What I’m Reading: “The Year of the Pitcher” by Sridhar Pappu

In The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age, author Sridhar Pappu seeks to put the 1968 baseball season in the larger context of political and societal turmoil embroiling the nation.

While I always appreciate it when baseball books place the events taking place on the field in a larger context, in this instance it felt forced. At times it feels as though Pappu is actually writing two different books – one about Gibson, McLain, and the 1968 Cardinals and Tigers, and another about Jackie Robinson, his post-baseball career, and the way it intersected with the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

Not surprisingly, when it comes to the events taking place on the field, Pappu focuses primarily upon Gibson and McLain. The book is well researched, and Pappu clearly lays out the vast personality differences between the two star hurlers, though he doesn’t dive too deeply into the biographies of either player. Instead, he seeks to tell a variety of stories, focusing primarily upon Gibson’s smoldering personality, McLain’s refusal to follow either the Tigers’ or society’s rules, Robinson’s role as a national figure and civil rights leader in the late ‘60s, and Johnny Sain’s masterful skill as a mentor for generations of pitchers.

At times, as Pappu jumped between these stories, it became difficult to follow the chronology. Sometimes he jumped ahead to an event that took place after the ’68 season, then leapt back to events that took place that summer. More importantly, Pappu struggled to tie Robinson’s presidential campaigning to the remainder of the book.

Large portions of the book detail Robinson’s post-baseball life and his relationships with Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon, and Kennedy. It’s interesting content, but the only way it ties into the rest of the book lays in the fact that Hoover and Robinson attended one of the World Series games together. Gibson and McLain’s interest in the politics of the day is never laid out, and Pappu doesn’t really never ties any of the other players to these events either.

As a result, the book feels a bit unfocused and never seems to find a narrative flow.

Nonetheless, Pappu shares some interesting scenes, including Gibson and McLain appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show after the season and Gibson’s appearance on a show called Gentle Ben. Some of my other favorite anecdotes include:

  • Gibson’s Creighton University baseball coach Bill Fitch notes that there was a “fire burning” in Gibson, and “there’s dynamite there if you roll it the wrong way.”
  • Pappu backs up Gibson’s longstanding contention that he wasn’t a headhunter, pointing out that Gibson hit 102 batters over his 17-year career for an average of one every 157.5 batters. By comparison, Don Drysdale hit one out of every 91.5 batters.

March 31, 1998: Mark McGwire grand slam lifts Cardinals to season-opening win

Mark McGwire had a grand time in his first opening day with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Eight months earlier, McGwire arrived in St. Louis in a trade that sent Erick Ludwick, T.J. Mathews, and Blake Stein to the Oakland Athletics. In his final 51 games of the 1997 season, McGwire hit 24 home runs for the Cardinals and endeared himself to the St. Louis faithful when he signed a new contract with the club.

As the team entered the 1998 season, all eyes in St. Louis were on McGwire, even before he began his historic home run chase.

The game opened with Todd Stottlemyre on the mound for the Cardinals. Entering his third season in St. Louis since being acquired from the Athletics, Stottlemyre was coming off a 1997 season in which he went 12-9 with a 3.88 ERA over 181 innings. With Andy Benes now pitching for the Diamondbacks, the Cardinals were looking for Stottlemyre to take the mantle as the staff ace in 1998.

“Going into the game, I was trying to stay away from all the nervousness and other things that go into opening day,” he said. “It’s fun, but then again, it’s hard to say it’s fun. Your gut is going all different directions. … Today was actually like being nervous-ready.”[1]

The right-hander from Yakima, Washington, certainly looked ready. He retired the first 11 batters he faced before Mike Piazza singled to center field for the Dodgers’ first baserunner.

With one out in the fifth, the Dodgers mustered their first threat when Paul Konerko singled and Todd Hollandsworth drew a walk. With runners on first and second, Stottlemyre struck out Trent Hubbard looking, then retired Ramon Martinez on a hard-hit ground ball that McGwire fielded cleanly at first base.

