musial said.

In a Sporting News story headlined “Cards Hit Jackpot with Polish Falcon trio,” Stanky said, “They have not only done as well as expected, but better.”

The final 1953 hitting statistics for the Falcons:

_ Bilko: 21 home runs, 84 RBI, .251 batting average.

_ Jablonski: 21 home runs, 112 RBI, .268 batting average.

_ Repulski: 15 home runs, 66 RBI, .275 batting average.

In voting for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, Jablonski placed third and Repulski tied with Braves outfielder Bill Bruton for fourth. The winner was Dodgers infielder Jim Gilliam, with Cardinals pitcher Harvey Haddix the runner-up.

Previously: The story of how Stan Musial stole home four times

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