Weakened by injuries that stripped him of his power and reduced his mobility, Roger Maris appeared unwanted and was considering retiring after the 1966 season, five years after he hit 61 home runs for the Yankees and broke Babe Ruth’s major-league record. Unexpectedly, the Cardinals took a chance on him.

roger_maris3Fifty years ago, on Dec. 8, 1966, in a deal made by Bob Howsam and sealed by Stan Musial, the Cardinals acquired Maris from the Yankees for third baseman Charlie Smith.

Though Maris was a marquee name, he no longer was a marquee player. His diminished skills, along with a reputation for surliness, caused some to wonder why the Cardinals wanted him.

Damn Yankees

In 1965, Maris, who’d broken the hamate bone in his right hand, hit .239 with eight home runs in 46 games. The hand still was weak when he returned in 1966. Then he injured his left knee in a collision at home plate with Tigers catcher Bill Freehan. Maris hit .233 with 13 home runs in 119 games for the 1966 Yankees.

Unhappy in New York and embarrassed by his declining performance, Maris planned to assess his future during the off-season and make a decision about whether to continue playing.

At 32, Maris was “almost positive” he would retire, according to the book “Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero.”

In November 1966, Yankees general manager Lee MacPhail called Maris and asked about his plans. Maris said he wanted to wait until spring training to declare his intentions, then added, “If you’re going to trade me, tell me now and I’ll send in my retirement papers to you right away.”

MacPhail told Maris the Yankees didn’t intend to trade him.

Let’s make a deal

A month later, at the baseball winter meetings in Columbus, Ohio, Howsam, the Cardinals’ general manager, was having lunch when he was approached by Yankees manager Ralph Houk, who had managed the Denver Bears in the 1950s when Howsam was the minor-league club’s top executive.

“I started to kid Ralph and said, ‘Hey, when are we going to make a trade?’ ” Howsam told Neal Russo of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Houk then said, ‘Would you be interested in Maris?’ I told him that I’d have to think it over. When I got on the plane heading back to St. Louis, I figured we might be able to use Maris.”

In St. Louis, Howsam met with Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst and asked him whether he’d like to have Maris on the club. Replied Red: “Who wouldn’t?”

Mike Shannon, the Cardinals’ right fielder, had worked in Florida during the off-season on learning to play third base. Howsam and Schoendienst were certain Shannon could make the move to third, opening right field for Maris.

Healthy outlook

Maris learned of the trade from a news photographer who showed up at the Maris house in Independence, Mo., to get reaction shots.

Contacted by the Post-Dispatch, Maris said, “I wouldn’t say I’m overjoyed about the trade.”

In an article for the Post-Dispatch, Joe McGuff, a Kansas City journalist who knew Maris well, explained, “Maris is concerned about his physical condition and he doesn’t want to play if he feels he can’t give the Cardinals a good effort … At this stage, pride is more important to Maris than money. It would mean a great deal to Maris to bow out with a big year.”

McGuff added: “If Maris decides to play for the Cardinals, he will be a definite asset. If he is sound physically, he could bring them a pennant.”

Johnny Keane, who had managed the 1964 Cardinals to a World Series championship before becoming Maris’ manager with the 1965-66 Yankees, told Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg, “If Roger is interested, if he’ll be aroused by this challenge, he could do a big job for the Cardinals.”

Said Schoendienst: “Maris is a real threat. He’ll help in more ways than one. He’s a good outfielder and has good judgment on the bases.”

The reaction in New York, though, was that Maris was through.

In his syndicated column, Red Smith wrote of Maris, “More surprising than yesterday’s deal and the modest price accepted was the fact that the Yankees found a club willing to accept their damaged goods. There was no secret about the guy’s being marked disposable … When Lee MacPhail dropped his name into conversations at the recent winter meetings, people walked away.”

Smith concluded, “He could have owned New York. Now he’s gone and won’t be missed. He was a demigod. Now he is a line in the record book, with an asterisk.”

Cardinal Way

Soon after the trade, Howsam left the Cardinals to join the Reds. Musial, who had become a team vice president after ending his illustrious playing career in 1963, replaced Howsam. One of Musial’s first moves as general manager was to invite Maris and his wife, Pat, to St. Louis for lunch with Stan and his wife, Lil.

When Maris returned home, he received in the mail from Musial a 1967 contract for $75,000, an increase from what the Yankees had paid him.

