Tuesday, September 30, 2014

St. Louis vs. Los Angeles in the Postseason

The Cardinals and Dodgers will square off in the National League playoffs for the second consecutive year. It's the fifth postseason meeting between the Redbirds and Dodgers and the 14th between St. Louis and Los Angeles teams in the four major sports.

I covered the L.A./St. Louis playoff history last October prior to last year's NLCS. I've updated that and added a recap of last year's series below.

In the 2013 NL Division Series, the Dodgers knocked out the Braves in four and the Cardinals outlasted the upstart Pirates 3-2 to set up an NLCS showdown. Game One was the longest playoff game in Cardinals history and the second-longest for the Dodgers. Zack Greinke and Joe Kelly turned in strong starts and the score stood at 2-2 in the tenth. With runners at the corners and one out, Michael Young sent a Trevor Rosenthal pitch to right field. Carlos Beltran caught it and Mark Ellis tried to score the go-ahead run.

Beltran's throw to Yadier Molina saved the game, and he won it three innings later with this walk-off hit down the right-field line.

Game Two was an even better pitching duel between Clayton Kershaw and Michael Wacha. Kershaw took a brutally tough loss, allowing the game's only run in the sixth inning on a double, passed ball and a sacrifice fly. Wacha and the bullpen dazzled the Dodgers and struck out 13 in the seventh 1-0 postseason game in which the run was unearned.

Rk Date ▴ Series Gm# Tm Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO BF 2B 3B IBB HBP SH SF GDP SB CS WP WPA RE24 aLI # Attendance GmLen
1 1905-10-13 WS 4 PHA NYG L 0-1 8.0 5 1 0 2 6 32 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 0.216 2.722 .993 1 13,598 115
2 1921-10-13 WS 8 NYY NYG L 0-1 9.0 6 1 0 4 7 37 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 1 0 0.412 4.252 1.020 1 25,410 117
3 1986-10-18 WS 1 NYM BOS L 0-1 9.0 5 1 0 5 8 36 0 0 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0.263 3.087 1.128 2 55,076 179
4 1996-10-24 WS 5 ATL NYY L 0-1 9.0 4 1 0 5 10 36 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 0 1 0.375 3.953 1.099 2 51,881 174
5 1999-10-15 NLCS 3 NYM ATL L 0-1 9.0 3 1 0 4 8 32 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 1 0.373 3.843 .987 3 55,911 184
6 2001-10-10 NLDS 2 HOU ATL L 0-1 9.0 7 1 0 3 5 35 2 0 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 0.386 4.014 1.074 5 35,704 161
7 2013-10-12 NLCS 2 LAD STL L 0-1 8.0 2 1 0 2 5 27 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0.193 2.509 .852 3 46,872 160
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/30/2014.

Hyun-jin Ryu beat Adam Wainwright in Game Three to push L.A. back into the series, but Matt Holliday's home run in the fourth game was the deciding blow that made it 3-1 Cards. The Dodgers stayed alive with a home win in Game Five, but Kershaw was bombed in St. Louis in Game Six and the Cardinals won the pennant with a 9-0 whitewashing. 

St. Louis had their fourth pennant in ten years, but they lost the World Series to the Red Sox in six games.


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.

*** 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, Richie 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 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 had piloted the Blues 30 years earlier, Scotty Bowman.

L.A. and St. Louis met in consecutive postseasons in 2012 and 2013. In the first, 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.

In 2013, 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.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Kansas City vs. Oakland in the Postseason

The Kansas City Royals are in the postseason for the first time since before I was born (I turn 28 this week). It should be an amazing atmosphere at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night, much like Pittsburgh's PNC Park was for last year's Wild Card Game. The Oakland Athletics stumbled to a 16-30 finish, but they get a fresh start and still have the best run differential in baseball (+157).

James Shields vs. Jon Lester makes for a great pitching matchup in what will be the second Royals-Athletics postseason meeting and the fourth between Kansas City and Oakland in the Big Four North American sports postseasons. Let's take a look at the first three...

1968 AFL Divisional Round

The great Chiefs-Raiders rivalry featured playoff clashes in consecutive winters in 1968 and 1969. The Raiders had six future Hall of Famers (Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Jim Otto, George Blanda, Fred Biletnikoff and Willie Brown) and the Chiefs had seven, plus coach Hank Stram (Len Dawson, Buck Buchanan, Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier, Emmitt Thomas, Curley Culp and Jan Stenerud). Both teams went 12-2 to tie for the AFL Western Division title, forcing a tiebreaker game, one of just two during the AFL's 10-year run. The winner would be favored in the AFL title game against the Eastern Division champion New York Jets.

It was a showdown between Oakland's league-leading offense (32.4 points per game) and KC's league-leading defense (12.1), and the high-octane O rolled this time. Daryle Lamonica threw three touchdown passes in the first quarter (24-yarder to Biletnikoff, 23-yarder to Warren Wells and a 44-yarder to Biletnikoff) as the host Raiders raced out to a 21-0 lead.

