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Looking to rebuild his reputation, Dave LaPoint returned to the organization where he felt the most comfortable and had enjoyed his greatest success.

dave_lapointThirty years ago, on Jan. 19, 1987, LaPoint, a free agent, signed with the Cardinals, who expected him to compete for a spot in their starting rotation.

At 27, his career was at a crossroads.

Five years earlier, LaPoint, a left-hander, had helped the Cardinals win the 1982 National League pennant and World Series championship.

After the Cardinals traded him in February 1985, LaPoint’s career spiraled. He pitched for three teams in two years, posting losing records at each stop, got traded twice and released once.

Out of shape and labeled a clubhouse jester, LaPoint said he was committed to rededicating himself to becoming a winner and was seeking a nurturing environment in which to attempt that comeback.

The 1987 Cardinals and manager Whitey Herzog provided the setting LaPoint sought.

Cards contributor

LaPoint’s tenure with the Cardinals began in December 1980 when he was acquired from the Brewers in a deal engineered by Herzog. The Cardinals traded Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich for Sixto Lezcano, David Green, Lary Sorensen and LaPoint.

LaPoint’s breakthrough year was 1982. He began the season as a reliever and joined the starting rotation in May. LaPoint appeared in 42 games, including 21 as a starter, for the 1982 Cardinals and had a 9-3 record and 3.42 ERA. He started Game 4 of the 1982 World Series against the Brewers, yielded one earned run in 6.1 innings and got no decision in a 7-5 Milwaukee victory.

LaPoint earned 12 wins for the Cardinals in both 1983 and 1984.

When the Cardinals, seeking a run producer to replace George Hendrick, had a chance to get Jack Clark before the start of the 1985 season, they sent LaPoint, Green, Jose Uribe and Gary Rajsich to the Giants.

Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch later reported the Cardinals parted with LaPoint because they “thought he might be influencing young players unduly.”

Hummel described LaPoint as a “leader in clubhouse revelry” and “a top consumer of the owner’s (Anheuser-Busch’s) product.”

Prodigal son

LaPoint had a 7-17 record for the 1985 Giants, who traded him to the Tigers after the season.

LaPoint and Tigers manager Sparky Anderson were a bad match. “I couldn’t get along with Sparky,” LaPoint told Hummel. After posting a 3-6 record and 5.72 ERA for the Tigers, LaPoint was traded to the Padres in July 1986. He was 1-4 for the Padres, who released him after the season.

It was then LaPoint decided to make changes. Weighing between 230 and 240 pounds, he dropped to 220.

The Expos and Giants wanted to sign LaPoint, but he chose the Cardinals, whose offer of a base salary of $125,000 was a cut from his $550,000 contract in 1986.

“It feels finally that I’m back where I belong,” LaPoint said. “… In talking to Whitey, he said he would use me like he did in ’82. That’s fine with me. It got me a World Series ring.”

Asked his reaction to LaPoint rejoining the Cardinals, center fielder Willie McGee said, “I like him … He’s kind of a clown, but that’s Dave LaPoint.”

It’s a reputation LaPoint said he was determined to change.

“I used to mess around during drills and I don’t do that anymore,” LaPoint said after reporting to Cardinals camp. “… It was time to put a stop to it.”

Redbird reliever

LaPoint had a successful spring training. He was 2-0 with a 2.34 ERA in 15.1 innings pitched in Grapefruit League exhibition games.

The Cardinals opened the 1987 regular season with five left-handers: starters John Tudor and Greg Mathews and relievers Ricky Horton, Pat Perry and LaPoint. (Ken Dayley, another left-handed reliever, was on the disabled list.)

In his first appearance for the 1987 Cardinals, on April 10 against the Pirates at Pittsburgh, LaPoint took the loss when he yielded a two-out, RBI-double to Sid Bream in the bottom of the ninth. Boxscore

LaPoint was scheduled to make a start April 25 versus the Mets at New York, but that plan was scratched when the Cardinals called up Joe Magrane from the minors and put the rookie left-hander into the rotation.

LaPoint remained in the bullpen and largely was ineffective.