Maris, though, still was in no rush to commit. Musial didn’t pressure him. Impressed, Maris told Musial in early February he’d report to the Cardinals.

At spring training, Maris gained the trust of Cardinals players by working hard and selflessly on the field and interacting happily and humbly off the field.

Wrote Russo: “He meshed well with his new teammates, joining them in barbecues and chatting and joking often with them at the club’s motel.”

With defense, hustle, smart baserunning and solid fundamentals, Maris’ value to the Cardinals transcended statistics. They won two National League pennants and a World Series title in his two seasons with the club.

Maris produced 18 doubles, seven triples, nine home runs, 55 RBI and hit .261 in 125 games in 1967. In the World Series against the Red Sox, Maris hit .385 (10-for-26) with three walks, a home run and seven RBI.

Maris played in 100 games in 1968 and had 18 doubles, five home runs, 45 RBI and hit .255.

Previously: With last homer, Roger Maris helped Cards clinch title

Barry Bonds might have broken Hank Aaron’s career home run record as a member of the Cardinals, not the Giants, if he and the Redbirds had been able to agree on a compensation package.

barry_bondsTen years ago, in December 2006, the Cardinals and Bonds, a free agent, expressed mutual interest in exploring a deal.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who urged the front office to pursue discussions, was fascinated by the possibility of having Bonds and Albert Pujols in the same batting order.

“I was intrigued by the idea,” La Russa said to St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Joe Strauss. “… I’m thinking it might be there for (Bonds) in St. Louis … We have an opportunity if he thinks he fits with us.”

For Bonds, who had been with the Giants since 1993, the Cardinals looked appealing for at least two reasons:

_ La Russa had a track record of successfully managing, and protecting, sluggers (Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco) whose reputations had been tainted by suspicion of performance-enhancing drug use.

_ Bonds, 42, never had played on a World Series championship team and he knew his time for doing so was running short. The Cardinals, who won the 2006 World Series title, had qualified for the postseason in six of the previous seven years. The Giants had losing records in each of the previous two seasons.

Bonds “has thought seriously about playing alongside Albert Pujols in St. Louis,” the San Jose Mercury News reported.

La Russa envisioned a 2007 Cardinals batting order of David Eckstein at shortstop, Jim Edmonds in center field, Pujols at first base, Bonds in left field, Scott Rolen at third base, Juan Encarnacion (or Chris Duncan) in right field, Yadier Molina at catcher and Aaron Miles at second base.

Bonds still could produce. In 2006, he had 23 doubles, 26 home runs, 115 walks and 77 RBI in 130 games. With 734 career home runs, Bonds needed 22 more to break Aaron’s record of 755.

Though negotiations didn’t get much beyond a preliminary stage _ the Cardinals wanted Bonds to agree to a deeply discounted salary _ the flirtation between the two parties appeared sincere while it lasted.

Let’s talk

Shortly after he had surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow, Bonds became a free agent in October 2006. Though many expected him to stay with the Giants, other teams, most publicly the Athletics, were interested.

In a Nov. 11, 2006, column in the Post-Dispatch, Bernie Miklasz scoffed, “Scratch the ridiculous rumors of the Cardinals having an interest in signing Barry Bonds. There’s nothing to it. If the Cardinals make a run at any prominent free-agent hitter, it will be Alfonso Soriano.”

However, a month later, during the baseball winter meetings in Orlando in December 2006, La Russa became convinced Bonds was available and he encouraged the Cardinals to meet with Bonds’ representatives, the Post-Dispatch reported.

The Cardinals met with the Bonds group, including Jeff Borris, the slugger’s agent, and then had internal meetings to discuss the matter. La Russa requested a meeting with Bonds, though it was unclear whether that session occurred.

However, Bonds did meet with Tigers manager Jim Leyland in Orlando. Leyland, who was Bonds’ manager with the Pirates from 1986-1992, “wasn’t acting on behalf of the Tigers,” the Mercury News reported.

“Leyland and La Russa are very close and it’s thought that Leyland might have been gathering a read on Bonds for his good friend,” wrote Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News.

The interest was serious enough that Cardinals officials considered polling their key players to get their take on the notion of Bonds joining the club, the Post-Dispatch reported.

“Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols, back to back? It’s more than a fantasy league lineup _ and more than a rumor,” the Mercury News told its readers.

Show me the money

When the discussions between the Cardinals and Bonds’ representatives turned to money, it became evident a deal wouldn’t occur.

