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Joe Cunningham usually hit for average, not for power. So the three home runs he produced in his first two big-league games with the Cardinals were surprising.

joe_cunninghamTwo rookies with the 2014 Cubs, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler, joined Cunningham as the only players since 1900 to hit three home runs in their first three major-league games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Baez hit a home run in his first major-league game on Aug. 5, 2014, at Colorado and followed that with two homers in his third game on Aug. 7 at Colorado.

Soler homered in his first big-league game on Aug. 27, 2014, at Cincinnati and hit two more in his third game on Aug. 29 at St. Louis.

Cunningham did them one better. He’s the only player since 1900 to hit three home runs in his first two big-league games.

Mid-season replacement

A left-handed batter and first baseman, Cunningham, 22, began the 1954 season at Class AAA Rochester. On June 28, 1954, the Cardinals came to Rochester to play an exhibition game versus the Red Wings. Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky said the prospect he was most interested in seeing was Cunningham. Because of that, Cunningham insisted on being in the lineup, even though he had leg cramps.

Cunningham produced two singles and walked twice in four plate appearances.

Impressed, the Cardinals decided to promote Cunningham. On June 29, before the Red Wings played a doubleheader against Havana at Rochester, Cunningham was told he would be joining the Cardinals in Cincinnati the next day.

Cunningham was replacing rookie first baseman Tom Alston. In 66 games, Alston, the Cardinals’ first black player, hit .246 with four homers and 34 RBI. But he slumped in June (.181 batting average for the month) and produced only seven RBI in his last 42 games.

Whirlwind journey

Cunningham planned to catch an overnight train from Rochester to Cincinnati after playing both games of the doubleheader against Havana. He went hitless  _ “I was so happy and surprised (about the promotion) I hardly could see up there at the plate,” Cunningham said to The Sporting News. _ but because of the length of the games, he missed the train.

“I just had to get there,” Cunningham said.

A member of the Rochester publicity staff agreed to drive Cunningham from Rochester to the Buffalo airport the morning of June 30. Cunningham took a flight from Buffalo to Cincinnati, arrived in the afternoon, signed a big-league contract and went to the ballpark.

Stanky put Cunningham in the starting lineup, batting him fifth against the Reds that night.

St. Louis slugger

Cunningham hit into force outs in his first two at-bats. In the fifth, facing Art Fowler, a 32-year-old rookie right-hander, Cunningham hit a three-run home run for his first big-league hit. He followed that with a two-run single off left-hander Harry Perkowski in the seventh. Cunningham’s five-RBI performance carried the Cardinals to an 11-3 victory. Boxscore

Immediately afterward, the Cardinals traveled to Milwaukee for a game the next day, July 1, against the Braves and their ace, left-hander Warren Spahn. Stanky put Cunningham in the lineup, batting sixth.

Cunningham hit two home runs off Spahn. The first was a 390-foot solo shot to right in the second inning. In the fifth, he connected for a three-run homer that landed just inside the right-field foul pole. The Cardinals won, 9-2. Boxscore

Dream come true

“This is just like a dream,” Cunningham said to the Associated Press. “I always wanted to be a big leaguer, but I had no idea it would come so soon.”

He had just one problem. “I left the minors in such a hurry I only brought along one pair of trousers,” Cunningham said. “I guess I’m still in a sort of shock. I had all my stuff at the cleaners and the only pants I’ve got are the ones I’ve been wearing.”

The next day, July 2, playing in his third game in his third city in three days, Cunningham was 1-for-3 with a single and a walk against the Cubs at Chicago. Boxscore

Cunningham finished the 1954 season with a .284 batting average, 11 home runs and 50 RBI in 85 games for the Cardinals. In 12 big-league seasons, seven with the Cardinals, Cunningham hit .291 with 64 homers. His single-season high in home runs was 12 for the 1958 Cardinals.