The Chiefs got on the board in the second quarter, settling for two short Stenerud field goals before another Lamonica-to-Biletnikoff bomb (54 yards) netted those points back for Oakland for a 28-6 halftime advantage. The Raiders tacked on 13 points in the final frame, combining Lamonica's fifth TD pass (35 yards to Wells) with two Blanda field goals. The rout finally ended at 41-6 (NFL Films highlights).

Lamonica is one of eight quarterbacks to throw five touchdowns in a playoff game, along with Sid Luckman, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Kurt Warner, Kerry Collins, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. He and Warner are the only ones to do it in two postseason games.

The Raiders moved on to the Championship Game at Shea Stadium. They took a 23-20 lead in the fourth quarter, but Joe Namath drove the Jets down the field for the winning touchdown. Of course, the Jets' run wasn't over yet as they stunned the Colts and the football world in Super Bowl III.

1969 AFL Championship Game

A year later, the Raiders (12-1-1 under rookie head coach John Madden) and Chiefs (11-3) finished 1-2 in the AFL West and both reached a modified postseason. Now each division champ would host the runner-up of the other division in a semifinal game prior to the title bout.

The Chiefs went to New York and edged the East champion Jets 13-6 and the next day the Raiders thrashed the Oilers 56-7 behind six TD passes by Lamonica. The Chiefs, who lost to the Raiders twice during the regular season, would get another crack at their rival with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

The Raiders thought they'd breeze to the Super Bowl and even packed their bags assuming a trip to New Orleans. The K.C. defense smothered the high-flying Raiders after spotting them a first-quarter touchdown. After trailing 7-0, the Chiefs scored the next 17 points, with rushing scores by Wendell Hayes and Robert Holmes to go along with a Stenerud field goal. Emmitt Thomas had two of Kansas City's four interceptions to secure the victory in what turned out to be the final game in American Football League history. The 1969 Chiefs and 1983 Raiders (vs. Seattle) are the only teams to avenge two regular season losses with a win in the conference title game. After the Chiefs pulled a shocking 23-7 upset of the Vikings in Super Bowl IV, the NFL and AFL merged into the league we know today.

* The Chiefs and Raiders have have squared off in one other playoff game, but it was in 1991 when the Silver and Black called Los Angeles home.

1981 American League Division Series

A player strike from June 12 to August 9 forced the cancellation of 712 games and split the season into two halves. The first-half and second-half champions of each division would meet in a best-of-five series in order to reach the LCS. At the time of the strike, Billy Martin's A's had the AL's best record at 37-23, securing a spot in the West Division Series. The Royals snagged the other spot with a 30-23 second-half mark, 20-13 since replacing manager Jim Frey with Dick Howser.

Led by an outfield of Rickey Henderson, Dwayne Murphy and Tony Armas and the pitching of AL ERA leader Steve McCatty, Oakland ran up a 64-45 overall record. That was 11 games better than Kansas City at 50-53, and it showed in this October mismatch.

The A's took Game One in K.C. behind a four-hit shutout from Mike Norris. Dennis Leonard pitched well for the home team, but a fourth-inning George Brett error at third opened the door for Wayne Gross' three-run homer. Murphy took Leonard deep in the eighth for the final tally in a 4-0 Oakland win.

McCatty was given a lead in the next game before he even took the mound in the first inning. Murphy singled off Royals starter Mike Jones and he came around on an Armas double. In the fifth, the Royals tied the score with three straight two-out singles by John Wathan, U.L. Washington and Willie Wilson. The 1-1 score held until the top of the eighth, when Murphy led off with a single, moved up on Cliff Johnson's bunt and scored on another Armas two-bagger. McCatty wriggled out of trouble in the bottom half before a 1-2-3 ninth sent the A's home with a 2-0 series lead.

Oakland closed it out in front of the home fans two days later in Game Three. Armas once again drove in the game's first run in the opening frame, this time with a single off Larry Gura (19:45 mark in above video). Murphy stroked run-scoring hits in the third and fourth innings (and was also thrown out trying to steal home) to go with Dave McKay's solo shot and the A's led 4-1 through four. The Royals came back with four hits in the fifth, but could not score against Rick Langford thanks to Clint Hurdle getting picked off second base and George Brett's bases-loaded popout. Langford scattered 10 hits in seven and one-third innings, but only allowed one run in one of just nine playoff games with double-digit hits and one or no runs. Tom Underwood and Dave Beard recorded the final five outs for a 4-1 victory and 3-0 series sweep.

The A's waited as the East Division Series went the full five games, with the Yankees outlasting the Brewers. Martin went back to New York to face his former team and they gave his club a whooping even worse than the one they had just given to K.C. The Yankees batted .336 as a team and outscored Oakland 20-4 in a three-game sweep.

Salvador Perez Eric Hosmer Omar Infante Alcides Escobar Mike Moustakas Alex Gordon Lorenzo Cain Nori Aoki Billy Butler Jarrod Dyson Danny Valencia Josh Willingham Kelvin Herrera Wade Davis Greg Holland Derek Norris Adam Dunn Brandon Moss Stephen Vogt Josh Donaldson Jed Lowrie Coco Crisp Sam Fuld Josh Reddick Dan Otero Ryan Cook Luke Gregerson Eric O'Flaherty Sean Doolittle