In the first eight months of 1988, Bob Forsch rejoined the Cardinals, turned in one of his best stretches as a starting pitcher and was traded when they determined he no longer fit their plans.

Forsch’s roller-coast 1988 season was set in motion by the actions of the Cardinals in December 1987. Though Forsch tied for the team lead in regular-season wins (11) and also earned a win apiece in the National League Championship Series and the World Series in 1987, the Cardinals released him in a cost-cutting move just before Christmas.

Baseball rules said a club could cut the salary of a player on the roster by no more than 20 percent, but the Cardinals wanted to reduce Forsch’s pay by much more than that. By releasing him and making him a free agent, the Cardinals could re-sign him without restrictions.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals offered Forsch a 1988 base salary of $200,000, a reduction of 73 percent from the $750,000 he made in 1987.

“I can’t think of too many players who won 11 games and they gave them a 73 percent cut,” Forsch said. “I can’t think of too many players who won 11 games and got released.”

Said Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill: “I felt his performance last year, even though he tied for the lead in wins, was such that we didn’t feel we should pay him $750,000.”

Preferring to stay in St. Louis, Forsch, 38, negotiated a compromise. He would pitch for the 1988 Cardinals at a base salary that was 47 percent less than what he made in 1987. Twenty years ago, in January 1988, he signed a $400,000 contract with the Cardinals. The deal also gave Forsch the chance to earn more if certain incentives were met.

“I really want to stay here, but I’m not going to play very many more years and I plan to get as much money as I can before I retire,” Forsch said. “The whole Cardinals organization has been super to me, but you just get to a point where you get tired at the whole process … You get tired of hearing how old you are.”

Good enough to trade

Though he made 30 starts for them in 1987, the Cardinals projected Forsch to be a reliever in 1988. However, because injuries depleted the rotation, Forsch made 12 starts for the 1988 Cardinals, including six in August when he had a 5-1 record and a 2.25 ERA.

“Forsch’s secret has been consistency,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “He’s endured with the strength of a marathon runner, the fortitude of a mountain climber.”

Said Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog: “Just when you count the son of a buck out, he fights back. He’s something.”

By the end of August, Forsch was 9-4 with a 3.73 ERA in 30 appearances for the 1988 Cardinals. As a starter, he was 5-2 with a 2.97 ERA. Nonetheless, the Cardinals told Forsch they couldn’t commit to him being on the team in 1989.

“I know (Forsch) has pitched well, but he’s going to be 39 years old,” Maxvill said.

When Forsch signed in January, he and Maxvill had discussed the possibility of a trade late in the season, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Still wanting to pitch, Forsch said he would agree to a trade to a contender. As a player who spent five years with one team and 10 in the league, Forsch, under baseball rules, needed to approve any proposed deal involving him.

Business deal

The second-place Astros, managed by former Cardinals coach Hal Lanier, showed the most interest in Forsch. They saw him as a starter who could help them in their pursuit of the NL West-leading Dodgers.

Forsch agreed to the trade when the Astros guaranteed him a contract for 1989.

On Aug. 31, 1988, after 15 seasons with the Cardinals, Forsch was traded to the Astros for utility player Denny Walling.

“I hate leaving, but I’m going to someplace where I’m going to enjoy it,” Forsch said.

Said Forsch’s friend, Cardinals trainer Gene Gieselmann: “I was hoping he would always be a Cardinal, but baseball is a business and all of us in baseball have to look at it that way.”

Calling Forsch “a great teacher and a great person,” Maxvill told him the Cardinals would give him a job in the organization in 1989 if he was unable to pitch for the Astros. “I feel good about that,” Forsch responded.

Forsch won his first start for the 1988 Astros, shutting out the Reds for eight innings and contributing a three-run double. Boxscore  However, in six starts for them, Forsch was 1-4 with a 6.51 ERA and the Astros finished in fifth place.

In 1989, his last season in the big leagues, Forsch was 4-5 with a 5.32 ERA for the Astros.

Forsch, who ranks third all-time among Cardinals pitchers in wins (163) and second in games started (401), was elected to the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2015.

Previously: Why Bob Forsch didn’t end his career as a Cardinal

Bob Bailey had lots of hits against the Cardinals in his career, but it was an out he made that was most memorable.

