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In his first game as a starting catcher for the 1962 original Mets, Choo Choo Coleman dared to lead off an inning with a bunt against Bob Gibson.

choochoo_colemanBy having the audacity to challenge the Cardinals’ ace, Coleman played a key role in ending Gibson’s four-game winning streak and snapping the Mets’ 11-game losing streak.

On July 27, 1962, in the first game of a doubleheader against the Cardinals, Coleman opened the third inning with a bunt single and scored the lone run in the Mets’ 1-0 victory at St. Louis. Coleman’s battery mate, Al Jackson, who hadn’t earned a win in more than a month, pitched the shutout.

It was the only 1-0 win for the 1962 Mets and one of just four shutout victories for them. Jackson pitched all four.

Coleman, 78, died Aug. 15, 2016, in Orangeburg. S.C. This post is a tribute to him.

Runaway train

Clarence Coleman told an interviewer he got the nickname “Choo Choo” as a boy in his hometown of Orlando because he ran fast like a train.

Small for a catcher at 5 feet 9 and 165 pounds, Coleman entered the big leagues with the 1961 Phillies. He batted .128 for them in 34 games.

The Mets selected Coleman in the National League expansion draft, but assigned him to Class AAA Syracuse before the start of the 1962 season. Wrote The Sporting News: “He didn’t take well to the demotion.”

Coleman batted .195 for Syracuse, but when Mets catcher Sammy Taylor fractured the ring finger on his right hand in July 1962, Coleman was promoted to the big club.

Getting a boost

The Mets had lost 16 of their previous 17 games entering the July 27 doubleheader versus the Cardinals.

Mets manager Casey Stengel, looking to show confidence in Coleman, put him in the starting lineup for the first time. He couldn’t have picked a much tougher opponent than Gibson.

Stengel “is currently embarked upon a psychological campaign designed to instill the big-league attitude into the shy and uncommunicative Choo Choo Coleman,” wrote The Sporting News.

Gibson had limited the Mets to a two-out Felix Mantilla single through the first two innings before Coleman led off the third.

Batting left-handed, Coleman bunted toward third baseman Ken Boyer and raced down the line with a single. Jackson followed with a sacrifice bunt, moving Coleman to second.

Gibson struck out Richie Ashburn for the second out.

The next batter, Rod Kanehl, hit a routine grounder. Shortstop Julio Gotay reached for the ball, but couldn’t come up with it.

Coleman, living up to his nickname, steamed around third base and dashed for home. While Gotay still struggled to field the ball, Coleman streaked across the plate with the unearned run. Boxscore

Off track

Stengel also started Coleman in the second game of the doubleheader. Facing Larry Jackson, Coleman produced the first of his two career triples, but the Cardinals won, 6-5.

Coleman played in 55 games for the 1962 Mets and batted .250. Grasping for a positive, The Sporting News said of the diminutive catcher, “Pitchers say he is one of the most adroit receivers of the low delivery.”

In his final two seasons with the Mets, Coleman hit .178 in 1963 and, after two years of exile in the minors, .188 in 1966. His career batting mark in four big-league seasons: .197.

After his playing career, Coleman worked as a cook in a Chinese restaurant in Virginia, according to his obituary in the New York Times. Choo Choo’s chop suey, anyone?

Previously: Cardinals have strong link to original Mets

Previously: Interview with former Cardinals pitcher Al Jackson

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In August 1968, Mike Shannon slowed the Cubs’ momentum by hitting the first grand slam of his big-league career and helping the Cardinals split a four-game series at Wrigley Field.

mike_shannon5In August 2016, Randal Grichuk slowed the Cubs’ momentum by hitting the first grand slam of his big league career, helping the Cardinals split a four-game series at Wrigley Field.

Grichuk became the first Cardinals batter to hit his first big-league grand slam at Wrigley Field since Shannon did so 48 years earlier.

