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(Updated Dec. 6, 2015)

The Cardinals’ back-to-back late comeback victories in Atlanta in April 2011 were a sign that the season had the makings of something special.

For the first time since their World Series championship year in 2006, the Cardinals won consecutive games when trailing in the eighth inning or later.

By beating the Braves 5-3 April 29 after trailing 3-2 in the ninth (Boxscore) and then winning 3-2 April 30 after trailing 2-0 in the eighth (Boxscore), the Cardinals matched a feat they hadn’t achieved since July 2006, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

In the two games before the 2006 all-star break, July 8 and July 9 at Houston, the Cardinals capitalized on key hits from players such as Aaron Miles and Scott Spiezio to stun the Astros.

Considering that the Cardinals went on to win the National League Central Division title by 1.5 games over second-place Houston, the consecutive comeback wins in July 2006 were the difference between St. Louis qualifying for the playoffs (making the World Series championship run possible) and staying home.

July 8, 2006, Cardinals 7, Astros 6, 10 innings: With Houston ahead 6-4, Brad Lidge came in to close out the ninth inning. He retired Jim Edmonds and Juan Encarnacion. Then, Scott Spiezio homered.

Chris Duncan, pinch-hitting for Gary Bennett, singled to center and David Eckstein walked.

Second baseman Aaron Miles, who entered the game with a .258 batting average and 17 RBI, singled to right, scoring Duncan with the tying run.

In the 10th, Albert Pujols greeted Roy Oswalt with a home run. Jason Isringhausen retired the Astros in order in the bottom of the inning, preserving the St. Louis victory. Boxscore

July 9, 2006, Cardinals 7, Astros 5, 12 innings: Houston led 2-1 after seven innings. The Cardinals scored four runs in the eighth, the key hit being a three-run homer by Scott Rolen, and led 5-2. Houston scored twice in the eighth and once in the ninth, tying the score.

In the 12th, with Lidge pitching, Eckstein was hit by a pitch and So Taguchi singled. When Pujols flied out to center and Rolen struck out, it appeared Lidge would work out of the jam.

Miles was sent in to hit for pitcher Braden Looper. Miles, who had driven in the tying run against Lidge the day before, had been a roommate of Lidge when both were Astros minor leaguers. They remained friends.

When Lidge uncorked a wild pitch, Eckstein advanced to third and Taguchi went to second. Miles, batting left-handed, sliced a double down the left-field line, scoring both runners and giving St. Louis a two-run lead.

“I don’t know how he hit the ball,” Lidge told the Associated Press. “I guess somehow it went off the end of his bat.”

When Josh Hancock retired the Astros in order in the bottom of the inning, the inspired Cardinals headed to the all-star break with a three-game winning streak and a 48-39 record. Boxscore

“I’m going to have to review this game to believe we won it,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.

After the break, the Cardinals opened the season’s second half with a four-game sweep of the Dodgers. That stretch immediately before and after the break was critical to the Cardinals building a lead that enabled them to withstand a shaky finish and reach the postseason.

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In participation with the most recent United Cardinal Bloggers project, we asked the question, “Is Colby Rasmus a center fielder who can help lead the Cardinals to a World Series championship?”

The consensus is, yes, he can, following in the footsteps of center fielders such as Curt Flood, Willie McGee and Jim Edmonds. My colleagues supported their opinions with sharp analysis:

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Mike Metzger
Stan Musial’s Stance

Tough question.
 
Curt Flood finished 11th in MVP voting in 1964, 13th in 1967.  McGee was 3rd in ROY voting in 1982 and won the MVP 3 years later.  Edmonds finished 5th in the MV3 vote of 2004, and although he missed 2 months in 2006 due to lingering post-concussion symptoms, he was a big part of that playoff run.
 
Does Rasmus have the tools to be that caliber of player?  Absolutely.  Is he that caliber of player today?  Not yet, but he’s getting there.  Offensively he’s probably already there.  He improved quite a bit last season as compared to 2009 and we can reasonably expect he’ll remain a 25-30 HR, .340-.370 wOBA player for the next few years.

Defensively it’s tough to evaluate him based on 2 years at the major league level (superior 13.5 UZR/150 in 2009; below average -9.1 last season).  He’s probably not as good as his 2009 effort and nowhere near as bad as he was last season.  The 3 men referenced above were all outstanding defenders, which Rasmus certainly can become on a consistent basis.
 
