Friday, October 11, 2013

Los Angeles vs. St. Louis in the Postseason

The Cardinals and Dodgers will play for the National League pennant for the first time since 1985. It's the fourth playoff meeting between the Redbirds and Dodgers and the 13th between St. Louis and Los Angeles teams in the four major sports.

Year Round St. Louis Los Angeles Result
1985 NLCS Cardinals Dodgers Cardinals 4-2
2004 NLDS Cardinals Dodgers Cardinals 3-1
2009 NLDS Cardinals Dodgers Dodgers 3-0
Year Round St. Louis Los Angeles Result
1975 Divisional Cardinals Rams Rams 35-23
Year Round St. Louis Los Angeles Result
1961 West Finals Hawks Lakers Lakers 4-3
1963 West Finals Hawks Lakers Lakers 4-3
1964 West Semis Hawks Lakers Hawks 3-2
1966 West Finals Hawks Lakers Lakers 4-3
Year Round St. Louis Los Angeles Result
1969 Semifinals Blues Kings Blues 4-0
1998 West Quarters Blues Kings Blues 4-0
2012 West Semis Blues Kings Kings 4-0
2013 West Quarters Blues Kings Kings 4-2

The 1985 NLCS was tied at two games apiece with the home team taking all four games. The next two were classics. In Game Five, Fernando Valenzuela was shaky for L.A. as he walked eight in eight innings, but he only allowed two runs. Ken Forsch was knocked out in the fourth for the Cards, but Ken Dayley, Todd Worrell and Jeff Lahti kept it a 2-2 game. Tom Niedenfuer relieved Valenzuela in the bottom of the ninth and faced switch-hitter Ozzie Smith with one out. The Wizard was never a power hitter. Coming into the at bat, he'd had 4,889 career plate appearances (including playoffs) and hit 13 home runs, all from the right side. Batting lefty, he did the unexpected.

Folks did indeed go crazy, and the Cardinals took a 3-2 series lead out west. The Dodgers led Game Six 4-1, but St. Louis scored three in the top of the seventh, tying it when Ozzie got to Niedenfuer again for an RBI triple. Mike Marshall homered in the eighth to put L.A. back in front. Niedenfuer recorded two outs in the ninth, but the Redbirds had runners at second and third. Tommy Lasorda wondered if he should pitch to slugger Jack Clark or walk him to face, as Vin Scully put it, "that so-and-so Van Slyke." He chose to pitch to Clark...

Welp, that didn't work out. It was a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth and the Cardinals won the pennant. 

The two teams wouldn't meet in the postseason until 2004, when the Cards won 105 games and the N.L. Central while the Dodgers took the West with 93 W's. The powerful St. Louis club eased their way into the NLCS in four games, but the most memorable part of the series was the game they lost. The Cards won 8-3 in both of the first two games. L.A. was up against the wall in Game Three, but Jose Lima staved off elimination with a five-hit shutout.

St. Louis rolled 6-2 the next night to wrap up the series.

They played again in the NLDS five years later. The Dodgers took the opener, but thanks in part to a Matt Holliday homer, the Cardinals led 2-1 in the ninth inning of Game Two. St. Louis was one strike away from tying the series, but then this happened:

Oof. Error-walk-tying single-passed ball-walk-winning single. The Dodgers closed out the sweep two days later. Now they meet again in what should be a terrific NLCS.

*** It's worth noting one Cardinals-Dodgers showdown that isn't technically a postseason meeting. In 1946, the Cards were seven games behind Brooklyn on the Fourth of July, but they used a four-game sweep to help wipe out the whole deficit in two weeks. They went back and forth the rest of the way and they ended the regular season tied at 96-58, forcing a best-of-three playoff for the pennant.

The first game was at Sportsman's Park where Howie Pollet outpitched Ralph Branca for a complete-game 4-2 victory. Pollet's extra game broke a tie with Johnny Sain for the N.L. lead in wins and it kept his ERA at a league-leading 2.10. Joe Garagiola had three hits and drove in two and Stan Musial tripled and scored twice. Unfortunately for Branca, this would not be his most notable defeat.

The series shifted to Ebbets Field and the hometown Dodgers got on the board in the first inning, but quickly gave up a pair in the second. It was still 2-1 with two outs in the fifth when the Cards broke it open against Brooklyn starter Joe Hatten. Musial doubled and after an intentional walk, Enos Slaughter smoked a two-run triple before scoring himself on Erv Dusak's hit. There would be plenty of support for Redbirds righty Murry Dickson, who took an 8-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth. The Dodgers rallied, scoring twice and knocking out Dickson with one away. Southpaw Harry Brecheen entered in relief and gave up another hit and a walk to make it 8-4 and load the bases. He buckled down to strike out Eddie Stanky to record the second out, bringing up Dick Whitman (not that Dick Whitman). Brooklyn skipper Leo Durocher elected to pinch hit righty Howie Schultz for the lefty Whitman, but Schultz struck out to end the game.

