Friday, October 10, 2014

St. Louis vs. San Francisco in the Postseason

Yup, once again the Cardinals or the Giants will win the National League pennant this year. Both teams scored NLDS upsets and will square off for a spot in the World Series. Already the fifth pair of teams to alternate as their league's champion for four straight years, the Giants hope they become the first to do it for five consecutive years.

1916-19 Red Sox, White Sox, Red Sox, White Sox
1925-28 Pirates, Cardinals, Pirates, Cardinals
1995-98 Indians, Yankees, Indians, Yankees
2010-14 Giants, Cardinals, Giants, Cardinals

As I wrote on Wednesday, the combined record of the two clubs is the second-worst of the 90 League Championship Series that have been played. 

This will be the fourth time the Giants and Cardinals will meet in the playoffs, all in the NLCS. Adding in the NFL, NBA and NHL as well, it will be the 11th San Francisco/St. Louis postseason showdown.

1987 NLCS

The 95-win Cardinals hosted the first two games against the 90-win Giants, who were making their first playoff appearance in 16 years. The two clubs brawled a year earlier and now were fighting for a spot in the Fall Classic.

St. Louis won the opener with a tie-breaking three-run rally in the sixth inning off Rick Reuschel, but Dave Dravecky helped the Giants even the series with a two-hit shutout.

It was during that second game that Giants left fielder Jeffrey Leonard rankled the Cardinals with his "one flap down" home run trot. Maybe they were also ticked that it was his second homer in as many games and he'd hit a couple more too.

Game Three featured another Leonard homer:

That gave the Giants a 4-0 lead, but Atlee Hammaker and Don Robinson couldn't hold it, allowing two runs in the sixth and three in the seventh. Todd Worrell worked a nine-out save to lock down a 6-4 win that pushed the Redbirds back in front.

San Francisco slugged their way back into it the next night, however, as Leonard homered yet again, with Robby Thompson and Bob Brenly adding dingers as well in a 4-2 win. Leonard was the first player to go deep in each of the first four games of a postseason series. He has since been joined by Juan Gonzalez (1996 ALDS vs. Yankees) and Carlos Beltran (2004 NLCS vs. Cardinals). The game is also notable in that both Giants righty Mike Krukow and Cardinals righty Danny Cox pitched complete games, the last playoff game in which both starters went the distance.

Game Five swung to the Giants thanks to a four-run fourth inning keyed by Jose Uribe's bases-loaded single. Reuschel was pinch-hit for during the frame, and reliever Joe Price retired 15 of the 17 batters he faced to preserve a 6-3 victory and put St. Louis on the ropes.

When the Giants headed back to Missouri just one win from the pennant, little did they know that they wouldn't plate a run for the rest of the series. Dravecky was great again in Game Six, but John Tudor outdueled him 1-0. The game's only tally came in on Tony Pena's triple and Jose Oquendo's sacrifice fly.

The Cardinals took control early in Game Seven. Terry Pendleton, Pena and Willie McGee stroked singles to post a 1-0 lead, but it was the light-hitting Oquendo who struck the big blow.

After hitting only one home run all season (a game-tying shot against the Giants), Oquendo gave St. Louis a 4-0 advantage. On the mound Cox scattered eight hits, all singles, in a 6-0 complete-game shutout. The eight hits allowed are the most in a sudden-death game without an extra-base hit (tied with Nolan Ryan and Adam Wainright).

Despite being on the losing end of the series, Leonard was named Most Valuable Player of the Series. Fred Lynn (1982 ALCS) and Mike Scott (1986 NLCS) are the only other LCS MVP's from the losing team.

In the World Series, the Cardinals lost the first two games in Minnesota, then came home and won three straight, but dropped two more at the Metrodome and lost in seven games.

2002 NLCS

In the first round of the 2002 playoffs, St. Louis swept the defending champion Diamondbacks while the Giants ground out a five-game win over the Braves.