Previously: The story of how Tom Alston integrated Cardinals

Previously: Jim Brosnan: Combination Cardinals chronicler, closer

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An overachiever with a team-oriented attitude, Joe McEwing was Tony La Russa’s kind of Cardinals player.

joe_mcewingMcEwing also might be La Russa’s kind of manager.

Speculation is McEwing, the former Cardinals second baseman, might be approached by La Russa to become manager of the Diamondbacks.

McEwing has been a coach with the White Sox since 2012. Before that, he was a manager for three seasons in the White Sox minor-league system. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is a close friend of La Russa, whose first big-league managing job was with the White Sox.

La Russa, chief baseball officer for the Diamondbacks, hasn’t said whether he’ll retain Kirk Gibson as manager. That’s fueled speculation about who else La Russa might consider.

Sub to starter

McEwing played for the Cardinals in 1998 and 1999 when La Russa was their manager. Called up from the minors in September 1998, McEwing, 25, made his big-league debut with the Cardinals and played in 10 games that month, batting .200 (4-for-20).

Ticketed for a utility role with the 1999 Cardinals, McEwing earned the second base job over Placido Polanco.

McEwing endeared himself to La Russa and Cardinals fans by putting together a 25-game hitting streak from June 8-July 4. He broke the Cardinals rookie record held by Johnny Mize (22-game streak in 1936). McEwing’s streak was the longest by a Cardinals player since Lou Brock (26 consecutive games) in 1971.

“I appreciate Cardinal history,” McEwing said to columnist Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch during the streak. “I’m a big fan of the game and to be mentioned in the same sentence with Johnny Mize, Lou Brock, Hall of Famers. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Asked whether he thought of the streak when he awoke each morning, McEwing replied to Miklasz, “When I get up, I worry about getting my coffee and doughnuts.”

Super streak

The streak began with a pair of singles against Royals starter Chris Fussell on June 8 at Kansas City. Boxscore

It reached 25 games in a row on July 4 with a home run off Diamondbacks starter Andy Benes, a former Cardinal. Boxscore

“He plays each game like it’s the seventh game of the World Series,” La Russa said of McEwing during the streak. “He is never different.”

Willie McGee, who had a 22-game streak for the 1990 Cardinals, said McEwing “deserves it. He works hard … He’s an outstanding person and an outstanding player.”

Beaten by the best

McEwing’s streak was snapped by Diamondbacks left-hander Randy Johnson on July 5. McEwing was 0-for-4 that day against Johnson, who won the National League ERA title and the second of his five Cy Young awards in 1999. In his last at-bat, McEwing lined out to left in the seventh with the bases loaded and two outs. Boxscore

“I told him he just got beat by a Hall of Famer,” La Russa said.

Added McEwing: “It was a good run and I enjoyed it.”

McEwing hit .318 during the streak, with 13 runs scored.

Fifteen years later, his hitting streak remains the longest by a Cardinals rookie.

McEwing would finish the 1999 season with a .275 batting average and 141 hits, including 28 doubles, in 152 games. He paced the Cardinals with 16 infield hits and grounded into only three double plays in 513 at-bats. McEwing made 85 starts at second base, 18 in center field, 16 in left and eight in right.

After the season, the Cardinals acquired second baseman Fernando Vina from the Brewers. During spring training in March 2000, the Cardinals traded McEwing to the Mets for reliever Jesse Orosco. McEwing helped the Mets win their first pennant in 14 years, eliminating the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.

In eight big-league season with the Cardinals, Mets, Royals and Astros, McEwing batted .251 with 443 hits. That’s better than La Russa, who batted .199 with 35 hits in six seasons with the Athletics, Braves and Cubs before going on to a Hall of Fame managerial career.

Previously: How Tony La Russa can learn from Whitey Herzog mistakes

Previously: Tony La Russa successor follows Cardinals pattern

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(Updated Aug. 31, 2014)

With his combination of aggressiveness and power potential, rookie Wally Moon reminded the 1954 Cardinals of Enos Slaughter, the dynamo who would earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

wally_moon2Sixty years later, rookie Kolten Wong of the 2014 Cardinals is displaying similar skills.

