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A closer for a rotation that often completed what it started, Joe Hoerner still served a valuable role for the 1968 National League champion Cardinals and supported the staff with a stellar season.

Fifty years ago, on June 1, 1968, Hoerner struck out six Mets in a row, tying the National League record for consecutive strikeouts by a reliever.

Hoerner went on to post an 8-2 record with 17 saves and a 1.47 ERA for the 1968 Cardinals. The left-hander ranked second in the National League in saves to the 25 by Phil Regan of the Cubs and his ERA was second on the club to the 1.12 achieved by Bob Gibson.

Led by Gibson’s 28, Cardinals starters pitched 63 complete games in 1968. Hoerner only was needed for 49 innings and he usually was effective, allowing no earned runs in 40 of his 47 appearances.

“Joe is almost as much of a machine out there as Bob Gibson,” Cardinals reliever Wayne Granger said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He just goes out there and does the job time after time.”

Overcoming adversity

Hoerner, son of an Iowa farmer, made his professional baseball debut in the White Sox minor-league system in 1957. A year later, Hoerner was diagnosed with muscle weakness near his heart. Because any strain on the muscle impaired Hoerner’s circulation, doctors advised him to change his pitching delivery from overhand to sidearm.

“I took four pills a day for a long time to strengthen the muscle, but I haven’t been bothered since then,” Hoerner told the Post-Dispatch in 1968.

Hoerner, 26, made his major-league debut in September 1963 with the Houston Colt .45s. The Cardinals acquired him in November 1965 and he pitched for them in 1966 (5-1 record, 13 saves,1.54 ERA) and 1967 (4-4, 14 saves, 2.59 ERA).

After the Cardinals won Game 7 of the 1967 World Series against the Red Sox, Hoerner was celebrating with his teammates in the locker room at Boston’s Fenway Park when a champagne bottle he was holding exploded, severing a tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand.

“If we win many more pennants, my fingers won’t stand it,” Hoerner said.

Tough to hit

Hoerner recovered from the injury and yielded no runs in his first nine appearances in 1968.

On June 1, the Cardinals played the Mets at Shea Stadium in New York. The Mets led, 4-1, before the Cardinals rallied for three runs in the seventh against Nolan Ryan, tying the score at 4-4.

Hoerner, the third Cardinals pitcher of the game, was brought in to pitch the seventh and retired the Mets in order. The Cardinals took the lead, 5-4, with a run in the eighth, but the Mets tied the score on Ed Charles’ pinch-hit home run in the bottom half of the inning.

In the ninth, Hoerner struck out Al Weis, Ron Swoboda and Don Bosch. After Mike Shannon hit a home run against Cal Koonce in the 10th, putting the Cardinals ahead, 6-5, Hoerner struck out Greg Goossen, Jerry Buchek and Jerry Grote, sealing the win. Boxscore

Hoerner’s six consecutive strikeouts came against right-handed batters.

Hoerner was effectively consistent during the 1968 season. He was 4-1 with a 1.05 ERA in home games and 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA in away games. Left-handed batters hit .189 against him and right-handed batters hit .194.

In the 1968 World Series against the Tigers, Hoerner earned a save in Game 3 with 3.2 scoreless innings in relief of Ray Washburn boxscore and was the losing pitcher in Game 5 when he faced four batters, retired none and was charged with two runs. Boxscore

Hoerner and Cardinals teammate Dal Maxvill owned a successful travel agency in St. Louis for several years.

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Sons of Polish fathers, Stan Musial and Moe Drabowsky reached the major leagues, played central roles in a baseball milestone and honored their heritages by helping others learn the game they loved.

Sixty years ago, on May 13, 1958, Musial got his 3,000th career hit, a double against Drabowsky at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The feat forever linked Drabowsky with Musial.

The relationship, though, didn’t end there. Nearly 20 years later, in September 1987, Musial and Drabowsky went to Poland together to instruct men and women in their fathers’ homeland how to play baseball.

Land of opportunity

Miroslav Drabowski, later known as Moe Drabowsky, was born on July 21, 1935, in Ozanna, Poland. His father was Polish and his mother was American. In 1938, when Miroslav was 3, the family left Poland, immigrated to the United States and settled in Connecticut.

