Of the many tributes expressed on Ozzie Smith Appreciation Day, the best came from a Cardinals opponent.

larkin_smithTwenty years ago, on Sept. 28, 1996, Barry Larkin, the heir apparent to Smith as the top shortstop in the National League, was at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, playing for the Reds against the Cardinals in the next-to-last game of the regular season.

The Cardinals had chosen that Saturday afternoon to honor Smith, 41, who in June had announced that the 1996 season would be his last as a player.

In the pre-game festivities before a crowd of 52,876, master of ceremonies Jack Buck was joined by an array of Cardinals legends, including Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Whitey Herzog.

Larkin, who like Smith would be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, took his turn at the microphone and spoke for the profession.

“Ozzie created a fraternity among shortstops and all those who had a relationship with him,” Larkin said. “On behalf of all baseball players, we thank you. For your sportsmanship. For your humanitarian work. For your great defensive plays. For hitting that home run in the 1985 playoffs. For representing baseball with honesty and integrity.”

Paving the way

Also in attendance were Smith’s mother and his three children.

Cardinals management announced that the franchise would retire the uniform No. 1 worn by Smith during his St. Louis playing career from 1982-1996. Among the gifts Smith received was a baby grand piano from his teammates and staff.

“I’d like to thank God for giving me the ability to go out and perform for 19 years in a sport that I love,” Smith said. “I’d like to thank my mom for being my inspiration and driving force. I thank my family for their support. I thank the Cardinals organization for its support and the opportunity to perform for the greatest fans in the world. I thank all my teammates, past and present, because I could not have done it without all of you.”

In summary, the master fielder known as the Wizard of Oz, said, “You have all been part of my dream. Thanks to every one of you for traveling down my Yellow Brick Road.”

Observing the lovefest, columnist Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted, “We saw an all-time record for most hugs and kisses in a single day at Busch Stadium.”

Touch of class

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa started Smith at shortstop that day and put him in the leadoff spot in the batting order.

As he headed to his position to begin the game, Smith treated fans to a somersault and his signature backflip.

The Reds started pitcher Mike Morgan, who had been released by the Cardinals a month earlier.

When Smith stepped to the plate in the first inning, Morgan tipped his cap to his former teammate. “Mike is one of the nicest guys in the game,” Smith told Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch.

Smith grounded out to Morgan.

In the third, Smith sliced a grounder down the third-base line. Eduardo Perez, the Reds’ third baseman and son of Hall of Famer Tony Perez, dived to his right, fielded the ball and threw out Smith from his knees.

Smith grounded out routinely to third against Morgan in the fifth.

Reaching base

In the sixth, facing left-hander Mike Remlinger, Smith hit a looping liner to left for a RBI-single. It would be the last regular-season hit of his career.

In his final at-bat of the game in the eighth, Smith was hit on the foot by a pitch from Scott Sullivan.

The Reds went down in order in the ninth. Bret Boone and Perez each grounded out to Smith. Larkin made the last out on a pop-up to first. The Cardinals won, 5-2. Boxscore

Smith had six fielding assists in the game and started a double play.

Starting again the next day in the season finale, Smith was 0-for-2 before he was replaced by Royce Clayton.

In the 1996 postseason, Smith was 1-for-3 in the NL Division Series versus the Padres and hitless in nine at-bats in the NL Championship Series against the Braves.

Previously: Ozzie Smith cheered Barry Larkin’s best personal feat

Previously: Bitterness at Ozzie Smith retirement announcement

Relying primarily on high fastballs, Larry Jaster got inside the heads of Dodgers batters and kept them from scoring a run against him.

larry_jaster3In a remarkable and underrated pitching feat, Jaster, 22, a Cardinals left-hander, made five starts against the 1966 Dodgers and tossed complete-game shutouts against them each time.

Fifty years ago, on Sept. 28, 1966, Jaster pitched the last of those five shutouts _ a 2-0 Cardinals victory at St. Louis _ and tied a major-league record.

Jaster became the third and last pitcher to shut out the same club five times in a season. He joined Senators pitcher Tom Hughes, who shut out the Indians five times in 1905, and Phillies pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, who shut out the Reds five times in 1916. Alexander was 8-0 with an 0.50 ERA in eight starts against the 1916 Reds.

However, Jaster is the only pitcher to achieve five consecutive shutouts against the same club in a season. Before Jaster, the record was held by Giants pitcher Fred Fitzsimmons, who had four shutouts in a row versus the Reds in 1929.

In his five starts against the 1966 Dodgers, Jaster, in his first full Cardinals season, pitched 45 shutout innings and limited them to 24 hits, all singles. He struck out 31, walked eight and hit a batter.

