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Though the Cardinals were two-time defending National League champions, the American League Browns became the darlings of the St. Louis sports scene early in the 1944 season.

Seventy-five years ago, in April 1944, the Browns set an American League record by winning their first nine games.

Picked by national baseball scribes to finish fifth in the eight-team league, the Browns’ season-opening hot streak caught most people by surprise. The year before, the 1943 Browns finished 72-80 and 25 games out of first place.

On the eve of the 1944 season opener, Browns manager Luke Sewell told the Associated Press, “I can’t tell you what the Browns will do this year, but I know darned well we won’t be last. A lot depends on our pitching.”

The Browns held foes to two runs or less in six of the nine wins in the streak.

Jack Kramer, a Navy veteran who spent most of the 1943 season with the minor-league Toledo Mud Hens, was 3-0 with an 0.68 ERA during the streak. Nelson Potter and Steve Sundra each got two wins. George Caster and Sig Jakucki got one win apiece.

Vern Stephens, the Browns’ 23-year-old shortstop and cleanup hitter, batted .344 during the streak and first baseman George McQuinn hit .333.

The Browns’ stock price rose from $2.25 a share on Opening Day to $3.75 a share at the height of the streak.

The nine consecutive wins by the Browns shattered the American League record of seven consecutive wins to start a season set by the 1933 Yankees. The Browns tied the major-league mark held by two National League clubs, the 1918 Giants and 1940 Dodgers. Since then, the 1982 Braves and the 1987 Brewers each achieved the major-league record of 13 consecutive wins to start a season.

Here is a look at each of the Browns’ nine wins in the streak:

Win No. 1

The Browns opened the season on April 18 with a 2-1 victory at Detroit against the Tigers. The Browns scored in the first inning against Dizzy Trout and added another in the ninth on a home run by Stephens.

In the bottom of the ninth, Kramer struck out the first two batters before yielding a home run to Pinky Higgins. After Jimmy Outlaw singled, Caster, the Browns’ bullpen ace, relieved. Caster walked Don Ross before getting Bob Swift to ground out, ending the game. Boxscore

Win No. 2

Sundra, who five years earlier posted an 11-1 record for the 1939 Yankees, pitched a three-hitter for the Browns in their 3-1 triumph against the Tigers. Boxscore

Win No. 3

The Browns completed a three-game sweep of the Tigers with an 8-5 victory. Stephens had a RBI-single and a two-run double against Tigers ace Hal Newhouser. Boxscore

Win No. 4

The Browns beat the White Sox, 5-3, in the April 21 home opener before 2,021 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Mike Kreevich, a 5-foot-7 right fielder who had no home runs in 60 games for the 1943 Browns, hit a two-run home run in the first inning against Thornton Lee and a solo homer off Lee in the sixth. Boxscore

Win No. 5

In the first game of a Sunday doubleheader against the White Sox before 7,709 at St. Louis, the Browns won, 5-2. Kramer pitched a complete game and hit a two-run home run off Bill Dietrich in the second inning. Boxscore

Win No. 6

The Browns completed the doubleheader sweep with a 4-3 win. With the White Sox ahead, 3-1, the Browns rallied for a run in the seventh and two in the eighth. Al Zarilla drove in the winning run with a single. Boxscore

The Post-Dispatch reported, “Those are strange expressions you see on the faces of followers of the Browns today as they stagger around in a daze thinking of the club’s six-game winning streak.”

In The Sporting News, Frederick G. Lieb wrote, “St. Louis is holding its breath to see how long it lasts.”

Win No. 7

In the first of a two-game series versus the Indians, the Browns won, 5-2, before 960 spectators at St. Louis. “Leaden skies and weather too chilly for grandstand comfort held down the attendance,” according to the Post-Dispatch.

The Browns broke a scoreless tie with four runs in the sixth against Allie Reynolds. The big hit was a two-run double by Stephens. Boxscore

Win No. 8

The Browns established an American League record for most wins to start a season with a 5-1 triumph over the Indians before 1,106 witnesses at St. Louis. Stephens had a two-run single in the first and Hal Epps, a light-hitting outfielder, had his first RBI of the season with a two-run single in the second. Boxscore

Asked about setting the record, Sewell replied to The Sporting News, “I still get hungry at meal time and still get sleepy at bed time. Maybe I’m pleased, but otherwise I don’t feel any different from the days before the season started.”