He got a win on April 18 against the Mets at St. Louis, but even then he didn’t perform well. In the 10th, LaPoint threw a wild pitch, enabling Al Pedrique to score from third with the go-ahead run. LaPoint was rescued when the Cardinals scored five times off Jesse Orosco in the bottom half of the inning. Tom Pagnozzi’s RBI-single tied the score at 8-8 and Tommy Herr’s grand slam made LaPoint the winner. Boxscore

On the road again

With his ERA at 6.75 after four relief appearances, LaPoint was demoted to Louisville on April 27. LaPoint had the option of declaring himself a free agent, but agreed to return to the minor leagues for the first time since 1981.

Placed in the starting rotation by Louisville manager Dave Bialas, LaPoint lost his first three decisions, but then found his groove. He completed four of his last five starts for Louisville and had a 5-5 record when he was recalled by the Cardinals on July 8.

“It was the best thing in the world for me,” LaPoint said of his stint in the minors. “… I’ve learned to pitch a little different style.”

LaPoint made two July starts for the Cardinals and got no decision in either.

On July 30, the Cardinals traded LaPoint to the White Sox for minor-league pitcher Bryce Hulstrom.

“LaPoint’s main problem has been control,” wrote John Sonderegger of the Post-Dispatch. “If he gets the ball up, he gets hammered. It usually takes him a couple of innings to find the strike zone and by then the game usually is out of control.”

After posting a 1-1 record and 6.75 ERA for the 1987 Cardinals, LaPoint was 6-3 with a 2.94 ERA for the 1987 White Sox.

The Cardinals, helped by a combined 30 wins from left-handed starters Mathews, Tudor and Magrane, finished 95-67 and won the NL pennant.

Previously: Trade for Jack Clark shook Cards from their slumber

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Given a choice of facing Del Ennis or Stan Musial with runners in scoring position and the game on the line, Warren Spahn did what no other big-league pitcher had done before him: He opted to pitch to Musial.

warren_spahnIt was the only time in Musial’s illustrious 22-year Cardinals career that a pitcher intentionally walked a batter in order to get to Musial.

It happened 60 years ago on a Saturday afternoon, Aug. 17, 1957, in a game between the Cardinals and Braves at Milwaukee’s County Stadium.

Pennant race

The slumping Cardinals, who had lost nine in a row, were fighting to remain in the 1957 National League pennant race when they went to Milwaukee for a four-game series in August. The Braves, riding a 10-game winning streak, were in first place, 7.5 games ahead of the Cardinals and Dodgers, who were tied for second.

St. Louis won the series opener, 6-2, behind the slugging of Ennis, who hit a three-run home run off Juan Pizarro.

Game 2 of the series matched Larry Jackson of the Cardinals against Lew Burdette.

The Cardinals jumped ahead with three runs in the first, but the Braves came back with two runs in the sixth and one in the eighth, tying the score at 3-3.

Managerial moves

Don McMahon, a rookie, relieved Burdette in the ninth. After Eddie Kasko grounded out, Jackson, the pitcher, hit a broken-bat pop fly to right that fell safely in front of Bob Hazle for a single. The next batter, Ken Boyer, reached base when shortstop Felix Mantilla booted a grounder for an error.

With Wally Moon at the plate, McMahon’s first pitch to him eluded catcher Del Crandall for a passed ball. Jackson advanced to third on the play and Boyer to second.

Braves manager Fred Haney lifted McMahon and brought in Spahn, a left-hander, to face Moon, a left-handed batter, with the count at 1-and-0.

Two nights earlier, on Aug. 15, Spahn had started against the Reds at Cincinnati and pitched a complete game in an 8-1 Braves victory. With one day of rest, the Braves ace was making his fourth and final relief appearance of the season.

Unforgettable ploy

Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson countered by bringing in Ennis, a right-handed batter, to hit for Moon.

Ennis, batting .275 with 17 home runs, was a threat, but he was no Musial. At 36, Musial was having a sensational season. He was batting .333 and would finish the year at .351, earning his seventh NL batting crown.

Still, with first base open, Spahn issued an intentional walk to Ennis, loading the bases with one out and bringing Musial, a left-handed batter, to the plate.

