Excerpt

The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 9 of Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain. It describes the St. Louis Cardinals as they chased the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League pennant in 1963:

Ken Boyer-9781940127149It was the start of an incredible run of 19 victories in 20 games to challenge Los Angeles for the pennant. Musial described the stretch as “the most incredible of my 22 years in the majors.” “When he announced his retirement, it’s like he woke everybody up on that ball club,” recalled Groat, though it took almost three weeks to energize them. The pitching staff combined for a 1.94 ERA and six shutouts, three by Simmons, two by Sadecki, and one by Gibson. They received plenty of firepower—92 runs scored, 21 home runs, and a team batting average of .314. “For three unbelievable weeks, we kept winning and winning and winning,” remembered Gibson. The offense had double-digit hit totals in all but four games. During the stretch, Ken swatted .347 with six homers and 18 RBIs. The youngest starting player on the club, catcher Tim McCarver, looked to the veterans for guidance to perform under the pressure. “Boyer was a terrific guy and our steadying influence as we got involved in our first pennant race,” he recalled. A good-luck charm from the team’s last championship season in 1946 was tracked down, a folksy song recorded by Spike Jones entitled “Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy.” The hillbilly melody was played in the clubhouse after every victory by trainer Doc Bauman to the bemusement of the younger players.

Ken finally reached the pinnacle of 100 RBIs that eluded him in his first nine major-league seasons. He singled off reliever Galen Cisco in the seventh inning and drove in pinch-runner Gary Kolb with the winning run in a 6-5 victory over the Mets on September 4. The Cardinals won nine straight over the Phillies, Pirates, and Mets before being shut out by hard-throwing left-hander Bob Veale at Pittsburgh, 5-0, during the second game of a doubleheader on September 6. Trailing by two runs the next day, Boyer tied the game on McCarver’s sacrifice fly in the eighth inning. Flood singled to knock in Gibson, who was pinch-running for Musial, with the winning run in the ninth, 6-5. It started a 10-game winning streak that brought them within a game of the league-leading Dodgers with 10 games left in the season. “It was such a fun drive,” says Groat. “We didn’t make any mistakes whatsoever. We were playing so well.”

Taking three of four from the Pirates, the Redbirds returned to Busch Stadium for an 11-game homestand beginning September 9. Simmons, Gibson, and Sadecki pitched consecutive shutouts over the seventh-place Chicago Cubs. On September 13, Ken homered off Warren Spahn and Simmons pitched a five-hit, 7-0 shutout against the Milwaukee Braves. St. Louis was now 2 ½ games behind LA. “Sure we’re closing in on them, but we all realize we’re still behind,” said Keane after the game. “We can’t afford to lose any more. We’re just hoping that somebody hangs a couple of defeats on them.” Gibson won his 18th of the season the next day. In the first game of a doubleheader on the fifteenth, Boyer doubled and scored on White’s homer and smashed one of his own in the 3-2 victory. Sadecki held the Braves to five safeties and shut them out, 5-0. During his final plate appearance of the series, Eddie Mathews looked down at McCarver catching and told him, “You guys are going to win with everything you’ve got going for you.” Meanwhile, Los Angeles split a four-game set at Philadelphia that reduced their lead to one game over the Cardinals.

Pennant excitement was rampant in St. Louis for the first time in six years as the Dodgers came to town. Fans packed Busch Stadium for the pivotal three-game showdown. Keane was confident: “We couldn’t be more ready for this series.”

“We were playing so well,” recalls Groat. “We thought we were really going to win it. But Podres and Koufax had different ideas.”

In the opener on September 16, Broglio and Johnny Podres both pitched scoreless ball through the first five innings until Broglio yielded two hits and a walk that scored Maury Wills in the sixth. Musial tied it in the seventh with his 475th and final home run of his major-league career. It wasn’t until Broglio was lifted for reliever Bobby Shantz in the ninth that the Dodgers scored two runs to beat them, 3-1, and snapped St. Louis’s 10-game winning streak. The Cardinals managed only three hits off Podres and reliever Ron Perranoski. Boyer flied out three times and struck out to end the game.

The task was even more difficult the next evening. Sandy Koufax pitched a brilliant four-hit, 4-0 shutout to beat Simmons and Ken suffered another 0-for-4 showing. He almost put St. Louis ahead when they trailed in the seventh, 1-0. After Musial led off with a single and was lifted for pinch-runner Gary Kolb, Boyer drove a high fastball to right field. “When I hit the ball, I thought it had a chance to go out, and that at least it would hit the fence,” he recalled. “I hit the ball good.” But 6-foot-7 Frank Howard caught it against the wall and ended the rally.

St. Louis fought back in the finale and scored early in support of Gibson. Already leading, 3-1, Boyer forced Musial at second base in the third inning, advanced to second on White’s single, went to third on a wild pitch, and both scored on Curt Flood’s double to make it 5-1. Ken was hitless for the third game in a row, but made some outstanding defensive plays, including a backhanded grab on a hard-hit ball in the seventh. Gibson held the lead until the eighth when he gave up three singles and a walk that plated two runs for the Dodgers. He was relieved by Shantz, who gave up another tally. Still, the Redbirds held a one-run lead until Dick Nen—in only his second major-league plate appearance—blasted a game-tying home run with one out in the ninth that sent the contest into extra innings. Groat led off with a triple in the tenth and Boyer and White were walked intentionally to load the bases with one out. Ground outs by Flood (to force Groat out at home) and rookie Mike Shannon ended the Cardinals’ only serious extra-inning threat. Los Angeles had a more productive ground-out with the bases loaded in the thirteenth to score the deciding run, 6-5.

With a decisive three-game sweep, the Dodgers knocked off their closest competitor and flew back to the West Coast with a four-game lead and the National League pennant all but clinched.

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