“When it was hit, I said, ‘Oh no,’” Stottlemyre said. “That play saved two runs.”[2]

As Stottlemyre cruised through the early innings, Martinez worked his way in and out of trouble. Royce Clayton led off the first inning with a single, but was caught trying to steal second. The following inning, Ray Lankford led off with a double, but was stranded at third when Gary Gaetti struck out looking to end the inning. McGwire led off the fourth inning with a double down the left-field line, but Martinez got two fly balls and a groundout to once again emerge unscathed.

He would not be so fortunate in the fifth.

Gaetti doubled into the right-field gap to lead off the inning, then advanced to third on a single by Tom Lampkin. Martinez struck out Stottlemyre and Clayton, and the Cardinals appeared poised to allow another opportunity through their grasp. Then Delino DeShields drew a six-pitch walk to load the bases for McGwire.

“Walking DeShields was the key right there,” Dodgers manager Bill Russell said. “We got into a position where we had to pitch to (McGwire) with the bases loaded because we had no place to put him.”[3]

As Cardinals fans voiced growing anticipation for McGwire to come to the plate, Russell and the Dodgers infield converged on the mound.

“Billy told Ramon go to after him, that we had confidence in him,” Dodgers second baseman Eric Young said. “We knew that Ramon was in a tough spot, but he was pitching well and he’s our ace.”[4]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz described the scene:

The fans were on their feet – stomping, yapping, screaming, pleading for McGwire to give them a precious memory to take home as a souvenir on opening day. People were going nuts before anything actually happened. The anticipation spread through the crowd like a legal drug.[5]

“You hear it, but you have to stay within your own world, your own mind,” McGwire said. “You can’t get out of it. You have to bear down.”[6]

The first home run of his historic 1998 season came on a 1-0 changeup and traveled 364 feet before landing in the left-field stands. Miklasz wrote, “This baseball stayed up in the clouds for so long, you could have raced to the concession stands for a box of Cracker Jack, sprinted to the bathroom, called home to check on postgame plans and returned to your seat in time to see the official landing.”[7]

It was the 10th grand slam of McGwire’s career and the first opening-day grand slam ever hit by a Cardinals player.[8]

“It sort of surprised me the way it carried,” McGwire said. “I knew I hit it high enough. It was just a matter of far enough. But then I saw the fans move.”[9]

With the Cardinal faithful cheering him on, McGwire gave Gaetti a high-five that the veteran third baseman said almost broke his hand.

“I put my hand up,” Gaetti said. “Big mistake. He crushed me.”[10]

After the game, Lampkin wore an ice bag on his back where McGwire had slapped him in celebration.[11]

“I felt like I got hit by a cannon,” Lampkin said.[12]

As the 47,972 fans at Busch Stadium provided a standing ovation, Lankford paused outside the batter’s box, allowing McGwire to hop out of the dugout and give the fans a curtain call.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” McGwire said. “Everybody I’ve talked to in the National League says there’s no place better in America that you’d want to play. I got it first-hand for two months (last year). Now I get it for three years.”[13]

After dodging threats through the first four innings, Martinez was pulled from the game with two outs in the fifth. He was charged with four earned runs on seven hits and two walks.

“Everything changed right there,” Martinez said of McGwire’s grand slam. “I threw him a good pitch, a changeup that was a bit high, and at first I didn’t think it was going to go out. But it kept carrying and carrying.”[14]

McGwire’s grand slam provided all the offensive support Stottlemyre needed. Over seven innings, he allowed just three hits and walked two. After he walked pinch hitter Wilton Guerrero to lead off the eighth, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa called on left-hander Lance Painter to retire Mike Devereaux. John Frascatore then entered the game to finish the eighth inning.

Stottlemyre “definitely was our No. 1 star today,” La Russa said.[15]

In the bottom half of the eighth, Ron Gant singled and stole second base before Gaetti drove him home with an RBI single. Gaetti scored on a ground ball by Willie McGee to extend the Cardinals’ lead to 6-0.

Braden Looper struck out the side in his major-league debut to cap off the season-opening win.

McGwire’s grand slam marked just the beginning of his strong start to the season. Two days later, he hit a three-run, 12th-inning home run to beat the Dodgers. He then homered in the next two games as well, making him the first player to open the season with home runs in their first four games since Willie Mays did it for the San Francisco Giants in 1971.