The Cardinals had offered another veteran free-agent hitter, Luis Gonzalez, a one-year deal at $7.3 million, the Post-Dispatch reported. Bonds was seeking more than $10 million a year.

“It’s not realistic,” La Russa said to Strauss, “because if he comes with us he would only be making pennies.”

“We couldn’t pay him,” La Russa concluded.

Wrote the Mercury News: “Barry Bonds is intrigued with playing under the St. Louis arch, but the money is pointing him someplace else. Bonds isn’t known for leaving cash on the table.”

The San Jose newspaper predicted Bonds “would return to San Francisco if the Cardinals cannot approach the Giants’ offer.”

Pressed by reporters, Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty snapped, “There’s nothing on with Bonds. I’m sick and tired of people asking that. We don’t have money for Bonds.”

On Dec. 7, 2006, Bonds and the Giants agreed on financial terms. Bonds would receive a $15.8 million base salary in 2007, plus bonus incentives that could increase the package to $20 million.

Messy affair

Naturally, just the idea the Cardinals would consider signing Bonds created controversy among Cardinals fans and media.

Bryan Burwell of the Post-Dispatch opined, “The Cardinals’ brief but unrequited dalliance with Barry Bonds turned out to be just like every other naughty romance: loaded with provocative attraction, potentially perilous consequences, a tinge of remorse, a hint of shame and a ton of relieved hindsight.”

Burwell asked, “Would the most despised man in all of sports suddenly have found a safe and welcome haven in the bosom of Cardinal Nation?”

Miklasz’s take: “The Cardinals and their fans have a history of embracing Mark McGwire and baseball’s steroids culture, so why draw the line at Bonds?”

In his final season, Bonds hit 28 home runs for the 2007 Giants. On Aug. 7, 2007, he hit career home run No. 756 off Mike Bacsik of the Nationals, breaking Aaron’s record. Bonds finished with 762 career home runs.

Previously: Albert Pujols and the start of his NL MVP run

If Red Sox ace Boo Ferriss would have started Game 6 of the 1946 World Series against the Cardinals, would Boston have won the championship? In retrospect, probably not, but at the time the decision by Red Sox manager Joe Cronin to hold Ferriss for a possible Game 7 created controversy and second guessing.

boo_ferrissAfter the Red Sox won Game 5, giving them three wins in the best-of-seven Series, they needed one more victory to clinch the title. Cronin indicated he’d start Ferriss in Game 6. Ferriss had shut out the Cardinals in Game 3 and he had led the Red Sox in wins during the regular season, with 25.

At the last minute, however, Cronin changed his mind and started Mickey Harris in Game 6. The Cardinals beat Harris, evening the Series. Ferriss started the decisive Game 7, but the Cardinals won that, too, earning their third World Series crown in five years.

Cronin was criticized for not starting his best pitcher when the Red Sox had the opportunity to claim the championship with a Game 6 triumph. Few pitchers in 1946 had better credentials than Dave “Boo” Ferriss, who, 70 years later, died on Nov. 24, 2016, at 94.

Big winner

Ferriss _ he got his nickname when, as a child, he tried to say the word “brother” and it came out “boo,” according to a biography by the Society for American Baseball Research _ debuted with the Red Sox in 1945 and posted a 21-10 record.

In 1946, Ferriss, a right-hander, was even better. He won his first 10 decisions and finished the regular season at 25-6, including a 13-0 mark at home.

After the Red Sox and Cardinals split the first two games of the 1946 World Series at St. Louis, Ferriss got the start in Game 3 on Oct. 9 at Boston. Throwing a sinker from a three-quarters sidearm delivery, Ferriss held the Cardinals scoreless for nine innings, limiting them to six hits and a walk in a 4-0 Red Sox triumph.

Stan Musial tried to spark the Cardinals in the first inning when he walked with two outs and stole second base. Noticing Musial taking a big lead off second, Ferriss turned and caught him flat-footed. Holding the ball, Ferriss moved toward Musial, who broke for third. Ferriss threw to third baseman Pinky Higgins, who applied the tag.

In the ninth, Musial tripled with two outs, but Ferriss preserved the shutout by striking out Enos Slaughter. Boxscore

Chance to clinch

The Cardinals evened the Series with a win in Game 4 and Boston went ahead with a win in Game 5. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis Star-Times reported Ferriss would start Game 6 on Oct. 13 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.

According to the Post-Dispatch, Cronin told reporters, “Don’t worry about any seventh game. There won’t be any.”