So to answer the question, yes, I believe Rasmus is the kind of CF that can help lead the team to a World Championship.

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Aaron from El Maquino

Definitely. He can cover most of that ground out there and will be–at least–a consistent 20 hr guy.

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J.D. Norton
Bleed Cardinal Red With Me

Absolutely.  Colby is only going to get better.  People need to realize he’s still only 24 years old.  I fully expect Colby to be a top 3 CF in the next couple of years.

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Bill Ivie
www.i70baseball.com

Colby is an interesting case.

He has the ability to be a leadoff hitter with some pop, but does not want to be that type of player and underperforms when he is asked to do so.  He has a vision for his career and when the Cardinals ask him to do something that is in line with that vision, he is one of the best in the league.  When the team needs him to do something that would change the player that Colby wants to be known as, then he seems to act immaturely and not perform as well.

That all being said, the addition of Jim Edmonds will have a two-fold improvement on Colby.  Jimmy Ballgame is one of the best defenders in the game and takes a different approach than other outfielders.  His background shows that he can teach younger players how to improve and I expect him and Colby to be stuck together all Spring.  The competition that will be created, and a much lower level than most “competitions”, will spur Colby to play better.

Best case scenario, Colby turns the corner into the phenomenal player that we all know he is capable of.  Worst case, Edmonds takes some playing time and we will be talking about trade demands again in the early Summer.

I don’t think the question is “Is he capable” as much as it is “Is he willing”.

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Tom Knuppel
CardinalsGM

I believe Colby is not quite there yet but he will. The only rap I have on him at this time is his inability to hit the cut-off man and his sometimes weak or nonchalant throws to the infield. He must improve in that area to be in the same sentence with Flood, McGee and Edmonds, in my opinion.

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Bob Netherton
On the Outside Corner
Throatwarbler’s Blog

A great question, Mark.  Lots to think about.

When you put “is” together with “lead” and then recall the names Flood, McGee and Edmonds, the answer is no. Can he be that kind of center fielder? Without question. But will he – not for a while, and not without a significant change to the way he plays the game.

Curt Flood was one of the coolest baseball players I’ve seen wear the Cardinal uniform. Steady as a rock, but his eyes were always focused like a laser beam. Edmonds and McGee were quite the opposite – total disruptors .  McGee beat you every way possible: the glove, with his feet and finally his bat.  He was a terror wherever he was placed in the batting order.  The “awww shucks, it was no big deal” persona just made him even more irritating to the opposition.  Edmonds was also an instigator, but more of the “hey guys, look at what I just did – now, let’s go out and get them”.  All three produced consistently, and made the players around them better.

Two things will keep Rasmus from joining this elite group of center fielders.  Tony La Russa may be the wrong kind of manager for a kid like Rasmus.  The best spot for him in the batting order is at the top, first or second, and leave him there.  Unless your name is Pujols or Holliday, you aren’t staying anywhere in the batting order. Maybe if Lance Berkman stays healthy and hits in the fifth spot, Rasmus can adjust to the top of the order and become the offensive force we think he can be. 
But part of that will have to be the running game, and that’s not in La Russa’s bag-of-tricks.

The biggest obstacle for Rasmus is his entitled attitude.  The other three players all had something to prove. Flood dealt with some really tough racial issues, McGee wasn’t supposed to be in the big leagues, and Jimmy Ballgame had to prove he was the best, on a daily basis.  All three played like this might be their last game, and they wanted it to be special.  I don’t see that in Rasmus – not even close.

Oh, and before somebody plays the “Rasmus is still young” card, Curt Flood was already a Gold Glove winner and .300 hitter at a younger age. Both Vince Coleman and Willie McGee went to a World Series before their 24th birthday.

Right now, Colby Rasmus is more Alex Johnson than Flood, McGee or Edmonds, and I hope that changes.  Quickly.

Awesome question – thanks Mark!

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Dennis Lawson
Pitchers Hit Eighth

Great question, and I really like the way you worded it, Mark. 

I do think Colby has enough raw talent to lead the team to a World Series championship, even if he doesn’t have his head completely screwed on straight.  I think he’ll start to put things together this year, but he’ll by no means be the complete player that he’ll be in 2-3 years.  He’s still good enough to be a top 5 centerfielder in the NL, and he doesn’t have to be his ideal self to push this team over the top. 

