Southworth's six shooters shared
As many know, the 2008 Cardinals ended the season strongly, with six consecutive wins, enabling them to finish ten games over .500 at 86-76.
Going all the way back to the birth of the franchise in 1882, that closing six-game streak in 2008 has tied the two longest such runs in Cardinals history.
In this year of the late Billy Southworth's belated and posthumous induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it seems fitting that the other two clubs with an equally strong end-of-season push were Billy the Kid's Cardinals squads of 1942 and 1943.
One huge difference between those two war years' teams and the 2008 model is that both of Southworth's clubs were National League champions. Winning was commonplace for the Cardinals in each of those seasons, as they took 106 and 105 regular season victories, respectively. The feats were even more impressive when one remembers it was a time when only 154 games were played.
Therefore, while both of those 1940's teams finished their regular seasons with six straight wins, they weren't yet done playing baseball.
The 1942 team lost their next contest, Game One of the World Series, before closing out the New York Yankees in four straight. As a result, they ended the year with a 10-1 stretch.
It was the Cardinals' fourth world championship in 17 years. The Yankees had already collected eight over the same period. So between the two, they had taken over 70% of the possible rings from 1926 through 1942.
The following year, the Cardinals' six-game regular season-ending winning streak was broken in the same manner, with a Game One World Series defeat at the hands of the Bronx Bombers. After bouncing back with a win in Game Two, the Cards fell in each of the next three games and were eliminated.
Sadly, the 2008 Cardinals came up five wins short of contending for the post-season and the opportunity to extend that historic six-game run. Yet, it is difficult to be too critical of manager Tony La Russa and his charges. Under La Russa, the Cardinals are 10-3 in their final game of the season.
Perhaps playing with a bit of extra motivation after his trade request became public knowledge, Cardinals second baseman Adam Kennedy's bat came alive as the 2008 season came to a close.
From August 1 through the end of the year, Kennedy went 30-for-96 (.313) at the plate. He was even hotter to conclude the season, going 12 for his final 24 (.500), starting on September 19.
The most memorable of those 12 hits occurred on September 25 and 26, as the left-handed batter stroked three triples – one in the first game, followed by two the next night. In another oddity, all three occurred as Kennedy was leading off a late-inning (one each in the sixth, seventh and eighth frames).
His only other three-base hit of the season had been back on May 5 and in his over-4000 career at-bats prior to that final week, Kennedy had just 35 triples. Two-thirds of them were accrued in his younger days, from 1999-2002. Following that, he'd only collected a total of 14 over the next six seasons.
To put into perspective how unusual Kennedy's triples outburst was for any player, he was the only one in the majors this year with three triples over two games.
In the last 53 years, during the period from 1956-2008, the two-game feat has been accomplished 45 times in Major League Baseball. The Cardinals were well represented with four of those, tied for the most of any team.
Prior to Kennedy, the most recent St. Louis occurrence of three triples in two games was generated by the bat and legs of outfielder Vince Coleman back in 1990. The other two were provided by teammates and corner infielders better known for their power, third baseman Ken Boyer in 1960 and first sacker Bill White in 1961.
Rare walk-off sacrifice fly
Kennedy's final triple on September 26 was not the game-winning hit in game three of the Cardinals' eventual six-game win streak to close the season. That honor belonged to third baseman Troy Glaus, as he broke a 6-6 tie with the Arizona Diamondbacks by stroking a walk-off sacrifice fly.
The winning run was scored by Cesar Izturis after the Reds had plated two in the top of the ninth to pull even with the Cardinals.
Though one might not think the play was particularly unusual, it was. It became the Cardinals' first walk-off sacrifice fly in over six full seasons.
The most recent such play prior to Glaus' feat was engineered by second baseman Placido Polanco, who used it to defeat the Philadelphia Phillies on August 17, 2001. Little did Polly know that he would be regularly wearing that uniform in less than 12 months in the future, as he was shipped to the City of Brotherly Love as part of the Scott Rolen deal completed near the 2002 trade deadline.
Glaus' play was only the Cardinals' 20th walk-off sacrifice fly executed over the last 51 years. Team leaders in the category with two each are Del Ennis (9/4/57 and 6/8/58) and Luis Alicea (5/12/93 and 6/19/96).
Like the vanishing triple, the rate of these walk-off sacrifice fly plays seem to be declining as only three have occurred during the 13 years of the La Russa era, by Glaus, Polanco and Alicea (his second).
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com
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