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Archive for the ‘Pitchers’ Category

For Fernando Valenzuela, a baseball odyssey that began brilliantly with the Dodgers ended sadly in a short, unsatisfying stint with the Cardinals.

Seeking a veteran to temporarily plug an opening in their starting rotation, the Cardinals took a chance on Valenzuela, 36, and acquired him in a six-player trade with the Padres.

The deal, made 20 years ago on June 13, 1997, was a surprise. The Cardinals had approached the Padres about a utility infielder. In talks with his counterpart, Kevin Towers of the Padres, Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty learned Valenzuela was available.

The trade was Valenzuela, infielder Scott Livingstone and outfielder Phil Plantier to the Cardinals for pitchers Danny Jackson and Rich Batchelor and outfielder Mark Sweeney.

The player the Padres wanted most was pitcher Mark Petkovsek, but when Jocketty insisted on pitcher Tim Worrell in return the Padres backed off, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“None of the exchanged players are at the top of their game right now,” Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote.

Valenzuela was the most prominent _ and intriguing _ of the group.

Traveling man

After debuting in the big leagues in 1980 with the Dodgers, Valenzuela made a splash in 1981, winning the National League Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards and creating energy and interest in a strike-marred season.

In 1990, his final year with the Dodgers, Valenzuela pitched a no-hitter against the Cardinals.

After that, he was more journeyman than ace. From 1991-97, Valenzuela pitched for the Angels, Orioles, Phillies and Padres.

His record for the 1997 Padres was 2-8 with a 4.75 ERA.

When Jocketty and Towers began trade discussions, Livingstone and Jackson were the players involved. The Cardinals wanted a backup infielder who batted left-handed. Livingstone, who led the NL in pinch-hits in 1996, fit that need.

The Cardinals needed a starting pitcher to fill in for Donovan Osborne, who was on the disabled list because of a torn groin muscle. When the Padres offered Valenzuela, the Cardinals expanded the deal.

“Fernando was an important part of this,” Jocketty said. “(He) gives us some flexibility. When Donovan gets back, Fernando will go to the bullpen. We feel he’ll be better there than Danny (Jackson) would have been.”

Valenzuela was informed by Padres manager Bruce Bochy of the trade while warming up in the bullpen for a start against the Angels.

“It wasn’t easy to look him in the face,” Bochy said to the Los Angeles Times. “He was shocked.”

Tough stretch

Valenzuela joined the Cardinals in Milwaukee on June 16 and was given a start against the Brewers the next night.

He held the Brewers to two hits _ a Jeff Cirillo single and a Mike Matheny double _ and no runs through five innings.

In the sixth, Valenzuela allowed the first four batters to reach base. All scored. Cirillo led off the inning with a home run. Television replays indicated it was a foul ball. A throwing error by Valenzuela after he fielded a bunt by Jeromy Burnitz aided the Brewers’ comeback. The Brewers won, 4-3, and Valenzuela was the losing pitcher. Boxscore

Valenzuela lost his second Cardinals start _ 3-0 to the Cubs on June 23. Boxscore

In his next start, June 28 versus the Reds, the Cardinals won, 12-6, but Valenzuela didn’t get a decision. He was lifted in the fifth inning with the Cardinals ahead, 10-5. “Sometimes it’s better to give the ball to somebody else who can have better stuff,” Valenzuela said. Boxscore

In his fourth start, July 3 against the Pirates, Valenzuela suffered his third loss with the Cardinals. Boxscore

Tony La Russa, Cardinals manager, decided to give Valenzuela extra rest. Eleven days later, Valenzuela got his fifth Cardinals start. It would be his last.

Time to go

On July 14, against the Reds, Valenzuela yielded three runs, issued six walks and hit a batter before being relieved with two outs in the third. The Reds won, 4-2. Boxscore

“Today was a step backward,” La Russa said.

Said Valenzuela: “It’s hard to pitch when you’re not even close to the plate.”

After five starts for the Cardinals, Valenzuela had an 0-4 record and 5.56 ERA.

Valenzuela was released the next day.

La Russa had asked Valenzuela if he wanted to go on the disabled list, but the pitcher said his arm didn’t hurt.

“He said, ‘I can’t be dishonest,’ ” La Russa told the Post-Dispatch.

Said Jocketty: “Commendable. He’s such a nice man and he’s had such a distinguished career. It’s tough.”

