St. Louis Cardinals: Ranking the 20 Greatest Moments in Franchise History

Matthew Dicker@@MattDickerContributor IIINovember 1, 2011

St. Louis Cardinals: Ranking the 20 Greatest Moments in Franchise History

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    Eleven World Series championships, eighteen pennants and seventeen MVP awards, each second or tied for second all-time behind only the New York Yankees.  The Cardinals' list of accomplishments is stunning, and there is little argument to be made that the team's legacy ranks second only to the Bronx Bombers.  

    The team's thrilling 2011 postseason was a reminder that in their 129 years of history, the Redbirds have had more than their fair share of thrilling moments.  Some of the greatest players in the annals of baseball have worn the Birds on the Bat, and these players—Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Albert Pujols and others—have given Cardinals fans some of the most significant and unforgettable moments in baseball history.

    Some of the greatest moments in Cardinals history came in the postseason, when it mattered most, while others were quieter behind-the-scenes moves that set the Cards up for greatness in the years following. Each of these moments were critical in defining the Cardinals as one of the greatest franchises in the history of Major League Baseball.

    Here we rank the Top 20 Greatest Moments in St. Louis Cardinals franchise history. 

#20 St. Louis Showdown

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    The 1944 baseball season was a sad one for baseball.  Because so many Major Leaguers had enlisted in the armed services due to World War II, the quality of play had fallen to an all-time low.  Yet, for St. Louis fans, the 1944 season offered a unique treat: the first and only time two St. Louis teams would meet in the World Series.

    The Browns team was perceived to be quite weak, and though the 1944 squad was not the Cardinals finest, they were appearing in their third straight World Series.

    The first two games of the series were close pitchers' duels, with the Browns winning the first game 2-1 and the Cardinals taking Game 2 3-2. 

    The Browns made a last gasp in Game 3, winning 6-2 off a Jack Kramer complete game victory, but the Cardinals went on to sweep the remaining three games. 

    The series was not a terribly exciting affair, and fan interest was not at its highest, but the unique opportunity for the Cardinals to defeat their crosstown rival in what was ultimately called the Streetcar Series and the St. Louis Showdown makes it a great moment in franchise history.

#19 Scott Rolen's 2004 NLCS Clinching Home Run

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    The 2004 postseason will forever be known for the Red Sox unprecedented comeback against the New York Yankees in the ALCS, but the Senior Circuit also provided fireworks in its championship series.

    After the Cardinals and Astros split the first six games of the series, each team winning all of its home games, the Cardinals hosted the Astros for Game 7.  The Astros took an early lead with a leadoff home run by Craig Biggio, and the Astros extended their lead to two in the top of the top of the third.  St. Louis came back in the bottom of the third, but still trailed 2-1, and would continue to do so through the top of the sixth inning.

    In the bottom of the sixth, Albert Pujols hit a double off of Roger Clemens, bringing up Scott Rolen.  Clemens served up Rolen's pitch, and Rolen hit a home run to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.  The Cardinals would score two more runs, and the Astros were unable to get their bats going again.  The Cardinals walked away with a 5-2 win and the National League pennant.  

    The Cardinals went onto lose to the destiny-bound Red Sox in the World Series. 

#18 Suds Series Game 7

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    Due to the major industry shared by Milwaukee and St. Louis, the 1982 World Series between the Brewers and Cardinals became known as the Suds Series.  The Brewers were appearing in their first ever World Series, and the Cardinals were returning for the first time since 1968.

    After a Game 1 in which the Brewers dominated the Cardinals 10-0, the Cardinals found their rhythm, and the two teams found themselves tied up at three games apiece.  

    The Cardinals fell behind in the fifth inning, and by the top of the sixth the Cards were down 3-1.  In the bottom of the sixth, the Cards loaded the bases, Keith Hernandez hit a single to tie the game, and George Hendrick drove in the go-ahead run.  

    The Cardinals scored two insurance runs in the eighth inning, and the Brewers were unable to score again, giving the Cardinals their ninth world championship. 

#17 Yadier Molina's 2006 NLCS Winning Blast

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    The Cardinals' 2006 World Series victory, their first in 24 years, came in a relatively unexciting World Series full of bad weather.  The National League Championship Series, however, offered one of the most thrilling moments in team history.

