Thursday, April 26, 2018

Celebrate '68: Cepeda and McCarver Go Yard; Gibson Gets The Win

            On April 26, 1968, Bob Gibson’s ERA was sitting at what proved to be a season-high 2.35. By the end of that day it sat at 1.97 and he had gotten his first win of the season. That win came in large part thanks to solo home runs by Orlando Cepeda and Tim McCarver in the 2-1 victory over the Pirates at Busch Stadium.

Gibson faced Bob Veale in the contest. A formidable opponent, Veale only allowed four hits in the contest. However, as you already know, two of those hits were mistake pitches that left the yard. Gibson, on the other hand, scattered seven hits throughout the contest. Two of those came in the fourth inning and ended up with a Pirates run on the scoreboard. That run was credited to Don Clendenon who hit a sac fly that brought Roberto Clemente trotting in to score. The Bucs were up 1-0.

The visitors’ lead was short-lived. In the bottom of the fourth, Cepeda lunged at one and got just enough of it to put it over the wall in right. The slugger said it was the first home run he hit to right in his three years with the Redbirds, and it was a big one as it had tied the game up. The score remained tied until the seventh. In the top of that inning, Gibson nearly surrendered the lead after allowing a two-out single to Matty Alou. A wild pitch and a passed ball moved Alou to third before Gibby was able to retire Pittsburgh’s catcher Jerry May with a fly to center. Then came the big fly, the one that counted the most: Tim McCarver’s first long-ball of the ’68 season. In an article that appeared in The Altoona Mirror out of Pennsylvania, an excited McCarver would later say “I hit a breaking ball for a home run. I needed that home run for confidence, and getting it from Bob Veale, who I consider one of the toughest lefthanders to hit, means something.” It most definitely meant something. It meant the Cardinals were on the way to victory.

Gibson sailed the rest of the way, only allowing one more hit, a two- out single to Clendenon in the ninth. He struck Alou out looking only to end it one batter later to put himself in the win column for the first time that season.  His counterpart, Bob Veale, was coined the “hard luck” pitcher in the tilt. It seems that Veale pitched well when the ball was handed to him but could not get the run support needed to get wins. His record for that ’68 season speaks for itself when you line it up next to his ERA: 13-14 with a 2.05 earned run average.  I would say Bob Veale certainly suffered some hard luck. After all, he had to face Bob Gibson on that day in late April.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Celebrate '68: Jenkins Takes Down Gibson's Birds

            On April 20, 1968, Bob Gibson and Ferguson Jenkins went head-to-head in a Cubs/Cards battle at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Gibson stepped on the mound that day in search of his first win of the campaign but walked away in defeat. In the battle of future Hall of  Famers, only one could prevail. On that day, it would be Jenkins.

             Despite that fact, Gibson went the distance in the contest right alongside Jenkins. Gibby surrendered a two-run shot off the bat of Billy Williams in the first and then saw two unearned runs cross the plate in the fifth due to an error was committed by Julian Javier.  The Cubs had a lead that grew to 5-0 in the eighth after Ernie Banks picked up a two out single followed by a Lou Johnson RBI double. The Cubs hurler was able to hold the Cardinals offense in check throughout the contest and Jenkins rolled into the ninth having just allowed two hits. He picked up two outs in the ninth before surrendering the third hit that flew over the wall when Curt Flood got a hold of one. However, Jenkins set down Bobby Tolan to end it and secure the 5-1 victory for the club that calls Wrigley Field home.

            The final line for the two pitchers was as follows: Jenkins struck out seven, allowed the lone Cardinals run, and allowed just three hits. Gibson struck out eight, was charged with three earned runs, and was victimized with ten hits against him. While the Redbirds did not walk away victorious, I would imagine that seeing these two men on the mound would have been quite the sight.

            In 1968, “the year of the pitcher” had a total of seven pitchers reach the 20 wins or more. Ferguson won 20 for the Cubs while Gibson would finish with 22 wins for the Cardinals. Only two men won more games than Gibson: Juan Marichal with 26 and Denny McLain who won 31 during the phenomenal year that would forever change baseball.

          The Cardinals went 9-9 against the Cubs that season. The Baby Bears were a hardly a threat to the defending World Series champions. Finishing with a 97-65 record, the Cardinals did not trail in the standing after the last day of May. The Cubs, on the other hand, finished 84-78 and sat at home while the Cardinals went on to represent the National League in The Fall Classic.

The "Gibson Says Good Legs Mean Complete Games" article was published the day after the game took place. I found it to be a great piece, as he talked about what he believed made him successful. His belief led to 13 complete game shutouts, so I would bet we can all agree that strong legs helped him out quite a bit

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Celebrate '68: April 15th, Gibby Stands Tall; Edwards comes Up Big In The Tenth

On April 15, 1968, just five days after meeting each other in St. Louis, Bob Gibson and Pat Jarvis rematched in Atlanta. Gibson gave the Redbirds seven innings in this contest, striking out five, walking three, and allowing a home run along the way. When Gibson was lifted from the game for a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth, the Braves had the upper hand: they led 3-1. However, by the end of that inning the Cardinals had tied things up 3-3, and before it was all said and done, the club that called St. Louis home would be celebrating a ten-inning 4-3 victory after the backup catcher Johnny Edwards came up big.