A while back I compared him to the Diamondbacks’ Justin Upton in terms of ability.  I think he’s only shown us about 70% of what he can do.  If he gets to 80-85% this year, he’ll start earning the respect, praise, and eventually the big contract that he seems to be wanting.  Along the way, he could just propel the Cardinals through the playoffs with a monster year.  Keep in mind that he put up .276/.361/.498/.859 with 23 hr and 66 rbi in only 534 PAs, and a lot of people were still disappointed.  The expectations are high, and the force is strong with this one.

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Andy Beard
Gas House Graphs

Unquestionably. Colby Rasmus can contribute towards a World Series victory.

Check the league leader boards at FanGraphs and you’ll find that Colby was the fourth most productive center-fielder offensively in 2010 (.366 wOBA – From FanGraphs’ dictionary: a stat that, “combines all of the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value”). Only Josh Hamilton and Carlos Gonzalez were better. Would you consider them dynamic, impact players? Take this another step further and restrict eligibility to those that played at least 50% of their games in CF, and Colby was the most productive according to his 132 OPS+ (found at Baseball-Reference). If he were able to cut down on his strikeouts, while maintaining advanced patience at the plate (11.8 BB% in 2010), he could take another step forward.

The advanced fielding metrics at FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference reveal two completely different defenders in 2009 and 2010. While they suggested an underrated, if not dynamic, fielder in 2009, Colby’s defense was a liability in 2010. There’s a school of thought that his positioning was off for much of last season, but improved later in the year. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt considering his scouting reports were always positive and expect him to prove himself as an average defender at least.

The need for players like Colby on this team (young, cost-controlled) cannot be overstated if Saint Louis wants to have a realistic chance to stay competitive within the division while extending Pujols’ career under the Arch.

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Daniel Shoptaw
C70 At The Bat

Really not much to say after the great comments already put out there.  My two cents is that I don’t think Colby will be one that will lead a team as much as, like Andy phrased it, he will contribute to a World Series victory.

I don’t get the impression that you could make Colby the best talent on the team and he’d take a team to the title.  I think he’s a great complementary piece on a solid team, such as the one that the Cards have now, but if it’s Colby and a few above-average players, then that team, in my opinion, wouldn’t go that far.

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Dustin McClure
Welcome To Baseball Heaven

There’s already been some great insight. I’m hoping I can add a little something to the discussion.
 
Last year was kind of an up and down year for Colby. When things were good they were really good. When they were bad it turned into trade rumors, feuds with TLR, etc. There were times at the plate when his at bats were a thing of beauty (working the count, drawing walks, and driving the ball). Other times he looked lost at the plate trying to jerk everything which I believe was the main culprit in his elevated strikeout total from the prior season.
 
As Mike mentioned it’s a little early to draw any conclusions defensively. He’s in pretty elite company when grouped in comparison with Flood, McGee and Edmonds. He’s got the tools and ability to become a top tier defender for sure.
 
To answer Mark’s question it’s definitely a yes! Colby will be a significant contributor in bringing another World Series title to St. Louis in the very near future.



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Christine Coleman
Aaron Miles’ Fastball

Definitely a lot of interesting points made by everyone so far – surprising ones as well, and not necessarily what I expected as responses when I first read the question. And, given the fact I’ve been reading everything very carefully these days (to try to figure out what’s fact and what’s speculation when it comes to anything written about Albert and his contract – with, of course, speculation being the case 98 percent of the time), I found the wording of “can help lead” in Mark’s question intriguing. Yes, of course he can help. *Will* Colby help lead the Cardinals to a World Series championship? That depends. And it depends the most, in my opinion, on how much he’s given the chance to play and continue to learn/improve. We’ve seen the raw talent and potential that he has. Whether he’s given the opportunity to hone those talents and abilities – that’s up to the manager. It’s also going to depend on the team around him, because baseball is obviously a team sport. One or two great players – or even five All-Stars – don’t necessarily make a World Series or even playoff team. But my thought is that yes, Colby could easily be a valuable contributor to a championship team based on the abilities he’s shown during his time with the Cardinals.

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(Updated on Feb. 9, 2019)

The Hall of Famer who hit the most career home runs against Cardinals ace Bob Gibson was Billy Williams, with 10.

Of the 257 regular-season home runs Gibson yielded in his career, 67 were hit by fellow Hall of Famers.