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[1] Mike Eisenbath, “Stottlemyre aces opening day test,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 1, 1990: Page D1.

[2] Rick Hummel, “McGwire, Cards get first one,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 1, 1998: Page D7.

[3] Jason Reid, “McGwire’s blast breaks it open and L.A. gets only three hits in 6-0 loss to Cardinals,” Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1998: Page C7.

[4] Jason Reid, “McGwire’s blast breaks it open and L.A. gets only three hits in 6-0 loss to Cardinals,” Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1998: Page C7.

[5] Bernie Miklasz, “Surely, this is how baseball felt in the days of Babe Ruth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 1, 1998: Page D1.

[6] Bernie Miklasz, “Surely, this is how baseball felt in the days of Babe Ruth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 1, 1998: Page D1.

[7] Bernie Miklasz, “Surely, this is how baseball felt in the days of Babe Ruth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 1, 1998: Page D1.

[8] Rick Hummel, “McGwire, Cards get first one,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 1, 1998: Page D1.

[9] Rick Hummel, “McGwire, Cards get first one,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 1, 1998: Page D7.

[10] Bernie Miklasz, “Surely, this is how baseball felt in the days of Babe Ruth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 1, 1998: Page D1.

[11] Rick Hummel, “McGwire, Cards get first one,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 1, 1998: Page D7.

[12] Bernie Miklasz, “Surely, this is how baseball felt in the days of Babe Ruth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 1, 1998: Page D1.

[13] Rick Hummel, “McGwire, Cards get first one,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 1, 1998: Page D1.

[14] Jason Reid, “McGwire’s blast breaks it open and L.A. gets only three hits in 6-0 loss to Cardinals,” Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1998: Page C1.

[15] Mike Eisenbath, “Stottlemyre aces opening day test,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 1, 1990: Page D1.

What I’m Reading: “Tales From the St. Louis Cardinals Dugout” by Bob Forsch with Tom Wheatley

With “Tales From the St. Louis Cardinals Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Cardinals Stories Ever Told,” former Cardinals pitcher Bob Forsch tells a wide range of stories from his 15-year career with the Cardinals, spanning from 1974 through 1988.

Forsch’s long career in St. Louis allows him to tell stories featuring Cardinals from across the generations, including Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ted Simmons, Bruce Sutter, Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Whitey Herzog, Red Schoendienst, Vince Coleman, Keith Hernandez, Jack Clark, George Kissell, and Joaquin Andujar.

All of Forsch’s stories are brief, with most lasting no more than a page, so the storytelling moves quickly. The stories are offered in loose chronological order, but he also bounces around a bit to tell clusters of stories centered around the same theme or people.

It makes for a fun book, even if Forsch doesn’t share too much of his own story. He briefly mentions his early days as a third base prospect before moving to the pitcher’s mound, but seems more comfortable discussing his former teammates.

Some of my favorite stories:

  • When Sutter and Forsch went fishing together, they often ran into Herzog. Forsch soon discovered that if they came back and Forsch began cleaning the fish, Herzog wouldn’t say anything, but if Sutter – the Cardinals’ star closer – began cleaning the fish, Herzog would offer to do it instead. Forsch figured Herzog didn’t want his star closer cutting himself while cleaning the fish.
  • When Forsch received a new contract one year, it included clauses that prevented him from riding motorcycles, skiing, skydiving, etc., but also included a clause that forbid hunting. Forsch took it to Herzog to complain and Herzog scratched it out of the contract for him.
  • Before Forsch’s 1975 season, he received a contract from the Cardinals for $18,000 – the major-league minimum. On his brother Kenny’s advice, Forsch sent it back unsigned, then spent a nervous few weeks waiting for a reply. Finally, the Cardinals sent him a new contract for $21,000.
  • When Clark came to the Cardinals from the Giants, one of the papers quoted him saying that he knew what it was like in a pennant race. Forsch and some of the Cardinals gave him a hard time for that, pointing out that the Giants didn’t finish any better than second or third during his tenure. When Clark and the Cardinals reached the World Series in 1985, they told Clark that he finally knew what it was like to be in a pennant race.
  • Forsch gave Hernandez a lot of credit for being an insightful player who could offer tips about attacking opposing hitters, and said he was one of the few infielders who actually had something helpful to say when they went to the mound.