In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial said the sight of Spahn walking Ennis to face him is one “I’ll never forget.”

Musial fared well versus Spahn in his career _ .318 batting average and .412 on-base percentage _ but on this day the Braves pitcher won the showdown of future Hall of Famers.

Musial rapped a Spahn pitch on the ground to the second baseman _ Musial’s friend and former teammate, Red Schoendienst.

Schoendienst fielded the ball and flipped it to Mantilla for the force of Ennis at second. Mantilla’s relay throw to first baseman Frank Torre was in time to retire Musial, completing the inning-ending double play.

“He’s the only pitcher ever to walk a batter to face me,” Musial confirmed.

Back and forth

The drama wasn’t over. Another future Hall of Famer, Braves center fielder Hank Aaron, had a large role to play in the outcome.

In the 11th, with Spahn pitching, Don Blasingame led off for the Cardinals and stretched a routine single into a hustling double. Kasko grounded out to second, advancing Blasingame to third.

Jackson was due up next, but Hutchinson sent Walker Cooper, 42, to hit for the pitcher. Cooper lifted a long sacrifice fly to left, scoring Blasingame and giving the Cardinals a 4-3 lead.

Billy Muffett, a rookie, was Hutchinson’s choice to pitch the bottom half of the inning. Muffett retired the first batter, Schoendienst, on a pop-up.

The next batter, Frank Torre, hit a low line drive to left. Ennis lumbered in, got a glove on the ball and dropped it. Torre, credited with a single, was replaced by pinch-runner Hawk Taylor.

Eddie Mathews followed with a single to center. Boyer, playing center field, hesitated on his throw, enabling Taylor to reach third.

That brought Aaron to the plate.

Hank hammers

Aaron was angry. In the ninth, Jackson had moved Aaron off the plate with a high, tight pitch. Aaron, in comments to the Associated Press, accused Jackson of “trying to stick one in my ear.”

“It’s on purpose,” Aaron said. “I can tell when they’re throwing at me.

“If that’s the only way they can win a ballgame, they ought to get other jobs. I don’t mind being brushed back _ you expect that _ but I don’t like them balls aimed at my head. We don’t knock Stan Musial down, so why do they do it to me?”

Aaron hit Muffett’s first pitch to him into right-center for a double. Taylor trotted home from third, tying the score at 4-4. Racing from first, Mathews headed toward the plate and barely beat Blasingame’s relay throw, giving the Braves a 5-4 victory and making a winner of Spahn. Boxscore

The Braves went on to clinch the pennant, finishing eight games ahead of the runner-up Cardinals.

Previously: Del Ennis provided power in Cardinals lineup

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Three days after making his major-league debut with his hometown team, infielder Bob Sadowski was traded by the Cardinals for a player they thought could challenge Curt Flood for the center field job.

robert_sadowskiThe deal sent Sadowski on an odyssey during which he played for three big-league clubs in the next three years before returning to the minors, including a second stint in the Cardinals system.

Sadowski, 79, died Jan. 6, 2017 _ a week before his 80th birthday.

Talented infielder

Born and raised in St. Louis, Sadowski played baseball at Webster Groves High School and with the Maplewood American Legion team. A teammate on both clubs was future Cardinals outfielder Charlie James.

In 1955, when Sadowski was 18, he impressed the Cardinals at a tryout camp and they signed him to a contract.

A left-handed batter who could play multiple positions, especially third base and second base, Sadowski established himself as a prime prospect with a strong season for the Billings Mustangs of the Class C Pioneer League in 1957. Sadowski batted .302 and produced 20 doubles, 13 triples and 15 home runs for Billings.

Sadowski caught the attention of the Cardinals again in 1959 when he batted .290 with 24 doubles and 12 triples for Omaha of the Class AAA American Association.

Omaha manager Joe Schultz tabbed Sadowski as a player with a bright future. The Sporting News declared him “a talented infielder.” After the 1959 season, the Cardinals put Sadowski on their big-league roster.

Cardinals call

At Cardinals spring training camp in 1960, Sadowski developed astigmatism, making objects at a distance appear blurry or wavy, and eyeglasses were prescribed for him, The Sporting News reported.