Win No. 9

In the opener of a series against the White Sox at Chicago, Kramer pitched a four-hitter and the Browns won, 3-1. Boxscore

The rest of the story

The streak ended on April 29 with a 4-3 loss to the White Sox at Chicago. The Browns had a 3-0 lead, but the White Sox scored two in the seventh, one in the eighth and the winning run in the ninth. Boxscore

The Browns and Tigers went into the last game of the regular season tied atop the American League standings. When the Browns beat the Yankees, 5-2, at St. Louis and the Tigers were defeated, 4-1, by the Senators at Detroit, the Browns finished 89-65, one win better than the Tigers at 88-66. The Browns were 13-9 versus the Tigers in 1944.

In the World Series, the Cardinals, National League pennant winners for the third consecutive year, won four of six against the Browns for the championship.

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Bob Gibson and Jim Baxes, two rookies whose careers went in opposite directions, are connected by one swing of the bat.

Sixty years ago, on April 15, 1959, Gibson made his major-league debut for the Cardinals against the Dodgers at Los Angeles and the first batter he faced, Baxes, hit a home run.

Gibson went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Baxes played one year in the major leagues.

Who are you?

After posting a 2.84 ERA in 190 innings pitched for Cardinals farm teams in 1958, Gibson was a candidate to earn a spot on the big-league club’s 1959 Opening Day roster.

Early in spring training at the Cardinals’ camp in St. Petersburg, Fla., first-year manager Solly Hemus approached a player and asked, “Are you Olivares?”

The player replied, “No, I’m Bob Gibson.”

According to The Sporting News, Gibson turned to a teammate and said, “I must have made a hell of an impression on the manager. After a week, he doesn’t even know who I am.”

Gibson’s fastball got him the attention he desired and the 23-year-old rookie won a spot on the 1959 Cardinals’ pitching staff as a reliever.

Though the St. Louis Post-Dispatch expressed concern Gibson “needs either a better curve or a changeup to go with his blazer and his slider,” Cardinals pitching coach Howie Pollet said, “He’s fast enough to throw one quick one by them a lot of times, even when they’re looking for it. Within a few weeks, we might have him getting his breaking ball over better.”

In a column for the Post-Dispatch on the eve of the 1959 season opener, Bob Broeg, rating the Cardinals’ pitchers, said, “If there’s one who does stir the imagination a bit, though he’s green, it’s Bob Gibson.”

Waiting his turn

Meanwhile, at Dodgers spring training camp in Vero Beach, Fla., Baxes, a 30-year-old rookie, was manager Walter Alston’s surprise choice to open the regular season as the third baseman.

Baxes’ father immigrated to the United States from Greece in 1900, went to work in a San Francisco rope factory, married and started a family. His son, Dimitrios Speros Baxes, became known in the Russian Hill neighborhood of San Francisco as Jim.

Jim Baxes and his younger brother, Mike, developed into professional ballplayers. Mike made it to the majors with the Athletics in 1956, but Jim, who started his career in the Dodgers’ farm system in 1947, waited 12 years until getting his shot in the big leagues in 1959.

Baxes was a right-handed power hitter who slugged 30 home runs for Fort Worth in 1953 and 28 home runs for Spokane in 1958, but, according to the Los Angeles Times, he was a “ferocious flailer” who swung and missed too often.

“I’m confident I can cut it,” Baxes said to The Sporting News. “I’ve improved the last couple of seasons and I don’t think my age will prove any handicap.”

Temper tantrum

After losing three of their first four games of the 1959 season, the Cardinals faced Dodgers right-hander Don Drysdale at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

In the sixth inning, Stan Musial of the Cardinals tried to score from second on Joe Cunningham’s line single to center, but he was called out by umpire Dusty Boggess.

“I almost fell off the bench when Musial was called out,” Hemus told the Post-Dispatch.

Convinced he slid into the plate before catcher John Roseboro applied a high tag after fielding a throw from Don Demeter, Musial argued with Boggess, “but he was Casper Milquetoast compared to his boss,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Hemus ran onto the field, charged at Boggess, “threw his cap to the ground and repeatedly kicked the dirt” before he was ejected, according to the Post-Dispatch.