Stan Musial, a Cardinals vice president in 1966, had perhaps the best explanation.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times after Jaster shut out the Dodgers for the fifth time, Musial, the Cardinals’ all-time best hitter, said, “It gets to be a psychological thing with the hitters when a guy beats them one time after another.”

Beating the best

Jaster held the Dodgers to five hits or less in four of his five shutouts. He beat Don Drysdale and Claude Osteen twice each and Don Sutton once. Drysdale and Sutton would be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 1966 Dodgers were an elite opponent. They were the defending World Series champions and they would repeat as National League pennant winners in 1966.

The first four shutouts by Jaster versus the 1966 Dodgers were:

_ April 25 at Los Angeles. Jaster pitched a seven-hitter and the Cardinals won, 2-0, versus Osteen. Boxscore

_ July 3 at Los Angeles. Jaster pitched a three-hitter and the Cardinals won, 2-0, versus Drysdale. Boxscore

_ July 29 at St. Louis. Jaster pitched a five-hitter and the Cardinals won, 4-0, versus Drysdale. Boxscore

_ Aug. 19 at Los Angeles. Jaster pitched a five-hitter and the Cardinals won, 4-0, versus Osteen. Boxscore

Baseball mystery

The Sept. 28 start for Jaster against the Dodgers at St. Louis would be his last of the season. He was matched against Sutton.

The Cardinals were looking to end an eight-game losing streak. The Dodgers, who had a three-game lead over the second-place Pirates with five remaining, were looking to secure the pennant.

In the fourth inning, with two outs and the bases empty, Jaster yielded singles to Lou Johnson and Tommy Davis. Dick Stuart walked, loading the bases. The next batter, Jim Lefebvre, flied out to right fielder Mike Shannon, ending the threat.

“This is a mystery,” Lefebvre said. “That ball Jaster throws looks good (to hit). It rises a little and it has a spin on it, but it still looks good. I could see the ball very well every time. I just can’t believe what happened. It’s beyond me.”

In the bottom half of the inning, Ed Spiezio hit a two-out, two-run double into the left-field corner off Sutton, giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

The Dodgers threatened once more in the seventh. Tommy Davis singled and so did Dick Schofield. With two outs, Al Ferrara hit for catcher Jeff Torborg. Jaster struck him out.

The Dodgers were hitless in the eighth and ninth. Jaster finished with a four-hit shutout.

“You’ve got to be kind of lucky to do this,” Jaster told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I don’t feel I throw any differently against the Dodgers _ just up and down, in and out, 90 percent fastballs. I just try not to walk anybody and keep the leadoff man off base.”

Said Cardinals pitching coach Joe Becker: “Jaster just goes around the clock _ high inside, high outside, low inside, low outside. The same thing as (Sandy) Koufax, but, of course, he doesn’t have Sandy’s velocity.”

Said Koufax, the Dodgers’ ace: “Jaster makes it look easy.” Boxscore

Simply incredible

Jaster finished the 1966 season with an 11-5 record and 3.26 ERA. He was 5-0 with an 0.00 ERA versus the Dodgers; 6-5 with a 4.63 ERA against the rest of the National League.

“The kid has the same kind of motion and delivery that (Cardinals left-hander) Howie Pollet used to have,” Musial said to the Post-Dispatch. “The ball used to jump out of Pollet’s hand. Jaster throws a lot of balls high, but he keeps them outside.”

Said Dodgers outfielder Willie Davis: “He’s been throwing just one pitch, a fastball, but most guys try to keep the ball low and he’s keeping the ball up. I just don’t know.”

Jaster was a .500 pitcher against the Dodgers the rest of his career. He has a 9-5 career record and 2.81 ERA in 25 career appearances versus the Dodgers.

In 1991, on the 25th anniversary of his five-shutout performance, Jaster told John Sonderegger of the Post-Dispatch: “As time goes on, you think about it and you realize it was kind of an incredible thing.”

In 2011, 45 years after Jaster’s feat, Tim McCarver, the Cardinals’ catcher in each of the five shutouts against the 1966 Dodgers, told Dan O’Neill of the Post-Dispatch: “It was just one of those wonderful things to be a part of that you really can’t explain.”

Previously: Larry Jaster and his sparkling September with Cards

Three months after he was traded by the Giants to the Cardinals, Billy Southworth hit a home run against his former team, providing the winning run in the victory that clinched the first National League pennant for St. Louis.

billy_southworth4It was sweet revenge for Southworth, whose deteriorating relationship with Giants manager John McGraw led to the trade.