Moon was the first Cardinals rookie to reach double figures in home runs (12) and stolen bases (18) in a season. Since then, two other Cardinals rookies _ Ken Boyer (18 home runs, 22 stolen bases in 1955) and J.D. Drew (13 home runs, 19 stolen bases in 1999) _ achieved the feat.

Wong has joined them. The second baseman has 19 stolen bases and 10 home runs for the 2014 Cardinals.

Like Slaughter and Moon, Wong bats left-handed.

Slaughter set standard

As a rookie for the 1938 Cardinals, Slaughter couldn’t achieve what Moon, Boyer and Drew did. Slaughter produced eight home runs and one stolen base in his rookie season. But he soon established himself as an aggressive force who hustled on the base paths and consistently produced runs.

In 13 seasons (1938-42 and 1946-53) with the Cardinals (he missed three prime years while serving in the military), Slaughter had a .305 batting average, with 2,064 hits in 1,820 games, and an on-base percentage of .384.

The Cardinals, confident in Moon’s talent, traded Slaughter to the Yankees two days before the start of the 1954 season.

In a YouTube video interview, Moon recalled that the trade of Slaughter “really shocked the whole team; it shocked the city of St. Louis.”

On the eve of the 1954 season, The Sporting News wrote of Moon, “The 24-year-old Texas A&M graduate can run, throw, field and _ presumably _ hit with the kind of balanced ability and hungry attitude the Cardinals used to have, the kind of combination of skills that gave rise to an old expression: a Cardinals-type ballplayer.”

Moon had an excellent rookie season. He hit .304 and had an on-base percentage of .371. His totals of 193 hits, 106 runs, 29 doubles and 18 steals would be his single-season highs in a 12-year major-league career. Moon ranked fifth in the National League that season in hits, two behind both Stan Musial and Willie Mays. He was named the NL Rookie of the Year Award winner, receiving 17 of 24 votes and outdistancing Ernie Banks (4 votes), Gene Conley (2) and Hank Aaron (1).

Moon’s 1954 home run and stolen base totals were highlighted by a pair of noteworthy single-game performances.

Moon shot

In his first major-league at-bat, in the first inning of the Cardinals’ opener against the Cubs at St. Louis on April 13, 1954, Moon got a rude welcome.

“I’m coming to bat in the bottom half of the first,” Moon recalled in the You Tube video, “and they announce my name and the crowd starts chanting, ‘We want Eno. We want Eno.’ They were unhappy and I certainly could hear that.”

The first two pitches to Moon from Paul Minner were balls. The next pitch from the left-hander was a fastball “down the heart of the plate,” Moon said.

“I hit it and I hit it hard and I hit it high and I hit it long,” Moon said. “I hit it out of the ballpark, over the pavilion roof and onto Grand Avenue. I think somewhere I got a shot of adrenaline, a great surge of power. It’s probably one of the longest home runs I ever hit.

“About the time I got to second base with my home run trot _ it was more than a trot; I was running those bases _ those boos and chants had changed to a great roar of applause. It lifted a burden off my shoulders. I thank the Lord for giving me the strength on that particular day. It was exhilarating.” Boxscore

Moon became the second Cardinals player to hit a home run in his first time at-bat in the big leagues. The other was Eddie Morgan in 1936.

Running wild

About a month later, on May 25, again against the Cubs at St. Louis, Moon had four steals, one short of the NL single-game record established by Dan McGann of the 1904 Giants.

All four stolen bases came against catcher Walker Cooper, 39, the former Cardinal.

Wrote The Sporting News: “Moon gave Walker Cooper one of the most miserable days of the veteran catcher’s 15 seasons in the majors.”

Moon swiped second base in the first inning with Johnny Klippstein pitching and he stole second again in the fourth with Jim Brosnan pitching.