Bailey, a right-handed hitter with power who played 17 years in the major leagues, died Jan. 9, 2018, at 75. Primarily a third baseman and left fielder, Bailey played for the Pirates (1962-1966), Dodgers (1967-1968), Expos (1969-1975), Reds (1976-1977) and Red Sox (1977-1978).

In 199 games versus the Cardinals, Bailey had 176 hits, including 20 home runs, and 82 RBI. He batted .358 (24-for-67) against the Cardinals in 1964 and .339 (20-for-59) in 1974. One of his best games occurred on May 21, 1968, when he produced five RBI for the Dodgers against the Cardinals at St. Louis.

By 1977, when Bailey was with the Reds, he primarily was a pinch-hitter. That was the year he had a feature role in a St. Louis drama.

Big Red Machine

On May 9, 1977, a game between the Reds and Cardinals at Busch Stadium was the ABC-TV “Monday Night Baseball” national telecast. The Reds, with their powerful Big Red Machine lineup, were two-time defending World Series champions. The Cardinals, in their first season under manager Vern Rapp, were looking to make a mark after finishing 18 games under .500 in 1976.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Cardinals’ Keith Hernandez led off with a home run against Rawly Eastwick, tying the score at 5-5.

Rapp brought in Al Hrabosky to pitch the ninth. The left-hander, known as the “Mad Hungarian,” immediately got into trouble. Ken Griffey singled, Joe Morgan walked and Dan Driessen bunted for a single, loading the bases with none out. George Foster was up next and Johnny Bench was on deck. Both were right-handed power hitters.

“I thought with Foster and Bench coming up, there was no way,” Hernandez said to Dick Kaegel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I thought they’d at least get a fly ball and get a run in.”

Mind games

Hrabosky, forced by Rapp to shave his Fu Manchu in compliance with the manager’s policy banning facial hair, decided to challenge the sluggers exclusively with fastballs. “They knew it was coming,” said Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons.

Foster struck out swinging.

Bench did the same.

With a left-handed batter, Cesar Geronimo, due up next, Reds manager Sparky Anderson sent Bailey to face Hrabosky. Bailey, whose father, Paul, played in the Cardinals’ minor-league system in 1940, batted .370 as a Reds pinch-hitter in 1976.

When the count got to 1-and-2 on Bailey, Hrabosky walked in a semicircle from the mound almost to second base, turned his back on Bailey, talked aloud to himself, pounded the ball into his mitt and stomped back onto the hill.

“I talk to the gypsy war gods,” Hrabosky said. “I work myself into a controlled rage.”

Bailey fouled off each of Hrabosky’s next three pitches. After each one, Hrabosky went behind the mound and performed his antics, heightening the tension with each delivery. “In a way, I self-hypnotize myself,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I learned how to manipulate my mind between pitches.”

On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Bailey watched the ball go into Simmons’ glove for a called strike three.

Hrabosky delivered a performance worthy of Houdini, striking out three right-handed sluggers and leaving the bases loaded.

“I was completely in awe,” said Hernandez.

Said Simmons: “It was dark and all of a sudden he groped around until he found the light switch and turned it on.”

Perfect play

After the Cardinals went down in order in their half of the ninth, Hrabosky returned to pitch the 10th. He retired the first two batters before Ray Knight singled. Griffey followed with a double off the wall in right.

As Knight raced around the bases, right fielder Mike Anderson, inserted as a defensive replacement for starter Hector Cruz, fielded a carom off the padding of the wall, turned and fired a throw to the cutoff man, shortstop Don Kessinger.

“He gave me a good, high relay throw where I could handle it,” Kessinger said.

Simmons kneeled in front of home plate, awaiting the peg from Kessinger. “My theory is to block the plate. Don’t let him get there,” Simmons said.

Knight dived head-first and was tagged out by Simmons, ending the Reds’ threat.

“It was a perfect play,” Rapp told United Press International. “Anderson acted real cool and Kessinger did a superb job. Simmons knew he had the guy.”

Simmons connects

The Reds brought in Dale Murray, a right-hander, to pitch the bottom half of the 10th. His best pitch was a sinking fastball, but it had been staying up in the strike zone in recent outings. With switch-hitter Simmons, batting left-handed, leading off, Murray told Bench he would throw knuckleballs.

Hernandez tipped off Simmons that Murray might throw the knuckler. “The thing I try to do with knuckleballs is not swing until I have to,” Simmons told the Associated Press. “All you can hope is that you can gauge the speed of it.”