The release brought an end to Valenzuela’s big-league career. In 17 seasons, Valenzuela had a 173-153 record and 3.54 ERA. He pitched more than 200 innings in a season seven times.

Previously: Fernando Valenzuela and his gem vs. Cardinals

Previously: Losing became habit for Danny Jackson with Cards

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Every club in the major leagues knew Rick Ankiel was a pitching prospect worthy of being taken early in the 1997 draft. Many, though, thought it would cost too much to sign him. The Cardinals decided to take a chance.

Twenty years ago, on June 3, 1997, the Cardinals selected Ankiel in the second round. Ankiel, who had indicated he wanted a signing bonus of between $5 million and $10 million, signed two months later with the Cardinals for $2.5 million.

The move sent a clear signal that Cardinals ownership, in its second year under a group headed by Bill DeWitt, was committed to investing in talent.

Prep sensation

Ankiel, a left-hander, had been a standout pitcher at Port St. Lucie High School on Florida’s Treasure Coast. He had a three-year record of 30-4.

As a senior, Ankiel was 11-1 with an 0.41 ERA. He pitched three no-hitters and four one-hitters that season and struck out 162 batters in 74 innings.

“He went from being good his sophomore year to great his junior year and this year he became the best,” John Messina, baseball coach at Port St. Lucie High School, told the Palm Beach Post.

Said Marty Maier, Cardinals scouting director: “We think he’s the top left-handed high school pitcher in the draft.”

Ankiel also batted .359 with seven home runs and 27 RBI as a senior.

John DiPuglia, who scouted Ankiel for the Cardinals throughout the pitcher’s high school career, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “In Florida, I’ve never seen a left-handed pitcher with his type of composure and stuff on the mound.”

In March 1997, Ankiel had signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. Ankiel and his adviser, Scott Boras, told major-league organizations it would take as much as $10 million, and no less than $5 million, to sign him, or else he would play college baseball for the Miami Hurricanes.

“A couple of teams said, ‘Will you take less than ($5 million)?’ and I told them no,” Ankiel said. “I was firm.”

Steal of a deal

No organization wanted to pay the price Ankiel was asking and few were willing to risk using a high draft choice on a player they might not be able to sign.

“He should have been drafted in the top 10,” said Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty.

Instead, Ankiel wasn’t selected in the first round. The top three picks were pitcher Matt Anderson by the Tigers, outfielder J.D. Drew by the Phillies and third baseman Troy Glaus by the Angels.

The Cardinals, with the 20th pick in the first round, took infielder Adam Kennedy.

Deep into the second round, Ankiel still was undrafted.

When it was the Cardinals’ turn to make their second choice, with the 72nd overall pick, they took Ankiel, not knowing whether they could sign him.

“We thought long and hard about it,” Jocketty said. “We took our time … Bill DeWitt was there with us.”

Wrote the Post-Dispatch: “The Cards might have taken a risk in the second round, but possibly got the steal of the draft.”

Boras, a former Cardinals prospect, had warned Ankiel he might slip past the first round because of his financial demands. “It was something that we talked about and we kind of knew in a way that it was going to happen,” Ankiel said.

Sales pitch

Two weeks after the Cardinals drafted Ankiel, Jocketty, Maier and two others from the front office _ Jerry Walker, vice president of player personnel, and Mike Jorgensen, player development director _ met with the pitcher and his parents for two hours at their home in Fort Pierce, Fla.

Jocketty said they talked about how the Cardinals develop pitchers and informed them about the history and philosophy of the organization. He said they didn’t discuss money.

When contract discussions eventually did get under way with Boras, both sides played hardball. “At one point,” Jocketty said, “we were prepared to go the other way and he was prepared to go to school. It was a tough negotiation, but not any tougher than most.”

On Aug. 25, a month after his 18th birthday and three days before he was to enroll at Miami, Ankiel agreed to a deal with the Cardinals. He signed the contract on Aug. 28 in St. Louis.

Though the $2.5 million signing bonus was much less than what he had said he wanted, Ankiel received more money than Kennedy, the first-round pick who signed two months earlier for what was reported to be about $1 million.

“We told (Ankiel) all along we would approach him like a first-round pick,” Jocketty said.

High hopes

The Cardinals, who in 1997 would fail to qualify for the postseason for the ninth time in 10 years, projected Ankiel to develop into a big-league starter.

