Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Aces Wild in Final Game 1964

TRIVIA QUESTION: The Cardinals, Phillies and Reds all had pitchers who won big during the 1964 season but only one pitcher on these three teams won 20 games in 1964. Who was he?  

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN:  Sam McDowell spent most of his flame throwing career with the Cleveland Indians but he did pitch the last few years of his career with several other teams. After short stints with the Giants and Yankees he finally came home to play his final year with his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates. McDowell, born in Pittsburgh in 1942 went 2-1 with a 2.86 ERA in 34 innings before calling it a career after the 1975 season and 15 years in the big leagues.

It was October 4, 1964 and it was the most important day of the National League season. The Cardinals held a one game lead over the Phillies and were tied with the Reds on this final day of the wild 1964 season. The Cardinals, needing a win to avoid a playoff or clinch, were facing the Mets in St. Louis. The Phillies were taking on the Reds in Cincinnati. The Cardinals had 92 wins as did the Reds. The Phils had 91. The Cardinals had to win and hope the Phillies beat Cincinnati. A Cardinals loss and a Reds win would hand the pennant to Cincinnati.
(The actual broadcast of the Cardinals game telescoped into 12:00 minutes)
The Phillies had already blown a huge lead while the streaking Cardinals and Reds were making up ground in the closing weeks of the season. It was a season which hinged on just one game for three different teams.

The Phils were throwing their ace, Jim Bunning who was gunning for his 19th win. The Reds would counter with nine game winner John Tsitouris and a host of bullpen pitchers. Tsitouris was no match for the ever powerful Bunning. 
The Phils established themselves right away. They scored three runs in the third to send Tsitouris to an early shower. Before it was over Dick Allen would blast a pair of homers to back the six hit pitching of Bunning who went the distance in registering a 10-0 shutout. Every Phillies and Reds player was watching the scoreboard from the Eastern Time Zone, as the Cards were simultaneously playing the Mets but in the Central Time Zone. All they could do is watch and wait.

The Cardinals did not have an easy time with New York. Manager Johnny Keane chose to start 18 game winner Curt Simmons against 18 game loser Galen Cisco. He held ace (also an 18 game winner) Bob Gibson in reserve. Gibby would come in on one days rest if needed. A smart move as it turned out because with the Cards leading 2-1 in the fifth, Simmons got into trouble. 

A lead off single in the fifth by George Altman led to a strange play. Cisco bunted Altman to second and Bobby Klaus hit a double to right field which the strong armed Mike Shannon played well enough to hold Altman at third base. Light hitting Roy McMillan followed with another double driving in two, to give the Mets a 3-2 lead. It chased Simmons and Keane brought on Gibson.
Gibby quickly disposed of Joe Christopher and Jim Hickman to end the rally. The Mets led 3-2. Gibson would stem the tide and the Mets. The bottom of the fifth saw the Cards rally chasing  both Cisco and Bill Wakefield. Cisco gave up a walk to Lou Brock to start the fifth and Bill White followed with a single. Kenny Boyer brought home Brock with a double to tie the score and Cisco was gone. Wakefield came on, gave up a ground ball to score one run, and a single to score another before Jack Fisher arrived to get the final out. The Cards had a 5-3 lead and the Phillies hopes began to sink along with the Reds.

Gibson gave up a run in the sixth to make it 5-4. Before the dust had settled however White and Flood each homered to back Gibson's pitching and the ace of the Cardinals staff would pick up his 19th win, this time in relief. He would go four innings giving up but two hits, and two runs while walking an uncharacteristic five batters. Two of them were intentional and he did hit a batter and toss a wild pitch. He gave his all before coming out with not much left.

The Phillies could only sulk as they knew the season was theirs to control. On September 17th, they were 6.5 games up. They would lose 12 of their next 13 games heading into the final two games of the season.  During that time the Reds would win 11 of 12 games. The Cardinals would win 9 of 10 including eight in a row. 

After losing games 160 and 161, they had to win 162 on the final day of the season to clinch the dream. The Reds would finish tied with the Phils just one game back of the pennant winning Cardinals.

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