Ninety years ago, on Sept. 24, 1926, Southworth broke a 3-3 tie with a two-run home run in the second inning, carrying the Cardinals to a 6-4 victory over the Giants at the Polo Grounds in New York. The victory gave the Cardinals a three-game lead over the second-place Reds with two remaining.

In a biography of Southworth by author John C. Skipper, Southworth said, “I couldn’t have asked for a better setting, in the Polo Grounds against the Giants who had traded me. That was the timeliest home run I ever hit and to have hit it against the Giants, with McGraw snarling his defiance from the bench, made it doubly thrilling and satisfying.”

Quite a comeback

Southworth, a right fielder, was traded by the Giants to the Cardinals on June 14, 1926. “I was unable to subordinate myself to McGraw’s rigid system,” Southworth explained. “So when he decided, in 1926, that I was, from his viewpoint, hopeless, he traded me with no personal feeling one way or the other.”

Contributing to their pennant push, Southworth hit .317 in 99 games for the 1926 Cardinals.

To pitch the potential pennant clincher against the Giants, Cardinals manager Rogers Hornsby chose Flint Rhem, a 20-game winner that season, as his starter.

After the Cardinals failed to score in the top of the first against Hugh McQuillan, Bill Terry slugged a three-run home run off Rhem in the bottom half of the inning.

Said Southworth: “Hornsby poured acid on us when we came back to the bench. He told us we hadn’t been taking our full cuts at the ball for several games and to get out there and swing.”

Hornsby’s words woke up the Cardinals.

In the second, Les Bell doubled and, with one out, advanced to third on a wild pitch. Bell scored on Bob O’Farrell’s infield single. The No. 8 batter in the order, Tommy Thevenow, doubled, moving O’Farrell to third.

Rhem was due up next, but Hornsby lifted him for a pinch-hitter, Specs Toporcer.

Toporcer, who hit .391 (9-for-23) as a pinch-hitter for the 1926 Cardinals, drilled a two-run double, tying the score at 3-3.

After Taylor Douthit flied out, Southworth batted and hit his home run into the upper deck in right field, giving the Cardinals a 5-3 lead.

Bill Sherdel, who relieved Rhem, held the Giants to one run in eight innings and got the win. Boxscore

Dancing downtown

In downtown St. Louis that Friday afternoon, the game was broadcast over loudspeakers set up for the public.

When Sherdel nailed down the final out, sealing the Cardinals’ victory, it “loosed bedlam in the downtown district,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“Scenes comparable only with the ending of the Great War were enacted in the business section and repeated upon a smaller scale in other centers of the city’s life,” the newspaper reported. “Blizzards of paper enveloped every office building in the downtown area between Twelfth Boulevard and Fourth.”

Wrote the Associated Press: “Traffic at the principal corners was in a hopeless jam. Policemen, trying vainly to keep some semblance of order, were unable to keep the automobiles and street cars moving. Parades formed on Olive Street, Washington Avenue and other principal thoroughfares.”

At the Polo Grounds, the victorious Cardinals “merely smiled as they hurried to the clubhouse, shaking hands and slapping one another on the back” wrote the Associated Press.

That night, reported J. Roy Stockton in the Post-Dispatch, “as the young men sat around the lobby of the Alamac Hotel, accepting congratulations and reading telegrams from friends back home, they appeared suddenly to have knocked 10 years off their age.”

Confident Cards

Contacted by the Associated Press, Cardinals owner Sam Breadon said, “Nothing could possibly have made me happier than the winning of the pennant. When I took charge of the club seven years ago, I did it with the sole hope of winning a championship for St. Louis.”

Asked about the Cardinals being matched against the American League champion Yankees in the 1926 World Series, Hornsby boasted to The Sporting News, “Of course we are going to win the world’s championship. We have the punch and that means we do not fear the Yankees’ pitchers. We have better pitchers of our own, for that matter. Also, a faster fielding team.”

Indeed, the Cardinals went on to win four of seven games against the Yankees, earning the World Series title.

Previously: How Cardinals got Grover Cleveland Alexander

In his debut with the Cardinals, Stan Musial saw a knuckleball for the first time. Rather than become baffled or intimidated, Musial determined what he’d have to do to succeed, adjusted his approach at the plate and attacked the pitch with a purpose.

jim_tobinSeventy-five years ago, on Sept. 17, 1941, at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, Musial, 20, appeared in his first Cardinals game in the nightcap of a doubleheader versus the Braves. Batting third and playing right field, Musial was 2-for-4 with two RBI in the Cardinals’ 3-2 victory.