The hardcover copy of “Tales from the St. Louis Cardinals Dugout” comes in at 182 pages, and with plenty of photos peppered within, it’s a very fast read. For fans of the Cardinals of the ‘70s and ‘80s, it makes for a great, easy read. The title makes it sound like it’s more thorough than it really is, but it’s a fun book to read over a weekend.


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June 4-5, 2011: Pujols hits back-to-back walk-off home runs against the Cubs

Heading into the Cardinals’ three-game, early-June series against the Chicago Cubs, Albert Pujols was experiencing a power outage. By the time the Cardinals left Busch Stadium with three victories – including back-to-back walk-off home runs – he had reminded everyone once again why Tony La Russa considered Pujols to be the greatest player he had ever managed.

With a 33-25 record, the Cardinals entered the June 3-5, 2011, series with a two-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central. However, they had won just once in a four-game series against the San Francisco Giants, and while Pujols launched seven homers in April, he had added just two to his season tally since. In May, Pujols hit .288 with a .365 on-base percentage, but his slugging percentage was just .387. During one lengthy stretch, he went 105 at-bats without a homer.

Fortunately for the Cardinals, Pujols’ bat heated up with the turning of the calendar – and the arrival of the Cubs in St. Louis.

The Cardinals opened the series with a 6-1 victory in which Lance Berkman hit a three-run homer off Ryan Dempster and Pujols added a two-run shot that marked his 100th career blast at Busch Stadium.

Jaime Garcia, who had allowed 11 earned runs in 3 1/3 innings during his previous start at Colorado, bounced back with eight innings of one-run ball. The Cardinals southpaw walked one and struck out eight in improving to 6-1 on the season.

“His first five or six innings, it was like, man, he only threw 80 pitches,” shortstop Ryan Theriot said. “Strike one every time, and when they did make contact, it was a ground ball or a pop-up. It was impressive to watch.”[1]

The rest of the series would not be as easy. The second game of the series pitted Kyle Lohse, an 11-year veteran in his fourth season with the Cardinals, against Randy Wells, a right-hander from Belleville, Illinois, who placed sixth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2009 but went just 8-14 in 2010.

Lohse and Wells traded scoreless frames for the first three innings. Theriot walked to lead off the bottom of the fourth before Pujols hammered a 2-1 pitch over the right-field wall to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. After the game, he said the home run was the hardest he had hit a ball all season.[2]

The Cubs answered with four runs in the top of the sixth. Starlin Castro led off with a single to left and Carlos Pena hit the first pitch he saw over the right-field wall to tie the game. After Geovany Soto doubled to left, Tony Campana brought him home with a two-out single into center.

Wells followed with a single, placing runners on first and third for Cubs leadoff hitter Kosuke Fukudome. The right fielder from So-gun, Japan, hit a ground-rule double to score Campana and chase Lohse from the game. With runners on second and third, Jason Motte retired Darwin Barney to end the Cubs’ rally.

By that point in the game, the Cubs had out-hit the Cardinals 11-1.

Nonetheless, the Cardinals rallied. Theriot singled into right field before Pujols scored him with a double into the left-field gap. With Berkman coming to the plate, the Cubs called upon left-hander Sean Marshall to make the veteran switch hitter bat right-handed. The stratagem didn’t work. Berkman lined a single back up the middle to score Pujols and even the game, 4-4.

From there, both bullpens put on a show. Motte, Trever Miller, and Miguel Batista combined for a scoreless seventh inning, while Marshall worked around a leadoff single by Yadier Molina. Batista and Kerry Wood threw scoreless eighth and ninth innings, which included a double for the first career hit by Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter, a rookie making his major league debut.

Fernando Salas retired the side in order in the 10th, while the Cubs called upon Carlos Marmol to get out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam by striking out Berkman and retiring Berkman on a line drive to left field.

Eduardo Sanchez threw two scoreless innings for the Cardinals and Marmol threw a scoreless 11th inning before giving way to Jeff Samardzija for the bottom of the 12th. The former University of Notre Dame wide receiver retired the first two batters he faced. With Pujols stepping to the plate and Berkman on deck, Cubs manager Mike Quade went to the mound to visit with his young right-hander. If Pujols and Berkman had each reached base, the Cardinals had Sanchez due up next and no bench players to pinch hit for him.