With the count 2-and-2, Murray delivered a knuckleball that darted toward Simmons’ right knee. He drove it over the wall in right for a walkoff home run, giving the Cardinals a 6-5 triumph. Boxscore

“It was the greatest game I ever played in,” Hernandez said.

Calling it “a game that wobbled the knees and blew the mind,” Kaegel informed Post-Dispatch readers, “It was a classic thriller, baseball at its spine-tingling best.”

Previously: 5 memorable Reds-Cardinals games of 1970s

In his major-league debut for the Cardinals, Rick Ankiel gave up a home run to Vladimir Guerrero. Like many pitchers, Ankiel learned fast that Guerrero was a dangerous hitter.

Guerrero is a leading candidate for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame when results of voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America are announced on Jan. 24, 2018. In 2017, his first year on the ballot, Guerrero got 71.7 percent of the vote. A candidate needs 75 percent to be elected.

In his playing career with the Expos (1996-2003), Angels (2004-2009), Rangers (2010) and Orioles (2011), Guerrero batted .318 with 2,590 hits, 449 home runs and 1,496 RBI.

A right-handed batter and outfielder, Guerrero batted .280 against the Cardinals with 59 hits in 55 games and 43 RBI.

His best seasons versus St. Louis were 1999 (.333 with nine RBI in nine games) and 2002 (.409 with seven RBI in six games).

Guerrero had two hits, both home runs, and three walks in seven career plate appearances against Ankiel.

Rookie mistake

Ankiel, 20, was a highly touted pitching prospect. He heightened expectations by posting a combined 13-3 record and 2.35 ERA with Class AA Arkansas and Class AAA Memphis in 1999. The Cardinals promoted him to the big leagues in late summer and he was given a start in his debut on Aug. 23, 1999, at Montreal.

In his first at-bat against Ankiel, Guerrero grounded out sharply to first baseman Mark McGwire in the second inning. With the Cardinals ahead, 4-1, Guerrero batted again in the fourth. Ankiel, a left-hander, wanted to jam Guerrero with a fastball on the fists, but the pitch stayed over the plate and Guerrero lined it over the right-field wall. The home run was his 30th of the season and extended his hitting streak to 28 games.

“I didn’t get the fastball inside,” Ankiel told columnist Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I left it out there and he capitalized on it.”

Speaking through an interpreter, Guerrero told the Associated Press, “The only thing I do is try to swing. So far, so good. I’m going to keep swinging.”

In the sixth, after Jose Vidro singled, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa lifted Ankiel with Guerrero at the plate and St. Louis ahead, 4-2. “Guerrero already had centered two balls off him, so I thought it was time for the change,” La Russa said.

Heathcliff Slocumb relieved and got Guerrero to pop out to McGwire. After that, the game unraveled for the Cardinals. Vidro eventually scored and Slocumb and Rich Croushore gave up eight runs. The Expos won, 11-7, and Ankiel, who departed with the lead, didn’t get a decision. Boxscore

Hitting a hanger

A year later, on Aug. 1, 2000, at Montreal, Guerrero came to bat against Ankiel with runners on first and second, two outs, in the fifth inning of a scoreless game. Ankiel had walked Guerrero intentionally earlier in the game, but this time he decided to pitch to him.

“We weren’t going to give him anything to hit,” Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan told the Post-Dispatch.

Ankiel’s first pitch to Guerrero was a curve. He “tried to throw the best curveball he ever threw,” La Russa said. “Sometimes you try to do more and you end up doing less.”

The pitch floated over the middle of the plate. Guerrero hit it over the wall in left-center for a three-run home run. The Expos went on to win, 4-0.

Said Ankiel: “I hung it … With him up to bat, you can’t hang that pitch in that situation.” Boxscore

Pals with Pujols

Guerrero, 6 feet 3 and 235 pounds, hit 12 career home runs against the Cardinals. He hit three against Matt Morris, two apiece off Ankiel and Garrett Stephenson and one each against Cliff Politte, Larry Luebbers, Travis Smith, Jason Simontacchi and Woody Williams.

In 2001, when the Expos and Cardinals shared a spring training facility at Jupiter, Fla, Guerrero befriended Cardinals rookie Albert Pujols, who, like Guerrero, is a native of the Dominican Republic. Pujols, in a big-league camp for the first time, was looking to fit in. Guerrero included Pujols in friendly games of dominoes with other Dominican players and treated him to his mother’s home-cooked meals.