In America, Miroslav took the name of Myron Walter Drabowski, though nearly everyone called him Moe. He was a natural as a baseball player. In school, his name often was misspelled as Drabowsky and he stuck with that, according to a biography by the Society for American Baseball Research.

After graduating from Trinity College in Connecticut with an economics degree, Drabowsky signed with the Cubs and made his big-league debut with them in 1956.

Musial, whose father immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1910, entered the 1958 season needing 43 hits to become the eighth player to reach 3,000. On May 12, against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, Musial got his 2,999th hit and afterward he made it known he’d prefer to achieve the milestone hit before a hometown crowd in St. Louis.

Work day

Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson told Musial to sit out the May 13 game at Chicago and prepare to return to the lineup on May 14 against the Giants at St. Louis. Musial went to the bullpen along the right-field line at Wrigley Field and soaked in some sun while watching the game.

In the sixth inning, with the Cubs ahead, 3-1, Gene Green led off for the Cardinals and doubled. Hal Smith was up next, with pitcher Sam Jones on deck. As Smith batted, Hutchinson motioned for Musial. After Smith grounded out, Musial walked from the bullpen to the dugout, picked out a bat and went to the plate to hit for Jones. The Tuesday afternoon crowd of 5,692 cheered in approval.

Drabowsky, 22, was glad Cubs manager Bob Scheffing showed confidence in letting him pitch to Musial. Drabowsky won 13 for the Cubs in 1957 and was considered one of their best pitchers in 1958. He was 6 years old when Musial got to the big leagues in 1941 and now he was pitching to him in his most significant at-bat.

“I thought, ‘Here’s a guy who deserves No. 3,000.’ A nice guy,” Drabowsky told David Condon of the Chicago Tribune. “Then I remembered our 3-1 lead and that I was trying to preserve a victory. So I told myself, ‘Sure, he’s a nice guy, but he’ll have to earn No. 3,000.’ So I bore down.”

Hugs and kisses

Working methodically, Drabowsky alternated curves and fastballs. Musial fouled off three pitches to left and watched two others go wide of the strike zone.

With the count at 2-and-2, Drabowsky threw a curve. “Outside corner, higher than intended,” Drabowsky said.

In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial said, “I picked up the spin of the pitch, strode into the ball and drove it on a deep line into left field. I knew as soon as it left my bat that it would go between the left fielder, Walt Moryn, and the foul line.”

Musial’s No. 3,000 was a run-scoring double. “I don’t mind him getting 3,000 off me,” Drabowsky said. “But when I had two strikes, I thought I had him. Not for a strikeout, but I figured he’d hit it in the ground.” Video

As Hutchinson ran from the dugout toward second base to congratulate Musial, he was followed by a pack of photographers. Umpire Frank Dascoli retrieved the ball and handed it to Musial. Hutchinson brought in a pitcher, Frank Barnes, to run for Musial.

Before leaving the field, Musial went to the box seats next to the Cardinals dugout and kissed his wife, Lillian. A photographer asked, “Say, Stan, did you know that blonde?” Musial laughed and replied, “I’d better. That’s my wife.”

Sparked by Musial’s hit, the Cardinals scored three more runs against Drabowsky in the inning and won, 5-3. Boxscore

Polish pride

Musial, who retired after the 1963 season, batted .405 (15-for-37) with two home runs, four doubles and six walks against Drabowsky in his career.

Drabowsky pitched 17 seasons in the major leagues with eight teams: Cubs (1956-60), Braves (1961), Reds (1962), Athletics (1962-65), Orioles (1966-68 and 1970), Royals (1969-70), Cardinals (1971-72) and White Sox (1972). His best years were as an Orioles reliever. In Game 1 of the 1966 World Series, Drabowsky struck out 11 Dodgers, including six in a row, and earned the win with 6.2 innings of scoreless relief. Boxscore

In two seasons with the Cardinals, Drabowsky was 7-2 with 10 saves and a 3.17 ERA.

In 1987, Musial and Drabowsky reconnected, going to the town of Kutno in Poland to teach baseball to men and women in the Polish Baseball Union. It was Drabowsky’s first visit to Poland since he left when he was 3.

