Friday, October 11, 2019

St. Louis v. Washington

For more than 50 years, from 1902 through 1953, the Washington Senators and the St. Louis Browns played each other 22 times per year in the American League.  As far as I can tell, very few of these games were important -- most of the time, the Browns and Senators were two of the worst teams in the League.  The Senators won the pennant in 1924, 1925, and 1933.  The Browns won the pennant in 1944.  They were never involved in a pennant race against each other.

Their last meeting was on September 9, 1953 in Griffith Stadium in Washington.  It was one of those late-season double-headers that MLB teams have to play at the end of the season in order to have a complete schedule.  There were 4,216 Washingtonians present.  Both games were day games.  In the first game, Don Larsen through a complete game shutout, beating the Senators 2-0.  Not much happened, and the whole game was played in one hour and 50 minutes.  In the second game, Bob Turley of the Browns got into a pitching duel with Connie Marrero of the Senators.  For nine innings, the game was scoreless.  The Browns finally scored in the top of the 10th -- Turley did a lot of it himself, hitting a leadoff single and eventually coming home to put himself in the lead.  But he walked the leadoff man in the bottom of the 10th, and the Senators got two singles to tie the game.  Washington finally beat Turley in the bottom of the 11th, when Mickey Vernon doubled in Eddie Yost to win the game by 2 to 1.

I wonder how many of the 4,216 fans who were there are still alive?  They had lived through a very stable period in sports history -- but all that was about to change.  The next year the Browns moved to Baltimore, where they were a huge success.  The Senators left town twice -- for good in 1971 -- and baseball season fell silent in Washington for 34 years.

Meanwhile, Washington and St. Louis had started a new rivalry.  After the 1959 season, the Chicago Cardinals moved to St. Louis.  The Cardinals were in the Eastern Conference, while the Bears had been in the West.  The Cardinals stayed in the Eastern Conference, and so they started playing Washington twice a year.  They would keep it up through the 1987 season, and these games are what I think of when I hear that Washington is playing St. Louis.  The NFC East from 1970 to 1987 was the best division that the NFL ever had, and the Cardinals played a small but significant part in that division.  They usually weren't very good on the road, but they were tough at home, and they loved to knock off their more famous rivals at least once or twice each year.  So a NFC East game in St. Louis was often a pretty good game.

The last meeting between the Washington Redskins and the St. Louis Cardinals took place on December 6, 1987.  Joe Gibbs coached the Skins, who were 8-3 going into the game.  Gene Stallings coached the 5-6 Cardinals.  It was 39 degrees in St. Louis.  In Nashville, I was getting ready to take my finals for the fall semester.  George Bush and Bob Dole were about to square off for the Republican presidential nomination.  At the half, the Cardinals led 14-10.  But in the third quarter, the Skins got touchdowns from Jay Schroeder, George Rogers, and Clint Didier, and the Skins rolled to a 34-17 victory.  A few weeks later, in the last game of the regular season, Schroeder would get off to a bad start against the Vikings -- going 9-17 for 85 yards and two interceptions.  Gibbs would replace him with Doug Williams, who would win that game -- and then take the Skins all the way to the Lombardi Trophy.  (Why isn't this remembered as one of the most brilliant moves in coaching history?)  Meanwhile, the Cardinals left St. Louis for good, and Gene Stallings ended up winning a national championship at Alabama -- where he showed that SEC teams could, in fact, beat the University of Miami.

So Washington and St. Louis didn't see each other much in sports until 2005, when the Nats appeared in the National League.  Since then, they've had some dogfights with the Cardinals.  The biggest showdown between the two took place in the 2012 Divisional Series.  The 2012 Cardinals were the defending world champions, while the 2012 Nats had the best record in the National League.  (This was the year that Washington shut down Strasburg to protect his arm, so he was not available for the playoffs.)  This series was a cracker:

In Game One, in St. Louis, the Nats scored two runs in the top of the 8th for a come-from-behind 3-2 win.  (This is the only time the Nats have ever won the first game of a playoff series).

In Game Two, in St. Louis, the Cards jumped all over Jordan Zimmermann and hammered the Nats 12 to 4.

In Game Three, in Washington, the Cards hammered Edwin Jackson and a series of Nats pitchers, and cruised to an easy 8-0 win.

In Game Four, in Washington, the two teams locked themselves into a pitching duel.  The score was 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th, when Jayson Werth saved the Nationals' season with a walk-off homer.  (Until the other day, this blow was the most famous home run in the Nats' short history.)

In Game Five, in Washington, the Nats finally started to show what their offense could do.  A triple from Bryce Harper and a homer from Ryan Zimmerman put Washington up 3-0 in the first, and then home runs by Harper and Mike Morse gave Washington a 6-0 lead after three.  The Cardinals fought back after that, but Washington still led 7-5 going into the top of the 9th.  The Nats' sent out their closer, Drew Storen, to clinch the series.  Storen had gone 3-1 with an ERA of 2.37 in the regular season -- and he soon had two outs with a runner on second.  Here's what he did next:

Walk to Yadier Molina (2 outs, men on 1st and 2d)
Walk to David Freese (2 outs, bases loaded)
Single by Daniel Descalso (2 outs, 2 runs, men on 1st and 3d).
Descalso steals second (2 outs, 2 runs, men on 2d and 3d)
Single by Pete Kozma (2 outs, 4 runs, man on 1st)

And that was that.  The Cardinals won 9 to 7, and it was seven long years before Washington would reach the NLCS -- where they will meet the Cardinals.

Here is each team's appearances in the NLCS (wins in bold):

St. Louis (7-6):  1982, 1985, 1987, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

Washington (0-0):  none

(Please note that this web page does not regard the Nats as a continuation of the Montreal Expos franchise that reached the NLCS in 1981.  That franchise is currently defunct, just as the Washington franchise was defunct from 1972 through 2004.  The Nats are the continuation of the Washington franchise that existed prior to 1971 (we treat both iterations of the Senators as a single franchise.)  So this franchise has never played in the NLCS (or the ALCS, for that matter).


  1. I got to watch every pitch of Friday's game, and it was terrific. I got in just in time to see Adam Eaton's good play in the outfield and Michael Taylor's bad one in the eighth Saturday. It was great to see Doolittle, Corbin and new-dad Hudson do so well. I hate it that the A's lost, but I'm enjoying rooting for the Nats, for sure. Juan Soto would be pretty hate-able if I had not been Kornheisered in to rooting for Washington before actually seeing him play.

    Sometimes I think of the two Senators as one franchise, but, most often, I think of them as being the Twins and Rangers. And sometimes I think of the Nationals as their own franchise, but, most often, I think of them as the Expos Part Deux. I always think of the Browns as the Orioles.

  2. Until Dwight Gooden, the Expos (or the Pirates) were the National League team I rooted for after the A's lost. Then I kind of switched to the Mets--I was really, really looking forward to years and years of Gooden, Dan Marino, Mondale/Ferraro/Jackson/Dukakis and Harvey Sloane--and then I pretty much just gave up on the Nationals until this season and the Nationals.

    For a little while in the late '70s, I tried to get off the A's and glom on to the Yankees, but it didn't take.