“Vladdy was one of the first guys I looked up to,” Pujols said to the Los Angeles Times in a 2016 interview. “People kind of misread Vladdy because he doesn’t like to talk too much, but he’s one of the best guys that I’ve ever been around. The way he treats people is really special. He’s always smiling. He played the game hard and had fun.”

Pujols was playing left field for the Cardinals in a game at Montreal when Guerrero hit a ball so hard it bent the top of the wall and carried over for a home run.

“On a line. He bent the wall,” Pujols said to Yahoo Sports in 2016. “He was unbelievable … He was a fearless hitter … You had to stop and watch him. If they were on TV and you were going out, you had to watch his at-bat first.”

Previously: How Cardinals gambled on Rick Ankiel in 1997 draft

Previously: Revisiting Rick Ankiel’s debut with Cardinals



Unable to resolve his differences with manager Tony La Russa, third baseman Scott Rolen requested to be traded by the Cardinals.

Ten years ago, on Jan. 14, 2008, Rolen got his wish when the Cardinals sent him to the Blue Jays for third baseman Troy Glaus.

The deal brought an unsatisfying end to the Cardinals career of a productive, popular player.

It also continued a shakeup of the Cardinals by first-year general manager John Mozeliak. After the 2007 season, when Mozeliak replaced Walt Jocketty, the Cardinals traded Rolen and center fielder Jim Edmonds, and shortstop David Eckstein was allowed to leave as a free agent. All three had been prominent contributors to the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series championship team. Like Rolen, Eckstein went to the Blue Jays.

Cardinals core

Rolen came to the major leagues with the Phillies and was named winner of the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1997. Rolen hit with power and fielded superbly, but he eventually clashed with manager Larry Bowa and the Phillies looked to deal him.

In July 2002, the Philies traded Rolen and pitcher Doug Nickles to the Cardinals for infielder Placido Polanco and pitchers Bud Smith and Mike Timlin.

Rolen, Edmonds and Albert Pujols formed the core of a lineup that powered the Cardinals to four division titles (2002, 2004, 2005, 2006), two NL pennants (2004 and 2006) and a World Series championship (2006).

In 2004, his best Cardinals season, Rolen produced a .314 batting average, a .409 on-base percentage and a .598 slugging percentage. He had 34 home runs, 124 RBI and scored 109 runs.

Rolen also earned a Gold Glove Award four times while with the Cardinals.

Looking to leave

An injury to his left shoulder limited Rolen to 56 games in 2005. That’s when his troubles with La Russa surfaced. Rolen believed the Cardinals misled him about the severity of the injury, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. La Russa objected to Rolen’s claim and an iciness developed between the two.

In 2006, the rift widened when La Russa benched Rolen during the NL Division Series. The two attempted a reconciliation in 2007, but the relationship suffered a setback when La Russa sent Rolen a four-page letter after the season, expressing his opinions of the player.

When La Russa signed a contract in October 2007 to remain Cardinals manager through 2009, Rolen contacted the club and requested a trade.

Though Rolen was an accomplished player, dealing him created a challenge for Mozeliak. Potential trade partners were limited because Rolen had $36 million and three years remaining on his contract and he had undergone three shoulder surgeries since 2005. Also, because it was no secret Rolen wanted out of St. Louis, Mozeliak’s negotiating options appeared restricted and clubs weren’t inclined to offer much in return.

Rolen has “to understand what our return must be to even consider moving someone of Scott’s talent,” Mozeliak said.

Trade talk

At the December 2007 baseball winter meetings in Nashville, the Brewers showed the most interest in trading for Rolen and met multiple times with the Cardinals, who wanted pitcher Chris Capuano. The Cardinals ended negotiations when the Brewers wouldn’t come up with an acceptable offer.

Meanwhile, La Russa told reporters Rolen should give back to the Cardinals rather than ask the club to accommodate him. The comments deepened the animosity between the two.

The public seemed fed up with the drama. In a Post-Dispatch poll asking whose side are you on, 36 responded in favor of La Russa, 11 percent were for Rolen and 53 percent chose no side, saying the hostilities were unbecoming and unnecessary.