With equipment provided by baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, Musial and Drabowsky gave out enough bats, balls, gloves and catchers’ gear to supply 12 men’s teams and six women’s teams, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“We’re here to help get them going and maybe we can invite some of their coaches to the U.S. next year to see how we train so they can come home and teach the kids more,” said Musial.

The effort by Musial and Drabowsky paid dividends. Today, the Little League Baseball European Leadership Training Center in Kutno, Poland, is the largest youth baseball complex in Europe.

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(Updated May 18, 2018)

Francisco Pena provided one of the surprises of the Cardinals’ 2018 spring training, leapfrogging ahead of prospect Carson Kelly and earning the backup catcher spot behind Yadier Molina on the Opening Day roster.

Pena, son of former Cardinals catcher Tony Pena, played in the Mets’ minor-league system for seven seasons (2007-13) before reaching the major leagues with the Royals in 2014. After the 2015 season, his contract was sold to the Orioles and Pena was with them in 2016 and 2017.

The Cardinals signed Pena, 28, after he was granted free agency in October 2017.

Here are six fun facts to know about the Cardinals catcher:

Chip off the old block

Ed Spiezio and Scott Spiezio were the first father-son duo to hit home runs for the Cardinals. Ed Spiezio played five years (1964-69) for the Cardinals and hit five home runs for them. His son, Scott Spiezio, played two years (2006-07) for the Cardinals and hit 17 home runs for them.

The Penas became the second father-son pair to achieve the feat with St. Louis.

Francisco Pena hit his first Cardinals home run, and his fourth overall in the major leagues, on May 18, 2018, versus the Phillies at St. Louis. His father Tony hit 107 big-league home runs, including 19 in three seasons (1987-89) with the Cardinals. Tony helped the Cardinals win the 1987 National League pennant and he was an all-star with them in 1989.

Family history

Francisco Pena never got to see his father Tony play for the Cardinals. Francisco was born on Oct. 12, 1989, 11 days after Tony played in his final game for the Cardinals. Tony Pena became a free agent on Nov. 13, 1989, and signed with the Red Sox two weeks later.

Mets mentors

Although Francisco Pena never played a big-league game for the Mets, he was influenced by two second basemen from their 1986 World Series championship club.

Tim Teufel was Pena’s first minor-league manager, with the Savannah (Ga.) Sand Gnats in 2007. Teufel managed Pena again in 2009 with the St. Lucie (Fla.) Mets. In 2013, Pena played for the Las Vegas 51s, who were managed by Wally Backman.

Strong arm

Francisco Pena made his major-league debut with the Royals on May 20, 2014, and quickly displayed his defensive skills.

Entering the game in the ninth inning as a replacement for starting catcher Brett Hayes, Pena threw out White Sox runner Adam Eaton, who was attempting to steal second base. Boxscore

Honoring Mom

On May 13, 2017, Francisco Pena hit two home runs in a game against his former team.

Pena hit solo home runs in the third and fifth innings against Royals starter Nathan Karns at Kansas City. Boxscore

In batting practice that night, on the eve of Mother’s Day, Pena predicted he would hit a home run for his mother, The Baltimore Sun reported. Swinging a pink bat, he delivered.

Liking lefties

In 28 major-league games entering the 2018 season, Francisco Pena, a right-handed batter, hit .246. He hit .348 (8-for-23) against left-handers and .176 versus right-handers.

 

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In the home of the Big Red Machine, it was a Cardinal, Ray Lankford, who put on an unprecedented display of jaw-dropping power.

Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium was the venue for Reds teams that won four National League pennants and two World Series championships from 1970 to 1976. Those teams had sluggers such as Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and George Foster.

Yet, it was Lankford who became the first to hit two home runs in one game into the upper-level red seats in the fourth deck of the Cincinnati stadium.

Lankford achieved the feat on July 15, 1997. By then, the stadium had been renamed Cinergy Field.

Sonic boom

Lankford was in the cleanup spot in the St. Louis batting order against Reds starter Brett Tomko, a rookie right-hander.

In the first inning, with Danny Sheaffer on base, Lankford got a fastball on a 2-and-1 count and drove it 448 feet into the empty red seats in right field, becoming the first Cardinals batter to reach the upper deck since the stadium opened in 1970.

“When you hit a ball like that, it’s just a different feel and a different sound,” Lankford said to The Cincinnati Post. “The ball just jumps, like you’re hitting a golf ball with a bat.”