Williams, an outfielder for the Cubs from 1959-74, slugged more home runs (10) and drew more walks (24) against Gibson than any other player, Hall of Famer or otherwise. Williams batted .259 (45-for-174) versus Gibson.

In the book “Sixty Feet, Six Inches,” Gibson said, “Billy Williams probably hit me better than anybody, but even so, and despite the fact that he was left-handed, I went ahead and pitched to him because he had Ron Santo and Ernie Banks behind him and I didn’t want either of them hitting two-run homers. If Williams had batted cleanup, I’d have probably pitched around him more.”

Even in the two seasons in which Gibson won the Cy Young Award _ 1968, when he posted a 1.12 ERA, and 1970, when he recorded a career-best 23 wins _ Williams hit two home runs against him in each year.

Entering the Cardinals’ game against the Cubs on Aug. 4, 1968, Gibson had given up three runs in 101 innings before the Cubs scored five times on two home runs, including one by Williams. Boxscore

One of Williams’ most memorable home runs decided a showdown between Gibson and Ferguson Jenkins: In the 1971 season opener between the Cardinals and Cubs at Wrigley Field, Williams hit a home run off a Gibson fastball in the 10th inning for a 2-1 Chicago victory. Boxscore

“Gibson and Williams were good friends and formed a mutual admiration society except when they faced each other in a game,” Bob Burnes of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat wrote in the 1986 Baseball Digest.

The Hall of Famers who hit home runs against Gibson in the regular season (listed in order of number of homers hit):

_ Billy Williams, 10

_ Hank Aaron, 8

_ Willie McCovey, 7

_ Willie Stargell, 5

_ Roberto Clemente, 4

_ Eddie Mathews, 4

_ Frank Robinson, 4

_ Ernie Banks, 3

_ Johnny Bench, 3

_ Orlando Cepeda, 3

_ Willie Mays, 3

_ Joe Morgan, 3

_ Ron Santo, 3

_ Duke Snider, 3

_ Bill Mazeroski, 1

_ Tony Perez, 1

_ Mike Schmidt, 1

_ Dave Winfield, 1

NOTE: In nine World Series games, Gibson yielded one home run to a Hall of Famer _ Mickey Mantle of the Yankees in 1964.

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Ryne Duren played a key role in nearly derailing the Cardinals’ National League pennant bid in 1964.

Duren was a hard-throwing, hard-drinking pitcher with the Yankees from 1958-61. In 1964, he was 35 and a middle-innings reliever with the Reds.

On Sunday morning, Sept. 20, 1964, the Cardinals were in second place, 5.5 games behind the Phillies and a game ahead of the Reds. 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 home run, 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.”

“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 his words with action, 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.

In the fifth, with the score 6-1, Duren batted with Leo Cardenas on first and two outs. 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.

“I made up my mind I would take one for the team, which I did,” Duren said.

Duren leaned across the plate as Cardinals starter Gordon Richardson delivered his pitch. The ball struck Duren on the upper thigh and 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 said. “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.

Cincinnati tied the score in the sixth. Ellis relieved Duren in the eighth and, in the bottom half of the inning, Cincinnati scored three runs against 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.

After that, 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.

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Today (Dec. 10) is Baseball Bloggers Alliance Day and participants have been encouraged to write about the merits of the organization. It’s an easy assignment.

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance, started in April 2009, has about 230 blogs, including this one. Being a part of this alliance has enabled me to connect with fellow baseball enthusiasts in a way that has been fun and encouraging. It also has given me an audience and outlet for my ideas and observations about baseball, especially the Cardinals.

Without the alliance, this blog wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to do.

Here are just five of many benefits to this organization:

_ Discovering the smart thoughts of bloggers such as Bob at Throatwarbler’s Blog, who made the connection that Lance Berkman’s signing with the Cardinals could parallel the successful acquisition of Roger Maris by St. Louis in the 1960s.  Blog

_ Enjoying and relying upon the tireless and intelligent aggregation of content at the daily must-read blog Cardinals Best News Links.  Blog

_ Savoring the fine storytelling at Cardinal Diamond Diaries of a girl’s encounter with Stan Musial at his St. Louis restaurant.  Blog

_ Participating as a guest on the well-organized blog radio program conducted by I-70 Baseball. Blog

_ Relaxing after a long workday by reading the high-quality blogs Fungoes Blog and C70 At The Bat. Blog

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance has enhanced my enjoyment of baseball.

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