In the fifth, after Moon singled off Brosnan, the Cubs brought in Jim Willis to pitch to Alex Grammas.

Moon stole second.

Then he stole third.

Rattled, Willis threw a wild pitch and Moon scored.

Angry, Willis plunked Grammas with his next delivery.

A Cardinals publicist sent word to manager Eddie Stanky that Moon needed one more steal to tie the record. Moon, though, flied out to left in his last at-bat.

“I would have given Moon every chance to get that fifth steal,” Stanky said. “He’s a nervy youngster.” Boxscore

Moon said he’d “take another crack one of these days” at the stolen base record. Said Stanky: “When he says he’ll have another go at it, I’m sure he will.”

But Moon never again challenged the record. He had two steals in a game in July 1954 and never had more than one in a game the remainder of his career.

Previously: Oscar Taveras, Eddie Morgan: Flashy starts to Cardinals careers

Previously: Trade caused Enos Slaughter, Stan Musial to burst into tears

Previously: Cardinals steals leader Jon Jay plays similar to Wally Moon

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In the season that produced his highest hits total, Cardinals center fielder Curt Flood had his best day as a hitter.

curt_flood6Fifty years ago, on Aug. 16, 1964, Flood got hits in eight consecutive at-bats in a doubleheader against the Dodgers at Los Angeles. Four of those hits came against Sandy Koufax.

Flood had a chance to tie the big-league record for consecutive hits in a doubleheader, but he made his only out of the day in his final at-bat.

“I’m mighty happy to have gotten eight hits, even though I couldn’t get that last one,” Flood said to United Press International.

Flood became the first National League player with eight hits in a doubleheader since Pirates shortstop Stan Rojek did it against the Dodgers at Pittsburgh in 1948.

Joe Kelley, a left fielder for the Orioles, established the record of nine consecutive hits in a doubleheader on Sept. 3, 1894, against Cleveland.

Entering the day with a .291 batting average, Flood was at .302 after his 8-for-9 performance. He would finish the season with a .311 batting average and a career-best 211 hits, tying him with Roberto Clemente of the Pirates as the 1964 National League hits leader.

With his wife, four children and parents in attendance, Flood batted leadoff in each game of the doubleheader.

Dandy vs. Sandy

In the opener, the Dodgers started Koufax, who that season would lead the National League in ERA (1.74) and winning percentage (.792 with a 19-5 record).

Koufax was dominant against everyone except Flood that day. The left-hander struck out 13 and shut out the Cardinals on seven hits. Flood, though, went 4-for-4 against him. Flood, a right-handed batter, hit .296 (32-for-108) in his career against Koufax.

Here’s what Flood did in Game 1:

_ First inning. Flood led off the game with a double down the left-field line. He was stranded at second when Koufax struck out Lou Brock, then got Dick Groat on a fly out and Ken Boyer on a pop out.

_ Third inning. With two outs and none on, Flood doubled to left, a shot just inside the third-base line. Koufax then struck out Brock.

_ Fifth inning. Flood looped a single to right with two outs and none on.

_ Seventh inning. With Julian Javier on first and two outs, Flood lined a single to center, sending Javier to third. Koufax then struck out Brock for the third time, ending the threat.

The Dodgers won, 3-0. Boxscore

Igniting the offense

In Game 2, Flood sparked the Cardinals against Larry Miller, a rookie left-hander. Here’s what Flood did in that game:

_ First inning. Flood laced a triple into the right-field corner and scored on Groat’s sacrifice fly.

_ Third inning. With one out and none on, Flood lined a single to center.

_ Fourth inning. With two outs, the bases loaded and Flood at the plate, Dodgers manager Walter Alston replaced Larry Miller with Bob Miller, a former Cardinals right-hander. Flood singled to right, driving in two runs and giving the Cardinals a 4-0 lead.

