Most Memorable Opening Days In Cardinal History #2: April 12, 1965
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The World Champion St. Louis Cardinals strode out onto the grass at Wrigley Field at 1:37 under a cloudy, threatening sky and just 19,751 fans in the stands. However, things looked sunny for the Cardinals. They had retained almost the entire team from the previous year. They had also added 23 game winner Bob Purkey to an already-formidable rotation. They looked poised to repeat their dramatic ’64 championship. After a brilliant 19-12 campaign the previous year, blossoming star Bob Gibson earned his first opening day assignment (he would go on to start a franchise-record 9 more opening days). Gibson was facing a Cubs team that hadn’t finished higher than fifth since 1946. The 1965 Cubs could hit well enough – their roster on this day included Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Ernie Banks – but they couldn’t pitch. So, with few choices, Cubs manager Bob Kennedy sent eventual 21 game loser Larry Jackson out to face Gibson and the World Champion Cardinals.
Jackson lasted just 2/3 of an inning. The Cardinals scored five times off of Jackson and reliever Ted Abernathy on three singles, a double, two walks (including a bases-loaded walk), and the first of three errors by rookie Cubs shortstop Roberto Pena. It was a bloodbath. With the fiery Gibson in control, the Cardinals looked like they would have the upper hand.
However, Gibson wasn’t yet the dominating pitcher he would eventually become. He unraveled in the bottom of the second. After a walk to Santo, right fielder George Altman stroked a Gibson fastball into left to score Santo. An Ernie Banks single moved Altman to third, and a Doug Clemens double drove in Altman for the Cubs’ second run.
The Cubs mauled Gibson again in the bottom of the third. Pena smashed Gibson’s first pitch into the stands for a home run, making amends for his run-scoring error earlier in the game. After getting two outs, Gibson gave up a single to Altman and then threw a wild pitch, moving Altman into scoring position. Ernie Banks then ripped a single into left to score Altman. The Cubs had pulled themselves into the game, now close at 5-4.
The Cardinals attempted to take the game back in the fourth. After a Bob Uecker strikeout, Bob Gibson reached on Pena’s second error that allowed him to move to second base. Curt Flood doubled, driving in Gibson. Two pitches later, Lou Brock singled to drive in Flood. Suddenly, the Cards were in the driver’s seat with a 7-4 advantage.
But Gibson couldn’t stop the Cubs’ relentless offense. A walk (which knocked Gibson out of the game) and a single by Glenn Beckert preceded a double by Pena (again making up for his second error) which drove in two more runs. It was now 7-6 as the game moved into the second half.
The Cardinals gained a run in the top of the sixth thanks to yet another error from the Cubs. After he doubled, Brock stole third base. The throw from catcher Dick Bertell sailed wide, allowing Brock to score the Cardinals’ eighth run (and fourth unearned run). The Cub’s sloppy play seemed to spell doom for their opening day and victory for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals entered the top of the ninth leading 8-6, but they knew that such a margin wouldn’t be safe in a small, windy ballpark like Wrigley. Julian Javier led off the ninth with a double to left. After a foul out and a groundout, Javier stood on third with two outs when Curt Flood knifed a single into center for a valuable insurance run. It would prove to be game saving.
Reliever Tracy Stallard, who had entered the game in the fifth inning, went back to the mound in the bottom of the ninth leading 9-6. He got a foul out and a strikeout of Billy Williams; just one out away from an opening day victory. But a walk to Santo and a single to Altman brought the tying run to the plate in the person of Ernie Banks. On a 1-2 pitch, Banks got all of Stallard’s next delivery, depositing it on the street outside the stadium.
And so the game moved into extra innings tied 9-9. The Cardinals nearly scored in the top of the tenth on a single and Pena’s third error of the game. Unfortunately, Cubs reliever Lindy McDaniel got pinch hitter Tito Francona to ground out up the middle to end the threat.
After the Cubs went down in order in the bottom of the tenth, the Cardinals broke through against McDaniel in the eleventh. Singles by Dave Ricketts, Curt Flood, and Lou Brock scored the tie-breaking run. The Cardinals were just three outs away from a desperate 10-9 victory.
But the Cubs would not die. Cardinals reliever Barney Schultz gave up a leadoff single to Pena (again making up for an error), who then advanced on a passed ball. A groundout moved Pena to third with one out. Then Ron Santo doubled into center field, easily scoring Pena and tying the score 10-10.
Cards manager Red Schoendienst called on Steve Carlton (making his major league debut) to pitch to Altman. Carlton walked Altman, which forced Schoendienst to replace Carlton with Bob Purkey. Purkey managed to wriggle out of the jam without further damage.
Then, the unthinkable happened – the umpires called the game due to darkness. On a cloudy day in a stadium without lights, the four hour, nineteen minute contest had moved into the six o’clock hour in Chicago. It would’ve been too dangerous to continue the game.
To this day, this is the only tie game in opening day history for the Cardinals. It is also one of the most memorable extra-inning slugfests between these two hostile Midwestern rivals.
The World Champion Cardinals would stumble to a sub-.500 finish for the year. Despite the opening day fumble, Gibson would go on to record his first 20-win season in a decade of dominance in the National League. As for the Cubs, well, they remained the Cubs.