He opened the 1960 season with the Cardinals’ affiliate at Rochester in the Class AAA International League. Batting .223 after 51 games, Sadowski was loaned to the White Sox Class AAA farm club in San Diego. He revived his career with the Pacific Coast League team, batting .340 in 64 games.

Impressed, the Cardinals promoted Sadowski to the big leagues in September 1960.

Debut at home

On Sept. 16, 1960, a Friday night at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Sadowski, 23, lived a dream by making his major-league debut for the Cardinals.

After five innings, in a game delayed an hour and 32 minutes by rain, the Giants led, 6-0. Cardinals manager Solly Hemus made several substitutions, including putting in Sadowski at second base to replace Julian Javier.

Sadowski led off the St. Louis half of the sixth against reliever Stu Miller, formerly of the Cardinals, and grounded out to third baseman Jim Davenport.

In the eighth, Orlando Cepeda reached on an error by Sadowski. In the Cardinals’ half of the inning, Sadowski reached on a walk. He was stranded when Miller struck out Bill White and got Stan Musial and Ken Boyer on pop-outs. Boxscore

That one game would be Sadowski’s lone appearance with the Cardinals.

Trade bait

With Javier at second and Boyer at third, the Cardinals were strong in the two positions Sadowski played best. What the Cardinals thought they needed was to bolster the center field position. Flood, the everyday center fielder, hit .237 for the 1960 Cardinals. Hemus was seeking better production from that position.

On Sept. 19, 1960, the Cardinals acquired center fielder Don Landrum from the Phillies for Sadowski and three players on their Rochester roster _ outfielder Jim Frey, second baseman Wally Shannon and pitcher Dick Ricketts.

Landrum, 24, had spent the 1960 season with the Phillies’ Class AAA farm club at Buffalo, where he batted .292 and led the International League in hits (178), doubles (35) and runs scored (112).

The Sporting News praised Landrum as being “a capable fly chaser who can also swing the bat.”

On the day of the trade, Landrum joined the Cardinals in time for their game that night against the Dodgers at St. Louis. He produced three singles and a stolen base. Two nights later, Landrum hit a home run and a triple off the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale.

Versatile prospect

Like the Cardinals, the Phillies had an established starter at second base in Tony Taylor. Sadowski was acquired to be a backup.

Under the headline “Phils Bolster Infield, Land Keystone Kid,” The Sporting News reported: “Because of his versatility, it is possible Sadowski might land a utility infield spot” with the 1961 Phillies.

Sadowski batted .130 in 16 games for the 1961 Phillies. He was traded to the White Sox after the season and hit .231 with six home runs for them in 79 games in 1962. Selected by the Angels in the Rule 5 draft, Sadowski hit .250 in 88 games for them in 1963.

Back where he began

Sadowski spent the rest of his playing days in the minor leagues. After starting the 1968 season with the Syracuse Chiefs, Sadowski rejoined the Cardinals’ organization and was assigned to the Class AAA Tulsa Oilers of the Pacific Coast League.

Playing for manager Warren Spahn, Sadowski, 31, filled a utility role and helped Tulsa to the league championship. “Sadowski’s hitting perked up the Oilers, especially over short stretches,” The Sporting News noted.

In 1969, his last season in organized baseball, Sadowski returned to the Angels’ organization as an infielder for the Class AA El Paso Sun Kings, who were managed by former Cardinals catcher Del Rice.

The Cardinals reacquired Sadowski in June 1969 and he finished the season with Class AA Arkansas and Class A Cedar Rapids.

Previously: Daryl Spencer followed in footsteps of Marty Marion

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(Updated Jan. 18, 2017)

Brian Jordan produced his most important hit for the Cardinals against one of the all-time best relief pitchers.

brian_jordanFacing Trevor Hoffman in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the 1996 National League Division Series, Jordan slugged a two-run home run, breaking a 5-5 tie and lifting the Cardinals to their first postseason series championship in nine years.