“He took the ballgame away from us,” Hemus said. “That was the worst so-called exhibition of baseball umpiring I ever saw.”

Rude greeting

In the seventh inning, with the Dodgers ahead, 3-0, Gibson, wearing uniform No. 58, relieved starter Larry Jackson. Baxes led off and hit Gibson’s third big-league pitch into the left-center field seats for his first big-league home run.

Gibson “received a rough welcome into major-league warfare,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Baxes gave Gibson “quite an initiation,” the Los Angeles Times wrote.

Gibson retired the next three batters in order, getting Drysdale to line out to second, Ron Fairly to fly out and Wally Moon to ground out.

In the eighth, Roseboro singled, moved to second on Demeter’s sacrifice bunt, stole third and scored on Charlie Neal’s sacrifice bunt. Gil Hodges, the last batter Gibson faced in the game, popped out to the catcher. Boxscore

Gibson made two more relief appearances for the Cardinals before he was sent back to the minor leagues on April 28, 1959.

In his book, “Stranger to the Game,” Gibson said, “Hemus had me convinced that I wasn’t any damn good and consequently I wasn’t.”

Different paths

On May 9, three weeks after his home run against Gibson, Baxes was assigned to the minors because the Dodgers decided to go with Jim Gilliam at third base. The demotion was devastating to Baxes, who batted .303 for the Dodgers. “I think that entitled me to a better chance than I received,” Baxes said to the Associated Press.

Baxes refused to report to the minors, went home to Long Beach, Calif., and got a job at a sheet metal company. The Indians, seeking a backup infielder, contacted the Dodgers and on May 22, 1959, Baxes was dealt to Cleveland.

In his first at-bat for the Indians, on May 23, 1959, Baxes slugged a pinch-hit home run against Jim Bunning of the Tigers. Boxscore

Baxes played in 77 games for the 1959 Indians and hit 15 home runs, but he wasn’t brought back. He played two more seasons in the minors, finishing in 1961 with a Cardinals farm club, the Portland Beavers.

Gibson, meanwhile, was called up to the Cardinals on July 29, 1959, and put in the starting rotation.

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After a rough beginning to his season with the Cardinals, Ted Power recovered and developed into a reliable starting pitcher for them.

Thirty years ago, on March 28, 1989, the Cardinals signed Power, 34, to a minor-league contract following his release by the Tigers.

Five months later, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog was referring to Power as the “savior” of the pitching staff.

Versatile pitcher

In 1981, Power debuted in the major leagues with the Dodgers, spent parts of two seasons with them and was traded to the Reds. A right-handed reliever, his breakout season came in 1985 when he produced eight wins, 27 saves and a 2.70 ERA for Cincinnati.

Reds manager Pete Rose put Power into the rotation in August 1986 and he was 6-1 with a 2.59 ERA in 10 starts. The next year, Power led the 1987 Reds in starts (34), innings pitched (204) and strikeouts (133).

The Reds traded Power to the Royals for pitcher Danny Jackson after the 1987 season. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Royals reliever Steve Farr displayed two baseball cards _ one of Dan Quisenberry and the other of Power _ atop his locker. “One of them is my idol on the field (Quisenberry) and the other my idol off the field,” Farr said.

The Royals sent Power to the Tigers in August 1988 and after the season he had surgery to remove calcium deposits near his right elbow. When spring training began in 1989, Power was ready to pitch for the Tigers.

Comeback bid

In March 1989, the Cardinals were in the market for pitching depth after starters Danny Cox and Greg Mathews went on the disabled list because of elbow ailments. General manager Dal Maxvill sent scout Rube Walker to Tigers camp to assess Power, and Herzog spoke with Detroit manager Sparky Anderson about the pitcher.

On March 25, 1989, the Tigers released Power and three days later he signed with the Cardinals, who assigned him to their Louisville farm club. Under terms of the contract, if Power received an offer from another big-league team while with Louisville, the Cardinals would have 48 hours to decide whether to promote him to St. Louis or let him depart.

“I look at those major-league box scores every day and see middle relievers and starters who aren’t doing the job,” Power said to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “I have all the confidence in the world that I’m going to get back. When I do, I won’t take anything for granted. You can get too comfortable up there. I won’t ever do that again.”