San Francisco rode five homers to a pair of wins in St. Louis to start the series, but none off the bat of Barry Bonds. Kenny Lofton, David Bell and Benito Santiago went yard in a 9-6 opening victory and Rich Aurilia's two homers in Game Two backed up Jason Schmidt's stellar pitching (7.2 IP, 1 R) to win 4-1.

In a near must-win scenario in Game Three, the Cards responded. Mike Matheny and Jim Edmonds homered for a 4-1 fifth-inning lead. But Barry Bonds rocked a three-run homer off Chuck Finley to tie game and send Pac Bell Park and broadcaster Mike Krukow into a frenzy.

The euphoria would not last for long. Jay Witasick's second pitch in the top of the sixth was swatted out by Eli Marrero for the deciding home run in a 5-4 St. Louis win.

Game Four was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and nobody on. Bonds received one of his many intentional walks, which passed the baton to Benito Santiago. The 37-year-old catcher cracked a two-run homer to put the Giants ahead. Closer Robb Nen allowed a run in the ninth, but still struck out the side to lock it up, 4-3.

The next night, Giants lefty Kirk Reuter and Cards right-hander Matt Morris battled for six scoreless innings. St. Louis broke the deadlock in the seventh, but a Bonds sacrifice fly tied it an inning later. Morris got two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth before singles from David Bell and Shawon Dunston chased him from the game. Tony LaRussa brought in lefty Steve Kline to face Kenny Lofton...

It is one of nine times that a team won the League Championship Series in walk-off fashion:

1972 NLCS G5 - Reds d. Pirates 4-3 on Bob Moose wild pitch that scored George Foster
1976 NLCS G3 - Reds d. Phillies 7-6 on Ken GriffeySr. 1B
1976 ALCS G5 - Yankees d. Royals 7-6 on Chris Chambliss HR
1978 NLCS G4 - Dodgers d. Phillies 4-3 on Bill Russell 1B (10th inning)
1992 NLCS G7 - Braves d. Pirates 3-2 on Francisco Cabrera two-run 1B
1999 NLCS G6 - Braves d. Mets 10-9 on Andrew Jones bases-loaded walk against Kenny Rogers (11th inning)
2002 NLCS G5 - Giants d. Cardinals 2-1 on Kenny Lofton 1B
2003 ALCS G7 - Yankees d. Red Sox 6-5 on Aaron Boone HR (11th inning)
2006 ALCS G4 - Tigers d. Athletics 6-3 on Magglio Ordonez three-run HR

The Giants led the World Series against the Angels 3-2, but an excruciating loss in Game Six set up a Game Seven defeat to continue their now-dead title drought.

2012 NLCS

This series is the only one in the history of the LCS that featured the two most recent World Series champs (Giants 2010, Cardinals 2011).

St. Louis roughed up Madison Bumgarner in Game One. The standout lefty served up two-run homers to David Freese and Carlos Beltran as the visiting Cards won 6-4. The tables turned in Game Two when the Giants took advantage of Chris Carpenter's throwing error by scoring four runs in the fourth inning of a 7-1 victory.

The series shifted to Missouri, where Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright beat Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum in consecutive games to put the Cards up 3-1. Now all that stood between the Cardinals and another trip to the Fall Classic was a home game against replacement-level, big-contract albatross Barry Zito and his 4.15 ERA (85 ERA+).

The lefty turned in seven and two-thirds innings of six-hit shutout ball in a 5-0 win that gave the Giants new life and sent everyone back to the West Coast.

It was all Giants in Game Six. Brandon Belt tripled to start the second inning and he scored on shortstop Pete Kozma's error. That opened the gates for eventual Series MVP (14-for-28 in the series) Marco Scutaro's two-run double and when the dust settled it was 5-0. That would be plenty for Ryan Vogelsong, who struck out nine, allowed only one run in seven frames and won, 6-1 .

If the Giants seemed to be a Team of Destiny by this point, they made it official in Game Seven. Already up 2-0 in the third, they loaded the bases with no outs, sending the starter Lohse out for Joe Kelly. Hunter Pence came up and delivered one of the strangest hits you'll ever see.