Hoffman by that time had established himself as an elite reliever. With 42 saves _ the first of his nine seasons with 40 or more _ and nine wins, the right-hander had factored in 55 percent of the 92 regular-season victories achieved by the 1996 Padres.

Hoffman would go on to build a distinguished 18-year career in the big leagues. His 601 saves rank second all-time behind only the 652 by Mariano Rivera of the Yankees.

Hoffman generally is considered a strong candidate for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2017, he received votes on 74 percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America ballots. A candidate needs to be chosen on 75 percent of the ballots to earn election.

In a career filled with successes, one of Hoffman’s earliest and most glaring stumbles was in his first postseason against the Cardinals.

Key catch

After winning the first two games at St. Louis, the Cardinals were in position to clinch the best-of-five NL Division Series with a victory against the Padres in Game 3 at San Diego on Oct. 5, 1996.

The Padres led 4-1 after five innings, but the Cardinals rallied for three runs in the sixth and one in the seventh, taking a 5-4 lead.

In the eighth, Ken Caminiti connected off Cardinals reliever Rick Honeycutt for his second home run of the game, tying the score. The Padres had a runner on second with two outs when Jody Reed launched a line drive to the gap in right-center. Jordan, the right fielder, dived and made an inning-ending catch. Video

“I think that was the most important play of the ballgame,” Jordan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “If that ball gets by me, they’re going to score.”

Bruce Bochy, the Padres’ manager, brought in Hoffman to pitch the ninth.

Hoffman got Ozzie Smith to line out to left.

Ron Gant drew a walk.

“I was high in the zone to Gant,” Hoffman told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “That wasn’t necessarily where I wanted to be.”

Up next was Jordan.

Delivering a dagger

Jordan led the 1996 Cardinals in RBI, with 104. He hit .367 with runners on base.

As a result of his diving catch the previous inning, Jordan’s neck and left shoulder stiffened when he got back to the dugout, but a quick massage from trainer Gene Gieselmann got Jordan ready to face Hoffman in the ninth.

After working the count to 3-and-2, Jordan lined a pitch foul down the left-field line.

Jordan expected the next delivery to be a fastball. Hoffman threw a slider.

Hoffman: “I hung it right over the middle.”

Jordan: “He threw me a slider up and I kept my hands back.”

Hoffman: “It wasn’t a high hanger. Brian had to go down and get it.”

Jordan: “If I miss that, I’m throwing my hat and my helmet down.”

Timing it right, Jordan swung _ “It looked like he hit one-handed,” Hoffman said _ and lofted the ball over the left-field wall. Boxscore

Bob Costas, calling the game on television for NBC, described the home run as “a dagger through the heart” of the Padres. Video

Bernie Miklasz, Post-Dispatch columnist, rated Jordan’s jolt “the biggest St. Louis home run” since Jack Clark’s pennant-clinching shot against the Dodgers in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1985 NL Championship Series.

“I’ve always wanted to play in pressure situations,” Jordan said. “… To see that ball come down, over the fence, it was satisfying.”

Said Hoffman: “On 3-and-2, he’s looking to drive the ball and I gave him a pitch to do it … It was the right pitch in that situation. Unfortunately, the execution wasn’t quite there and I got bit in the butt.”

Previously: Cardinals dealt Trevor Hoffman first defeat

Previously: How Tony Gwynn tormented Dennis Eckersley

Previously: Why Jack Clark got chance to put Cards in World Series

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As a youth in his native Kansas, Daryl Spencer was a Cardinals fan. His favorite player was Marty Marion, the shortstop on four pennant-winning Cardinals teams in the 1940s. Imagine then how special it was for Spencer when the Cardinals acquired him to play the position once held by his boyhood idol.

daryl_spencerSpencer, who became Cardinals shortstop in 1960, died Jan. 2, 2017, at 88. Decades before Edgar Renteria and Jhonny Peralta provided the Cardinals with home run threats at the position, Spencer, 6 feet 2, 190 pounds, was the prototype of the slugging shortstop.

Though his tenure with the Cardinals was short _ he played all of the 1960 season and part of 1961 _ Spencer was a prominent member of a lineup that featured Ken Boyer, Bill White, Curt Flood and Stan Musial.