Post-Dispatch columnist John Wray wrote that Cronin “thinks Ferriss will turn back the Redbirds and clinch the world title in the sixth game. Ferriss is a real hurdle for the Birds.”

Dizzy Dean, retired Cardinals ace, told the Post-Dispatch on the eve of Game 6, “I reckon it’ll be Ferriss for the Sox tomorrow.”

Change of plans

Ferriss, though, would have been pitching on three days’ rest, instead of the usual four, if he had started Game 6. He also would have been matched against Harry Brecheen, who had shut out the Red Sox in Game 2 and was chosen the Cardinals’ Game 6 starter by manager Eddie Dyer.

“Ferriss was set to start,” reported the Detroit Free Press, “but at the last hour” Cronin reconsidered and opted to start Harris.

A left-hander, Harris had started and lost Game 2, though he yielded one earned run in seven innings. During the regular season, Harris had a 17-9 record.

“Cronin gambled on (Harris) because Sportsman’s Park usually has been a paradise for southpaws,” United Press reported.

This time, Harris gave up three runs in 2.2 innings and the Cardinals won Game 6, 4-1. Boxscore

Cardinals clout

After a scheduled off day on Oct. 14, Game 7 was played on Oct. 15 at St. Louis. Described by the Post-Dispatch as “a master of variable speed and control,” Ferriss, starting on five days’ rest, was opposed by Murry Dickson.

In the fifth inning, with the score tied at 1-1, Dickson doubled, scoring Harry Walker from second. Red Schoendienst followed with a single, scoring Dickson and giving the Cardinals a 3-1 lead. After Terry Moore singled, Cronin replaced Ferriss with Joe Dobson.

Ferriss’ line: 4.1 innings, 7 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts.

The Red Sox tied the score with two runs in the eighth, but the Cardinals went ahead in the bottom half when Slaughter made a mad dash from first and scored on a Walker hit off Bob Klinger. Brecheen, who had relieved Dickson, shut down the Red Sox in the ninth, giving the Cardinals a 4-3 triumph and the championship. Boxscore

Decisions, decisions

Based on Brecheen’s performance in Game 6, Ferriss, if he had started that game, would have had to shut out the Cardinals in order to ensure the Red Sox of clinching then.

Still, Cronin caught heat for his decision-making:

_ Sid Kenner, St. Louis Star-Times: “Why didn’t Cronin pitch Ferriss in the sixth game and then, if the Red Sox lost that number, Joe Dobson was the top ace up the sleeve?”

_ Herbert Goren, New York Sun: “Cronin’s pitching strategy was questioned in the last two games. How judicious was it to save Ferriss for the seventh game when he was ready for the sixth?”

_ The Sporting News: “Some surprise was expressed over Cronin’s decision to start Harris. Many thought he would lead with Ferriss in the hope of winding up the Series.”

Keener reported Cronin “originally had Ferriss primed and ready” for Game 6, but had “a change of heart” after learning Brecheen was starting.

In defense of Cronin, Ed McAuley of the Cleveland News wrote, “Ferriss’ performance in the (seventh) game confirmed the manager’s suspicion that (Ferriss) needed more than three days’ rest.”

The 1946 season was the pinnacle of Ferriss’ pitching career. He pitched six seasons, all with the Red Sox, and had a 65-30 record.

Previously: The story of Joe DiFabio, original No. 1 pick of Cards

Ralph Branca came close to pitching two no-hitters against the Cardinals within a span of a month. Instead, he earned a one-hit shutout in one of those games and he had another one-hitter when he departed with two outs in the ninth inning of the other game.

ralph_brancaOn July 18, 1947, Branca delivered the best performance of his career, retiring the first 21 Cardinals batters in a row and finishing with a one-hitter in the Dodgers’ 7-0 victory at Brooklyn.

A month later, on Aug. 20, 1947, Branca again held the Cardinals to one hit before he was lifted after pitching 8.2 innings. The Cardinals rallied against reliever Hugh Casey, tying the score in the ninth and winning, 3-2, with a run in the 12th at Brooklyn.

Those were among the most memorable games the Cardinals played against Branca, who died at 90 on Nov. 23, 2016.

Best known as the pitcher who yielded the ninth-inning home run to Bobby Thomson that gave the Giants a pennant-clinching victory over the Dodgers in 1951, Branca was a key figure in the National League rivalry between the Dodgers and Cardinals in the 1940s.