All three baserunners came around, and San Francisco tacked on two more in the inning to take a 7-0 lead. Cain and four relievers combined on a seven-hit shutout and the Giants clinched the comeback in the pouring rain, 9-0. The Giants won three straight by a combined score of 20-1 and went on to sweep the Tigers in the World Series.


1964 West Finals

The Warriors moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco after the 1962 season and in just their second season by the Bay, they reached the NBA Finals. Wilt Chamberlain was already dominating the league as his 36.9 points per game gave him the fifth of seven straight scoring titles to begin his career. Future Hall of Game point guard Guy Rodgers doled out 7.0 assists per game while another future Hall of Famer, rookie Nate Thurmond, contributed 10.4 rebounds per game to go with Wilt's 22.3.

They went 48-32 to lead the Western Division, two games ahead of the St. Louis Hawks. Hall of Famers Bob Pettit (27.4 ppg, 15.3 rpg), Cliff Hagan (18.4 ppg), Lenny Wilkens and newly-acquired Richie Guerin pushed the Hawks past the Lakers 3-2 in the first round to set up a date with the Warriors.

Despite Chamberlain's 37 points, Guerin scored 32 and the Hawks stole Game One on the road. The Warriors came back with a 35-point thrashing to even the series. The two teams alternated wins again. Four Hawks scored 20 or more, topping Wilt's 46 in a Game Three win before San Franciscso tied the series again. The Warriors led by nine in the final minutes until the Hawks rallied to pull within two. St. Louis had three chances to force overtime, but couldn't convert and the set was 2-2.

Two blowout wins by the home team (San Francisco by 24 in Game Five with Wilt's 50, St. Louis by 28 in Game Six) forced a winner-take-all game for a spot in the Finals against the Celtics.

The host Warriors were down eight in the second half of Game Seven, but a 14-0 run turned the tide as San Francisco cruised to a 105-95 win. They were then dispatched in five games in the NBA Finals by Boston, who won their sixth of eight straight titles.

1967 West Finals

The 44-37 Warriors won the West with the NBA's third-best record, but they still needed binoculars to see the league's top two clubs (76ers 68-13, Celtics 60-21). 1966 Rookie of the Year Rick Barry won the scoring title in his second season (35.6 ppg) and helped San Francisco sweep the Lakers in the opening round to reach the West Finals. They'd meet the Hawks, who went 39-42 but swept the Bulls in round one.

Barry netted 38 in a narrow Game One victory before pouring in 47 in a wild 143-136 win in Game Two that marks the fifth-highest combined point total in NBA playoff history.

St. Louis earned two wins back at home to tie the series, but a 21-point Warriors blowout in Game Five pushed the Hawks to the brink. In Game Six in St. Louis, the Hawks raced out to an 18-point first-quarter lead and seemed destined for a seventh game. But Barry scored 16 points in the third period as San Francisco jumped ahead. Zelmo Beaty tied the game at 96 with 5:31 remaining, but the Warriors pulled away victorious, 112-107. An amusing note from the linked Troy Times Record story, "Barry, who drew numerous catcalls from the 8,004 partisan fans, left the court with 2:18 to play to go to the dressing room and change pants. He apparently tore his pants in a play under the St. Louis basket."

Meanwhile, the 76ers knocked out the Celtics 4-1 in the East Finals to end Boston's record run of eight NBA championships. The Warriors went back to their original home city and fell to the Sixers 4-2 in the Finals.

1968 West Semis

After three seasons as the Hawks player-coach, Guerin retired from playing, but still guided a league-leading defense to the West's top record at 56-26. Missing Nate Thurmond for the second half of the season, the Warriors went 43-39 to set up a first-round playoff meeting.

The pair split the first two games (which inlcuded a 46-point effort from Beaty in Game Two) before the Warriors surprisingly took control out west. Jeff Mullins scored 33 in the third game, then 35 (with the winning 15-footer with six seconds left) as San Francisco pulled out two home victories to take a 3-1 series lead.