Louisville manager Mike Jorgensen placed Power in the rotation and he produced a 3-1 record and 2.73 ERA in five starts, prompting the Phillies to make him an offer. Unwilling to let Power go, the Cardinals promoted him to St. Louis on May 4, 1989.

“We were kind of forced to bring him up,” Herzog said to The Sporting News. “We didn’t want to bring him up that early.”

On the brink

After appearing in two games for the Cardinals, Power pulled a ribcage muscle while taking batting practice on May 17 and didn’t pitch again for them until June 20.

Herzog put Power in a rotation with Jose DeLeon, Joe Magrane, Ken Hill and Scott Terry, but he wasn’t effective. He reached a nadir on July 17, 1989, when he gave up seven runs to the Giants before being lifted with one out in the second inning. Boxscore

Power said he was overthrowing, causing his breaking pitches to “flatten out.” Said Herzog: “A lot of high sliders.”

Though he was 1-4 with a 7.43 ERA, Power made his next scheduled start against the Padres on July 22, 1989, held them to a run in 6.2 innings and got the win. Boxscore

“I feel like I belong in the big leagues, but this makes me feel like I belong on this team,” Power said.

Over his next three starts, Power shut out the Expos for seven innings, limited the Mets to a run in 6.2 innings and held the Pirates scoreless for eight innings.

“He’s kind of been a savior to us,” Herzog said.

Said Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith: “He’s throwing the ball as well as I’ve ever seen him throw it. It’s nice to see a guy like that come back. He was really on his way out.”

Getting it done

On Aug. 22, 1989, Power, matched against Derek Lilliquist, took a no-hitter and a 10-0 lead into the eighth against the Braves before he tired and gave up home runs to Tommy Gregg and Dale Murphy. Boxscore

In six August starts, Power produced a 2.61 ERA.

“He has more idea of what he wants to do,” said Cardinals catcher Tony Pena. “Before, he had no idea where he was throwing the fastball.”

Said Maxvill: “I look at 25 other clubs and how many have better fifth starters than Ted Power?”

On Sept, 2, 1989, Power beat the Astros in Bob Forsch’s last big-league start and last appearance against his former Cardinals teammates. Boxscore

Five days later, in a start against the Mets, Power suffered a hamstring injury. He was sidelined for two weeks and when he returned he made six appearances in relief.

Power finished with a 7-7 record and 3.71 ERA for the Cardinals in 1989. He became a free agent after the season and got a one-year offer from the Cardinals, but signed with the Pirates, who gave him a contract for 1990 with an option for 1991.

“I would really love to go back to St. Louis … but I’ve got to think of myself and my family,” Power said to the Post-Dispatch. “It looks like a deal that could be solid for a couple of years.”

Power went on to pitch the next four seasons for the Pirates (1990), Reds (1991), Indians (1992-93) and Mariners (1993). He completed 13 seasons in the big leagues with a 68-69 record, 70 saves and a 4.00 ERA.

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Surviving a scare from the last batter he faced in the game, Jack Crimian earned his first major-league win for the Cardinals in his hometown of Philadelphia.

Crimian, who died Feb. 11, 2019, at 92, reached the big leagues with the Cardinals in 1951, pitched in two seasons for them and also played for the Athletics and Tigers.

A right-hander, Crimian was a relief specialist with the Cardinals, but had his most successful season as a starter in the minor leagues.

Willing to work

After graduating high school in Philadelphia, Crimian was signed by the hometown Phillies. In 1944, his first season in the Phillies’ minor-league organization, Crimian earned 18 wins. He joined the Army in 1945 and served as a paratrooper. A year later, he returned to the Phillies’ farm system and was chosen by the Cardinals in the November 1946 minor-league draft.

In 1951, Crimian’s fifth season as a Cardinals minor leaguer, he thrived as a reliever for Columbus manager Harry Walker.

Crimian worked in 30 of Columbus’ first 50 games, developing a reputation as a “rubber-armed pitcher,” according to The Sporting News.

“Crimian is a big-league relief pitcher,” said Charlie Grimm, manager of the Braves’ Milwaukee farm team. “I’ll not miss him when the St. Louis Cardinals call him up.”

On Walker’s recommendation, the Cardinals promoted Crimian on July 1, 1951, as they were about to embark on a three-week road trip. “Harry told me Jack was one of those guys you can use every day for a couple of innings and have him go at top speed,” said Cardinals manager Marty Marion. “That’s what we need.”