Reds catcher Joe Oliver told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “The crack of the bat was deafening.”

When Lankford came up again in the third inning, three fans scurried into the red seats in right. Batting with the bases empty, Lankford again got a fastball on a 2-and-1 count and propelled it 439 feet into the upper deck.

“Fastballs. Both belt-high. Right down the middle,” Tomko said to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa: “You’ve got a pitcher with good stuff and a hitter with full extension. That makes for some serious distance.”

Exclusive group

Until Lankford, only one player, Foster, had hit two upper-deck home runs at the stadium in one year, but no one, not even the Cardinals’ Mark Whiten, had hit two in one game. Whiten hit four home runs in a game at Riverfront Stadium on Sept. 7, 1993, but none reached the red seats.

Foster hit the most career upper-deck home runs (six) at the stadium.

Lankford became the sixth visiting player to hit a home run into the red seats. The others: the Expos’ Bob Bailey, the Pirates’ Dave Parker, the Phillies’ Greg Luzinski, the Mets’ Darryl Strawberry and the Rockies’ Dante Bichette.

“I don’t know how to pitch to Lankford,” Reds manager Ray Knight said. “I know one thing, you don’t pitch him anywhere he can get the fat part of the bat on it.”

When Lankford came to bat for the third time, in the fifth inning, Oliver turned to him and said, “I knew you were strong, but this is ridiculous.”

About 30 fans went into the red seats in right, hoping Lankford would launch another up there, but reliever Felix Rodriguez issued an intentional walk to him.

In his last two plate appearances that night, Lankford struck out and walked. Boxscore

At the time of Lankford’s feat, bopper Mark McGwire still was with the Athletics. (McGwire would be traded to the Cardinals two weeks later, on July 31, 1997.)

Asked by the Post-Dispatch whether Lankford’s clouts reminded him of McGwire, whom he had managed in Oakland, La Russa replied, “He reminds me of Ray Lankford.”

Previously: Mark Whiten, Josh Hamilton: Same feat, different path

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To avoid setting a major-league record for futility, Anthony Young needed to beat the Cardinals. He couldn’t do it.

On June 27, 1993, Young was the losing pitcher in a 5-3 Cardinals victory over the Mets at New York.

That gave Young losses in 24 consecutive decisions over two seasons, surpassing the big-league mark of 23 straight defeats by Cliff Curtis of the 1910-11 Braves.

Young would lose 27 decisions in a row before earning a win.

He died at 51 on June 27, 2017 _ 24 years to the day after setting his unwanted record.

On the skids

Young, a defensive back, had been a University of Houston football teammate of Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware, but baseball was Young’s preferred sport and he believed it offered him his best chance for a professional career.

A right-hander, Young made his big-league debut with the 1991 Mets and was 2-5 with a 3.10 ERA that season. One of those losses came against the Cardinals.

In 1992, Young won his first two decisions, including an April 9 start against the Cardinals. He then lost 14 decisions in a row, including two to the Cardinals, and finished with a 2-14 record and 4.17 ERA for the 1992 Mets.

Young was 0-9 in 1993 _ giving him a record-tying 23 consecutive losses over two seasons _ when he entered the June 27 game against the Cardinals at Shea Stadium

Playing with fire

The Mets scored twice in the first, but the Cardinals rallied against Young with three runs in the fourth and two in the sixth. Rod Brewer contributed a two-run double for St. Louis and Brian Jordan, Tom Pagnozzi and starting pitcher Joe Magrane each had a RBI-single.

Each starter pitched seven innings: Magrane allowed 10 hits, no walks and three runs. Young yielded eight hits, two walks and five runs.

Magrane, who earned his fifth consecutive win, was relieved Young didn’t break his losing streak against him.

“I would have rather faced Doc Gooden or Bret Saberhagen,” Magrane said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I certainly didn’t want to be the answer to a trivia question. I was really scared of the game. It was like dancing on the rim of Vesuvius, waiting for it to explode. I was hoping that I wasn’t going to be the one to be torched.” Boxscore

Said Young: “It was the same old thing. I thought I pitched a pretty good game except for a couple of hits.”

Dallas Green, who was evaluating all the Mets after replacing Jeff Torborg as manager a month earlier, said of Young, “He has a great arm … but the important things to scout are the head and the heart.”