    While the Mets had stormed into the playoffs with a 97-65 record, tied with the Yankees for the best in baseball, the Cardinals eked into the playoffs due to a weak National League Central division, having earned an 83-78 regular season record. 

    Yet, despite the difference in their regular season performance, the two teams went back and forth in the NLCS, and the Mets earned a gritty win facing elimination in Game 6, earning a Game 7 appearance at Shea Stadium.

    The game was a pitchers duel, and the score was 1-1 entering the ninth inning after an amazing robbery of a Scott Rolen would-be home run by Endy Chavez.  After Jim Edmonds went down on strikes to lead off the top of the ninth, Scott Rolen earned a base hit on a grounder to left field.  Catcher Yadier Molina came to the plate, and on the first pitch of the at bat Molina sent pitcher Aaron Heilman's offering over a leaping Endy Chavez and the outfield fence, putting the Cardinals ahead 3-1.

    The Mets loaded the bases in the 9th, but pitcher Adam Wainwright struck out the final batter, Carlos Beltran, earning the Cardinals their second pennant in three seasons, and sending them to the World Series.

#16 Brock for Broglio

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    After Stan Musial's retirement in 1963, the Cardinals were at a crossroads, and Cardinals manager Johnny Keane was searching for a player to help fill a hole in his lineup.  Lou Brock had been a hot prospect for the Chicago Cubs, but in his first few seasons was showing only marginal talent, batting .275 and stealing 50 bases in 1,308 plate appearances for the Cubs.  Brock showed no growth from his first full season to his second, and the Cubs, growing impatient, sought to trade him.

    In the midst of the 1964 season, Brock was sent to the Cardinals as part of a six-player deal, but the main figures were the Cubs' Brock and the Cardinals' Ernie Broglio.  Broglio was a former 20-win pitcher, and he had gone 18-8 with a 2.99 ERA in the previous season.  Many thought the Cubs had gotten the upper hand in the deal.

    It didn't take long for the Cubs to regret their decision.  In the rest of the 1964 season after the trade, Brock batted .348 with 12 home runs and 33 stolen bases, while Broglio went 4-7 with a 4.04 ERA and 46 strikeouts in just over 100 innings pitched.  After the trade, the Cardinals improved from eighth place to win the pennant and the 1964 World Series

    The trade became even more lopsided for the Cardinals after the 1964 season.  Broglio would only go onto pitch in two more seasons, earning a combined 3-12 record.  Brock went on to earn career totals of 3,023 hits, 938 stolen bases, a .293 batting average, and six All-Star selections, earning him induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.  Brock helped the Cardinals win two World Series—1964 and 1967—and set a record in the 1967 series by stealing seven bases in the Fall Classic.

    "Brock for Broglio" has become a catch phrase for a clearly lopsided trade.  Though, at the time, the trade seemed to be at most a decent acquisition for the Cardinals lineup and at worst the loss of a recently dominant pitcher, Brock's acquisition by the Cardinals became critical for the team as it rebuilt from the loss of Stan Musial, and would largely define the Cardinals for the next 15 seasons.

#15 Jack Clark's Pennant Winning Home Run

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    While the 1985 National League Championship Series is best remembered for Ozzie Smith's legendary Game 5 home run, Smith's home run only tied the series for St. Louis, and the Cardinals were sent to Game 6.  

    St. Louis trailed their opponents, the Los Angeles Dodgers, from the first inning, and by the fifth inning were down 4-1.  The Cardinals scored three runs in the seventh to tie the game, but the Dodgers responded in the 8th when Mike Marshall hit a solo home run to right field, giving them a 5-4 lead.  

    In the ninth inning, the Dodgers gave up a hit to Willie McGee and walked Ozzie Smith.  The runners advanced to second and third on a ground out, and the Dodgers had to decide whether to pitch to Jack Clark.  The Dodgers decided to be brave, and Tom Niedenfuer, who had given up Ozzie Smith's home run in the previous game, toed the rubber and readied himself to pitch to Clark.  On the very first pitch, Clark smashed the ball well over the wall, giving the Cardinals a 7-5 lead.  