Before the winter meetings ended, the Blue Jays quietly approached the Cardinals and expressed interest in Rolen. Glaus, the Blue Jays’ third baseman, underwent foot surgery in September and told the club he no longer wanted to play on the artificial surface in the Toronto stadium. The Blue Jays asked the Cardinals if they’d swap Rolen for Glaus.

The Cardinals were interested in the proposal but wanted Glaus to exercise his contract option for 2009, eliminating the possibility he could depart St. Louis after the 2008 season. Glaus agreed to the arrangement.

The Cardinals eliminated another potential obstacle to the deal when Glaus checked out clean regarding drug use. In 2007, a published report said banned performance-enhancing drugs had been delivered to Glaus at home in 2003 and 2004. Major League Baseball investigated and found insufficient evidence.

Happy slugger

Glaus five times hit 30 home runs in a season and he achieved 100 RBI four times. In 2002, he was named recipient of the World Series Most Valuable Player Award with the Angels. Glaus batted .262 with 20 home runs and 62 RBI in 115 games for the 2007 Blue Jays.

“He has off-the-chart power,” said Mozeliak.

After Blue Jays doctors checked out Rolen, 32, and Cardinals doctors did the same with Glaus, 31, and gave their approvals, the trade was completed.

“St. Louis is a city that I’ve dreamed about playing in since I was a kid (in Southern California),” Glaus said.

Said Mozeliak: “When you look at them player by player, at the end of the day what breaks the tie is a happy player versus an unhappy player.”

When Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch visited Rolen at Blue Jays spring training camp in Dunedin, Fla., Rolen said of the trade, “It came to a point where it had to happen.”

Regarding his dispute with La Russa, Rolen said, “A personal issue … There was nothing professional about it.”

Glaus did well for the 2008 Cardinals, batting .270 with 27 home runs and 99 RBI in 151 games. He was injured in 2009 and limited to 14 games near the end of the season.

Rolen batted .262 with 11 home runs and 50 RBI for the 2008 Blue Jays. In July 2009, the Blue Jays traded him to the Reds and he finished his playing career with them in 2012.

Previously: Scott Rolen and his strange stat line in 2004 NLDS

Eight years after he left the Cardinals, Vince Coleman made a strong bid to return. By then, however, the Cardinals had transformed from speedsters into sluggers. Though still fast, Coleman’s value had diminished.

Twenty years ago, on Jan. 13, 1998, Coleman, 36, was invited to the Cardinals’ spring training camp in Jupiter, Fla., as a non-roster player, looking to compete for a backup outfield job.

Since leaving the Cardinals as a free agent after the 1990 season, Coleman’s career had spiraled. He played for five teams over the next seven years. When the Cardinals reconnected with him in the winter of 1998, Coleman was out of baseball. He hadn’t played since being released by the Tigers in April 1997.

Though he no longer was the disruptive force on the bases he had been for the Cardinals in the 1980s, Coleman thought he still could contribute and he wanted one more chance to prove it.

The possibility he could end his career where it had started _ with the Cardinals _ appealed to him greatly.

Cardinals catalyst

Coleman first got to the major leagues in 1985 with the Cardinals and immediately made his mark as a winning ballplayer who could change a game with his base running.

A switch hitter and left fielder, Coleman established a big-league rookie record for stolen bases (110) in a season. He also scored 107 runs, sparking St. Louis to the National League pennant, and received the 1985 NL Rookie of the Year Award.

Excelling under manager Whitey Herzog, Coleman led the NL in stolen bases each of his six seasons with St. Louis. He three times swiped 100 bases in a season, twice scored 100 runs and twice was named to the all-star team. The Cardinals won pennants in two of Coleman’s first three years with the club.

In 878 career regular-season games with the Cardinals, Coleman produced 937 hits, 566 runs and 549 stolen bases.

Vagabond years

After the 1990 season, Coleman signed with the Mets. Years later, reflecting on his decision, Coleman told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “I just thought the grass was greener on the other side. It wasn’t.”

Coleman was miserable with the Mets. His performance declined significantly and his reputation was tarnished by his involvement in a firecracker-throwing incident.

After the stability of St. Louis, Coleman became a journeyman, playing for the Mets (1991-1993), Royals (1994-1995), Mariners (1995), Reds (1996) and Tigers (1997). He also had a stint in the Angels’ farm system, batting .207 for the 1996 Vancouver Canadians.

