Desperately chasing the post-season slot, chances of a wild-card berth with the division-leading Cardinals are eight games ahead of them, the Milwaukee Brewers make a crucial eight-game start on Tuesday night when they take on the Bush The Cardinals play in the stadium.
Counting down to a two-match series here, the Brewers will have eight consecutive games against the division’s fast bowlers – the Cardinals, New York Yankees and New York Mets.
On Tuesday, with their opening staff reeling from injuries, they will use a bullpen pitching approach in the Cardinals’ matchup against Jordan Montgomery. The left-handed batsman has been one of the top pitchers in baseball since moving from the Yankees to St. Louis on August 2, and he blanked the Brewers for six innings on his second start on August 12.
Montgomery has made seven starts for the Cardinals and the team has won all seven. Montgomery gave away seven runs.
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The magic number for the Cardinals to win the National League Central Division title is 14. Each win over the Brewers would take two less than that number.
But it’s not the only show in town this week. Nightly Albert Pujols watch as past and present – the Cardinals slugger approaches the 700-homer milestone that appeared nearly unattainable two months ago.
And barring injury or bad weather, history will almost certainly be made on Wednesday night when Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina go to the post as Major-League Battery for the 325th time, breaking the record set. Will give 1975 when Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan of Detroit got on 324.
Lolich, who turned 82 on Monday, is already familiar to longtime Cardinals fans. He was a Detroit left-hander who beat the Cardinals three times, including Game 7 against Bob Gibson in St. Louis, which won the 1968 World Series for the Tigers. It is a series defeat that ranks members of that Cardinals team higher than the happiness they experienced after the two World Series the Cardinals won earlier in the decade.
“They turned us down three games to one,” Lolich said. “He had to win a game and he was the world champion. And … it didn’t happen.
“I threw three full games in that series,” Lolich said over the phone from Michigan. “He can stand, the way baseball is played today. It can go on for a long time.”
The honor is for the 324-start achievement so far with a single catcher by both Lolich and Wainwright. There is also very little either knows about the other.
“You just mentioned Wainwright,” said Lolich. “Can I say: I don’t know who he is. I thought[the record]was already broken. So Wainwright is a pitcher? So the next time they both start the game, he’s gone.”
“I sometimes go to ESPN and read the headlines at the bottom of the page. But I wasn’t paying attention that these guys were getting close to breaking the record that Freehan and I had.
“My wife (Joyce) told me she thought the record had already been broken,” he said. “But something goes wrong once I’m 82 years old.”
Wainwright admitted, “I know absolutely nothing about him or Bill Freehan. We are worlds apart.
“You told me he won three games in the World Series. What was it? 1958?
“But to beat Bob Gibson in Game 7 at Bush … it’s impressive.”
Behind Wainwright-Molina, the next active pairing is a battery of Chicago Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendrix (now injured) to catch Wilson Contreras (now injured). There are 105 starts in that tandem. It would take them eight or nine years to catch up to the Cardinals pair, assuming the two stayed at the same club and didn’t miss many starts.
Lolich will forever be remembered as a Game 7 winner, pitching on two days’ rest in 1968. Former American League player Roger Maris, who was the Cardinal at the time, said before the series that the Cards need not worry too much about the 31-game winning right-hander Denny McClain. It was Lolich he was worried about.
But few people know that Lolich also called his shot.
“I was the underdog in that seventh game,” Lolich said. “I had no way of defeating the Cardinals.”
Lolich’s father and uncle were back in Michigan, and when Lolich was announced as the starter of the seventh game, they quickly left for St. The game was on Thursday, but the big Lolich couldn’t fly back to Detroit until Sunday.
“At batting practice – which was a waste of time for me – I stood around the batting cage,” Lolich said, “and (general manager) Jim Campbell was sitting there in the front row. I walked up to him and I said, ‘I want to make a deal with you.’ He probably thought I needed more money to pitch the seventh game of the World Series – he was that kind of guy.
“I told him that my dad and my uncle are here and they don’t have a plane flight to Detroit until Sunday. He said, ‘So what?’ I said, ‘I’ll win this game for you today if you let them fly back on the team airplane.’ Guess what? My dad and uncle went home on the team plane.”
Lolich was the winner of Game 5 as well as the batting star when the Tigers looked towards elimination. The Cardinals led 3–2 in the seventh inning, and with one out and none, Lolich was allowed to hit. He was not a good hitter as his .110 average and 821 at-bats would attest to 362 strikeouts. But unlike the rest of the Tigers’ team, the Detroit bullpen was shaky.
Lolich scored a three-run single to Nelson Bryls to win the game 5-3 and the Tigers never looked back. They were never behind again in the series.
Wainwright laughed when it was presented to him.
“I’ve always told you that pitchers are the best athletes on the field,” he said.
“I was surprised that I hit,” said Lolich. “I was there in the on-deck circle and I saw Gates Brown, our No. 1 pinch-hitter walking into the dugout, taking his bat and helmet, I thought I’d be called back.
“When I was out in front of me, I looked back and (manager) Mayo Smith was signaling me to go to the plate. I went, ‘Really?’ After the first pitch was thrown at me, I looked again at the dugout and he waved me to stay in the batsman’s box. I got a base hit out of it. Mayo was a great manager. He really knew what he was doing. So I thought: why not?
“Flying and swinging from something.”
But Lolich faced Briles in Game 2 in St. Louis and stayed at home. This was the only time in his 17-season career that he scored home runs.
“I didn’t try to hit. I accept it,” he said. “A lot of people wondered why I was such a bad hitter. I said it was intentional. My job was to be a pitcher, and that’s what I got paid for.
“When I hit the ball and I ran to first base, I would step over the bag. I couldn’t even touch the bag. I could hurt my knee or hurt my ankle. If I don’t mind if I’m out of the game.
“Even on the home run, I stepped on the bag and our first-base coach Wally Moses had to call me back to touch it.”
Wainwright, who has 10 home runs, has always enjoyed hitting more hits than Lolich. But after two bad starts, he wants to enjoy pitching even more.
He said, ‘I always want to pitch well, especially on special days. “I not only want to pitch well, but I want to be able to. The way I have delivered the last two times, it really didn’t let me be in the right position to throw the pitches that I needed to. “
So after all these years, Wainwright and Molina as the Cardinals can finally beat Mickey Lolich.
Except that actually October 1968 is not to go away.
Lolich said: “I get that.”
Playoff tickets go on sale
Tickets for potential Cardinals games in the National League wild-card and Division Series will be available for sale at 2 p.m. Friday.
Tickets for three possible NL wild-card games and three possible Division Series games, starting at $20, will be available at cardinals.com and via phone at 314-345-9000. All tickets will be delivered digitally through the MLB Ballpark app. Busch Stadium sales will begin at 10 a.m. Monday.
If the Cardinals win the NL Central title and, as is likely, finish with the third-best record among the three league division winners, they will host all games in a best-of-three wild-card series from October 7–9.