On Aug. 13, 2016, Grichuk, celebrating his 25th birthday, hit a grand slam off reliever Joe Smith in the eighth inning, carrying the Cardinals to an 8-4 victory in the third game of the series and snapping the Cubs’ 11-game winning streak. Boxscore The next night, the Cardinals won again, 6-4, and earned a split.

On Aug. 15, 1968, Shannon, 29, hit a grand slam off reliever Bill Stoneman in the second inning, carrying the Cardinals to an 8-0 victory in the finale of the series and putting a dent in the Cubs’ pennant hopes. Boxscore

Second City showdown

The Cardinals, defending World Series champions, entered their August 1968 series at Wrigley Field in first place, 14 games ahead of the second-place Cubs in the National League. After the Cubs won the first two of the set, cutting the Cardinals’ lead to 12, fans in Chicago were fired up, sensing their club was poised to get back into the pennant race.

Cardinals ace Bob Gibson dampened those hopes in Game 3, pitching a complete game in a 3-1 victory.

That set up a scenario in which the Cubs needed to win Game 4 in order to gain any ground on the Cardinals.

Get up, baby

A crowd of 23,116 turned out for the Thursday afternoon series finale. The bleachers were packed with rowdies.

Gibson, in a playful mood, pinned a button with the words “We’re No. 1” to the bill of his cap and bantered with fans in the right-field bleachers before the game. “I led the boos for Roger Maris,” Gibson said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, referring to his outfield teammate.

In the first inning, the Cardinals scored four runs off starter Ken Holtzman and knocked him out of the game. Shannon contributed a RBI-single.

In the second, the Cardinals loaded the bases with two outs against former teammate Jack Lamabe. With Shannon up, Lamabe was replaced by Stoneman.

Shannon hit Stoneman’s second pitch into the left-field seats. The grand slam _ the only one of his Cardinals career _ was his 500th hit in the big leagues.

“In Wrigley Field, if you get the ball in the air, you have a heck of a chance,” Shannon said.

Last laugh

The Bleacher Bums took out their frustrations on Cardinals outfielders Lou Brock, Curt Flood and Ron Davis.

“They were hitting us with everything,” said Flood. “Ice cubes, burned-out flashbulbs, fruit, tennis balls, paper cups and old sandwiches.”

Said Davis: “If you turned around, then you’d really get it. That’s when they’d start throwing things at you.”

Plotting his revenge, Flood printed a banner that stated, “We’re still No. 1.”

In the bottom of the ninth, with the Cardinals ahead 8-0, Flood took the banner with him to his position in center and spread it on the outfield grass, with the words facing the bleachers.

Knowing what was to come, Brock had stuffed his ears with cotton to block out the taunts.

Day shift

Shannon finished the game 3-for-5 with five RBI and two runs scored. The performance gave him a .415 batting average (27-for-45) in day games that season.

“I just can see that ball better in the daytime,” Shannon told the Associated Press.

The Cardinals went on to win the 1968 pennant, finishing nine games ahead of the Giants and 13 in front of the third-place Cubs.

Shannon finished his Cardinals career with 68 home runs. He had 16 against the Cubs, including 12 at Wrigley Field.

Previously: Mike Shannon ignited Cards with World Series blast

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Two of the best hitters of their era, Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols, were in their sophomore years in the big leagues when they played against one another for the first time in the regular season. Suzuki had the better overall series; Pujols produced the biggest hit.

albert_ichiroIn June 2002, Suzuki went 6-for-12 in helping the Mariners win two of three games versus the Cardinals at Safeco Field in Seattle. Pujols was 2-for-11, but one of those hits was a grand slam that carried the Cardinals to their lone win in the interleague set.

Fourteen years later, in August 2016, Suzuki, playing for the Marlins, capped his U.S. big-league career by getting his 3,000th hit.

Suzuki has a career .306 batting average (22-for-72) against the Cardinals. His best performance versus St. Louis was that first.

Bat man

In 2001, Suzuki won the American League Rookie of the Year Award and Pujols won the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

They brought star power to the Cardinals-Mariners series the following season.