Frustrating the Phillies

Crimian, 25, made his major-league debut for the Cardinals on July 3, 1951, against the Reds at Cincinnati. Relieving Harry Brecheen in the sixth inning, Crimian faced two batters, yielding a walk to Dixie Howell and a three-run double to Barney McCosky. Boxscore

The highlight of Crimian’s stint with the Cardinals came two weeks later, on July 15, 1951, in the first game of a doubleheader against the Phillies at Shibe Park in Philadelphia.

With the score tied at 3-3, Crimian relieved Brecheen and held the Phillies scoreless in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, working around a leadoff triple by Granny Hamner in the seventh. The Cardinals scored twice in the seventh and twice in the eighth, taking a 7-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth.

With one out, Del Ennis hit a home run against Crimian, cutting the Cardinals’ lead to 7-4. After Hamner grounded out, Jimmy Bloodworth walked and Del Wilber doubled, putting runners on second and third and bringing the potential tying run to the plate.

Dick Sisler, a former Cardinal, was the batter. After working the count to 2-and-1, he hit a pitch from Crimian over the right-field wall. If the ball landed fair, it would have been a three-run home run, tying the score, but it curved into foul territory.

Unwilling to let Crimian throw another pitch to Sisler, Marion brought in Al Brazle to finish the job. Brazle’s first pitch was a curveball and Sisler watched it bend across the plate for strike three, preserving the win for Crimian. Boxscore

A week later, on July 24, 1951, Crimian made his first appearance at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis and Sisler again played a central role. With the Cardinals leading the Phillies, 8-5, Crimian relieved Brecheen with two on and two outs in the eighth and struck out Sisler. The Cardinals scored a run in the bottom of the eighth and Crimian retired the Phillies in order in the ninth, earning a save. Boxscore

On the move

Crimian made 11 appearances, all in July, for the 1951 Cardinals and was 1-0 with a 9.00 ERA before he was returned to the minors.

In 1952, Crimian was called up to the Cardinals in June, pitched in five games, posted a 9.72 ERA and was demoted.

Playing for Walker at Rochester in 1953, Crimian was 13-5 with a 2.86 ERA, but the Cardinals didn’t call. On Dec. 2, 1953, the Cardinals sent Crimian and $100,000 to the Reds for shortstop Alex Grammas.

According to the Dayton Daily News, Walker spoke to Reds manager Birdie Tebbetts about Crimian and said there’s “no reason why he can’t relieve successfully in the majors.”

The Reds, though, never gave Crimian a chance. On April 8, 1954, the Reds sold Crimian’s contract to the Toronto Maple Leafs, an unaffiliated minor-league club owned by Jack Kent Cooke. The Maple Leafs manager was Luke Sewell, who managed the St. Louis Browns to the 1944 American League pennant and a berth in the World Series against the Cardinals.

Back in the bigs

Crimian earned 30 saves for the Maple Leafs in 1954. During the summer, the Yankees expressed interest in acquiring him, “but Cooke wouldn’t part with Crimian in midseason,” The Sporting News reported.

In 1955, Sewell put Crimian in the starting rotation because he “wasn’t getting enough work to stay sharp” as a reliever.

“I have trouble keeping a fine touch if I don’t get enough work,” Crimian said.

Crimian posted a 19-6 record and 2.10 ERA, earning International League pitcher of the year honors.

The pitching-poor Athletics of the American League took notice. On Oct. 12, 1955, the Athletics acquired Crimian from the Maple Leafs for pitcher Marion Fricano and $60,000.

“If they give this fellow a chance to learn the hitters, he can’t miss,” Sewell said. “He’s got the best control I’ve seen in any pitcher.”

Crimian spent the 1956 season with the Athletics and was 4-8 with a 5.51 ERA in 54 appearances. His highlight came on Sept. 4, 1956, when he won a start against the Indians and outdueled Herb Score, a 20-game winner. Boxscore

In December 1956, the Athletics traded Crimian to the Tigers. He pitched in four games for them in 1957, including on April 18 when Indians rookie Roger Maris hit his first major-league home run, a grand slam, against Crimian in the 11th inning at Detroit. Boxscore

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Joe Gibbon grew up as a Cardinals fan in Mississippi, passed up a career in basketball for baseball and pitched in the major leagues for 13 seasons.

