Greatest Cardinal Moment Tournament: First Round, Branch Rickey Regional, 7-10 Matchup

We had a matchup of postseason glory versus legendary power this morning, so if you missed that, go check it out.  This afternoon, we look at two very different postseason moments that both have reverberated through time.

#7 Grover Cleveland Alexander strikes out Tony Lazzeri in the World Series (1926)

vs

#10 Tom Lawless flips his bat in the World Series (1987)

As you know, this tournament has a bias toward the more current moments.  In part that’s because the current stretch of Cardinal baseball is some of the best that there has ever been and there are so many great moments.  However it’s also because these are moments we saw, moments that we could watch and internalize and replay in our minds for years and years.

That doesn’t mean that Cardinal history didn’t happen before 1996 or before 1982 or even before 1964.  There were lots of amazing moments and great events that happened before those dates, but they are hamstrung a bit by the fact that only the people alive then really could experience them and even that was often secondhand unless they happened to be at the ballpark.

Our first moment is a bit like that, but there’s been plenty of legend surrounding the whole thing.  Some folks want to believe it was the last out of the game, but it wasn’t.  That said, the concept “high-leverage” hadn’t come into the lexicon yet, but it certainly was in play here.

After years of misery and disappointment, the Cardinals were in their first World Series at the end of 1926, facing off against the New York Yankees.  While the Yanks didn’t necessarily have all the mystique that they have now, they were well on their way to accumulating it.  This was a team with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, after all.  A team that, the next season, would invoke the term “Murderer’s Row” for the first time.  There’s no doubt that the team from New York was the heavy favorite.

The Series was a back and forth affair with no team ever getting more than a one game lead.  A 10-2 victory by the Cardinals brought them into a decisive Game 7.  The winning pitcher of that game, Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander, went the distance and allowed just eight hits.

The game was in New York and Ruth provided the first bit of scoring when he put a ball into the seats in the third inning.  The Cardinals not only answered but went ahead in the fourth when Bob O’Ferrell hit a fly ball with the bases loaded that Bob Meusel muffed for an error and Tommy Thevenow singled in two runs.

It stayed 3-1 until the sixth, when the Yankees cut the lead in half.  It was still 3-2 in the seventh when starter Jesse Haines got into a bit of trouble.  A single, an intentional walk to Ruth, and another walk to Gehrig were bunched around a couple of outs.  However, the Yankees seemed to be set to take the lead when Tony Lazzeri was presented with that bases loaded, two out scenario.  1926 was the first year of what would be a Hall of Fame career for Lazzeri and he’d hit .275 with 18 homers, showing himself to be just another threat in this lineup.

Now, legend has it that Pete, not expecting to be used the next day, went out and had a few adult beverages after winning Game 6.  Alexander denied that happened, saying that player-manager Rogers Hornsby had told him he might be needed.  While the story of him coming into a huge game with a hangover is compelling, it really doesn’t seem that was the case.  It was a tense moment.  Here’s how an article on the SABR website details the at-bat:

With Combs on third, Meusel on second, and Gehrig on first Alexander started Lazzeri off as planned, a fastball high and inside for ball one. Working quickly and with no windup the wily veteran brought the next pitch, another fastball, down across the inside corner of the plate for a strike. He took a little off the third offering but delivered it close to the same spot as the previous pitch. This time Lazzeri swung hard lifting the ball deep down the left-field line. Hornsby at second watched, fearing the worst. The Yankees bench jumped on to the dugout steps as the ball climbed toward the left-field bleachers. All 38,093 in the stands leapt to their feet certain that the young slugger had knocked one out of the park. And then as it sped toward the fence the ball began to bend just a bit to the left. It returned to earth well beyond the fence but a few feet in foul territory — nothing more than a long second strike. On the mound Alexander, as calm as ever, ended the drama just as he had promised: a tantalizing curve low and outside. Lazzeri took the bait. He swung hard but completely missed the ball. The immediate Yankees threat was over but there were still two innings to play.

Alexander finished the game, which ended on another memorable moment that we saw over at Cardsblog last week.  The Cardinals were World Champions for the first of 11 (to date) times.

Our next moment didn’t lead to a World Series win but it was an October moment nonetheless.  The 1987 World Series between the Cardinals and the Twins was the first Series where the home team won every game.  Which meant that the Series stood 2-1 in favor of Minnesota (since the AL had home field advantage that season) when Game 4 at Busch rolled around.

The score stood 1-1 when the bottom of the fourth inning started.  Catcher Tony Pena started it off with a walk and moved to third on a single by Jose Oquendo.  That brought third baseman Tom Lawless to the plate.  Lawless was hitting eighth in the lineup and, let’s be fair, he’d earned that spot.  If Tony La Russa had been around, Lawless might have hit ninth.  He only had 29 at bats in ’87 and hit .080.  He had one career home run as he stood in that October night and that came in his rookie season of 1984.  So, of course, this happened.

Today, that would have had ESPN and talk radio going for at least a week. How dare a guy like that flip his bat so dramatically?  It’s an amazing part of Cardinal lore though and, to be fair, probably the only reason anyone remembers the name Tom Lawless.

The Cardinals scored three more times that inning to win the game 7-2.  Lawless hit another home run in 1988, but only had a total of 170 more at bats in the big leagues until his career was through in 1990.  That flip, though…

So, which World Series moment matters most?  The one you’ve heard about or the one you’ve seen?  The sizzle or the flash?  Vote below and remember that The Intrepid STL will have two more matchups tomorrow!

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