Cardinals closer Lee Smith, expressing empathy for Young, said to the Associated Press, “I’d tell him to hang in there. I know what he’s going through. I was with the Cubs.”

Season to forget

After that loss to the Cardinals, Young lost three more in a row, stretching the streak to 27, before he earned a win on July 28 against the Marlins.

Young finished the 1993 season with a 1-16 record and a 3.77 ERA.

He spent the 1994 and 1995 seasons with the Cubs, posting an overall mark of 7-10, before completing his major-league career with a 3-3 record for the 1996 Astros.

His overall record in the majors is 15-48 with a 3.89 ERA.

Young’s career record against the Cardinals is 1-6 with a 2.86 ERA in 16 appearances, including six starts. Three of his losses during his streak of 27 were to St. Louis.

Previously: Why 22-game loser Roger Craig appealed to Cardinals

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Johnny Rizzo, once a top hitting prospect in the St. Louis system, had his best big-league game against the Cardinals, setting a record that lasted more than 75 years.

Playing for the Pirates, Rizzo produced nine RBI versus the Cardinals in the second game of a Memorial Day doubleheader on May 30, 1939. That was the single-game record by a Cardinals opponent until Scooter Gennett of the Reds had 10 RBI against St. Louis on June 6, 2017.

Rizzo, a left fielder, achieved his feat with two home runs, two doubles and a single at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. He had gone hitless in four at-bats in the opener.

No vacancy

Rizzo, a right-handed batter, played five seasons (1933-37) in the Cardinals organization. He batted better than .300 each year, but never got called up to St. Louis.

In 1937, the Columbus (Ohio) Red Birds, a Cardinals farm club in the American Association, had two outstanding outfielders: Rizzo and Enos Slaughter.

Rizzo batted .358 with 209 hits in 150 games for Columbus. He had 38 doubles, 18 triples and 21 home runs.

Slaughter batted a league-leading .382 with 245 hits in 154 games for Columbus. He had 42 doubles, 13 triples and 26 home runs.

Both clearly were ready to play in the big leagues in 1938.

The Cardinals had two outfield mainstays: Joe Medwick in left and Terry Moore in center. That left one spot, right field, for either Slaughter or Rizzo. Cardinals executive Branch Rickey opted for Slaughter, rating him a better all-around player than Rizzo.

In October 1937, the Cardinals traded Rizzo to the Pirates for catcher Tom Padden, outfielder Bud Hafey and minor-league first baseman Bernard Cobb. Rizzo “was sought by several other clubs, notably the Cubs, but Rickey saw something in the Pittsburgh (offer) that appealed to him,” The Sporting News reported.

Rizzo had a better rookie season than Slaughter in 1938. Rizzo batted .301 with 23 home runs and 111 RBI for the Pirates. Slaughter batted .276 with eight home runs and 58 RBI for the Cardinals.

Pirates power

A year later, Rizzo was in a slump and his batting average was at .239 heading into the second game of the Memorial Day doubleheader against the Cardinals. A day earlier, Rizzo had hit into a triple play.

Still, manager Pie Traynor kept him in the No. 3 spot in the batting order.

Facing starter Clyde Shoun, Rizzo had a RBI-single in the first, popped out to shortstop in the third and hit a three-run home run in the fifth. Rizzo added a single off Mort Cooper in the fifth.

With the score tied at 7-7 in the eighth, the Pirates had runners on second and third, none out, and Arky Vaughan at the plate. The Cardinals opted to give an intentional walk to Vaughan, loading the bases, and pitch to Rizzo.

Rizzo ripped a double off Curt Davis, clearing the bases and giving the Pirates a 10-7 lead. “The ball was hit with such force that it bounded off the wall, away from Joe Medwick and Pepper Martin,” The Pittsburgh Press reported.

In the ninth, Rizzo hit a two-run home run off Bob Bowman, capping a 5-for-6 performance in a 14-8 Pirates victory. Boxscore

Rizzo finished the 1939 season with a .261 batting average, six home runs and 55 RBI. He spent three more seasons (1940-42) in the big leagues with four teams: Pirates, Reds, Phillies and Dodgers.

Previously: Cards rookie Enos Slaughter set torrid extra-hit pace

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