_ Sixth inning. Flood stroked his eighth consecutive hit, a two-out single to left off right-hander Phil Ortega.

_ Ninth inning. With the Dodger Stadium crowd cheering for him, Flood faced left-hander Ron Perranoski with one out and none on. Flood hit .286 (10-for-35) against Perranoski in his career. This time, though, he struck out.

“Perranoski threw me some sinkers and I missed them,” Flood said to The Sporting News.

Still, the Cardinals won, 4-0, behind the 4-for-5 effort by Flood and the pitching of Curt Simmons. Boxscore

When reporters gathered around Flood’s locker after the game, catcher Tim McCarver, Flood’s friend and teammate, put on an ape mask, grabbed a pencil and pad and joined the throng.

McCarver: “How do you explain how you make monkeys out of the Dodgers pitchers?”

Flood laughed, then replied: “I am sore and tired. I should have saved that triple in the first inning of the second game. That ruined me.”

Previously: Sandy Koufax: ‘I still don’t know how to pitch to Curt Flood’

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(Updated Aug. 24, 2014)

In 2000, Edgar Renteria established the Cardinals single-season record for most home runs hit by a shortstop. In 2014, Jhonny Peralta topped that mark.

edgar_renteria5Peralta, in his first season as the Cardinals’ shortstop, has 18 home runs.

Renteria, in his second season as the Cardinals’ shortstop, hit 16 homers in 2000. Those were the most home runs hit by a Cardinals shortstop in a season since Solly Hemus slugged a career-best 15 in 1952.

(Daryl Spencer hit 16 home runs for the 1960 Cardinals, 13 as a shortstop and 3 as a second baseman.)

During spring training in 2000, Renteria told Marlins manager John Boles he intended to hit 20 home runs for the Cardinals. Tony La Russa, the Cardinals’ manager, flinched when he heard Renteria’s remark, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. La Russa wanted Renteria focused on hitting for average, not power.

Renteria did both. He led the 2000 Cardinals in hits (156), doubles (32) and stolen bases (21). He batted .278 and was second on the club in RBI (76), behind only Jim Edmonds (108). Renteria was named to the National League Silver Slugger team, the first Cardinals shortstop to have done so since Ozzie Smith in 1987.

Record rocket

On Aug. 29, 2000, Renteria hit a solo home run off Marlins rookie Chuck Smith. It broke Hemus’ club record and was Renteria’s last home run of the season.

“I think that was the only mistake (Smith) made the whole game,” Renetria told the Post-Dispatch.

Said La Russa: “He’s been the complete shortstop. You can’t ask for any more than he’s done.” Boxscore

Many of Renteria’s home runs in 2000 came in bunches.

He hit a home run in each of three consecutive games from April 9-11. Those blasts came off Valerio de los Santos of the Brewers and the Astros’ Jose Lima and Doug Henry.

Renteria also hit home runs in back-to-back games against the Giants’ Russ Ortiz and Kirk Rueter on May 9-10.

Hungry hitters

Renteria, a right-handed batter, contributed to a homer-happy 2000 Cardinals team that ranked second in the National League in home runs at 235, trailing only the Astros (249). Nine Cardinals in 2000 hit 12 homers or more, led by Edmonds (42) and Mark McGwire (32).

“All these guys are coming to home plate hungry,” Cardinals hitting coach Mike Easler said to the Post-Dispatch. “That’s what I like about it. They’re never satisfied with the at-bat before. The next at-bat is always like their last one. Their intensity at home plate is much higher than last year.”

Renteria, who turned 24 in 2000, hit 12 of his 16 home runs on the road. Eleven of the 16 were struck versus right-handed pitchers. Ten were solo shots.

The 16 home runs in 2000 were Renteria’s single-season high in 16 major-league seasons. He hit 140 homers in the big leagues, 71 in six seasons (1999-2004) with the Cardinals.

Previously: Edgar Renteria had epic season at shortstop for 2003 Cardinals

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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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