St. Louis stayed alive with an easy win in Game Five, but back in San Francisco the Warriors finished the upset. The Hawks whittled a 16-point deficit to just two in the fourth quarter, but Rudy LaRusso's 30 points proved too much in a 111-106 Warriors shocker. San Francisco coach and former Celtics great Bill Sharman called it "the greatest upset in NBA history." It was the first time under the new eight-team playoff format that a division champion failed to reach the Division Finals. The Hawks were swept by the Lakers in the West Finals.

One month later, Hawks owner Ben Kerner sold the team to a Georgia group that moved the team to Atlanta.


2000 West Quarters

The Blues went 51-19-11 in the regular season, racking up a league-best 114 points to earn the Presidents' Trophy for the only time in franchise history. Goalie Roman Turek allowed the fewest goals in the league and came in second in the Vezina voting. Eyeing their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1970, their first-round opponent were the eighth-seeded Sharks.

After earning a split in St. Louis, the Sharks came home and took a commanding lead with a 2-1 win in Game Three on a pair of Owen Nolan goals and a 3-2 win in Game Four. Scott Young helped the Blues get up off the mat, scoring four of the Blues' 11 goals in Games Five and Six, including a hat trick that tied the set 3-3.

In Game Seven, the Sharks already led 1-0 in the waning seconds of the opening period when Nolan rocketed in this goal that decided the game.

The Sharks hung on to win 3-1 for a stunning 1-8 upset. In the next round they lost to the Dallas Stars in five games. The Blues were the second Presidents' Trophy winner to get bounced in the first round of the playoffs.  

1991 Blackhawks: Lost Norris Semis to North Stars 4-2
2000 Blues: Lost West Quarters to Sharks 4-3
2006 Red Wings: Lost West Quarters to Oilers 4-2
2009 Sharks: Lost West Quarters to Ducks 4-2
2010 Capitals: Lost East Quarters to Canadiens 4-3
2012 Canucks: Lost West Quarters to Kings 4-3

2001 West Quarters

A year later, the Blues had a chance for revenge on the other side of the West bracket. St. Louis and San Jose split the first four games in the 4-5 matchup and Game Five went to overtime after Dallas Drake tied it for the Blues with 2:48 to play. Nearly ten minutes into the extra period, Bryce Salvador scored the game-winning goal and St. Louis won 3-2.

Clinging to a 2-1 lead on the road in Game Six, Turek held off a furious last-ditch effort by the Sharks in the final seconds to seal the series (5:28 mark in the above video). The Blues beat the Stars in the next round before falling to the eventual champion Avalanche in the West Finals.

2004 West Quarters

The second-seeded Sharks needed overtime to take the opening game, winning 1-0 on a goal from Niko Dimitrakos.

Patrick Marleau's hat trick won the next one for the Sharks 3-1, but the Mike Sillinger's hat trick helped the Blues hold serve on home ice in Game Three, 4-1. The series swung in the fourth game when Scott Thornton and Alexander Korolyuk scored two goals apiece in San Jose's 4-3 victory. The Sharks put the series away with a 3-1 home win to take it in five. They beat the Avs in the next round, but fell to Calgary in six games in the West Finals.

2012 West Quarters

Another 2-7 series, this time with the Blues in the favored spot. The first game went to overtime after San Jose's Andrew Desjardins scored with just over five minutes left in regulation. Martin Havlat won it for the Sharks early in the second OT for a 3-2 final.

St. Louis responded with a 3-0 combined shutout in Game Two. Brian Elliott relieved an injured Jaroslav Halak and made 17 saves to go with Halak's 12. The Blues nearly squandered a 4-1 lead in the last three minutes of Game Three, but held on 4-3 before taking Game Four 2-1.

Up 3-1 in the series, the Blues clinched in front of the home fans in Game Five. Trailing 1-0, they scored three goals in the third period, off the sticks of Jamie Langenbrunner, David Perron and Andy McDonald. They seemingly caught a break when league-leading Vancouver lost in the first round, but they also ran into the Jonathan Quick/L.A. Kings buzzsaw and got swept in the West Semis.

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