Branca started for the Dodgers in pivotal games against the Cardinals during the 1946 pennant stretch.

On Sept, 14, 1946, Branca pitched a three-hit shutout in a 5-0 victory against the Cardinals at Brooklyn, moving the Dodgers within a half-game of the first-place Redbirds. Boxscore

Three weeks later, on Oct. 1, 1946, after the Dodgers and Cardinals had finished the regular season tied for first place, Branca started the opener of a best-of-three series to determine the NL champion. He gave up three runs in 2.2 innings and took the loss in a 4-2 Cardinals victory at St. Louis. Boxscore The Cardinals won the next game, clinching the pennant, and then four of seven against the Red Sox in the World Series.

A year later, the Dodgers and Cardinals were battling for the 1947 pennant.

Nearly perfect

Branca lost each of his first three decisions against the Cardinals in 1947. Still, he had a 14-7 record entering his July 18 start against them at Ebbets Field.

The game matched Branca against Red Munger of the Cardinals. While Branca handcuffed the Cardinals, the Dodgers scored five runs off Munger in the first four innings.

After pitching seven perfect innings, Branca faced Enos Slaughter leading off the eighth. Slaughter hit Branca’s first pitch for a single to right field.

“I couldn’t help but know I was pitching a no-hitter the way they went down, one, two, three, in every inning,” Branca said to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “Naturally, I was disappointed when Slaughter got hold of that one in the eighth. It was my fault. I was pressing a little, being too careful. I didn’t get that high fastball … inside quite far enough.”

In its account of the game, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch opined, “The Cardinals looked at the best pitching they’ve seen all season.” Boxscore

Walks haunt

The Cardinals returned to Brooklyn in August for a four-game series with the league leaders. The Dodgers won two of the first three, opening a 5.5-game lead over second-place St. Louis.

Branca started the finale and responded with another gem, holding the Cardinals hitless again for seven innings.

Like Slaughter a month earlier, Whitey Kurowski ended the no-hit bid with a leadoff single in the eighth.

Still, Branca entered the ninth with a 2-0 lead.

Though he issued a walk to the first batter, Red Schoendienst, Branca retired Terry Moore and Stan Musial on groundouts, with Schoendienst advancing to third.

Slaughter was up next.

Branca got ahead in the count, 1-and-2. Needing a strike to complete another one-hit shutout, Branca walked Slaughter.

After Branca’s first two pitches to the next batter, Ron Northey, missed the strike zone, manager Burt Shotton yanked his ace and replaced him with Casey.

Northey greeted Casey with a single, scoring Schoendienst, moving Slaughter to third and cutting the Dodgers’ lead to 2-1.

Kurowski followed with a grounder to Spider Jorgensen. The third baseman booted the ball for an error as Slaughter streaked to the plate with the tying run.

Spike ball

In the 11th, the game took another controversial twist.

Slaughter hit a ground ball to first baseman Jackie Robinson, who that season had broken baseball’s color barrier.

Robinson fielded the ball and raced to the bag. As Slaughter arrived _ “head down in a dash for first,” according to the Post-Dispatch _ he stepped on Robinson’s right foot, spiking him.

Robinson “limped and dropped to the ground,” the Post-Dispatch reported, “but apparently, because of the thickness of his shoe and the mud on Slaughter’s spikes, Robinson suffered no cut.”

To the Dodgers and the Brooklyn crowd, it appeared Slaughter intentionally tried to injure Robinson.

“No one can read Slaughter’s North Carolina mind, but the crowd unanimously decided to believe that he was curious to see how Robinson would look with one leg,” wrote Tommy Holmes of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Robinson told The Sporting News, “All I know is that I had my foot on the inside of the bag. I gave Slaughter plenty of room.”

Said Slaughter: “I’ve never deliberately spiked anyone in my life.”

Comeback complete

More drama unfolded in the 12th.

Kurowski hit Casey’s first pitch of the inning into the left-field seats for a home run, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.

In the bottom half of the inning, Robinson led off with a single against Howie Pollet and moved to second on Pete Reiser’s sacrifice bunt.

Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer lifted Pollet, who was working his fifth inning of relief, and replaced him with Munger.

Before delivering a pitch, Munger whirled and snapped a throw to shortstop Marty Marion, who tagged a startled Robinson for the second out.

