Ryne Duren played a key role in nearly derailing the Cardinals’ National League pennant bid in 1964.
Duren, who died at 81 on Jan. 6, 2011, was a hard-throwing, hard-drinking pitcher with the Yankees from 1958-61. In 1964, he was 35 and hanging on as a middle-innings reliever with the Reds.
On Sunday morning, Sept. 20, the Cardinals (83-65) were in second place, 5.5 games behind the Phillies (89-60) and a game ahead of the Reds (82-66). Most figured St. Louis needed a win that afternoon in Cincinnati to keep alive its hopes of catching the Phillies and prevent the Reds from moving into a tie for second.
Ken Boyer’s two-run triple, solo home runs from Lou Brock and Dick Groat and a successful squeeze bunt by Bill White put St. Louis ahead 5-0 after three innings. When Mike Shannon led off the fourth with a homer, Reds starter Joe Nuxhall was replaced by Duren.
With St. Louis ahead 6-0, the Reds appeared beaten.
“I looked around the dugout and everyone was really down,” Duren told author Doug Wilson in the book “Fred Hutchinson and the 1964 Cincinnati Reds” (2010, McFarland). “… I got mad and said to everyone on the bench, ‘… If you don’t want to compete, let’s just go home. But if you’re out here, let’s have a little life.’ ”
Duren backed up his words with action, both on the mound and at the plate, and his efforts changed the momentum.
He pitched four scoreless innings and held the Cardinals to three hits (two singles by Brock and a double by Shannon).
In the fifth, with the score 6-1, Duren was sent to bat with Leo Cardenas on first and two out. An .061 career hitter who wore thick lenses on his glasses because of poor sight in both eyes, Duren was challenged by his teammates to get on base.
“So I made up my mind I would take one for the team, which I did,” Duren told Wilson.
Duren leaned across the plate as Cardinals starter Gordon Richardson delivered his pitch. The ball struck Duren on the upper thigh. He was awarded first base. The Cardinals protested vehemently to no avail.
“He didn’t even try to get out of the way,” Reds pitcher Sammy Ellis told Wilson. “And there’s no way he would have gotten a hit. He couldn’t even see.”
Inspired, the Reds rallied against the flustered Richardson. Pete Rose singled, scoring Cardenas. Duren and Rose scored on Vada Pinson’s single. When Duren got to the dugout, all the Reds were on their feet to greet him. As Wilson wrote, “The whole atmosphere had changed.”
Cincinnati tied the score in the sixth off reliever Ron Taylor. Ellis relieved Duren in the eighth and, in the bottom half of the inning, Cincinnati scored three runs off closer Barney Schultz and won 9-6. Boxscore
“Frank Robinson (Reds outfielder) always gave me credit for waking the club up,” Duren said.
The Phillies beat the Dodgers that day and went into the final two weeks of the season with a 6.5-game lead over the Cardinals and Reds with 12 to play.
But the Phillies lost the next 10 in a row, Cincinnati won nine in a row and the Cardinals won 10 of their final 13. When the Phillies beat the Reds in the final two games, St. Louis won the title on the last day of the season.
Duren never pitched another game for the Reds after his performance against the Cardinals. He was released in April 1965, and pitched for the Phillies and Senators that season, the last of his big-league career.