Thursday, June 4, 2015

June 4, 1980: Kaat and Reitz Slam The Door On The Mets

     On June 4, 1980, Ken Reitz's tenth inning home run off of Neil Allen was the decider in 1-0 victory over the Mets at Shea Stadium in New York.  The man who put Reitz in the position to do so, was a 41-year-old Jim Kaat, who had been been purchased from the Yankees in late April. Kaat began his days on the diamond with the Washington Senators in 1959. The ten inning victory in New York made gave him his first win of the season, which was the 265th win of his career that ended with 283. It was the 31st and final shutout of his career that ended up coming to an end after 25 years in the big leagues in 1983.

     When he arrived in St. Louis, Kaat had been around the block. The Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins, where he pitched until August of 1973, when he was picked up off of waivers by the Chicago White Sox. Kaat had won 190 games, appeared in two All Star games, and won 12 Gold Gloves as a member of the Twins organization. His best season came in 1966 when he led the American League with 25 wins. Consistently in double-digits in the win column, the '66 campaign was the only season he would win 20 or more until he became a member of the White Sox and put together back-to-back 20 win seasons in 1974 and 1975. Following the '75 season Kaat was moved to Philadelphia in a five player deal. His career began to turn the corner in Philly, as his best days on the diamond were behind him.  Kaat posted a 27-30 record over four seasons in the City of Brotherly Love before being sold to the New York Yankees in May of 1979. He went 2-3 with the Yankees that season and became a fixture in the bullpen. After appearing in just four games for the Bronx Bombers in 1980 a decision was made to sell him to the Cardinals.

     It may have been the best thing to ever happen to the big lefty. He found a resurgence in St. Louis, with Ken Boyer exercising a patience with him that he felt was lacking in New York. He had felt like the Yankees were just waiting for the moment to hand him his walking papers, but fortunately they found a suitor just West of the Mississippi. Kaat was mainly a bullpen guy with the Birds. Although, he did start 14 games during that 1980 season and put up an 8-7 record. He started just three more games during his career, with two of those coming in 1982, as he helped the Cardinals win the National League Pennant. He pitched in four games out of the pen in the World Series that ended with a celebration in St. Louis. Kaat had waited his entire baseball career to celebrate like that. He was 43 years old, in his fourth decade of professional baseball, and he was finally a champion. The storybook came to a close the next season, however, he would always be remembered as a member of Cardinal Nation.

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