Joining Giants

Spencer hailed from Wichita, Kan. “I was a Cardinals fan growing up and we’d listen to them on the radio,” Spencer told Bob Rives of the Society for American Baseball Research. “… My dad went to the World Series there in 1942 and had brought back some memorabilia for me that I really treasured.”

Inspired by Marion, who in 1944 became the first shortstop to win a National League Most Valuable Player Award, Spencer pursued a baseball career.

The Cardinals scouted Spencer, but it was the Giants who signed him after he’d had a successful season for the Pauls Valley Raiders, an independent team in the Class D Sooner State League in 1949.

Spencer made his big-league debut with the Giants in 1952 and hit 20 home runs for them in 1953. After two years (1954-55) in military service, Spencer was the Giants’ starting shortstop from 1956-58. He produced 17 home runs and 74 RBI for the 1958 Giants, but also committed the most errors (32) among NL shortstops.

In 1959, the Giants shifted Spencer to second base, but he preferred being a shortstop.

Ready to deal

The 1959 Cardinals finished next-to-last in the NL at 71-83. They ranked seventh in runs scored (641) and sixth in home runs (118).

Determined to add power _ Boyer was the only 1959 Cardinals player to hit 20 home runs _ general manager Bing Devine offered second baseman Don Blasingame and pitcher Larry Jackson to the Giants for Spencer and pitcher Johnny Antonelli, according to multiple published reports.

Loaded with power hitters (Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey and Willie Kirkland), the Giants were seeking defense and speed. Blasingame, who led the 1959 Cardinals in hits (178) and had 15 stolen bases, appealed to the Giants, but they were unwilling to trade Antonelli, who’d earned 19 wins in 1959.

Just when it appeared an agreement wouldn’t be reached _ “The deal somehow always moved away from us,” Giants owner Horace Stoneham said to The Sporting News _ Devine made a proposal that excluded Antonelli.

On Dec. 15, 1959, the Giants traded Spencer and outfielder Leon Wagner to the Cardinals for Blasingame.

Power source

“Blasingame will help the Giants at second base defensively and give them a leadoff man,” Cardinals manager Solly Hemus said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Spencer, bigger and stronger, will give us more punch.”

Hemus said he consulted with Musial and Boyer before the Cardinals made the trade. “They liked it,” Hemus said. “They felt we definitely were getting a plus. I respect their judgment.”

Hemus said Spencer would be the Cardinals’ starting shortstop in 1960 and Alex Grammas would shift from shortstop to second base.

Though Spencer, 31, was their primary target _ “Spencer is an aggressive guy whose desire to win won’t hurt,” Hemus said _ they were delighted to get Wagner.

Wagner, 25, hit 51 home runs for the minor-league Danville (Va.) Leafs in 1956 and combined for 30 home runs with Class AAA Phoenix (17) and the Giants (13) in 1958.

The Cardinals had attempted to acquire Wagner after the 1958 season, but he “was an untouchable,” Hemus told The Sporting News.

“We tried to get him instead of Bill White (whom the Cardinals acquired in March 1959 from the Giants),” Hemus said.

Key contributor

Spencer hit 16 home runs for the 1960 Cardinals. His on-base percentage (.365) ranked among the top 10 in the NL. He produced 131 hits and a team-high 81 walks in 148 games, but he also grounded into the most double plays (15) and committed 32 errors (31 at shortstop and one at second base).

Still, he helped the 1960 Cardinals improve in the standings. St. Louis finished in third place at 86-68, seven games ahead of the fifth-place Giants. The Cardinals _ even without much contribution from Wagner (four home runs) _ ranked third in the NL in home runs (138), but scored two fewer runs (639) than they had in 1959.

Moving on

The next year, Spencer had a spectacular start to the season. In the Cardinals’ 1961 opener against the Braves at Milwaukee, Spencer hit a 10th-inning home run off starter Warren Spahn, carrying St. Louis to a 2-1 victory. Boxscore

The Cardinals, however, stumbled thereafter and looked to rebuild.

On May 30, 1961, with their record at 18-20, the Cardinals dealt Spencer to the Dodgers for infielder Bob Lillis and outfielder Carl Warwick.