After Samardzija missed with his first two pitches, he threw a breaking ball below the knees. Pujols sent the pitch into the visitor’s bullpen for his second home run of the game and the ninth game-winning home run of his career. It marked the 41st multi-home run game of Pujols’ career.[3]

“I thought I made a pretty good pitch,” Samardzija said. “He put the barrel on it and it went. That’s Albert Pujols.”[4]

Quade took responsibility for the decision to pitch to Pujols after the game, though Samardzija said he agreed with the decision. The Cubs had intentionally walked Pujols in the 10th inning to load the bases with one out.

“I’m not in the habit of walking people with two out and nobody on,” Quade said. “I understand how good this guy is, so we’ll have to rethink that a little bit. The pitcher’s spot was three holes away. That was our salvation. You figure if you keep him in the ballpark, you take your chances, and we couldn’t.”[5]

With his two scoreless innings, Sanchez earned the win and lowered his ERA for the season to 2.10. Altogether, Motte, Miller, Batista, Salas, and Sanchez combined for 6 1/3 scoreless innings.

“Today was a tough loss, but what a great game,” Wells said. “I don’t want to sit here and talk so much about Albert Pujols, but the guy’s a force. He doesn’t have the kind of numbers he has for nothing.”[6]

By the end of the third and final game of the series, the Cubs’ attitude would shift from admiration to frustration.

The series finale pitted Chicago’s Carlos Zambrano against Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter. Neither pitcher allowed a runner into scoring position until the bottom of the third, when Daniel Descalso singled to right and advanced to third base before being stranded.

In the top of the fourth, Barney led off with a single to left and Castro followed with a ground ball into center. After Carlos Pena lined out to left, Aramis Ramirez doubled into the right-field gap to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead.

The Cardinals finally broke through in the bottom of the sixth. Pujols reached on an infield single and Jon Jay singled up the middle. Allen Craig then singled to enter as well, bringing Pujols around to score and cutting the Cubs’ lead to 2-1.

That proved to be the Cardinals’ only run against Zambrano, who left after seven innings with just five hits and two walks allowed over 107 pitches. After Marshall threw a scoreless eighth inning, Quade called upon Marmol for the save.

Molina led off the inning with a single to center before Marmol struck out Descalso and Colby Rasmus. With one out remaining, Theriot jumped on a 2-2 slider and drove it down the left-field line to bring pinch runner Tony Cruz home with the tying run.

“You can’t go up there trying to pull the ball,” Theriot said. “It’s one of those things. I got a pitch I could handle. His slider’s the best in the game.”[7]

Cubs catcher Koyie Hill had initially called for a fastball, but Marmol opted instead for the slider. Theriot admitted after the game that he was looking for the slider.[8]

“I made a mistake,” Marmol said. “I threw it right down the middle. I missed with my best pitch and got hit. What can you say? I died with my best pitch.”[9]

In the 10th, La Russa called upon Salas in place of Carpenter. Though Carpenter wasn’t positioned to earn the win, he had held the Cubs to just two runs on seven hits over nine innings.

“The player of the game shouldn’t have been myself,” Pujols said. “I think it should have been Chris Carpenter and Salas.”[10]

Salas retired the side in order to bring Pujols to the plate against Cubs reliever Rodrigo Lopez, who had retired Pujols in each of their 12 previous meetings.[11] This time, with the fans on their feet, Pujols pulled a 2-1 pitch over the left-field wall.

“It was almost like everybody knew it was going to happen,” Theriot said.[12]

Moments after the game’s end, Zambrano expressed to reporters his displeasure with the weekend in general and Marmol’s slider to Theriot in particular.

“We should know better than this,” Zambrano said. “We play like a Triple-A team. This is embarrassing. Embarrassing for the team and the owners. Embarrassing for the fans. Embarrassed – that’s the word for this team.

“We should know better than what we (did) on the field. We should know that Ryan Theriot is not a good fastball hitter. We should know that as a team. We should play better here. We stink. That’s all I’ve got to say.”[13]

The 2011 season marked Zambrano’s final year with the Cubs. In January 2012, the Cubs traded him to the Marlins for Chris Volstad.