On June 10, 2002, Suzuki was 3-for-5 with three runs scored and two RBI in the Mariners’ 10-0 victory over the Cardinals. Suzuki singled off starter Bud Smith and had a double and triple against Luther Hackman. Boxscore

Before the game, reporter Larry LaRue of the Tacoma News Tribune visited Suzuki in the clubhouse while Suzuki examined new bats.

“Each bat shipped to him from Japan comes shrink-wrapped (in cellophane) and once he unwraps a bat it’s kept in a specially-made case beside his locker,” wrote LaRue.

Mariners infielder Bret Boone called the case Suzuki’s humidifier.

Said Suzuki: “No matter how well you take care of your bat, eventually moisture gets into the wood. Even clubhouse air-conditioning can effect the wood.”

Before placing a bat in the case, Suzuki tapped the barrel with his palm, then held it to his ear, listening for a tone, LaRue reported.

Said Suzuki: “High pitch, better wood. Low pitch, it probably gets used for batting practice.”

Pujols pop

In Game 2 of the series, on June 11, 2002, Suzuki had another strong game. He was 2-for-3 _ a double off starter Woody Williams and a single against Steve Kline _ with two walks and a stolen base, but it was Pujols who created the sweetest sound with his swing.

In the sixth inning, with the Mariners ahead 1-0, the Cardinals had runners on second and third with one out. Mariners manager Lou Piniella instructed starter James Baldwin to issue an intentional walk to J.D. Drew and face Pujols with the bases loaded.

“I’m trying to get out of the inning with a double play ball,” Piniella said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Said Pujols: “I was surprised.”

Pujols watched two curves sail out of the strike zone. Behind in the count 2-and-0, Baldwin threw a fastball. Pujols pounded it over the center-field fence for the second grand slam of his Cardinals career.

“That young guy has some real pop,” Piniella said to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Pujols added a single and finished 2-for-4 with four RBI and two runs scored in a 7-4 Cardinals triumph. Boxscore

Part of 3,000

In the series finale, June 13, 2002, Suzuki doubled off starter Darryl Kile and finished 1-for-4 in a 5-0 Mariners victory. Pujols was 0-for-3. Boxscore

For the series:

Suzuki’s totals: 6-for-12, three doubles, two singles, one triple, two walks, three runs and two RBI.

Pujols’ totals: 2-for-11, one home run, one single, four RBI, two runs.

Here is how Suzuki fared in his subsequent games versus the Cardinals:

_ 2004: 3-for-11.

_ 2010: 5-for-13.

_ 2014: 0-for-7.

_ 2015: 3-for-15.

_ 2016: 5-for-14.

Previously: Is Seung Hwan Oh as determined as So Taguchi?

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Three years after the Blue Jays removed Chris Carpenter from their big-league roster and told him he’d have to go to the minors if he wanted to remain with the organization, the pitcher returned to Toronto as a member of the Cardinals and showed why giving up on him was a mistake.

chris_carpenter11On June 14, 2005, Carpenter faced the Blue Jays for the first time since leaving them. In one of his most dominating performances, Carpenter pitched a one-hit shutout for a 7-0 Cardinals victory that was as much personal as it was professional.

The masterpiece at Toronto helped establish Carpenter as a pitcher who got big wins in the big games for St. Louis. Carpenter posted a 95-44 regular-season record and 10-4 postseason mark (including 3-0 in the World Series) as a Cardinals starter from 2004-2012.

On Aug. 27, 2016, Carpenter will join players Joe Torre and Terry Moore and executive Sam Breadon in being inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame. Carpenter and Torre were elected in balloting by fans.

Oh, Canada

Carpenter began his professional career with the Blue Jays. He was selected by them with the 15th pick in the first round of the 1993 amateur draft, just ahead of pitcher Alan Benes, who was chosen by the Cardinals with the 16th selection.

Four years later, Carpenter made his big-league debut. He had a 49-50 record for Toronto from 1997-2002.

In October 2002, the Blue Jays removed Carpenter, who had undergone shoulder surgery, from their big-league roster and offered him a spot at Class AAA Syracuse. Instead, Carpenter chose to become a free agent and signed with the Cardinals.

