On July 23, 1949, in front of 28,396 Dodger faithful at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn the Cardinals found themselves down to their last strike, before Marty Marion and Joe Garagiola came up with clutch hits that propelled the club to a 5-4 win over the hometown Dodgers.
The Birds had fought an uphill battle throughout, as they trailed 2-1 after two, and 3-1 after six, before tying it up in the seventh, only to have the Bums retake the lead in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single by Jackie Robinson. Despite the four runs on the board the Cardinals starter Gerry Staley had kept the team in it until he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the eighth. While the strategy failed to produce a run, the reliever Ted Wilks made quick work of the Dodgers in the bottom of the inning, before the Cardinals offense got one more shot at the plate. It was an opportunity that would not be wasted, as Stan Musial was issued a free pass to lead off the ninth, which was just the beginning of a rally that would put the Birds just a half game out of first place.
The walk to Musial led the Dodgers skipper Burt Shotton to calling on Erv Palica to shut the door. Palica immediately gave up a single to Nippy Jones, before the momentum looked to shift right back toward the Dodgers as Enos Slaughter smoked a ball right at Gil Hodges who raced to the bag before Jones could get back for an unassisted double play. Just like that there were two outs, and Musial was still standing on second base. Moments later Musial dashed to third on a passed ball, then watched his teammate Lou Klein reach with another walk. The boys were in business.
Lou Klein was the next man up, and he was only in the game because All Star third baseman Eddie Kazak sprained his ankle in the second inning after knocking in the first Cardinals run of the day with a double. Klein was issued the second free pass of the inning as the Cardinals refused to go quietly. Marty Marion then stepped in and fell behind 0-2, before fouling off the next two, then as Klein broke for second on the hit and run, Marion connected with a single to right that brought Musial into score the game tying run, as Klein dashed all the way to third. Joe Garagiola followed Marion with a shot past Pee Wee Reese at short that brought Klein into score what proved to be the game winner. Wilks looked to give the Bums a breath of life with a two out walk in the bottom of the frame, but he quickly knocked the wind right out of that sail as Duke Snider struck out looking to end the game. One helluva comeback right there.
The injury that the 28-year-old suffered was not considered very serious at the time, although it proved to be much more severe than realized as the papers of the day speculated he would be out two weeks. It turned into much more than that as the third baseman played in just five more games in late September. The injury ultimately changed the career path of Kazak who had just appeared in his first All Star game. Tommy Glaviano stepped in at third and played well enough that Kazak became a bench player the following year and thereafter as well.
The Cardinals took sole ownership of the next day with as Stan Musial hit for the cycle during a 14-1 blowout against that same Dodgers team. The Cardinals held onto first place the majority of the way as they stormed down the stretch. However, those Brooklyn Bums hot on their heels, as the Birds never held more than a 2.5 game lead. With that said there was stretch between August 17th and September 27th that the Cardinals did not trail in the standings. Unfortunately for the Cards the season did not end on the 27th of September. They dropped one to the Pirates that day, then lost another to the Pittsburgh crew, before dropping two to the Cubs. The four game stretch spelled doom for the hopes of a pennant even though they did end on a high note by knocking off the Cubs 13-5 on the final day of the season.
If it were today the two teams would have had a shot at meeting in the playoffs, but since this happened 20 years before the playoff expansion in baseball there was one winner in the National League, and one winner in the American League. While the Dodgers took the NL crown they were not able to take the World Series crown as they fell to the Yankees in the Fall Classic four games to one. The Cardinals fell just one game short that season of the goal with 96 wins. Still a great year by most standards, just a bittersweet ending. While there was no run in October I believe that Summer of '49 was a great one in St. Louis. Stan Musial belted 36 homers, led the league in triples with 41, and carried a .338 average. He finished right behind Jackie Robinson in the MVP voting. I am sure there was disappointment, but I am also sure those men held their head high as they had gave it their all.
The Summer of '49 also highlighted what was once a great rivalry between the Dodgers and Cardinals. The two clubs had battled each other throughout the 40's. In 1941, the Cardinals won 97 games, but it was not enough as the Dodgers took the flag with 100 wins even. In '42, the Cardinals snatched the flag from their grasp with a 106 win season, while the Dodgers put 104 in the win column. Another great race came in '46 as the two teams once again battled to the end with the Cardinals prevailing with 98 wins compared to Brooklyn's 96. Unfortunately for those in Cardinal Nation the pendulum swung back toward the Dodgers during the last three years of the decade, but the rivalry was great.
With the recent series between the two clubs it might seem like there is a rivalry heating up once again, but the rivalry will never come close to those days in the 1940's. Not even close. While I like every other Cardinals fan was annoyed with the Kershaw love festival that ESPN put on the other day, I did come to the realize that we should enjoy the hell out of this. Rivalries are fun, and they bring out the best in the teams you are watching. They might not reach the peak of yesteryear, but I can guarantee you this: there will be a day that we look at this era of Cardinals baseball as a fond memory. Win or lose, be sure to enjoy it.
Check out the box score here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BRO/BRO194907230.shtml