“If he stays healthy and progresses like he should, he should move quickly through our organization,” Jocketty said to the Associated Press.

Said Ankiel: “I’m thinking I’ll make it to the big leagues in three years. My goal is to be here when I’m 21.”

Ankiel advanced ahead of schedule, making his Cardinals debut at age 20 in August 1999.

After an impressive season for the Cardinals in 2000 _ 11-7 record, 3.50 ERA, 194 strikeouts in 175 innings _ Ankiel had a meltdown in the postseason against the Braves and Mets, losing his ability to throw strikes consistently.

He gave up pitching after the 2004 season, transformed into an outfielder and made his big-league comeback with the 2007 Cardinals.

Ankiel played in the majors for 11 seasons, four as a pitcher and seven as an outfielder. He has a 13-10 pitching record and .251 batting average with 49 home runs.

Previously: Rick Ankiel and the decision that altered his career

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Seeking a left-handed reliever to help their pennant push, the Cardinals got Bob Kuzava, a proven producer under postseason pressure. The price, though, was steep: To open a roster spot for Kuzava, the Cardinals cut loose a future Hall of Fame pitcher.

With nine games left in the 1957 season, the second-place Cardinals, in pursuit of the Braves, were without a left-hander in their bullpen. On Sept. 19, general manager Frank Lane filled the need, acquiring the contract of Kuzava, 34, from the Pirates.

With their roster at the limit, the Cardinals needed to remove a player to create a spot for Kuzava. They opted to send Hoyt Wilhelm to the Indians for the waiver price.

Wilhelm went on to pitch in 1,070 big-league games and became the first reliever to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Kuzava pitched in three games for the 1957 Cardinals, who lost six of their last nine and finished eight behind the pennant-winning Braves.

A World Series standout with the Yankees, Kuzava never got a chance to pitch in the postseason for the Cardinals. This post is a look at how Kuzava, who died on May 15, 2017, at 93, came to end his big-league career with the Cardinals.

Series star

Kuzava made his major-league debut with the 1946 Indians and also pitched for the White Sox and Senators before being dealt to the Yankees in June 1951.

In Game 6 of the 1951 World Series, the Yankees led the Giants, 4-1, entering the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium. Johnny Sain, in his second inning in relief of starter Vic Raschi, yielded singles to the first three Giants batters. Yankees manager Casey Stengel called on Kuzava to end the threat.

Kuzava retired all three batters he faced, earning the save in the Yankees’ 4-3 championship clincher. Boxscore

A year later, Kuzava did it again. In Game 7 of the 1952 World Series at Brooklyn, the Yankees led, 4-2, but the Dodgers loaded the bases with one out in the seventh. Stengel brought in Kuzava to relieve Raschi. Kuzava got Duke Snider to pop out to third and Jackie Robinson to pop out to second. Kuzava held the Dodgers scoreless in the eighth and ninth, sealing the championship for the Yankees. Boxscore

Placed on waivers by the Yankees in August 1954, Kuzava went on to pitch for the Orioles and Phillies. He opened the 1957 season with the Pirates, but was sent to their Class AAA farm club, the Columbus (Ohio) Jets, in May.

Comeback in Columbus

Used primarily as a starter, Kuzava won his first six decisions with Columbus. The highlight occurred on July 20 when he pitched a one-hitter against Richmond. Kuzava retired the first 17 batters before yielding a ground single by pitcher Marty Kutyna in the sixth.

In August, Kuzava was sidelined because of elbow trouble. Still, he won two of his last three decisions and finished the minor-league season with an 8-1 record and 3.41 ERA in 20 appearances.

Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson wanted a left-handed reliever. The staff’s lone left-hander was starter Vinegar Bend Mizell.

“We’ve been unable to jockey against tough left-handed hitters who don’t like southpaws,” Hutchinson said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Columbus general manager Harold Cooper, who had been trying to interest the Reds in Kuzava, was glad to make a deal with the Cardinals.

(A day after acquiring Kuzava, the Cardinals obtained another left-handed reliever, Morrie Martin, from the Class AAA Vancouver Mounties, an Orioles farm club, for outfielder Eddie Miksis.)