He joined the big-league club in 2004 after spending 2003 working his shoulder into shape.

Good stuff

After posting a 15-5 record in 28 starts for the 2004 Cardinals, Carpenter established himself as the staff ace in 2005. He took an 8-4 record into the start at Toronto.

Carpenter’s return to Toronto drew a Tuesday night crowd of 37,536, including actor Bruce Willis. One fan held up a sign that read: “Thanks for four years of frustrating mediocrity, Carpenter.”

Carpenter responded to the wise guy with a tip of his cap.

Mostly, he let his pitching do the talking.

Effectively mixing a four-seam fastball, curve and changeup, Carpenter baffled the Blue Jays. “My stuff was good and I thought I kept them off balance pretty good,” Carpenter said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa: “He had movement all over, mostly down.”

Gregg Zaun, drawing a leadoff walk in the third, was the first Blue Jays batter to reach base. The next batter, Orlando Hudson, grounded into a double play.

The Blue Jays were hitless until, with two outs in the sixth, rookie Russ Adams pulled a ball that landed barely inside the right-field foul line for a double.

Carpenter then retired the last 10 batters in a row.

“In a game of inches, he came within a couple of inches of throwing a no-hitter,” Larry Walker, the Cardinals’ designated hitter, said of Carpenter.

Toronto tormentor

The one-hitter was the first of Carpenter’s big-league career. It also was the 19th one-hitter by a Cardinals pitcher and the first since Vicente Palacios achieved the feat for St. Louis against the Astros in 1994.

“He wanted to come back (to Toronto) and make an impression,” La Russa said of Carpenter. “He did.”

John Gibbons, Blue Jays manager, told the Associated Press, “He throws downhill at you. He throws 94 mph with that big old hook that he can control. It’s tough to hit that.”

Carpenter was supported by four Cardinals home runs: Walker hit a pair of two-run home runs, Reggie Sanders hit a solo shot and Albert Pujols also had a two-run home run. Boxscore

Carpenter pitched one more one-hitter. It occurred on Sept. 7, 2009, in a 3-0 Cardinals victory over the Brewers at Milwaukee. The lone hit off Carpenter was a fifth-inning double by Jody Gerut.

On June 23, 2010, at Toronto, Carpenter faced the Blue Jays for the second and last time in his career. He pitched eight scoreless innings and got the win in a 1-0 Cardinals victory.

Matt Holliday broke a scoreless tie with a two-out, RBI-single in the top of the ninth off Kevin Gregg, who had relieved starter Ricky Romero.

Ryan Franklin earned the save, yielding a single and a walk _ but no run _ in the bottom of the ninth.

Previously: Mike Matheny helped Chris Carpenter join Cards

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The Cardinals were a significant part of the baseball career of Jim Hickman. He signed his first professional contract with the Cardinals, played in their minor-league system for six seasons and ended his big-league playing career with them. Also, Hickman’s two best games in the major leagues came against the Cardinals.

jim_hickmanHickman, 79, an outfielder and first baseman for 13 years in the big leagues, died June 25, 2016, in his hometown of Henning, Tenn.

Best known as a member of the original 1962 Mets and for an all-star season with the 1970 Cubs, Hickman grew up a Cardinals fan and was 18 when he signed an amateur free agent contract with St. Louis in 1956.

“As a kid, I didn’t know there was any other club except the Cardinals,” Hickman told The Sporting News.

Helped by expansion

Displaying power but failing to hit for average, Hickman played in the Cardinals’ system from 1956-61 without getting a call to the big-league club. His best seasons in the Cardinals organization were 1957 when he produced 26 home runs and 113 RBI in 138 games for Class D Albany (Ga.) and 1959 when he had 22 home runs and 81 RBI in 133 games for Class AA Tulsa.

Wrote The Sporting News of Hickman: “The closest he ever got to the big club was a couple of early spring training camps. They gave Jim big uniform numbers reserved for no names … and he didn’t get much of a look.”