Spencer generated 33 hits and 23 walks (a .366 on-base percentage) for the 1961 Cardinals, but his batting average with runners in scoring position was .214.

In 185 games with St. Louis, Spencer batted .257 with 20 home runs and 79 RBI. He had 164 hits, 104 walks and a .365 on-base percentage.

“I had a lot of friends on the Cardinals and I liked St. Louis, but L.A. is a good club to go to,” Spencer told the Post-Dispatch.

After stints with the Dodgers and Reds, Spencer continued his playing career in Japan. In seven seasons with the Hankyu Braves, Spencer batted .275 with 152 home runs and a .379 on-base percentage.

Previously: Jhonny Peralta tops home run mark of Edgar Renteria

Previously: Kolten Wong, Don Blasingame: Similar 2nd sackers

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(Updated Jan. 18, 2017)

In a career filled with consistent hitting versus the Cardinals, Jeff Bagwell reached a personal pinnacle when he hit for the cycle against them.

jeff_bagwellBagwell, a first baseman, produced 449 home runs and 1,529 RBI in 15 years (1991-2005) with the Astros.

He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America on Jan. 18, 2017.

Championship contenders

Many of Bagwell’s most meaningful games came against the Cardinals, who developed into the Astros’ most intense division rival.

In nine of the last 10 seasons of Bagwell’s career, 1996-2005, either the Astros or Cardinals finished in first place in the National League Central Division. In 2001, the Cardinals and Astros tied for first with 93-69 records. In 2004 and 2005, when the Cardinals won division titles, the Astros qualified for the postseason as a wild card and faced St. Louis in the NL Championship Series. The Cardinals prevailed in 2004; Houston won in 2005.

Bagwell, a right-handed batter, had more regular-season career hits (223) versus the Cardinals than he did against any other foe.

In 192 regular-season games facing St. Louis, Bagwell hit .319, with 38 home runs, 139 RBI and a .422 on-base percentage.

In 2000, when the Cardinals were division champions, Bagwell hit .463 (19-for-41) against them, with seven home runs and 18 RBI in 11 games.

His best single-game performance versus the Cardinals came the next year.

Liftoff in Houston

The Cardinals had won four in a row, holding opponents to three runs or fewer, heading into a series opener against the Astros on July 18, 2001, at Houston.

In the first inning, Bagwell hit a run-scoring single off starter Mike Matthews. He flied out to center in the third.

The Cardinals scored six times in the fifth and led, 8-6.

Sparked by Bagwell, the Astros rallied for eight runs in the bottom half of the inning.

Bagwell led off the fifth with a double against Luther Hackman. After the Astros scored five times, Bagwell capped the inning with a three-run home run off Gene Stechschulte.

Coming through

That meant Bagwell needed a triple to complete the cycle for the only time in his big-league career. He’d tripled just once (at Chicago) at that point in the season.

In the seventh, with Craig Biggio on third base and one out, Bagwell faced Andy Benes. “My only concern was getting that run home (from third),” Bagwell told the Houston Chronicle.

Bagwell lined a deep shot to right-center field.

“That’s probably the only place you can hit a triple in this park, for a right-hander,” Biggio said.

Bagwell rounded second _ “I was kind of laboring. I wasn’t going very fast,” he said _ and beat the throw to third.

“It worked out where I got a triple and got the cycle,” said Bagwell, “but a base hit up the middle would have been nice, too.” Boxscore

Bagwell became the fourth Houston player _ and the first since Andujar Cedeno on Aug. 25, 1992, versus the Cardinals Boxscore _ to hit for the cycle. The other Astros to do so were Cesar Cedeno and Bob Watson.

“I’m jealous,” Astros outfielder Moises Alou said to the Associated Press. “I’ve never even hit for the cycle when I played softball.’

Bagwell, who drew a walk while facing Dave Veres in the eighth, finished the game 4-for-5 with five RBI and four runs scored.

“It’s cool,” Bagwell said, “but it’s not something I put much stock in.”

Previously: Could Craig Biggio have made Hall of Fame as Cardinal?

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