Foreshadowing what would be an exceptional postseason for him, Harry Brecheen prevented the Cardinals from experiencing an epic collapse, saving the victory that carried them into the 1946 World Series.
Seventy years ago, on Oct. 3, 1946, the Cardinals beat manager Leo Durocher’s Dodgers, 8-4, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn in Game 2 of a best-of-three playoff series that determined the National League champion. The Dodgers trailed by seven runs before mounting a ninth-inning rally that threatened to steamroll the Cardinals until Brecheen relieved and put a stop to it.
In the ensuing World Series against the American League champion Red Sox, Brecheen, a left-hander nicknamed “The Cat,” continued his poised mastery, earning three of the Cardinals’ four wins.
The Cardinals and Dodgers completed the 1946 regular season tied for first place in the NL with records of 96-58.
In Game 1 of the playoff series on Oct. 1, 1946, the Cardinals won, 4-2, at St. Louis. Joe Garagiola was 3-for-4 with two RBI and Stan Musial tripled, walked and scored twice for the Cardinals. Howie Pollet earned a complete-game victory.
The starting pitchers for Game 2 were Murry Dickson for the Cardinals and Joe Hatten for the Dodgers. Each entered the game with 14 wins that season.
After yielding a run and two hits in the first inning, Dickson held the Dodgers hitless over the next seven innings. The Cardinals, meanwhile, scored five runs in five innings against Hatten and added three more off Dodgers relievers. Whitey Kurowski, Enos Slaughter and Marty Marion contributed two RBI apiece for the Cardinals. After eight innings, St. Louis led, 8-1.
Dickson “turned in a magnificent pitching job as the Redbirds put the squelch on the loud-mouthed Dodgers of Brooklyn,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch opined.
Dickson, though, as he later admitted to The Sporting News, was tired.
The Dodgers scored twice against him in the ninth, cutting the St. Louis lead to 8-3, and had runners on first and second, one out, when Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer went to the mound to replace Dickson with Brecheen. Dickson “didn’t want to quit,” the Post-Dispatch observed, but “it was as plain as the nose on Durocher’s face that Dickson was weary.”
Brecheen primarily was a starting pitcher for the 1946 Cardinals, though he had earned two saves in five prior relief appearances that season.
The first batter he faced, Bruce Edwards, hit a curve for a single, scoring Carl Furillo from second and getting the Dodgers within four at 8-4.
When Brecheen issued a walk to Cookie Lavagetto, loading the bases and bringing the potential tying run to the plate, the crowd of 31,437 “almost went into convulsions,” The Sporting News reported.
According to the United Press, the crowd “was roaring with all the bloodthirsty ferocity of ancient Romans watching the kill.”
Admitted the Post-Dispatch: Brecheen “threw a scare into the faint-hearted and raised high hopes among Dodgers partisans.”
Though he later told The Sporting News he never was worried, Brecheen said to Oscar Fraley of United Press, “It felt like being under a microscope with a million horns blowing in your ears.”
Eddie Stanky, who led the NL in on-base percentage (.436) and walks (137) in 1946, batted next for the Dodgers.
When he swung, Stanky usually made contact. He had struck out 55 times in 482 previous at-bats that season.
Brecheen struck out Stanky looking at a fastball.
Up next, Howie Schultz, a 6-foot-6 slugger who had produced two hits, including a home run, in Game 1 of the playoff series.
Working the count to 3-and-2, the tension increasing with each pitch, Brecheen struck out Schultz swinging at a screwball, ending the game and silencing the throng. Boxscore
Brecheen’s effectiveness carried over into the World Series. Brecheen started and won Games 2 and 6. He held the Red Sox to a run in 18 total innings in those complete-game performances.
Dickson got the start in Game 7 and yielded three runs in seven innings. He was relieved by Brecheen. The Cardinals snapped a 3-3 tie in the eighth when Slaughter made his marvelous mad dash from first to home on a hit to center by Harry Walker. Brecheen pitched two shutout innings and got the win in the championship clincher, giving the Cardinals their third World Series title in five years.