On April 12, 1916, with one out in the ninth, at Robison Field in St. Louis a 20-year-old Rogers Hornsby stepped to the dish, with a man on third, and laid down what may have been considered a lucky bunt to squeeze in the winning run during a 2-1 victory over the Pirates on Opening Day.
Both clubs faced tough pitching with Erv Kantlehner going for the Buccos, while Bill Doak stood on the mound for the Birds. They were locked into a scoreless battle until the seventh, when the Pirates put one on the board. The run scored started with rightfielder Bill Hinchman singling up the middle. Honus Wagner followed him with an infield hit, then after the two runners were sacrificed over to second and third, the Pirates shortstop Jimmy Smith ripped one toward the Cardinals first baseman Dots Miller who could not handle the ball. Hinchman scored, then Doak was able to retire the next man, before Wagner was thrown out trying to steal home.
The momentum shifted in the bottom of the seventh, as the Cardinals took advantage of a Pirates error that tied the ballgame. The run came with one out and Cardinals second baseman Bruno Betzel shooting one straight to Jimmy Smith. The shortstop came up firing to first, and threw the ball into the grandstands, as Betzel made his way all the way to third before the ball could be wrangled. Hornsby then stepped in and made the most of it by knocking a game tying single into right. Kantlehner limited the damage to the lone run, but he would be haunted by another error in the ninth that led to Hornsby's walk off squeeze play.
second, then took third after the Pirates catcher Art Wilson overthrew trying to gun him down. Strategy started to come into play, with Hornsby coming up the Pirates skipper Jimmy Callahan decided he was going to load the bases to get to the pitcher. Callahan knew the Hornsby was going to try and squeeze in the winner, so the strategy seemed like a sound one. Callahan wanted to hide the intentional walk, so he instructed Kantlehner to pitch him wide. However, one of those pitches sailed straight in on Hornsby who was falling away when he put his bat on the ball. The sphere fell to the ground within the baselines, and Betzel broke for home, as Hornsby broke for first. Before Kantlehner could make a play Betzel had score. Hornsby was a walk off hero.
This was the first Opening Day that Rogers Hornsby experienced as a Major League Baseball player. He had played 18 games with the club during the latter part of the 1915 season, hitting just .246. When that season ended he looked like a kid who needed to put more work in if he was going to be able to make it at the major league level. Hornsby did exactly that. He spent the offseason on his Father's farm working and added 25 pounds of muscle. That work paid off, as he hit .313 on the season, which was good for the highest average in the National League. Things were just getting started for the kid who was destined to become a legend.
If you would like to educate yourself more about the life of Rogers Hornsby check out this biography here: http://www.rogershornsby.com/bio.htm
Check out the box score of Horsnby's first Opening Day here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLN/SLN191604120.shtml
Both articles appeared in the Pittsburgh Press the following day.