Too little, too late

The Cardinals had three games remaining with each of three foes: Reds, Braves and Cubs. Figuring the Cardinals needed to win nearly all nine to have a chance to overtake the Braves, Hutchinson wanted left-handers to use against sluggers such as Ted Kluszewski of the Reds and Eddie Mathews and Wes Covington of the Braves.

The Cardinals won two of three against the Reds at Cincinnati and went to Milwaukee five games behind the Braves with six to play. The Braves clinched the pennant by beating the Cardinals in the series opener, 4-2, on Hank Aaron’s two-run home run off Billy Muffett in the 11th inning.

Kuzava appeared in three games _ one against the Reds and two versus the Cubs _ for the Cardinals and posted a 3.86 ERA in 2.1 innings pitched. Left-handed batters were 0-for-3 with a walk against him. Right-handed batters were 4-for-8 with a walk.

After the season, the Cardinals assigned Kuzava to the minors, but promised he would be given a chance to make the St. Louis staff in spring training.

Kuzava got his chance, but pitched poorly for the Cardinals in spring training in 1958.

On March 11, he yielded four runs in three innings against the Athletics. On March 25, he gave up six runs to the Dodgers in the ninth inning. “It was dangerous all over the field the way they were bombarding Kuzava,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Kuzava, 35, spent the 1958 season with the Cardinals’ Class AAA Rochester Red Wings club on a staff that included 22-year-old Bob Gibson. Kuzava was 5-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 25 games.

Kuzava finished his playing career in the White Sox farm system in 1959 and 1960.

Previously: How Hoyt Wilhelm got traded to Cardinals

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As might be expected of two Hall of Fame pitchers, Jim Bunning and Bob Gibson engaged in a couple of classics when facing one another.

Bunning and Gibson were matched against each other as starters six times.

In those encounters, Bunning got 1 win, 2 losses and 3 no-decisions. Gibson got 2 wins, 2 losses and 2 no-decisions.

In the two most memorable Bunning vs. Gibson duels, Roberto Clemente and Richie Allen played key roles.

This post is a tribute to Bunning, who died at 85 on May 26, 2017.

Seeking support

Bunning pitched in the major leagues for the Tigers (1955-63), Phillies (1964-67 and 1970-71), Pirates (1968-69) and Dodgers (1969). The right-hander had a 224-184 record, with 118 wins in the American League and 106 in the National League.

His record against the Cardinals was 5-11, but his teams were shut out in five of those losses and were held to one run in each of two others.

Bunning and Gibson faced one another on June 26, 1964, and Sept. 10, 1965, without either getting a decision.

On May 18, 1966, the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 4-3, at Philadelphia. Gibson, who allowed four runs in 6.1 innings, was the losing pitcher. Ray Culp, who pitched four scoreless innings in relief of Bunning, got the win. Bunning gave up three runs in five innings. Boxscore

Three weeks later, on June 11, 1966, Gibson pitched a shutout against the Phillies in a 2-0 Cardinals victory at Philadelphia. Bunning yielded two runs in seven innings and took the loss. Boxscore

Heated rivalry

The final two career matchups of Bunning vs. Gibson were the best.

The Pirates were in St. Louis to play the Cardinals in a doubleheader on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, July 13, 1969. Bunning, in his second season with the Pirates after being traded by the Phillies, was pitted against Gibson in Game 1.

Larry Shepard, the Pirates’ manager, pitched 10 minutes of batting practice in the 95-degree heat. In the second inning, Shepard, 50, experienced chest pains and was rushed to a hospital. Coach Bill Virdon took over as acting manager.

Several fans were overcome by heat and given treatment, The Pittsburgh Press reported.

Bunning, 37, and Gibson, 33, dueled impressively in the oppressive conditions.

In the sixth inning, Gibson got his 2,000th career strikeout. It came against Roberto Clemente, the fellow future Hall of Famer, who two years earlier had hit a smash that struck Gibson and broke his leg.

Neither Bunning nor Gibson yielded a run through seven innings.

In the eighth, Matty Alou, who had reached on a bunt single, was on first with two outs. Next up was slugger Willie Stargell, who had struck out three times on outside pitches from Gibson.

“So I decided that I couldn’t do any worse looking for a fastball away,” Stargell said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Stargell slapped a single to left, advancing Alou to second.

The next batter, Clemente, slashed a Gibson delivery over the right-field wall for a three-run home run.