The weekend series would spark Pujols for the remainder of June, as he hit .317/.419/.778 with eight homers and 14 RBIs for the month. He finished the season with 37 homers and 99 RBIs and finished fifth in the National League MVP voting.

Pujols hit five home runs in the 2011 postseason, including three in the World Series against the Texas Rangers as the Cardinals captured the world championship.

“He’s a guy who will … amaze you with the things he can do,” Carpenter said after watching Pujols hit his second consecutive walk-off home run. “We’re very fortunate here in this city – the guys of the media, the coaches, the players – to see him play every day. It (will) be neat that when I’m 70 (I’ll get) to say that I played with him.”[14]


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[1] Rick Hummell, “Garcia finds form,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 4, 2011: B5.

[2] Joe Strauss, “Albert’s homer wins it,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 5, 2011: Page C7.

[3] Joe Strauss, “Albert’s homer wins it,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 5, 2011: Page C7.

[4] Joe Strauss, “Albert’s homer wins it,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 5, 2011: Page C1.

[5] Paul Sullivan, “No avoiding this finish,” Chicago Tribune, June 5, 2011: Page 3-5.

[6] Paul Sullivan, “No avoiding this finish,” Chicago Tribune, June 5, 2011: Page 3-5.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Homer. Win. Repeat.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 6, 2011: Page B5.

[8] Paul Sullivan, “Fed-up ‘Z’ rips Cubs, Marmol after 6th loss in row,” Chicago Tribune, June 6, 2011: Page 2-4.

[9] Paul Sullivan, “Fed-up ‘Z’ rips Cubs, Marmol after 6th loss in row,” Chicago Tribune, June 6, 2011: Page 2-4.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Homer. Win. Repeat.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 6, 2011: Page B5.

[11] Rick Hummel, “Homer. Win. Repeat.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 6, 2011: Page B1.

[12] Rick Hummel, “Homer. Win. Repeat.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 6, 2011: Page B5.

[13] Paul Sullivan, “Fed-up ‘Z’ rips Cubs, Marmol after 6th loss in row,” Chicago Tribune, June 6, 2011: Page 2-1.

[14] Rick Hummel, “Homer. Win. Repeat.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 6, 2011: Page B5.

April 3, 1996: Stottlemyre, Eckersley earn Cardinals firsts in win vs. Mets

On April 3, 1996, the St. Louis Cardinals got their first glimpse of what their offseason additions had bought them.

With a new ownership group following Anheuser-Busch’s sale of the team, the Cardinals had retooled following a disappointing 62-81 season in 1995. Joe Torre had been replaced by Tony La Russa; Andy Benes, Ron Gant, and Gary Gaetti signed with the Cardinals as free agents; and Walt Jocketty made trades to obtain Royce Clayton, Todd Stottlemyre, and Dennis Eckersley.

In the second game of the season, the Cardinals’ saw their new additions pay off as Stottlemyre earned his first win as a Cardinal and Eckersley captured his first save.

After seven seasons with the Blue Jays, Stottlemyre was coming off a 14-7 campaign with the Athletics, where he posted a 4.55 ERA and ranked second in the American League with 205 strikeouts. Recognizing that Stottlemyre was due for a raise in arbitration after earning $1.8 million in 1995, the Athletics dealt him to the Cardinals for outfielder Allen Battle and pitchers Jay Witasick, Carl Dale, and Bret Wagner.

Facing off against Jason Isringhausen and the Mets, Stottlemyre looked sharp in his Cardinals debut. He retired the first 10 batters he faced and struck out the side in the third inning.

Gant gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead with a third-inning home run to left field. Ray Lankford led off the inning with a single, and Isringhausen said he was distracted by Lankford when the Cardinals outfielder took off for second, even though Lankford retreated back to first.

“When I saw him take off, I flinched,” Isringhausen said. “Once you take your eyes off the plate, you’re in trouble. I see Gant has hit a few home runs. He’ll probably hit a few more.”[1]

In the sixth, Lankford led off the inning with a triple into the right-field corner and Gant scored him on a sacrifice fly to center.