The next batter, Arky Vaughan, grounded out, ending the saga. Boxscore

Despite the setback, the Dodgers went on to win the 1947 pennant, finishing five games ahead of the runner-up Cardinals. Branca posted a 21-12 record and 2.67 ERA.

For his 12-year career in the big leagues, Branca had an 88-68 record, including 8-10 against the Cardinals.

Previously: Jackie Robinson propelled Dodgers over 1947 Cards

Before he became a premier reliever coveted by the Cardinals, Brett Cecil was a promising starting pitcher for the Blue Jays. In 2010, he earned 15 wins as a starter, but his path to a successful season hit a rough spot against the Cardinals.

brett_cecilOn June 22, 2010, the Cardinals unleashed an extra-hit barrage against Cecil at Toronto. Matt Holliday had a home run and RBI-double, Yadier Molina hit a home run and Ryan Ludwick contributed a RBI-double, leading the Cardinals to a 9-4 victory and handing Cecil just his fourth loss in 11 decisions.

Six years later, on Nov. 21, 2016, Cecil, a free agent, signed a four-year contract with the Cardinals worth $30.5 million. He was expected to team with Kevin Siegrist as one of St. Louis’ top two left-handers in the bullpen.

Cecil joined a 2017 Cardinals roster that had just three players left from the St. Louis club he faced in 2010: Molina and pitchers Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright.

Cards with clout

Cecil entered that 2010 encounter against the Cardinals having won five of his previous six starts.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa stacked his batting order with two switch-hitters and seven right-handed batters, including designated hitter Nick Stavinoha. Holliday was the only Cardinals batter in the lineup who had faced Cecil.

In the second inning, Molina broke an 0-for-19 skid with a solo home run off Cecil. Holliday followed with a solo home run in the fourth.

With two outs and the score tied 2-2 in the fifth, the Cardinals had Randy Winn on second base. Holliday drove in Winn with a double, giving St. Louis a 3-2 lead.

Cecil issued an intentional pass to Albert Pujols, choosing instead to face Ludwick with two runners on base. Ludwick responded with a double, scoring Holliday and advancing Pujols to third.

David Freese followed with a two-run single, capping a four-run inning and giving the Cardinals a 6-2 lead.

Cecil was lifted after the inning. His totals: 5 innings, 8 hits, 6 runs, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts.

“I’ve got to get back to work on keeping the ball down,” Cecil said to the Associated Press. “The whole game I was missing up.” Boxscore

Relief role

Cecil finished the 2010 season with a 15-7 record and 4.22 ERA in 28 starts.

By 2014, when he next faced the Cardinals, Cecil had been converted into a relief pitcher.

Cecil pitched against the Cardinals twice in 2014, both times in Toronto, and yielded no runs in 1.1 total innings.

On June 6, 2014, Cecil, in relief of starter Marcus Stroman, faced two Cardinals batters in the seventh inning. He walked Matt Carpenter and induced Oscar Taveras to fly out to left. The Blue Jays won, 3-1. Boxscore

Two days later, on June 8, 2014, Cecil worked a scoreless ninth in a game the Cardinals won, 5-0. Cecil struck out Tony Cruz, gave up a single to Carpenter and got Randal Grichuk to ground into a double play. Boxscore

In 66 relief appearances in 2014, Cecil posted a 2.70 ERA and struck out 76 in 53.1 innings.

Previously: How Chris Carpenter got revenge against Blue Jays

After pitching coach Dave Duncan transformed Jeff Weaver from a consistent loser into a postseason ace with the 2006 Cardinals, the club wanted him to work similar magic with Kip Wells in 2007. Duncan and Wells were willing. The results, though, were far from the same.

kip_wellsDesperate for starting pitching just a month after winning the 2006 World Series championship, the Cardinals, with Duncan’s endorsement, signed Wells, a free agent, 10 years ago on Nov. 28, 2006.

Wells, 29, agreed to a one-year contract for $4 million. The Cardinals projected him in their 2007 rotation, even though he had produced one winning season among his last seven in the big leagues.

A significant factor in their investment was their faith in Duncan, who had a reputation for bringing out the best in pitchers who had struggled or underperformed.

Pitching mentor

Since joining the Cardinals in 1996, Duncan, a former catcher, had helped rejuvenate the careers of several starting pitchers, most notably right-handers, including Andy Benes, Kent Bottenfield, Garrett Stephenson, Darryl Kile, Woody Williams, Jeff Suppan, Chris Carpenter and Weaver.

