Sunday, October 4, 1964 was the final day of the regular baseball season. The New York Yankees had finally clinched the American League pennant the day before with an 8-3 victory over Cleveland at Yankee Stadium.
A five-run eighth inning did the deed. Reliever Pete Mikkelsen picked up the win in relief of Al Downing. Pete Ramos got the save, his eighth since coming to the Yankees on September 5 for two players to be named later (they turned out to be Ralph Terry and Bud Dailey).
In the National League, three teams were still alive on the final day. St. Louis and Cincinnati were tied for first, with Philadelphia one game behind.
We’ve seen how St. Louis and Cincinnati both staged September surges to come back from the dead. But now both teams were faltering.
The Cardinals had lost the first two games of their three-game series against the last place New York Mets. On Friday night, Al Jackson shut the Cards out on five hits to best Bob Gibson 1-0. On Saturday, the Mets exploded for five runs in the first inning off of 20 game winner Ray Sadecki and cruised to a 15-5 victory.
The Reds, though, had failed to capitalize. The Phillies, losers of ten straight, beat them 4-3 on Friday night. Trailing 3-0, the Phils scored four in the top of the eighth. Richie Allen drove in the second and third runs with a triple and then scored the fourth on a single by rookie (and later AL batting champion) Alex Johnson.
Some say the game turned in the bottom of the seventh when Phillies starter Chris Short hit Leo Cardenas with a pitch and the Reds shortstop charged the mound. Jim O’Toole, the Reds starter that day, believes that Cardenas thus woke up the “sleeping dog” Phillies. He also faulted Cardenas for not reaching a Frank Thomas bloop hit during the Phillies eighth inning rally.
After the game, an irate O’Toole shoved Cardenas against the locker room wall. Cardenas responded by pulling an ice pick on the pitcher, according to Frank Robinson who intervened to prevent bloodshed.
Like the Phillies before them, the Reds seemed to be buckling under the pressure of the pennant race.
The Phillies and Reds had Saturday off. If the Phillies won on Sunday, they would pull even with the Reds. If St. Louis also lost, there would be an unprecedented three way tie for the NL crown. If the Reds beat the Phils, they could do so worse than tie the Cardinals. And if the Mets beat the Cardinals a third straight time, Cincinnati would, in this scenario, claim the pennant.
The Phillies, who had played every day during the month of September, already had benefitted from two days off in October. Thus, Gene Mauch was able to pitch the grievously overworked Jim Bunning in the finale on three days rest. Cincinnati countered with journeyman John Tsitouris, who entered the contest with a 9-12 record and an ERA of 3.69.
Jim Maloney (15-10, 2.71 ERA) was the natural choice to start for the Reds. Maloney would have been working on three days rest — the same as Bunning but without having worked on two days rest during the second half of September. However, manager Dick Sisler bypassed Maloney, apparently because he had pitched 11 innings (of three-hit, shutout ball) in his previous start.
Sisler’s decision seems indefensible, but it would be a stretch to say that it cost Cincinnati the game. Bunning, back in top form, shut up the Reds on six hits.
The Phillies chased Tsitouris in the third, scoring three runs. They added another in the fifth off of Billy McCool and five more in the sixth off of Joey Jay.
There was still hope for the Reds and Phillies, though. In St. Louis, the Mets were leading the Cardinals 3-2 in the fifth inning.
St. Louis manager Johnny Keane pulled his starter Curt Simmons and brought on Bob Gibson. As noted above, Gibson had pitched Friday, hurling eight innings and losing 1-0. Thus, he was now pitching on only one day’s rest.
Galen Cisco was on the mound for the Mets. His record was 6-18, but he had a respectable 3.45 ERA (such numbers were possible on a team as bad as the Mets).
In the bottom of the fifth inning, St. Louis scored three times. The key hits were an RBI double by Ken Boyer, which chased Cisco from the game, and an RBI single by light-hitting reserve infielder Dal Maxvill.
The Mets made it 5-4 in the top of the sixth. However, the Cards scored three more in the bottom of the inning, thanks mainly to a Bill White home run.
Gibson, though far from his best, was good enough. The Cards prevailed 11-5, with Barney Schultz closing the game in the ninth inning.
St. Louis was the last team standing.
Gene Mauch had badly mismanaged the Phillies down the stretch, though it can be argued that, without him, the club would not even have been in a position to win the pennant.
Dick Sisler had blundered on the final day by starting Tsitouris. Moreover, given the Reds’ superior run differential (plus 94, compared to plus 63 for St. Louis and plus 61 for Philadelphia) it can be argued that Sisler’s team underachieved.
But let’s give credit to Johnny Keane, the St. Louis skipper. A St. Louis native, he had been in the Cardinals organization continuously since 1930 (except during World War II when he helped with the war effort) and had been a minor league manager, big league coach, or big league manager since 1938.
In 1964, on Keane’s recommendation, the Cards had made the steal of a deal that brought them Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio. On his recommendation, they had called up Barney Schultz, who first pitched for Keane in the minor leagues ten years earlier.
Yet, Keane barely made it through the 1964 season. Due to their failure to keep pace with the league leaders, the Cardinals had fired general manager Bing Devine, Keane’s close friend and protector. Management was said to be negotiating with Leo Durocher to take over as manager. Realizing that he might be sacked at any moment, Keane carried a resignation letter with him throughout the final weeks of the season.
But now, suddenly, Keane was the toast of St. Louis. The Cardinals, in the World Series for the first time since 1946, would play the New York Yankees.