    The Dodgers were unable to score at their final at bat, and the Cardinals earned their ticket to face the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. 

#14 Branch Rickey Creates the Farm System

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    Prior to Branch Rickey, the minor leagues served an unofficial role in developing young players.  The best players on independent minor league teams would be purchased by Major League teams.  Rickey began the development of a system that lives on today, in which his team had exclusive arrangements with certain minor league teams, allowing the Cardinals to develop young talent without the risk of other teams purchasing the contracts of the players.

    Despite the commissioner's objection to Rickey's system, it produced immediate results, and gained acceptance with other teams.  Hall of Famers Joe Medwick and Dizzy Dean were products of the minor league system, as were star players such as Daffy Dean and Pepper Martin.

    Nearly all Major League baseball players now spend at least some time in the minor leagues, and it is impossible to imagine professional baseball without the minor league system. 

    The Cardinals' minor league system would live on long past Rickey's departure from the team, and has produced many of their greatest legends, including Albert Pujols, Bob Gibson and Stan Musial.   

#13 Rogers Hornsby's Second Triple Crown

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    Winning the Triple Crown is one of the rarest feats in all of baseball.  Only 13 players have ever won the Triple Crown, and none have won it since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

    Even rarer than winning the Triple Crown, is winning it twice.  Only two men have ever earned two Triple Crowns: Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby.

    In 1925, two National Leaguers were near the top of the league in the three Triple Crown categories.  Jack Fournier of the Brooklyn Dodgers was fifth in batting average at .350, third in home runs at 22, and second in RBI's at 130.  Jim Bottomley, Hornsby's teammate on St. Louis, was second in batting average at .367, fourth in home runs at 21, and third in RBI's at 128.  

    Yet neither man came close to challenging Hornsby in any of the three categories.  Hornsby batted an astounding .403 with 39 home runs and 143 RBI's.  Hornsby's lead in home runs was so great, that he could have stopped playing after July and still led the league.

    Hornsby's run of dominance in the 1920's was as great as any player's in history, and his performance was critical in making the Cardinals into perennial contenders. 

#12 Bob Gibson's 1967 Game 7 Performance

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    Bob Gibson twice won the World Series MVP Award, both in 1964 and 1967, but the 1967 World Series was his finest moment.

    The Cardinals had dominated the National league in the regular season, finishing 101-60, while the Giants finished in second place with 91 wins.  The Cards faced the Red Sox in the World Series, led by Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. 

    In Game 1 of the series, Gibson gave up two runs, six hits, and struck out ten batters to earn a 2-1 win.  A few days later in Game 4, with the series 2-1 in favor of St. Louis, Gibson again dominated the Red Sox, allowing only five hits and no runs to win the game.

    Game 7 was another Gibson  masterpiece.  Gibson faced off against Jim Lonborg, the Red Sox young ace who was coming off a 22-9 season.  Gibson struck out ten batters while allowing only three hits and two runs in a complete game victory.  To make matters worse for Lonborg and the Sox, Gibson connected for his only hit of the series in the 5th inning, a solo home run. 

    The Cardinals won the game 7-2, and the Cardinals earned their second World Series of the decade, and the last World Series they would win for 15 years.

#11 Albert Pujols's 2011 Game 3

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    Sports Illustrated's Tom Verduci called it the greatest game by one player in World Series history.  Though this is an astounding claim, it's hard to argue with Verducci.

    There were no dramatics in the Cardinals' 16-7 victory over the Rangers in Game 3, but Pujols used the game to remind everyone watching that he is the greatest player in recent history—and one of the very best players of all time. 

    After grounding out to third in his first at bat, Pujols led off the fourth inning with a single to left field.  The Cards went on a rally, and by the end of the half inning, were winning 5-0.  Pujols returned to lead off the fifth inning, and once again hit a single, starting another St. Louis rally in which three more runs were scored. 

    In the sixth inning, with the Cardinals leading 8-6, Pujols began his tear.  He hit a three-run home run in the sixth inning, a two-run home run in the seventh and a solo shot in the ninth, joining Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit three home runs in a single World Series game.  He also tied the World Series single game records for RBI's and hits, and broke the record for total bases in a World Series game.

