Sunday, February 08, 2015

One Game

Interesting post over at Viva El Birdos this week.

If you could attend 1 Cardinals game (or baseball game, I guess, for that matter) in the past, which one would you pick?

Answers came in the later post.

Like the majority of fans now, I could have picked a lot of games I never saw with Stan Musial.  Or a World Series game I didn't see until Al Gore invented the internet.

There's certainly a long list to choose from.

Gibson's 17 strike out game.
Gibson's no hitter.
Lou Brock's 3000th hit.  Actually, I missed attending this by 1 day.
Brummer stealing home.
Ozzie Smith's homer game.
Jack Clark's homer game.
4/18/87- aka "Seat Cushion Night."  While this was no Disco Demolition night, it has entered the folklore of famous, or infamous, promotions.  It's even on Tom Herr's Wikipedia page.
2004 NLCS Game 6 with Edmond's walk-off homer.
2004 NLCS game 7.  "Good" parts are in inning 2 (Edmonds catch), inning 6 (Pujols and Rolen) and of course inning 9.
2006 NLCS game 7.
2006 WS game 5 (I recently watched this on YouTube- I had forgotten what an exciting, good game it was.  It's been all but forgotten in the aftermath of 2011).
Speaking of 2011, there's Game 6 AND Game 7.

I ended up picking a game I saw on TV when I was a college sophomore.  I picked it because of what it represented.

It was the first World Series victory I really experienced. 

Because I was so young in 1967, winning the World Series really had no significance to me.  I expected the Cardinals would always win, and remember being quite shocked when the didn't win in 1968.

Hey, a kindergartener can't have perspective on anything.

So I basically grew up rooting for the Cardinals, knowing they had done great things in the past, but never really experiencing it for myself.  I held on to '67 and '68 (and even '64) through those lean 1970 seasons, grade-middle-high school, reading as much as I could about those teams, and imagining what it would be like to see my team finally win again.

There were some years post-season baseball almost happened- '73 and '74 to be exact.  The Cardinals finished 1 1/2 games out both years.  I remember the Cubs playing a role in at least one of those unhappy endings.

June 1980 proved to be the turning point in the modern history of the Cardinals.  The hiring of Whitey Herzog.

The 1981 Cardinals had the best overall record in the NL East, but missed the playoffs by the crazy split-season invention because of the mid-season strike.

So 1982 turned out to be the year I had waited for since kindergarten.  Brummer stole home that August.  The Cardinals spent a large part of it in first. 

But by mid-September, the Phillies, who had won 5 of the last 6 NL East titles as well as the '80 WS, beat the Cardinals to briefly take first from them.  I couldn't as yet let myself believe the Cardinals could get in the post-season.

Until this game, a Cardinals win in Philly that took back 1st place for good.  With a win again the next day, for the first time I believed the team truly was better than the Phillies, good enough to win the division.  So they did.

I remember watching that first post-season game in '82, against the Braves.  Busch Stadium as I had never seen it live, with the red white and blue bunting all over.  Fortunately it was a rainout, because Phil Niekro had shut down the offense that short day.

The Cardinals then won 3 straight, one on a walk off, to win the pennant.

Was this really happening?  After 14 years?  (I wasn't quite 19 at that time, so those years really felt like an eternity).

To make things really weird, 2 of my favorite players from the growing up years, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich, who'd I'd always wanted to see play for the Cards in the WS, were playing for the Brewers.

After a Game 1 disaster, I had fears the Cardinals would be swept.

Falling behind early in Game 2 didn't help that feeling.  I had at least one big exam the next day, and I remember having to turn the game off to study,  checking back in from time to time.

The comeback, led by Darrell Porter, in the late innings helped my academics.  Who could sleep after that?  Might as well study.  At that point, the series was on!

I watched Game 3 and Game 4 at EIU, visiting with friends.  Willie's two home runs and big catches were seen on a small dorm room black and white TV.

I remember leaving to go shopping (I have no idea why except one of my friends didn't like the Cardinals) with St. Louis up big in Game 4.  The realization they lost when I got back in the car was a shock to me. Then I got back home to watch the Sunday Game 5 loss.

So the Cardinals were in the position of going home facing elimination for Game 6, down 3-2.  A theme that would repeat itself in the post-seasons of 1987, 2004, 2005 and 2011 as well.  Only in 2005 did they not win both games.

Game 6 was a laugher in the rain, finishing very late at night.

That rain ushered in the cold for the final game.

I remember that day of game 7 fairly well, being cloudy and cold.

One never wants to get this close to victory and see it slip away, but when the Cardinals took the lead early, it was hard not to think about that thing I had dreamed of most of my life.  It was so close.

So when they fell behind 3-1 with very sloppy play in the 6th inning, my countenance fell.  I had followed this team so closely since Opening Day.  And my heart was on the verge of being ripped from my chest.

Fortunately my two favorite players since 1978 still with the team, Keith Hernandez (it happened to be his birthday) and George Hendrick, came to the rescue, putting the Cardinals back in front.

And Simmons' replacement, Darrell Porter, helped finish them off by building that lead in the 8th.

The 9th inning was something I'll never forget. 

That kid with his mom at 2:27:04, when just 1 strike away, was something that caught my eye at the time of the original broadcast and an image that stuck with me all these years. 

Victory followed soon after.

So here it is, the one game I'd attend if I could.

1982 World Series. Game 7.


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