            The Cardinals got the scoring started in this one in the third after Julian Javier singled to open the inning, stole a base, then moved over to third before there was an out. Jarvis retired the next two men he faced and may have thought he was going to escape the inning without any damage done.  However, he walked Lou Brock and surrendered a single to Curt Flood, giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.

            Meanwhile, Gibson worked his way through the Braves lineup. The Atlanta club scattered a few hits against him and drew some walks, but they did not get to him until the fourth when Braves second baseman Felix Millan knocked in a run with a two-out single to tie up the game. Both pitchers seemed to have settled in after that until the big damage was done in the seventh. Gibby hit a batter, setting up Hank Aaron for a two-run home run, putting the Cardinals down 3-1.

            Jarvis began the eighth in trouble by walking Dal Maxvill.  The Atlanta pitcher then retired Bobby Tolan, who had pinch hit for Gibson, and he erased Maxvill from the basepaths when Lou Brock hit into a fielder’s choice. Jarvis may have thought he was going to get out of the inning, but Curt Flood and Roger Maris had other ideas. Flood doubled to left, moving Brock to third, and Maris followed with a double to center, scoring them both. Tied 3-3.  

            Despite his hard luck, Jarvis remained in the game. He retired Orlando Cepeda to get out of that eighth inning, then retired the side in order in the ninth. His day ended in the tenth after just one batter. That batter was Dal Maxvill who had become a thorn in the side of Jarvis and the Braves. Maxvill tripled, and Atlanta’s manager Lum Harris called in Cecil Upshaw to get out of the mess. It was not a mess he could clean up, though, as Red Schoendienst called on Dick Simpson to run for Maxvill, and for Johnny Edwards to pinch hit for reliever Joe Hoerner. Edwards got the job done with a single to left, putting the Cards up 4-3.  That was all that was needed that  which was all they would need on that Monday afternoon in April.

              The bottom of the tenth still awaited the club before they claimed victory.  Dick Hughes made short work of the Atlanta club with a 1-2-3 frame to cap off the game. The bullpen had been masterful. Hughes, along with Hoerner and Ron Willis, allowed just one hit between them late in that ballgame.
               Once again, Bob Gibson did not get a win added to the back of his baseball card. However, he did give his team a chance to win, which was something Bob Gibson would do every time he toed the rubber during the season that will never be forgotten. I do not know it for fact, but I would bet that Bob Gibson’s number one concern was not having the win added to his record, as much as the win added for the team’s. I do not know this for fact, but I imagine Gibby as one of the first people to shake the hand of Hughes once he had secured that victory.

     Edwards stay in St. Louis was a short one. In fact, it was only that ’68 season. He was acquired to backup Tim McCarver, and he did a decent job doing just that. Edwards started 52 games that season, hitting .239 along the way. His shining moment was not the game winning pinch hit on that April day… It was when he caught Ray Washburn’s no-hitter in September of that pennant winning season.  However, he also shined behind the dish as a superior defensive catcher who worked well with Gibson, catching 10 of Gibby’s starts in 1968, and in those starts the legend of the mound posted an .089 ERA.

As we look back at this pennant-winning team, I believe it is important to remember all the players that contributed to the effort. Like Gibson, Edwards was a piece to a pennant-winning ballclub, and we should always tip our caps to all the men that contribute to those squads.

If you would like to read more about the career of Johnny Edwards check out his bio here:

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Celebrate '68: Gibson Opens The Season At Busch

          On April 10, 1968, one of the most historic pitching campaigns in the history of baseball began in St. Louis as Bob Gibson went after his first win against the Atlanta Braves at Busch Stadium. As we look back at this game, it will be the beginning of a series called “Celebrate ’68” which will cover each Bob Gibson start from the campaign. That season, the legendary pitcher-donning 45 on his back while wearing the birds on the bat on the front-made 34 starts, completing 28 of them, recorded 13 shutouts, and posted a 22-9 record along the way. This season we will celebrate '68, the year of the pitcher, the year of 1.12... The year of Bob Gibson.

Gibson and the rest of the defending champions had their hands full with Pat Jarvis going for the Braves. After falling behind 1-0 in the second due to an error by Lou Brock, Jarvis tied the Cardinals up, holding them hitless through five. It was none other than Bob Gibson who broke up the no-no with a single to lead off the sixth.  Still trailing 1-0 late in the ballgame, the Cardinals skipper Red Schoendienst went with a pinch hitter to generate offense, which ended Gibson's day.

The move failed to produce. However, the tide turned in the eighth when a Curt Flood single led to an RBI by Orlando Cepeda to knot things up 1-1. Jarvis worked his way into the ninth, retiring the first batter, before Dal Maxvill doubled to left. Atlanta's skipper Lum Harris went to his pen following the double, calling on Ken Johnson, while Schoendienst called on Dave Ricketts to pinch hit for the eventual game winner Ray Washburn. The redhead also called on Dick Simpson to run for Maxvill. Moments later the game was over as Ricketts singled, Simpson scored, and 34,000 plus cheered as the Redbirds celebrated the 2-1 victory at the dish.

The final line for Gibson was 7 innings pitched, 3 hits, 1 unearned run, and a walk. He may not have gotten the win, but he sure as hell did his job.

An astounding fact from that season is that Gibson was never removed from a game from the mound. He was either replaced by a pinch hitter or he went the distance. 

Side note: The story that appears in the photo was published in the St. Petersburg Times the following day. It was not until I saw this version that I caught onto the unusual double play that took place in the fifth, which ended with Dal Maxvill tagging out two runners at third.