“Gibby gave Roberto a high pitch to hit after getting him out with low-and-away pitches,” said Pirates pitching coach Vern Law. “Gibby was bound to get tired in that heat. When a pitcher gets tired, he gets his pitches high.”

A wilting Bunning pitched a scoreless bottom half of the eighth. In the ninth, Virdon replaced him with Bob Moose, who preserved the 3-0 victory for Bunning and the Pirates. Boxscore

“I had good off-speed stuff, especially my change of pace,” Bunning said. “Everybody knows that control is the name of the game.”

Power game

The final career matchup of Bunning vs. Gibson occurred on May 23, 1970, a rainy Saturday night in Philadelphia.

Bunning had been reacquired by the Phillies in October 1969, but Richie Allen, not the pitcher, had the attention of fans and media.

Allen, the slugger acquired by the Cardinals from the Phillies after the 1969 season, was playing his first games in Philadelphia since the trade. A controversial player with the Phillies, Allen had drawn a mix of boos and cheers in the first two games of the series.

Two weeks earlier, on May 11, 1970, Allen had hit a three-run home run off Bunning in the ninth inning at St. Louis, breaking a scoreless tie and giving pitcher Steve Carlton and the Cardinals a 3-0 victory. Boxscore

During a rain delay before Bunning and Gibson squared off in Philadelphia, Cardinals player Leron Lee put on Allen’s jersey and glasses, wrapped a towel over his head and ran across the field to the Phillies’ dugout to shake hands with infielder Tony Taylor.

“Don’t blame me if you get shot,” Allen told Lee.

The fans, thinking Allen was making a friendly gesture to a former teammate, cheered. Frank Lucchesi, Phillies manager, playfully pushed Lee out of the dugout, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

In the third inning, with Lee on second base, Allen batted against Bunning. On a 2-and-2 count, Allen got a fastball and crushed it well beyond the 410-foot sign in center for a home run and a 2-0 Cardinals lead.

Two innings later, Allen ripped a Bunning curve onto the roof in left for a solo home run, extending the Cardinals’ lead to 3-0. “He hit that second one one-handed,” Bunning said admiringly.

Said Cardinals third baseman Mike Shannon: “Watching Richie hit is like watching a stick of dynamite go off.”

Gibson, meanwhile, was dominating the Phillies. “That’s the hardest I’ve thrown since 1968,” Gibson said.

Allen Lewis of the Inquirer wrote, “It was difficult to tell which balls were traveling faster _ the ones Rich Allen hit or the ones Bob Gibson threw.”

Gibson struck out 16 and got the win in a 3-1 Cardinals triumph. Boxscore

Gibson had struck out 17 in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series against the Tigers. His 16 strikeouts against the 1970 Phillies are the most he achieved in a regular-season game.

“I get keyed up with Richie playing here,” Gibson said. “Tonight, I had something extra and I got just about every pitch where I wanted.”

Previously: Steve Carlton, Richie Allen and a fiery night in Philly

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When the Cardinals acquired Butch Metzger from the Padres, they hardly could believe their good fortune. Metzger, a relief pitcher, was just turning 25, not yet at his prime, and a few months earlier he had won the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

To many, it appeared the Cardinals had secured their closer for the next several years.

What the Cardinals didn’t know was that Metzger’s pitching career had peaked and was headed toward a rapid decline.

Forty years ago, on May 17, 1977, the Cardinals traded pitcher John D’Acquisto and minor-league infielder Pat Scanlon to the Padres for Metzger.

“We felt we needed another man, a right-hander, in the bullpen and this is the type fellow we’ve been trying to acquire,” Cardinals manager Vern Rapp said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Hot streak

Metzger had won his first 12 major-league decisions. He earned a win with the 1974 Giants and a win with the 1975 Padres, but still had his rookie status with the 1976 Padres.

Under first-year pitching coach Roger Craig, who had played for the 1964 World Series champion Cardinals, Metzger became the Padres closer in 1976. He won his first 10 decisions and finished with an 11-4 record, 16 saves and a 2.92 ERA. He made 77 appearances and pitched 123.1 innings.

Metzger and Reds pitcher Pat Zachry were named co-winners of the 1976 NL Rookie of the Year Award. Each received 11 votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America, resulting in a tie for the first time in the 25-year history of the award.

“I felt I could pitch in the big leagues if I got the chance,” Metzger told The Sporting News. “I honestly didn’t expect to do as well as I did.”