After Hickman hit 11 home runs with 57 RBI for Class AAA Portland (Ore.) in 1961, the Cardinals made him available in the National League expansion draft. According to The Sporting News, the Cardinals lost interest in Hickman when they received a scouting report that said he lacked aggressiveness.

Said Hickman: “I know people say I’m not aggressive … I give it all I got.”

Hickman was drafted by the expansion Mets. He made his big-league debut with them in 1962 and became one of their everyday outfielders, batting .245 with 13 home runs in 140 games.

Cycle in sequence

In July 1963, Mets manager Casey Stengel experimented with converting Hickman into a third baseman. Hickman was batting .223 entering the Aug. 7, 1963, game between the Cardinals and Mets at the Polo Grounds.

Batting leadoff and playing third base, Hickman became the first Mets player to hit for the cycle. He was 4-for-5 with two RBI and two runs scored in the Mets’ 7-3 victory.

Hickman, a right-handed batter, got his first three hits off starter Ernie Broglio: a single in the first, a double in the second and a RBI-triple in the fourth. In the sixth, Hickman hit a solo home run off Barney Schultz to complete the cycle.

“If this fellow can learn to cut down on his strikeouts, he could be one of the top hitters around,” Stengel said of Hickman. “He has all the power he needs, but by now he should know that you can’t hit a ball with the bat on your shoulder. You have to swing.” Boxscore

Trio of homers

Two years later, on Sept. 3, 1965, Hickman became the first Mets batter to hit three home runs in a game. He did it against Cardinals starter Ray Sadecki, leading the Mets to a 6-3 triumph at St. Louis.

Batting sixth and playing first base, Hickman, who entered the game with a .212 batting average, was 4-for-4 with four RBI and three runs scored.

A look at his three home runs off Sadecki:

_ Home run #1: Swinging at the first pitch, a high, outside fastball, Hickman hit it 403 feet the opposite way, clipping the pavilion roof in right-center.

_ Home run #2: The count was 3-and-0 when Hickman looked toward third-base coach Don Heffner and was surprised to see he was being given the freedom to swing away.

Wrote The Sporting News: “Hickman, knowing the Mets have an automatic $10 fine for a missed sign, stepped out of the batter’s box and looked again.”

Heffner shouted to him, “Go ahead. It won’t cost you 10 bucks.”

Sadecki threw a fastball and Hickman pulled it over the left-field wall.

_ Home run #3: On a 1-and-2 count, Hickman swung at a slider down in the zone and golfed it into the left-field bleachers.

When Hickman batted for a fourth time in the game, Nelson Briles was pitching in relief. Asked later whether he was trying for a fourth home run, Hickman replied, “You bet.”

Instead, he produced a single on a groundball that took a bad hop and eluded third baseman Ken Boyer. Boxscore

Nostalgia tour

In 1970, Hickman was named an all-star for the only time. Playing for the Cubs, he produced 32 home runs and 115 RBI that season and was named NL Comeback Player of the Year by The Sporting News.

On March 23, 1974, the Cubs traded Hickman to the Cardinals for pitcher Scipio Spinks. Eighteen years after he had signed with St. Louis, Hickman finally was getting his chance to play for the Cardinals.

Said Hickman: “I’m 36, but I know I still can hit a baseball. And I still can half-catch a baseball.”

Used primarily as a pinch-hitter and backup to Joe Torre at first base, Hickman hit .267 (16-for-60) with the 1974 Cardinals. He hit two pinch-hit home runs _ off George Stone of the Mets and Danny Frisella of the Braves _ but his batting average as a pinch hitter was .182 (6-for-33).

On July 16, 1974, four months after they acquired him, the Cardinals released Hickman. He made it clear he would retire rather than seek a chance with another club.

“This is it,” Hickman said. “So what if I hooked up with another club for the last two months? It would be the same thing after the season ended.”

In a big-league career from 1962-74 with the Mets, Dodgers, Cubs and Cardinals, Hickman batted .252. He had a .242 career mark with 20 home runs in 153 games versus the Cardinals.