Assist from McGee

In November 1997, Coleman was at home in Scottsdale, Ariz., and no longer playing. His neighbor, Cardinals shortstop Royce Clayton, had an indoor batting cage and he invited Coleman to work out with him. The sessions convinced Coleman he still could hit.

Around that time, Jim Bronner, Coleman’s agent, had a chat with St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty and learned the Cardinals were seeking reserve outfield help for 1998. Bronner relayed that information to Coleman.

The Cardinals were heading into 1998 with a starting outfield of Ron Gant in left, Ray Lankford in center and Brian Jordan in right, with Willie McGee as a backup. The Cardinals wanted a versatile fifth outfielder.

Coleman called his friend, McGee, and asked him to speak with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa on his behalf.

“Two days later, Tony called me up and told me there was a need for a guy who could run and play all three outfield positions,” Coleman said.

When Coleman got the invitation to spring training, he told Hummel, “I don’t know who is more excited, Willie or me. I know he wants me on this club. He’s a positive influence in my life.”

Motivated to win

When Coleman arrived at Cardinals camp, he was issued uniform No. 29, the same he had worn with St. Louis in the 1980s.

“You don’t know how happy I am,” Coleman said. “I am tickled pink. For eight years, I’ve been trying to get back.”

La Russa played Coleman regularly in exhibition games. Through March 18, Coleman was batting .324.

“I knew he was in good shape,” La Russa said. “He was hungry and he came highly recommended.”

Said Coleman: “With the playing time I’ve had, I find myself getting that groove. The more at-bats I get, the more comfortable I get. I can still play.”

As spring training neared its end, the finalists for the fifth outfielder job were Coleman and Brian Hunter, a six-year major-league veteran who had played for four clubs, primarily the Braves.

Hunter was batting .344 with three home runs and nine RBI for the Cardinals in spring training. Coleman was batting .313 with four stolen bases.

La Russa chose Hunter. “I just think with the RBI potential and the extra pop we get from Hunter that that helps us more off the bench than the speed,” La Russa said.

Times have changed

Coleman said La Russa made “a bad decision.”

“I’m still the fastest man in baseball,” Coleman said. “I can definitely steal bases and help a team win a pennant.”

Said McGee: “He proved he could play in the major leagues and be an asset.”

After the Cardinals gave Coleman his release, he surprised them, volunteering to report to Class AAA Memphis under one condition: If, during his Memphis stay, Coleman received an offer from a big-league club, the Cardinals would have to promote him to the majors, or let him go to the other team.

The Cardinals agreed to the arrangement.

Coleman batted .316 with eight steals and 15 runs scored in 20 games for Memphis. He attracted scouts from the Diamondbacks, Giants and Mariners, but none made an offer.

Discouraged, Coleman left Memphis on May 4 and announced his retirement.

“Everybody is looking for big boppers … The stolen base is a lost art,” Coleman told Hummel. “I need Whitey (Herzog) back here. Where is Whitey?”

Previously: Terry Pendleton, Vince Coleman: Free-agent fates differ

The Cardinals thought they were getting a short-inning reliever when they signed free agent Kent Bottenfield. Instead, much to their surprise, they got a pitcher who transformed into a starter and eventually became a big winner for them.

Twenty years ago, on Jan. 6, 1998, Bottenfield joined the Cardinals after two seasons as a reliever for the Cubs. A right-hander, Bottenfield, 29, received a one-year contract with a club option for 1999. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Bottenfield signed for an estimated $500,000; the Chicago Tribune said he agreed to a contract for $700,000.

The Cardinals figured Bottenfield would set up closer Jeff Brantley by pitching the seventh or eighth inning of games. However, just two months into the season, with their rotation decimated by injuries and ineffectiveness, the Cardinals in desperation gave Bottenfield the chance to start.

A year later, Bottenfield became the Cardinals’ most effective starting pitcher and a National League all-star.

Comeback trail

Utilized as both a starter and a reliever, Bottenfield pitched for three teams _ Expos (1992-1993), Rockies (1993-1994) and Giants (1994) _ in his first three seasons in the major leagues.

He was released by the Giants after the 1994 season and was signed by the Tigers, who sent him to their Class AAA affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens. Bottenfield spent the 1995 season with Toledo and was 5-11 with a 4.54 ERA.