Still, when Rollie Fingers, the closer who helped the Athletics to three consecutive World Series championships (1972-74), became a free agent after the 1976 season, the Padres signed him.

Opportunity knocks

Fingers figured to be the Padres’ closer in 1977, but Metzger erased any suspense with a poor spring training record, yielding 20 earned runs in 15.2 innings.

Meanwhile, the 1977 Cardinals were looking to upgrade their bullpen. Their closer, Al Hrabosky, was clashing with Rapp and their top right-handed reliever, Clay Carroll, had turned 36.

The Cardinals had approached the Padres about Metzger during the winter meetings in December 1976 and they continued their pursuit in 1977.

“Since they have Rollie Fingers now, we thought this might be a time they could spare him,” Cardinals general manager Bing Devine said of Metzger.

When Metzger got off to a poor start in 1977 _ four saves but a 5.56 ERA _ the Padres relented, dealing him five days before his 25th birthday.

“He’s been in and out, good outings and bad outings,” said Padres manager John McNamara. “We’ve had a hard time putting our finger on anything. There’s nothing wrong with his arm.”

Said Metzger: “Maybe I didn’t have things in my head right because I knew they’d gotten Fingers and he was one of the best.”

Steady work

After a good May with the Cardinals (1-0, 2.00 ERA in five appearances), Metzger had an inconsistent June (3.75 ERA, no saves in 16 games).

He found his groove late in July. In a stretch from July 25 to Aug. 13, Metzger was 3-0 with six saves and lowered his Cardinals ERA from 3.06 to 2.32.

“Now he’s showing good velocity,” Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons said. “Now I can see how he won 11 games in relief last year.”

Said Metzger: “I finally got my live, high fastball going again.”

Metzger finished with a 4-2 record, seven saves and a 3.11 ERA in 58 games for the 1977 Cardinals.

Overall, Metzger appeared in 75 games and pitched 115.1 innings combined for the Padres and Cardinals in 1977.

Foul ending

The 1978 Cardinals headed to spring training with a revamped bullpen. Hrabosky and Carroll had been traded. Rawly Eastwick, acquired a month after the Cardinals got Metzger, became a free agent and departed. The Cardinals picked up relievers Mark Littell, Dave Hamilton and Aurelio Lopez. The prime bullpen holdovers were Metzger and Buddy Schultz.

Metzger appeared headed for a right-handed setup role _ with Littell the closer _ but a poor spring training (0-2 and 6.35 ERA in eight appearances) altered the outlook.

On April 5, two days before the Cardinals opened the 1978 regular season, Metzger was placed on waivers and claimed by the Mets.

“I smelled something fishy a couple of days ago when I wasn’t pitching,” Metzger said. “Sometimes in spring training they judge you on one or two innings, which is ridiculous.”

Said Cardinals pitching coach Claude Osteen: “He just never seemed to make any adjustment with us. He had a good arm, but he just never showed any consistency.”

In 25 games for the 1978 Mets, Metzger was 1-3 with a 6.51 ERA. He was sent to the Phillies in July and never appeared in the major leagues again.

Previously: How Buddy Schultz found a home with Cardinals

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Predictably, a brawl involving two of the most temperamental characters in the major leagues, “The Mad Hungarian” and “One Tough Dominican,” was both intense and cartoonish.

Forty years ago, on May 6, 1977, a melee among the Astros and Cardinals occurred in the ninth inning of a game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Astros batter Cesar Cedeno took issue with being drilled by a pitch from Cardinals reliever Al Hrabosky, the self-psyching showman known as “The Mad Hungarian.”

When Cedeno charged the mound, both dugouts emptied and fights erupted across the field, lasting 10 minutes before the game could resume.

Besides Hrabosky and Cedeno, the most prominent combatants included:

_ Joaquin Andujar, the Astros pitcher and self-proclaimed “One Tough Dominican,” who, like Cedeno, would play for the Cardinals in the 1980s.

_ Ted Simmons, the strong-willed Cardinals catcher and on-field leader.

_ Roger Freed, the burly and popular Cardinals pinch-hitter.

_ Dave Rader, a Cardinals backup catcher and former all-league high school football linebacker.

_ Cliff Johnson, a strapping 6-foot-4 Astros power hitter.