Facing knuckleball pitcher Jim Tobin, 28, who was in his fifth season in the big leagues, Musial had a double and a single, launching a Cardinals career that would lead to his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Wakeup call

Converted from a pitcher to an outfielder, Musial had opened the 1941 season with the Cardinals’ Class C minor-league club at Springfield, Mo. In 141 games combined for Springfield and Class AA Rochester, Musial batted .359 with 204 hits.

When Rochester was eliminated from the International League playoffs, Musial returned home to Donora, Pa. After attending Sunday Mass, he was taking a nap when a telegram arrived from the Cardinals, instructing him to report to the big-league club in St. Louis.

Musial walked into the Cardinals’ clubhouse for the first time on the morning of Sept. 17 and was greeted by equipment manager Butch Yatkeman, who issued the newcomer uniform number 6.

After watching the Cardinals win the first game of the doubleheader, 6-1, behind rookie starter Howie Pollet, Musial was put in the lineup for Game 2 by manager Billy Southworth.

Unforgettable flutter

In the first inning, Musial stepped to the plate against Tobin.

Recalling the moment in his book, “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial said, “I’ll never forget … the challenge of the first knuckleball I’d ever seen. It fluttered up to the plate, big as a grapefruit but dancing like a dust devil.”

Musial swung and popped up weakly to the third baseman.

The next time up, Musial took a different approach. “I learned to delay my stride, cut down my swing and just stroke the ball,” Musial said.

With two on and two outs in the third inning, Musial swung at the knuckler and lined a two-run double to right-center field.

The Cardinals won, 3-2, when Estel Crabtree snapped a 2-2 tie with a walkoff home run against Tobin in the ninth. Boxscore

Said Musial: “I was a happy kid all right and pretty lucky.”

Rave reviews

In its report on the game, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch cited “some welcome help from Stanley Musial, recruit outfielder from Rochester.”

Impressed, The Sporting News called Musial “a hard hitter” who “packs a lot of wallop in his 5 feet and 11 inches and 158 pounds of muscle.”

In summary, The Sporting News opined, “In addition to his hitting ability, Musial has shown exceptional speed and defensive skill. National League pitchers can expect to see a lot of him in 1942.”

In 12 games with the 1941 Cardinals, Musial batted .426 (20-for-47) and struck out just once.

He would go on to bat .429 (18-for-42) in his career versus Tobin, according to retrosheet.org.

Previously: Cards rookie Enos Slaughter set torrid extra-hit pace

Facing a familiar foe, George Watkins and Frankie Frisch delivered an unusual double dose of ninth-inning power for the Cardinals.

frankie_frisch4On June 16, 1931, Watkins and Frisch hit back-to-back home runs off the Phillies’ Ray Benge in the bottom of the ninth at St. Louis, erasing a 1-0 deficit and lifting the Cardinals to a 2-1 victory.

It was the first of only three times since 1930 that the Cardinals hit the tying and go-ahead home runs in the ninth inning, according to researcher Tom Orf.

The other times were:

_ On July 4, 1953, facing starter Paul Minner, Peanuts Lowrey hit the tying two-run home run and Rip Repulski hit the go-ahead solo home run in the top of the ninth at Chicago, overcoming a 3-1 deficit and carrying the Cardinals to a 7-3 triumph in the opener of a doubleheader. Stan Musial contributed a three-run double off Johnny Klippstein in the inning. Boxscore

_ On Sept. 6, 2016, facing reliever Tony Watson, Matt Carpenter hit the tying solo home run and Randal Grichuk hit the go-ahead two-run home run in the top of the ninth at Pittsburgh, wiping out a 6-5 deficit and helping the Cardinals to a 9-7 victory. Jhonny Peralta also hit a solo home run off Watson in that inning. Boxscore

Struggle to score

The 1931 ninth-inning comeback was the lone time the Cardinals achieved the feat at home.

Benge, a right-hander who would earn 101 wins in 12 seasons in the major leagues, had shut out the Cardinals on three hits through eight innings.

Sparky Adams led off the bottom of the ninth for St. Louis and lined out to shortstop.

Next up was Watkins.

Too careful

A left-handed batter, Watkins would hit .293 versus right-handed pitchers in 1931. He was especially effective against Benge. Watkins would hit .348 (24-for-69) against Benge in his career, according to the Web site retrosheet.org.

With his 1-0 lead, Benge worked carefully against Watkins with one out in the ninth.

“Benge fooled around with Watkins and, after Watty fouled off a couple, he finally got one in there too good,” Burleigh Grimes, the Cardinals’ starting pitcher, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Watkins hit the pitch onto the roof of the right-field pavilion at Sportsman’s Park, tying the score at 1-1.