With his career at a crossroads, Bottenfield, a free agent, was picked up by the Cubs, who placed him with their Class AAA club in Iowa. Bottenfield revived his career, posting a 2.19 ERA in 28 relief appearances for Iowa. The Cubs called up Bottenfield in June 1996 and he pitched well (2.63 ERA) and often (48 games) for them the remainder of the season.

In 1997, Bottenfield made 64 relief appearances for the Cubs and had a 3.86 ERA.

He became a free agent again and, this time, received keen interest from the Cardinals and Astros. When Bottenfield chose St. Louis, Walt Jocketty, the Cardinals’ general manager, declared, “We won the lottery.”

Solid journeyman

Bottenfield appealed to the Cardinals because their veteran right-handed setup man, Mark Petkovsek, had struggled in 1997, posting a 4.78 ERA in 53 relief appearances. Right-handed batters hit .314 against Petkovsek.

Bottenfield had a good spring training for the 1998 Cardinals. “Perhaps this will be one former Cub who actually helps a team win rather than drag it down,” the Post-Dispatch opined.

With Brantley on the disabled list for the first week of the regular season, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa turned to Bottenfield to fill in as closer.

On April 4, Bottenfield earned a save with two scoreless innings against the Padres. Boxscore Three days later, on April 7, he got another save against the Rockies. With the potential tying run on base in the ninth inning, Bottenfield struck out Vinny Castilla and Jeff Reed and got Neifi Perez to fly out to right, preserving the first big-league win for starter Cliff Politte. Boxscore

“He’s a solid, journeyman reliever,” Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan said of Bottenfield. “Most of the time, he’ll do a good job for us.”

Brantley returned from the disabled list on April 9 and Bottenfield went back to a setup role.

Transformer man

On June 4, after Bottenfield made a team-leading 26 relief appearances, the Post-Dispatch reported he would join the rotation and become the Cardinals’ 12th starting pitcher of the season. Bottenfield hadn’t started a major-league game in four years. His big-league record as a starter was 6-11 with a 5.04 ERA.

“I’m going to have to use all my pitches and mix them up a little better,” Bottenfield said.

In his first Cardinals start, June 5 versus the Giants, Bottenfield lasted three innings and yielded three runs. In his next start, June 10, against the White Sox, Bottenfield pitched five scoreless innings, allowing one hit. Boxscore

“That Kent Bottenfield … would throw one-hit shutout ball for five innings was at least a surprise, if not a shock,” declared the Post-Dispatch.

On June 18, Bottenfield got his first win as a Cardinals starter, beating the Astros. In 10 starts from July 4 through Aug. 24, Bottenfield was 2-0 with eight no-decisions. In that stretch, he lowered his ERA from 5.31 to 4.51.

“Early on, my goal was to keep us in the game,” Bottenfield said of his starting role. “The more I’ve pitched, my goal has changed, not to necessarily dominate but to try to win some games.”

Key contributor

By August, as Bottenfield established credibility, La Russa and Duncan became convinced he should remain a starter beyond 1998.

“He deserves a lot of credit,” La Russa said. “He’s developed into a starter from a short reliever. He’s built his stamina and he’s very competitive. He routinely gets us into the second half of the game with a chance to win.”

Said Duncan: “The situation being what it has been has created the opportunity for Bottenfield to start. We had no intentions of ever doing that when we got him.”

On Sept. 4, Bottenfield injured his left toe and was sidelined for the rest of the season.

His 1998 totals: 4-6 record, 4.44 ERA, four saves in 44 games, including 17 starts. Bottenfield was 1-2 with a 5.50 ERA as a reliever and 3-4 with a 4.08 ERA as a starter.

“He’s shown me enough that he’s a strong candidate to do something important for the club next year,” La Russa said.

In 1999, Bottenfield developed into an ace. He was 18-7 with a 3.97 ERA in 31 starts and was selected to the all-star team. Bottenfield was second in the National League in winning percentage (.720). He led the 1999 Cardinals in wins (18), starts (31) and strikeouts (124). Bottenfield and reliever Heathcliff Slocumb (2.36) were the only pitchers for the 1999 Cardinals with ERAs better than 4.00.

On March 23, 2000, the Cardinals traded Bottenfield and second baseman Adam Kennedy to the Angels for center fielder Jim Edmonds.

Bottenfield became head baseball coach at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida in 2012, replacing Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, who died in February that year. A singer and songwriter, Bottenfield also made two contemporary Christian albums.

Previously: How Kent Mercker became leader of Cardinals rotation