Previously: Bob Gibson nearly was unbeatable against Mets

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Two years after they joined Bob Gibson in forming the foundation of the World Series champion Cardinals’ starting rotation, left-handers Curt Simmons and Ray Sadecki were St. Louis outcasts.

curt_simmons3At least the Cardinals got a significant return, first baseman Orlando Cepeda, for Sadecki, 25, when they traded him to the Giants on May 8, 1966. All the Cardinals got for Simmons was cash.

Fifty years ago, on June 22, 1966, Simmons, 37, was purchased by the Cubs from the Cardinals for $20,000.

Simmons, unhappy with the way he was being utilized by the Cardinals, looked forward to joining the Cubs’ starting rotation.

The Cardinals, who had tried to get a player in return for Simmons, were willing to move him to open room in their rotation for a pair of promising left-handers, Larry Jaster, 22, and Steve Carlton, 21.

Arm for hire

In 1964, when they won their first World Series title in 18 years, the Cardinals’ top three starters were Gibson (19 wins), Sadecki (20 wins) and Simmons (18 wins). The next year, Gibson won 20, but the win totals of Sadecki (6) and Simmons (9) declined significantly.

During 1966 spring training, the Cardinals tried to trade Simmons.

Initially, Simmons “was available at a modest price in players or cash,” The Sporting News reported.

When Simmons sparkled in spring training, yielding no walks in 25 innings, the Cardinals increased the price for him.

The Orioles showed interest, but “the Cardinals want a promising, young player in return and the Orioles are reluctant to give up anything more precious than cash,” The Sporting News reported.

Seeking starts

The 1966 Cardinals entered the season with more starters than spots in the rotation. Joining Gibson, Sadecki and Simmons were left-handers Jaster and Al Jackson and right-handers Ray Washburn, Tracy Stallard, Art Mahaffey and Nelson Briles.

Sadecki got three starts before he was traded. Simmons also was used sparingly.

Simmons got his first 1966 start on April 13 against the Phillies at St. Louis.

He didn’t get another start until more than a month later, May 17, at Philadelphia. In that game, Simmons yielded three runs and was lifted after three innings. “I had nothing out there,” Simmons said. “You’ve got to pitch guys in rotation. You can’t play checkers with pitchers.”

Simmons waited nearly three more weeks before getting his third start of the season on June 4 versus the Braves.

“It’s frustrating,” Simmons said of the limited number of starts he and other veterans were getting with the Cardinals. “We’re rusting and our market value is going down. If they’re going with the young guys, they ought to hurry up and make up their minds and let us go.”

Referring to Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam, Simmons said, “He’s burying too many good pitchers.”

Few suitors

A St. Louis newspaper reported the Braves were discussing the possibility of trading outfielder Rico Carty to the Cardinals for Simmons. Braves manager Bobby Bragan nixed the deal, telling The Sporting News he was concerned about Simmons’ long-term effectiveness.

In 10 appearances, including five starts, for the 1966 Cardinals, Simmons was 1-1 with a 4.59 ERA. As Simmons had predicted, his market value was diminishing.

With their options dwindling, the Cardinals sent Simmons to the last-place Cubs, who put him in a rotation that included Dick Ellsworth, Ken Holtzman and Bill Hands.

In seven years (1960-66) with the Cardinals, Simmons posted a 69-58 record, 3.25 ERA and 16 shutouts.

On June 26, four days after he was acquired, Simmons made his Cubs debut and pitched a five-hit shutout against the Mets at Chicago. Boxscore

Two weeks later, still desperate for pitching, the Cubs signed Robin Roberts, 39, who first had become a teammate of Simmons with the 1948 Phillies, and put him in the starting rotation as well.

Simmons was 4-7 with a 4.07 ERA for the 1966 Cubs. He spent the next season with the Cubs and Angels before retiring as a player.

Previously: Cardinals rolled out welcome mat for Orlando Cepeda

Previously: Art Mahaffey and his short, shaky stint with Cardinals

Previously: Final home opener at Busch I was bust for Cardinals

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