The next batter was Frisch.

Guessing game

A switch-hitter, Frisch batted from the left side against Benge.

Like Watkins, Frisch would hit Benge hard during his career, producing a .391 batting average (25-for-64), according to retrosheet.org.

Frisch, however, hadn’t hit a home run in 1931.

“Frisch was lucky enough to guess just right,” said Grimes. “The first one to Frankie was a slow one and he figured the next was going to be a curve. Sure enough, it was and Frank was laying for it.”

Frisch hit the pitch onto the pavilion roof as well. Boxscore

Previously: Kolten Wong, Frankie Frisch gave pop to Cards at 2nd

Working with Cardinals coaches Mark Riggins and Bob Gibson after his promotion from the minor leagues to St. Louis in September 1995, Alan Benes adjusted his approach, mixing off-speed pitches with his fastball, and delivered a double-digit strikeout performance in earning his first win.

alan_benes3On Sept. 30, 1995, Benes, in his third big-league appearance, struck out 10 Pirates in the Cardinals’ 5-1 victory at St. Louis.

Twenty-one years later, Luke Weaver joined Benes and Stu Miller as the only Cardinals pitchers to achieve double-digit strikeouts in one of their first four appearances for St. Louis, according to researcher Tom Orf.

Miller struck out 10 Dodgers in his fourth Cardinals appearance on Aug. 26, 1952. Boxscore Weaver struck out 10 Brewers in his fourth Cardinals appearance on Aug. 31, 2016. Boxscore

Valued prize

Like Weaver in 2014, Benes was a first-round draft choice of the Cardinals. Benes was selected in the 1993 June amateur draft with the 16th overall pick just after the Blue Jays took pitcher Chris Carpenter with the 15th pick.

Benes produced a 17-3 record and 2.28 ERA in 30 starts in the Cardinals’ minor-league system in 1994. Limited by an injury, he was 4-2 with a 2.41 ERA in 11 starts for Class AAA Louisville in 1995 before his call-up to the Cardinals.

In September 1995, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described Benes as “the most valued prize in the Cardinals’ farm system.”

Learning curve

Benes, 23, made his Cardinals debut on Sept. 19, 1995, in a start against the Pirates at Pittsburgh. He displayed an impressive fastball, but wasn’t effective. His line: 4 innings, 8 hits, 7 runs, 1 walk and 5 strikeouts. The Pirates won, 12-1, and Benes was the losing pitcher.

“He threw a few too many strikes,” Riggins told writer Rick Hummel. “He didn’t make the hitters chase some pitches and he can. That comes with experience.”

Said Benes: “I didn’t really move the ball around as much as I could have. I didn’t throw inside enough. I basically had one pitch.”

Six days later, on Sept. 25, Benes made his second appearance, starting against the Cubs at Chicago, and the results were similar to his first. Benes’ line: 3.1 innings, 9 hits, 7 runs, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts. The Cubs won, 7-0, dropping Benes’ record to 0-2.

“He didn’t get his breaking ball over,” said Cardinals manager Mike Jorgensen. “… He’s throwing hard. It’s a matter of pitching rather than throwing.”

Said Benes: “I’m not happy, but I’m not going to put a lot of stock in it. The first three or four games you’ve got to learn.”

That’s a winner

Benes was a quick study. Riggins, the pitching coach, and Gibson, the bullpen coach and former ace, worked with Benes on pitch selection and command.

In his third Cardinals appearance, on Sept. 30 against the Pirates at St. Louis in the next-to-last game of the season, Benes was dominant.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander shut out the Pirates through eight innings. He entered the ninth with a 5-0 lead.

With two outs and runners on first and third, Midre Cummings hit a double to center off Benes, driving in a run.

Jorgensen was booed when he went to the mound and called for closer Tom Henke to replace Benes. Henke struck out Kevin Young, saving Benes’ first win. Benes’ line: 8.2 innings, 7 hits, 1 run, 2 walks and 10 strikeouts. Boxscore

In his analysis of Benes’ performance, Cardinals catcher Danny Sheaffer said, “He got ahead in the count. No doubt that made a big difference. That and he pitched a little different with the early lead.”

Entering the off-season on a positive, Benes admitted, “This was a real important game for me to win.”

Three months later, the Cardinals signed his older brother, starting pitcher Andy Benes, who had become a free agent after pitching for the Padres and Mariners. In 1996, Andy and Alan Benes combined for 31 regular-season wins, helping the Cardinals to a division championship.

Previously: The story of Stu Miller and his stellar start with Cards

Previously: Unlike Lance Lynn, Alan Benes unlucky in big K effort