Gibbon, who died Feb. 20, 2019, at 83, spent his big-league career in the National League with the Pirates (1960-65 and 1969-70), Giants (1966-69), Reds (1971-72) and Astros (1972).

A left-hander who threw sidearm and possessed a sinking fastball, Gibbon was used as a starter and reliever. He had a record of 61-65 with 32 saves and a 3.52 ERA in the majors. Gibbon was 38-46 with a 3.98 ERA as a starter and 23-19 with a 2.73 ERA as a reliever.

Against the Cardinals, Gibbon was 3-9 with three saves and a 5.05 ERA, giving up 155 hits in 117.2 innings. Curt Flood batted .531 in 49 at-bats versus Gibbon, but Lou Brock hit .159 in 44 at-bats.

In the book “We Played the Game,” Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver, comparing the pitching motions of National League left-handers, said, “Sandy Koufax came over the top, so he wasn’t as frightening as left-handers like Joe Gibbon and (Pirates teammate) Fred Green.”

Hoops talent

Gibbon was born and raised in Hickory, Mississippi, a town named after President Andrew Jackson, who earned the nickname “Old Hickory” because of his toughness as an Army general.

Gibbon followed the Cardinals as a youth and his favorite player was Stan Musial, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. Gibbon listened on radio to the broadcast of Game 7 of the 1946 World Series when Harry Walker of the Cardinals drove in Enos Slaughter with the winning run against the Red Sox. Walker would become one of Gibbon’s managers in the big leagues.

At 6 feet 4, Gibbon was talented in baseball and basketball, excelling in both sports at the University of Mississippi. In the 1956-57 NCAA Division I basketball season, Gibbon was second in the nation in scoring, averaging 30 points and 14.1 rebounds a game. Grady Wallace of South Carolina averaged 31.2 points and he and Gibbon finished ahead of Seattle’s Elgin Baylor (29.7) and Kansas’ Wilt Chamberlain (29.6).

Gibbon was drafted by the NBA Boston Celtics but signed with the baseball Pirates in 1957. In 1959, his third season in the Pirates’ farm system, Gibbon was 16-9 with a 2.60 ERA for Class AAA Columbus, Ohio, gaining him a spot in the majors with the 1960 Pirates.

Rookie success

After earning two wins in relief in April 1960 for the Pirates, Gibbon’s first win as a big-league starter came against the Cardinals on May 19 at Pittsburgh.

Matched against 19-year-old rookie left-hander Ray Sadecki, who was making his major-league debut for the Cardinals, Gibbon pitched six scoreless innings before yielding a run in the seventh and another in the eighth. The second run was scored by Musial, who walked in a pinch-hit appearance the first time he faced Gibbon.

Gibbon pitched 7.1 innings, allowing two runs, striking out seven and getting the win in an 8-3 Pirates triumph over the Cardinals. Boxscore

The Pirates won the 1960 National League pennant and Gibbon contributed with a 4-2 record. His roommate on Pirates road trips was infielder Dick Schofield, who at 5 feet 9 was seven inches smaller than Gibbon. According to an obituary, Schofield was an honorary pallbearer at Gibbon’s funeral.

In the 1960 World Series against the Yankees, Gibbon made two relief appearances, surrendering a three-run home run to Mickey Mantle in Game 2 Boxscore and pitching a scoreless inning in Game 3. The Pirates won the championship in Game 7.

Birthday blast

In 1961, Gibbon earned 13 wins for the Pirates, but against the Cardinals he was 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA.

On Aug. 9, 1961, Gibbon experienced a stunning setback when second baseman Julian Javier broke up a scoreless game with a grand slam in the eighth inning at Pittsburgh.

Paired against Cardinals left-hander Curt Simmons, Gibbon yielded four hits through seven innings. With one out in the eighth, Flood reached on an infield single, Jimmie Schaffer singled and Don Taussig walked, loading the bases.

Javier, a former Pirates prospect playing on his 25th birthday, hit an outside fastball down the right-field line and over the wall at Forbes Field, “about three or four feet fair,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“Best birthday present I ever had,” Javier said.

Javier’s home run, his second of the season, was the difference in 4-0 Cardinals victory. Boxscore

The grand slam was Javier’s first at any level, he told the Post-Dispatch.