    Pujols's performance left many Cardinals fans wistful, as they worried that this might be the final great performance of Pujols's career as a Cardinal.  Whether Pujols chooses to leave the only franchise he has known or stay in the Rome of the West, his Game 3 performance will live on in Cardinals history.

#10 Gashouse Gang's 1934 World Series

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    After establishing themselves with four pennants in the previous decade, the St. Louis Cardinals 1934 squad became one of the most popular teams in the game's history.  The team featured Hall of Fame players Dizzy Dean, Frankie Frisch, Jesse Haines and Joe Medwick, along with future legendary manager Leo Durocher.  The team was legendary not only for its talent, but also for its shabby physical appearance and aggressive style of play, earning the nickname The Gashouse Gang, a reference to the team's reputed poor odor.  

    The Gashouse Gang squeaked by the New York Giants to win the National League pennant, and faced off against the Detroit Tigers.  

    The Cardinals and Tigers split the first six games.  In Game 7, the Cardinals had their ace on the mound, Dizzy Dean.  Dean turned in a masterpiece, allowing six hits and zero runs in his complete game victory.  The offense, not content to let Dean have all the fun, scored seven runs in the third inning, two more in the sixth, and two more in the seventh, giving them 11 runs to the Tigers zero.  

    Tigers fans were incensed by an aggressive slide by Joe Medwick into the Tigers third baseman, and fans began hurling objects at him when he returned to the field in the bottom of the inning.  The commissioner, sensing a riot brewing and wanting to finish the series out peacefully, made the ridiculous decision to remove Medwick from the game.  This decision was moot, however, as the Tigers failed to gain any traction and put any runs on the board.

    The Gashouse Gang is one of the most beloved teams in Cardinals history, and their shellacking of the Tigers in Game 7 of the 1934 World Series is their definitive moment. 

#9 David Freese's World Series Walk-off Home Run

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    How many kids have tossed a ball up into the air, swung a bat, and imagined themselves hitting the game winning home run in the World Series for their hometown team?  David Freese got to live that moment in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.

    Freese, who grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, got off to a rocky start in Game 6, dropping a routine pop-fly to third base in the 5th inning, setting up a subsequent Rangers' run, putting Texas ahead 4-3.  Freese redeemed himself in the bottom of the ninth inning.  With the Cards down two runs with two outs, Freese hit a triple, driving in two men and tying the game. 

    Freese's legacy as series hero would have already been secure with his triple alone, but Freese took it a step further in the 11th inning.  Freese batted first for the Cards in the inning, and with two strikes slammed a home run to deep center field, giving the Cards only their second ever post-season walk-off home run, and sending the Cards to Game  7. 

    Freese, previously named the NLCS MVP, went on to receive the World Series MVP, in large part due to his Game 6 heroics.

#8 Whitey Kurowski's World Series Winning Home Run

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    The Cardinals have a long history of entering the World Series as underdogs, yet more often than not, they have come out on top.

    In the 1942 World Series, the Cardinals faced Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Joe Gordon, Bill Dickey and the rest of a very powerful Yankees squad . The Cardinals were no slouches either, with Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter, but most expected the Yankees to win.  

    After a tough Game 1 loss in which the Cards had failed to score a run through eight innings before a failed comeback attempt in the ninth, the Cardinals eked out close wins in Games 2 and 3, before burning up the scoreboard in Game 4, winning 9-6.

    In Game 5, leading the series 3-1, the Yankees took an early lead as Phil Rizzuto hit a solo shot in the first inning.  Slaughter hit a home run of his own in the fourth inning to tie the score, but DiMaggio quickly turned around and drove in a run in the bottom of the inning, giving the Yankees a 2-1 lead.  In the top of the sixth, the Cards tied on the game on a tag up, and the game remained tied into the ninth inning.

    In the top of the ninth inning, with one man on and one out, Whitey Kurowski came to the plate.  Kurowski had just completed his first full season, in which he had hit nine home runs and batted .254.  Hall of Fame Yankees pitcher Red Ruffing was on the mound, and served up a pitch to Kurowski, who slammed it over the left field wall, giving the Cards a 4-2 lead.

