Tri State Sports Landmarks–St. Louis Cardinal Pennant Races
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Here we are again. It’s late September and the St. Louis Cardinals are in the thick of the race for a berth in post season baseball again. A good race to the wire is part of Cardinal tradition—back to their first trip to the World Series in 1926. Most of the Cardinal pennants came at the end of close races in the National League.
There are two races I would like to have seen firsthand.
The 1942 race is one of the most spectacular because of the win totals racked up by the participants. The Cardinals and Brooklyn sprinted through August and September. The Redbirds featured a very young team including rookie outfielder Stan Musial that was a respectable 63 and 40 on August 8th. They trailed the Dodgers by 9 games in the National League at the end of play that afternoon. But, the Cards went 43 and 8 the rest of the way. Think about that. 43-8 in major league baseball…. Remember the ’04 Cardinals? They won at an amazing pace from late June through September, but that streak even pales in comparison along side 43-8.
The Dodgers didn’t exactly collapse. They finished two games back at 104 and 50. On September 21, of 1942 there were six days remaining in the season and the Cards had a 2 and a half game lead over the Dodgers after beating Pittsburgh 2-1.
1964… I was only three years old at the time and my discovery of baseball was about three years away. The Cardinals trailed first place Philadelphia by five games at the end of the day on September 23rd. An eight game winning streak put them into first place by a game with three to play. But, the lowly Mets won the first two games to help Cincinnati pull into a tie going to the last day. An 11-5 win over the Mets and a Phillies win over the Reds sent the Cardinals on to the World Series. I read a lot about this during my formative years as a Cardinal fan in the late 60’s and early 70’s and heard a lot about it during Cardinal broadcasts and on KMOX’s Sports On A Sunday Morning.
The first seasons I remember well are 1967 and ’68 where the Cards rolled to consecutive pennants with plenty of room to spare.
1973 and 1974
My first real exposure to pennant (divisional) races by then didn’t end well.. An early September slide by the ‘73 Cardinals wiped out a three game lead. A knee injury for Bob Gibson put him on the shelf down the stretch. That almost certainly kept the Cardinals out of October baseball. In ’74, the Cards lost 3-2 in Montreal on the next to the last day of the season as the Pirates beat the Cubs 6-5. That was just enough to give Pittsburgh a division title. Many Cardinal fans my age learned at that time to never rely on the Cubs for help.
Then there was 2011… Baseball’s adoption of the wild card format has made for some exciting finishes, but I think it will be pretty hard to top all the things that happened a year ago.
I was driving back from a vacation in Colorado as the Dodgers completed a late August sweep of the Cardinals. I remember thinking as I was headed east on I-70 that we wouldn’t be having any conflicts with the Cardinals and Palmyra softball and Mizzou football. Wrong.
I revised my thinking on the evening of Sunday September 11 after the Cards swept then wild card leader Atlanta. I knew that the Cards would make it to October somehow, some way when Carlos Marmol chucked that wild pitch back to the screen on a crisp Saturday afternoon at Busch Stadium.
As I write this, the Cards have a one run lead on a rainy day at Wrigley. They also have a 2 and a half game lead for the second wild card berth. Imagine what this area would be like if it were the Chicago Cubs that were 2 and a half games back when play started today? And you thought the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA basketball tournament were unproductive days....
What’s ahead? Like Joaquin Andujar said in 1985… “Youneverknow.” But its going to be fun. And then we get to enjoy October Baseball