In 2006, Weaver joined the Cardinals in July after posting a 3-10 record and 6.29 ERA that season with the Angels. Working with Duncan, Weaver gradually improved. He earned three wins for the Cardinals in the 2006 postseason, including the Game 5 World Series championship clincher.

After the season, Weaver and two other Cardinals starting pitchers, Suppan and Jason Marquis, became free agents. Another starter, Mark Mulder, was injured. That left Carpenter and Anthony Reyes as the Cardinals’ only experienced big-league starters.

The Cardinals planned to replenish the rotation by signing free agents. Wells was an immediate target.

Signs of brilliance

Because of a blocked artery in his right shoulder and a foot injury that required surgery, Wells was limited to nine big-league starts in 2006. He was 1-5 with a 6.69 ERA in seven starts for the Pirates before he was traded to the Rangers for pitcher Jesse Chavez on July 31, 2006. Wells made two starts for the Rangers and was 1-0 with a 5.62 ERA.

The Cardinals were familiar with Wells. With the Pirates from 2002-2006 after starting his career with the White Sox, Wells was 2-6 against the Cardinals.

Duncan saw enough skill in Wells as an opponent to determine the right-hander could be a reliable St. Louis starter.

“I always felt like he had great ability and was a very interesting guy to watch,” Duncan said to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “There were signs of brilliance and sometimes mistakes that were made that weren’t understandable.”

Said Wells: “I definitely relish the opportunity to get some insight, some wisdom (from Duncan) and further my career and my ability.”

All aboard

Reaction to the Cardinals’ signing of Wells largely was positive:

_ Bernie Miklasz, Post-Dispatch columnist: “He looks like another low-risk Dave Duncan specialty: a groundball machine, finally healthy and in need of a mid-career tuneup.”

_ Chris Carpenter, Cardinals pitcher: “Getting Kip Wells is a first step. That was a nice first step.”

_ Walt Jocketty, Cardinals general manager: “We got a guy everyone agrees will be very good if he stays healthy.”

_ Randy Hendricks, Wells’ agent: “If Kip does what we and the Cardinals hope, he will be worth a lot more after 2007. So we are betting on each other and the future.”

The Cardinals made aggressive bids for other free-agent starting pitchers, including Jason Schmidt, Miguel Batista and Vincente Padilla (they offered Schmidt, for instance, a three-year contract for $42 million, according to Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch), but were rejected.

So they planned to convert relievers Braden Looper and Adam Wainwright into starters to join Carpenter, Reyes and Wells in the 2007 rotation.

Hard to watch

Wells had a terrible beginning to his 2007 season, losing eight of his first nine decisions. He was 1-8 with a 6.75 ERA after an excruciating performance against the Dodgers on May 16. In that start, Wells threw 125 pitches in five innings. Boxscore

Wrote Strauss: “The Cardinals’ night in the dentist’s chair ended with a root canal gone awry.”

Wells finished with a 7-17 record and 5.70 ERA in 34 appearances, including 26 starts, for the 2007 Cardinals. He yielded 186 hits in 162.2 innings. Wells also gave up the most runs (116) and issued the most walks (78) of any pitcher on the staff.

The 17 losses by Wells are the most by a Cardinals pitcher since Jose DeLeon was 7-19 in 32 starts for the 1990 Cardinals.

By midseason, Duncan “had become frustrated by Wells’ ponderous pace, heavy pitch counts and inability to avoid huge innings,” Strauss reported. “Wells complained that the coaching staff failed to help him improve his mechanics.”

Bat man

Wells turned out to be a better hitter than he was a pitcher for the Cardinals. He batted .321 (17-for-53). He was used once as a pinch-hitter, producing a RBI-single off Astros reliever Dan Wheeler in the ninth inning of a Cardinals victory on June 1 at Houston. Boxscore

After the season, Wells became a free agent and signed with the Rockies. He was their starting pitcher in the 2008 season opener against the Cardinals at St. Louis.

Though he didn’t get a decision, Wells pitched effectively, holding the Cardinals to one run (a Yadier Molina home run) in 5.1 innings. The Rockies won, 2-1, scoring their runs in the eighth inning off reliever Ryan Franklin. Boxscore

Wells played his final big-league season in 2012 with the Padres. His career major-league record is 69-103 with a 4.71 ERA.

Previously: Why Jeff Weaver rates among clutch Cards clinchers

Previously: Why Cards took a chance on Jeff Weaver