    The Yankees attempted a comeback in the bottom of the ninth, putting two men on base before getting three consecutive outs: a pickoff, an infield, pop fly and a groundout.  

    Kurowski's home run gave the Cardinals their first World Series win in 8 years, earning Musial and Slaughter their first World Series championships. 

#7 Lou Brock Sets Single Season Stolen Base Record

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    Maury Wills's single season stolen base record of 104 was only a dozen years old when Lou Brock launched an assault on it in 1974.  Brock had led the National League in stolen bases in seven of the eight previous seasons, but in 1974, he topped his previous single season record by 44 steals.

    Brock both tied and broke the record in the same game.  In the first inning, he got on base with a single, and then on the second pitch sprinted to second base to tie Wills's record at 104.  In the seventh inning, Brock broke for second once again on the second pitch, and easily reached the bag ahead of the throw, despite his later statement that he was tired.

    A long ceremony paused the game, and Brock was presented with second base to commemorate his accomplishment.  Not content to rest on his laurels, Brock attempted yet another steal in the ninth inning, but was thrown out, perhaps due to his exhaustion.  

    Brock broke the record in the 142nd game of the season, and he went on to steal 13 more bases in the remaining games, for a total of 118.

    Brock's record would stand for 8 seasons until 1982, when Rickey Henderson stole 130 bases, a record that remains unsurpassed to this day.   

#6 Bob O'Farrell Nabs Babe Ruth in 1926 World Series

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    Heading into the 1926 season, Cardinals star Rogers Hornsby had won six consecutive batting titles, three times topping .400, and in two of those seasons won the Triple Crown.  Yet despite Hornsby's outrageous success, the Cardinals had not been able to win a single National League pennant, let alone a World Series.

    Hornsby's production fell dramatically in 1926, as he batted .317, down 86 points from the previous season, and hit 11 home runs, down from 39.  Yet with Hornsby as manager, who had taken over during the previous season from Branch Rickey, the Cards improved their record from 77-76 in 1925 to 89-65 in 1926.

    In the World Series, the Cardinals faced a strong Yankees team, led by Babe Ruth and a 23-year-old Lou Gehrig.  The Cards and Yankees went back and forth in the series, with Grover Cleveland Alexander's pitching carrying the Cards and Ruth leading the Yanks.

    Despite 16 hits in Game 7, the score was only 3-2 in the ninth inning, with New York trailing St. Louis.  With two outs, Babe Ruth drew a walk.  Bob Meusel, who had batted .315 with 12 home runs in the regular season, came to the plate.  Instead of hoping Meusel would be able to drive him in, the ever self-assured Ruth took off for second base, and was caught stealing by catcher Bob O'Farrell's throw to second baseman Rogers Hornsby, ending the game and the World Series.

    Ruth's decision to steal was controversial amongst Yankees fans, who even in the 1920's were not shy about criticizing their star player, but allowed the Cardinals to win their first World Series in franchise history.  To this day, Ruth's attempted steal is one of the most famous in baseball history.

#5 Grover Cleveland Alexander's 1926 Game 7 Save

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    Game 7 of the 1926 World Series is largely remembered for Bob O'Farrell nabbing Babe Ruth on the basepath, but Grover Cleveland Alexander's performance was far more significant to the Cards' championship.  

    After pitching complete game victories in games 2 and 6, Alexander went on one of his not infrequent benders, and reported to Game 7 the next day either drunk or hungover.  Yet despite the effects of both the alcohol and pitching without rest after a complete game, Alexander was brought into the game in the seventh inning to replace starter Jesse Haines.  Alexander threw 2.1 innings without allowing a run scored, giving St. Louis their first World Series victory.  

#4 "Go Crazy Folks"

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    Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith was pure magic on the diamond.  He was not only one of the best defensive players in the game's history, but also collected 2,460 hits, 580 stolen bases and 1,257 runs, while winning 13 consecutive Gold Glove Awards and earning 15 All-Star selections.  The one thing Smith could not do was hit home runs.  He never hit more than six home runs in a year in his 19-season career, and totaled only 28 in his career.

