This day in baseball history — Lefty debuts

The 1965 baseball season opened on April 12. By far the wildest game of the day took place at Wrigley Field, where the Chicago Cubs hosted the world champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Fans had every right to expect a pitchers duel. World Series hero Bob Gibson was on the mound for St. Louis. For the Cubs it was ex-Card Larry Jackson, coming off a 24-11 season.

But Jackson failed to survive the first inning, in which the Cardinals scored five times. Gibson failed to make through the bottom of the fourth, by which time the Cubs had put six runs on the board (but trailed 7-6).

In relief of Gibson, Tracy Stallard (famous for delivering the pitch Roger Maris hit for home run 61) restored order. Heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, St. Louis led 9-6.

Stallard retired the first two Cubs in the ninth, but walked Ron Santo. George Altman then singled. It was the only hit Stallard allowed in more than 4.0 innings.

Cards manager Red Schoendienst, who had taken over the reins when World Series winning skipper Johnny Keane jumped to the New York Yankees, called on Barney Schultz to face Ernie Banks. The 38 year-old knuckleballer had pitched brilliantly down the stretch for St. Louis in 1964. However, the Yankees rocked him in the World Series, not just with Mickey Mantle’s walk-off home run in Game 3, but a homer by light hitting Phil Linz.

Banks followed in the footsteps of Mantle and Linz. His three-run home run tied the game at 9-9.

Neither team scored in the 10th inning. Because Wrigley Field lacked lights, the 11th inning would be the last.

St. Louis took a 10-9 lead in the top of the inning. Singles by Dave Ricketts (a former college basketball star who was playing because of injuries to Tim McCarver and Bob Uecker), Curt Flood, and Lou Brock did the deed.

Schultz was still pitching to start the bottom of the 11th. Rookie shortstop Roberta Pena, who had committed three errors, led off for the Cubs with a single. He took second on a passed ball by Ricketts. Billy Williams grounded out, but Santo doubled in the tying run.

Up stepped George Altman with the winning run in scoring position.

Altman was a left-handed batter. He did not hit left-handed pitchers well, having batted under .200 against them in 1964. Schultz, moreover, was considerably less effective against lefties than against righties.

Accordingly, the situation called for either (1) replacing Schultz with a southpaw or (2) walking Altman intentionally. The second option seemed out of the question with Ernie Banks due up next.

Steve Carlton was the only left-handed reliever on Schoendienst’s staff — evidence that, 50 years ago, managers didn’t obsess about lefty-righty matchups. The Cards cut southpaw Mike Cuellar, later a huge star in Baltimore, just before the start of the season.

Carlton was 20 years old. He had spent most of the previous season, his first in organized baseball, at Rock Hill in the South Atlantic League (low-A ball). Unhitable at that level (10-1; 1.03 ERA), he was promoted to Tulsa (double-A) where he pitched effectively in a 24 inning stint.

Carlton dazzled the Cardinals hierarchy in spring training and gained a spot on 28-man opening day roster. It may also have been that special rules required the Cards to keep him on the opening-day roster or risk having him claimed (I wasn’t able to determine this). But Schoendienst must have thought that Carlton belonged in the majors because he brought him in to pitch to a good veteran hitter with the game on the line.

Unfortunately, “Lefty” walked Altman. That was the end of his major league debut. Bob Purkey replaced him. He got a fly ball out from Banks, walked Doug Clemens intentionally, and retired sub catcher Vic Roznovsky.

The game ended 10-10.

Failure to hold their leads in this contest cost the Cardinals a .500 season. The game was never completed or made up, and St. Louis ended the year 80-81 — quite a come down from their pennant winning 93-69 record the previous year.

In June, the Cards picked up veteran left-handed reliever Hal Woodeshick. Carlton, who pitched sparingly up until then, was sent back to the minors soon aftewards. He returned to St. Louis in late August.

For the season, Carlton pitched 25 innings for St. Louis to an impressive ERA of 2.52, with no decisions. His debut notwithstanding, control wasn’t a problem. Carlton walked 8 batters on the year.

1966 followed a similar pattern for Carlton. But in 1967, he assumed his place in the Cardinals rotation, and St. Louis won the World Series.

For his career, Carlton won 329 games, 78 more than fellow Hall of Famer Bob Gibson.


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