The Cardinals won the pennant and took on the Red Sox in the World Series. Brecheen had complete-game wins in Games Two and Six before coming in from the bullpen and winning Game Seven as well.


We've had one St. Louis-Los Angeles NFL playoff game and neither team exists anymore. The St. Louis Cardinals, coached by Don "Air" Coryell, beat out the Cowboys for the NFC East title in 1975. They visited the West champion L.A. Rams, whose quarterback James Harris was down with an injury. Young Ron Jaworski made his second career start in a divisional-round playoff game.

Jaws ran for a touchdown, passed for another and watched his defense score two more on pick-sixes off Jim Hart as the Rams won 35-23. Lawrence McCutcheon rumbled for 202 yards on 37 carries. Since 1960, only four players have rushed for more yards and only three have toted it more in a playoff game.

Harris was put back in the lineup for the NFC Championship Game and L.A. was stomped by the wild-card Cowboys 37-7.

After the 1987 season, the Cardinals moved to Phoenix. Football returned to St. Louis in 1995, when the Rams moved from Los Angeles.


On to the hardwood, where the Bob Pettit/Lenny Wilkens Hawks squared off with the Elgin Baylor/Jerry West Lakers four times in a six-year span in the 1960s.

St. Louis won 51 games in 1961 to win the Western Division, 15 games ahead of the second-place sub-.500 Lakers. L.A. beat Detroit in the 2-vs-3 Division Semis to move on to St. Louis. 

Baylor poured in 44 in the opener and 47 in the fifth game to give the Lakers a 3-2 lead and a chance to complete the upset at home. But Pettit put up a ho-hum 31-point 21-rebound performance to pull out an overtime win and force a seventh game. Back at home, Pettit posted 31 and 17 in Game Seven. That was enough to beat Baylor's 39 points (he averaged 37 in the series) and the Hawks won by two. They lost to the Celtics in the Finals in five games.

They met again in the West Finals two seasons later, this time with the Lakers as the top seed. The home team won all seven games by an average of 12 points and the Lakers won another West crown before falling to Boston again in six games.

In 1964, Wilt Chamberlain's San Francisco Warriors won the regular season division title, relegating Hawks-Lakers to a best-of-five conference semifinal. St. Louis won the first two games, but nearly coughed up the series before winning Game Five at home. They used a balanced attack as Pettit, Wilkens, Richei Guerin, Cliff Hagan and Zelmo Beaty each averaged 14+ points in the playoffs. They pushed the Warriors to a seventh game, but Wilt was too much as the Warriors reached the NBA Finals.

1966 brought the fourth matchup in six years, the third one that was for the Western Division title. L.A. jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, but the Hawks took two elimination games to force the decisive seventh game. In that one, West scored 35 points and Baylor added 33 more to win it for the Lakers before yet another crushing NBA Finals defeat at the hands of the Celtics.


There were four NBA playoff meetings between these two cities and there have been four in the NHL as well. The first was in 1969, when the Blues and Kings were both expansion teams in their second season. They both made the playoffs in their inaugural seasons, with the Kings bowing out in the first round and the Blues going to the Finals.

They met head-to-head in year two. St. Louis was by far the best in the West, led by coach Scotty Bowman (yes, he goes back that far). Goalies Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante shared Vezina honors before the Blues swept the Flyers by a combined score of 17-3 to reach the West Finals. The Kings had a tougher road, upsetting the Oakland Seals in a seven-game first-round set. St. Louis swept L.A. in four games to win the West again before they were swept themselves by the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Finals for the second straight year. St. Louis went to the Finals for the third straight time in 1970 but was swept again, this time by the Boston Bruins on Bobby Orr's famous clinching overtime goal.

The Kings and Blues wouldn't battle in the playoffs again until 1998. This was a fun St. Louis team, with Brett Hull, Pierre Turgeon, Chris Pronger, Al MacInnis and Grant Fuhr. They took down Luc Robitaille, Rob Blake and the Kings 4-0 in the first round of the postseason with a pair of one-goal wins in L.A. St. Louis was beaten in the next round by the eventual champion Red Wings, who were coached by the man who coached the Blues 30 years earlier, Scotty Bowman.

L.A. and St. Louis have met in each of the last two postseasons. In 2012, the 2-seeded Blues must have been thrilled when the 8-seeded Kings stunned the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks in the first round. But Los Angeles tore through the Blues as well, sweeping them thanks in part to goalie Jonathan Quick. The Kings beat 3-seeded Phoenix in the West Finals before dispatching the Devils to complete an amazing run to their first Stanley Cup victory.

Last season, the Blues edged the defending champs by one point to gain home-ice advantage in the 4-5 first-round matchup. It was a great series as all six games were one-goal affairs. The Blues won the first two at home, with the opener going to overtime and the second game decided on a last-minute goal. But L.A. evened the series with two home victories before taking control with a overtime win in St. Louis in Game Five. The Kings returned home to close out the series with their fourth straight win. L.A. beat San Jose in the next round in seven games before the Blackhawks ousted them in five in the West Finals.

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