    When Smith stepped to the plate in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the NLCS, Cardinals fans were hoping merely for a base hit to keep the inning a life.  The fact that Smith was batting left-handed meant that a home run was even less likely; at that point, he had no career home runs from the left side of the plate.

    Dodgers closer Tom Niedenfuer served a fastball over the plate, and Smith ripped it down the right field line and over the fence, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 win.  Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck shouted his immortal "Go crazy folks!" line, and the Cards took a 3-2 lead in the series.

    Though they lost in the World Series to their in-state rivals, the Kansas City Royals, Smith's home run was a stunning moment by the most unexpected hero. 

#3 Big Mac Hits 62

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    Though the moment is now tainted by controversy, it cannot be overstated how great a moment Mark McGwire's 62nd home run in 1998 was.  Unlike most of the moments on this list which hold great meaning to Cardinals fans but few others, McGwire's 62nd united not only baseball fans, but the whole country.

    Only a few years, after the 1994 baseball strike, baseball had been partly healed by Cal Ripken Jr.'s passing of Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record, but many who had turned away from baseball still had not returned.  It wasn't too far into the 1998 season, however, before fans started noticing something special was happening in baseball.  Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey, Jr. were all on track to break Roger Maris's home run record, one of the most sacred records in baseball.

    By the end of August, Griffey had fallen behind the pace, leaving just McGwire and Sosa.  In early September, the Cardinals began a homestand with the Cubs, with McGwire at 59 home runs and Sosa at 56.  McGwire hit his 61st home run to tie the record on September 7th, and the next day pulled one barely over the wall to hit his 62nd. 

    The images of McGwire's 62nd are unforgettable to any baseball fan: Sosa running in from rightfield to congratulate McGwire, McGwire hugging his son at home plate, the Maris family gamely cheering from the stands.  Much of this memory has been sullied by McGwire's later admissions of steroid use, but the moment's significance to both the Cardinals and baseball as a whole earn it a spot on this list.

#2 Bob Gibsons' 17 Strikeouts in a World Series Game

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    Though the Cardinals dropped the 1968 World Series to the Detroit Tigers, Bob Gibson's performance in Game 1 is one of the all-time great games by a pitcher in a World Series.

    Facing a Tigers lineup that included Al Kaline, Norm Cash and an aged Eddie Matthews, Gibson, coming off a season in which he went 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA, was dominant from the first pitch.  He struck out five of the first six batters he faced, and twice in the game struck out three batters in an inning.  In total, Gibson struck out 17 batters, including sluggers Al Kaline and Norm Cash three times each, and allowed only five hits and no runs.

    Gibson's win gave him the National League record for most World Series wins, and his 17 strikeouts were a World Series record. 

#1 Enos Slaughter's Mad Dash

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    In the final game of the 1946 World Series, the Cardinals and Red Sox were tied at three in the bottom of the eighth inning.  Red Sox star Dom DiMaggio, who had tied the game with two RBI's in the top of the inning, had been removed from the game due to injury and replaced with Leon Culberson at center field.  Cardinals Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter reached first base, but it looked as if he would be stranded their after the next two batters failed to reach base, and Harry Walker came to the plate with two outs.

    Though Walker was a two-time All-Star and career .296 hitter, he was coming off a season in which he had batted .237, one of the worst seasons of his career.  With the count at 2-1, Slaughter took off on a hit and run.  Walker rapped the ball to left-center, and Slaughter rounded second toward third as Culberson fielded the ball and threw to the cutoff man, Red Sox great Johnny Pesky.  

    If all had gone as expected from this point, the play would have been a nice but unremarkable base hit, leaving two men on for the next batter.  Instead, Slaughter ignored the third base coach's sign and barreled on toward home plate.  Pesky, likely caught off guard by Slaughter's decision, hesitated briefly before throwing home, giving Slaughter the crucial moment needed to reach home plate safely, putting the Cardinals ahead 4-3.  

    Slaughter's run was all the Cards would need.  Despite a brief Red Sox run in the ninth, Cardinals pitcher Harry Brecheen held on to win the game, earning the Cardinals their sixth World Series championship.

    Slaughter's "mad dash" from first to home was the most famous moment of Slaughter's career, and his statue outside Busch Stadium depicts his slide into home plate.