Bernard Gilkey, who was traded to the Mets after the Cardinals signed Gant, tied the game in the bottom half of the sixth. After Stottlemyre retired Rey Ordonez to lead off the inning, Brent Mayne drew a walk and Lance Johnson followed with a double. On a 2-1 pitch, Gilkey homered to left-center to make it a 3-3 ballgame. It was Gilkey’s second home run in as many days and his fifth RBI.

In the top of the seventh, the Cardinals mustered a two-out rally to re-take the lead. Stottlemyre started the rally with a single.

“I never hit a ball out of the infield all spring,” said Stottlemyre, who was playing in his first National League game. “I was just as surprised as anybody else when the ball hit the outfield grass.”[2]

Jose Vizcaino misplayed a ground ball off the bat of Willie McGee to keep the inning alive, and Clayton followed with an RBI single to right that scored Stottlemyre.

“After I scored, I was gassed,” Stottlemyre said.[3]

With two outs in the eighth, catcher Danny Schaeffer battled back from an 0-2 count to hit an RBI single off Jerry Dipoto on a full-count. The run gave the Cardinals a 5-3 lead.

“That’s what we talk about, staying ahead of hitters,” Mets manager Dallas Green said. “You want to bury guys, especially a guy like Schaeffer. We had a chance to stay in the game right there but we didn’t get it done.”[4]

From there, it was up to Stottlemyre and Eckersley to hold the lead. With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Johnson reached on an infield single. Johnson was retired on a ground ball by Gilkey, but with two outs, Stottlemyre walked Rico Brogna to bring the tying run to the plate.

With four outs remaining in the game, La Russa called upon Eckersley to close out the game. Butch Huskey greeted the 41-year-old by blasting a fastball that appeared headed for the outfield seats, but Lankford leaped to rob him of the home run.

“After my heart started back up I think I was more excited than (Lankford) was,” Gant said. “It’s awesome to get a front-row seat on a play like that.”[5]

Gilkey, who previously had Gant’s perspective from left field, said he knew Lankford would make the play, even as Eckersley, expecting an easy out, began to walk toward the dugout.

“I’ve been playing with Ray a long time and I know the ability he has in center field,” Gilkey said. “I was just hoping the ball was a little higher. I’ve seen this so many times, but this was the only time I was a little disappointed he made the catch.”[6]

The home run would have been Huskey’s first after he hit nine for the Mets during spring training.

“I thought it had a chance to go,” he said. “It would have if (Lankford) wouldn’t have stuck his glove up.

“I went in (the clubhouse) and lifted some weights so he won’t have a chance next time.”[7]

Eckersley worked around two singles in the ninth to earn his first save as a Cardinal. He struck out Edgardo Alfonzo to close the game.

“No matter how much experience you have, you’re a little uptight when you come into the game,” Eckersley said. “I felt very uncomfortable, like I’d never been in a game before.”[8]

Stottlemyre’s day ended with his first win as a Cardinal after allowing three runs in 7 2/3 innings. Lankford, Gant, and Stottlemyre each finished with two hits.

Isringhausen, who grew up in Brighton, Illinois, took the loss. He had gone 9-2 as a rookie in 1995 and was making his first appearance of the season.

“I had more butterflies because I was pitching against the Cardinals for the first time,” he said.[9]


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[1] Rick Hummel, “Stottlemyre And Gant Look Like A Million,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 4, 1996: Page D1.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Stottlemyre And Gant Look Like A Million,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 4, 1996: Page D5.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Stottlemyre And Gant Look Like A Million,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 4, 1996: Page D5.

[4] Thomas Hill, “Mets, Huskey fall short,” New York Daily News, April 4, 1996: Page 98.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Stottlemyre And Gant Look Like A Million,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 4, 1996: Page D1.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Gilkey Greets Ex-Team With 5 RBIs in 2 Games,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 4, 1996: Page D5.

[7] Thomas Hill, “Mets, Huskey fall short,” New York Daily News, April 4, 1996: Page 98.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Stottlemyre And Gant Look Like A Million,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 4, 1996: Page D5.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Gilkey Greets Ex-Team With 5 RBIs in 2 Games,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 4, 1996: Page D5