Asked by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to summarize the histrionics, Astros player Enos Cabell aptly declared: “It was a goodie.”

Slap happy

Tensions began to build in the seventh inning. With the Cardinals ahead, 2-0, Johnson was grazed by a pitch from starter Pete Falcone.

Simmons, crouched behind the plate, and Johnson exchanged words.

“He didn’t think I got hit,” Johnson told the Post-Dispatch.

In what he said was a playful gesture, Johnson slapped Simmons in the head.

“I told him, ‘Clifford, relax,’ ” Simmons said. “He told me, ‘Take it easy.’ ”

Said Johnson: “I was just trying to get his attention.”

In the eighth, Hrabosky relieved Falcone and retired the Astros in order. The Cardinals scored twice in the bottom half of the inning and took a 4-0 lead into the ninth.

Mind games

As Cedeno approached the plate to lead off the ninth, Hrabosky went behind the mound, turned his back on the batter and went into his self-motivating meditation act.

Miffed, Cedeno left the batter’s box, went to the on-deck circle, used a rag to apply pine tar to his bat handle and waited for Hrabosky to get onto the mound.

Bob Engel, home plate umpire, “waved in disgust” for Hrabosky to pitch, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Hrabosky “threw up his hands in seeming protest,” wrote Rick Hummel.

The first pitch, a fastball, plunked Cedeno in the left arm.

Cedeno dropped his bat and advanced toward the mound. Hrabosky dropped his glove and waited.

As they neared, Cedeno threw a punch. Hrabosky ducked, avoiding the blow.

“If I get knocked down, I’m in a world of trouble,” Hrabosky said.

Simmons stormed toward Cedeno and jumped on his back.

Bedlam reigns

Battles broke out all over.

Andujar, at the center of a fight near the third-base line, swung wildly in every direction. One of his swipes nearly clipped umpire Bill Williams in the jaw.

After Williams ejected Andujar, the pitcher desperately tried to get at the umpire and had to be restrained by coach Deacon Jones and teammate Bob Watson. Colleague John McSherry prevented Williams from going after Andujar, according to United Press International.

Cedeno was involved in multiple skirmishes, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Simmons, after rescuing Hrabosky, dived “into a pileup in an attempt at peacemaking” and then shed “his catching equipment, with the exception of one shin guard, and motioned the Astros to come after him if they wished,” Hummel reported.

Though some Astros moved toward him, none dared take on Simmons.

“They were doing a lot of woofing,” Simmons said.

Johnson, the Astros outfielder, tried to lighten the mood by shadow boxing some of the Cardinals, comically tugging at an umpire’s jacket and pretending to kick another umpire in the rear.

As the field began to clear, Cedeno and Freed got into a fight near the first-base line. While the two threw punches, Rader bolted toward Cedeno, tackled him around the midsection and drove him back 15 yards, Hummel wrote. Video

Show goes on

Andujar and Freed were the only players ejected.

When the game resumed, Hrabosky and Simmons still were the St. Louis battery and Cedeno was the base runner at first.

Cedeno swiped second and Watson drew a walk.

Hrabosky got Joe Ferguson to hit into a third-to-first double play, with Watson advancing to second. Johnson doubled, driving in Watson and making the score 4-1.

Art Howe walked, bringing the potential tying run to the plate. Hrabosky finally ended the drama by getting Cabell to line out to shortstop Garry Templeton. Boxscore

Lighten up

Hrabosky claimed the pitch that struck Cedeno wasn’t intentional. “I just thought it was an inside pitch,” he told the Associated Press. “I’ve been told there are certain people I’m supposed to pitch up and in. I know there’s a certain way I have to pitch him and I’m going to do it.”

Said Simmons: “I didn’t call for it (a brushback pitch). I think you have to assume it was an accident.”

The Astros weren’t buying that explanation. “There should have been more punches thrown,” said Watson. “You don’t hit a man and get away with it. It was flagrant. The umpire should have kicked Hrabosky out.”

In the clubhouse, after tempers cooled, Johnson, the prankster, waited for Cedeno to head to the showers, then placed an autographed photo of Hrabosky on his teammate’s chair. The picture was inscribed, “Next time, it’ll be two.”

When Cedeno returned to his locker and saw the photo, he looked around the clubhouse, yelled, “Damn you, Johnson,” and laughed.

Previously: Cesar Cedeno and his amazing month with Cardinals

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