After his big-league career, Gibbon was baseball coach at Clarke College in Newton, Mississippi, from 1979-87.

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Don Newcombe was as tough on the Cardinals with his bat as he was with his pitches.

Newcombe, who died Feb. 19, 2019, at 92, was a hard-throwing, hard-hitting pitcher who spent his prime years with the Dodgers.

At 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, Newcombe was an imposing figure on the mound, where he threw right-handed, and at the plate, where he batted left-handed.

In 10 years in the major leagues, Newcombe had a 149-90 record and hit .271 with 15 home runs. Against the Cardinals, Newcombe was 23-11 and hit .299 with six home runs.

In 1955, when he was 20-5 for the World Series champion Dodgers, Newcombe “toyed with the Cardinals as though they were a sandlot team,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Newcombe was 4-0 with a 1.75 ERA and batted .524 with seven RBI versus the 1955 Cardinals.

Newcombe “is downright unbelievable these days,” marveled the Post-Dispatch. “The way he’s going, the only question is whether he can throw as hard as he can hit, or hit as hard as he can throw.”

Rookie vs. Redbirds

Newcombe, 22, made his major-league debut for the Dodgers against the Cardinals on May 20, 1949, at St. Louis and it was a hard-luck initiation.

With the Cardinals ahead, 3-2, Newcombe relieved Rex Barney to open the bottom of the seventh inning. The St. Louis Star-Times, getting its first glimpse of the rookie, described him as “bull-shouldered” and a “massive mountain man.”

Newcombe struck out the first batter, Chuck Diering, on three pitches _ two fastballs and a curve _ and Red Schoendienst followed with a lined single to right.

Next up was Stan Musial. Newcombe fooled him with a low, outside pitch, causing Musial to check his swing, but the ball met his bat and was blooped into shallow left for a single, moving Schoendienst to second.

Newcombe overpowered the next batter, Eddie Kazak, who topped the ball to short so weakly Pee Wee Reese had no play.

The infield single loaded the bases for Enos Slaughter, who drove Newcombe’s first pitch deep down the left-field line for a bases-clearing double. Newcombe was relieved by Erv Palica and the Cardinals won, 6-2. Boxscore

“I had good stuff,” Newcombe said to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “My arm felt good and loose, too.”

Three months later, on Aug. 24, 1949, in what The Brooklyn Daily Eagle called “quite possibly the most important single game the Dodgers will have this season,” Newcombe pitched a shutout and drove in three runs in a 6-0 victory over the Cardinals at Brooklyn. The win moved the Dodgers within a game of the first-place Cardinals. Boxscore

Newcombe is “the closest thing to a real blow-’em-down pitcher the National League has seen since Mort Cooper was at his best,” declared the Post-Dispatch.

Solved by Stan

The Dodgers won the 1949 pennant, finishing a game ahead of the Cardinals. Newcombe posted a 17-8 record, pitched 244.1 innings and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

In the 1994 book “We Played the Game,” Newcombe said as a rookie, “I had the talent and desire _ and I was cocky. I knew I was good, as good or better than the white guys who were trying to keep me from being there.”

Newcombe led the National League in winning percentage in 1955 (20-5, .800) and 1956 (27-7, .794), and was 4-0 versus the Cardinals in each season.

The Cardinal who hit Newcombe the hardest was Musial. Newcombe gave up more home runs (11) to Musial than to any other batter. Musial hit .349 against him.

In “We Played the Game,” Newcombe said, “I pitched toward batters’ weaknesses. Except for Stan Musial and Hank Aaron, they all had weaknesses, even Willie Mays.”

On June 21, 1956, during a season when Newcombe won both the Cy Young Award and the National League Most Valuable Player trophy, Musial hit a pair of two-run home runs and a single against him, but the Dodgers won, 9-8, with a four-run rally in the bottom of the ninth. Boxscore

Newcombe and Carl Erskine were the pitchers when Musial hit for the cycle against the Dodgers on July 24, 1949, at Brooklyn. Musial tripled against Newcombe and had a single, double and home run off Erskine. Boxscore

In his 1964 autobiography, “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial said, “Newk had as great control for a hard thrower as any pitcher I ever faced. I hit him good, but he had a good fastball and curve.”

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