Orlando Cepeda had received the starting nod at first base the last two games. It was a familiar yet strange place for Cepeda. He had starred for the Giants for years at the position before a knee injury obliterated his 1965 season. Cepeda had been shipped to left field to make room for Willie McCovey. In Cepeda’s mind, manager Herman Franks had treated him unfairly and was the catalyst for wanted him shipped out of San Francisco. Though lefthanded Larry Jaster was on the hill for St. Louis and the platoon in order, to Cepeda, these starts were clearly an audition for the Cardinal brass. The worst-kept secret in baseball the last few weeks was the trade of Cepeda to St. Louis for southpaw Ray Sadecki. On Saturday, Cepeda proved the health of his knee with his first stolen base in two years. On Sunday, it seemed clear he would be staying behind after the game as his teammates departed. Except the old ghosts of Sportsman’s Park seemingly did not want the place closed.
It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon, the final afternoon of baseball to be played at 2911 Grand Boulevard, the address of professional baseball in St. Louis since 1902. The fans entered the old ballpark with the air mixed with excitement and melancholy. Some managed to maintain the smirks on their faces as the morning newspaper gave the account of the dismissal of former Cardinal skipper, Johnny Keane, by the Yankees. No need to gloat in the misery of others, but when you have the blues as these Cardinals have, sometimes you don’t mind having some company. In the fourth inning, the Cardinals seemed positioned for their sixth win in twenty-three games after Jerry Buchek’s three-run home run ducked past the right field foul pole for a 5-1 lead. In the seventh, that man Cepeda started the Giants rally with an RBI single. A wild pitch plated another run, and with two frames remaining, the Giants were within two runs. Willie Mays cut the lead to one with a sac fly in the eighth, and Tom Haller took the excitement from the air with a solo blast over the screen in right. In the tenth, the comeback appeared complete as Mays lifted a fly ball to left that Mike Shannon followed until it disappeared to the right of the foul pole. It was Mays’ second home run of the day, and left the future Hall of Famer only one home run shy of Mel Ott’s National League record of 512 homers. Mays had been in a drought of sorts after swatting 54 last season. He had only one clout for this season, and that came over two weeks ago on April 21 in Chicago. But Mays’ Giants were now poised to keep pace with the first-place Pirates who had rallied for their own victory in Philadelphia, 6-3.
With the Redbirds down to their final out, Tito Francona, who had replaced rookie George Kernek at first and was rumored to be replaced by Cepeda, took a 3-1 fast ball from Lindy McDaniel down the same path as Haller did in the ninth; over the right field screen. The remaining fans leapt from their seats spilling the last drops of Budweiser on those heading up the aisles for the exits. But no worries, plenty of time for more Budweiser as the clubs continued play for another seven innings. In the seventeenth, Jim Ray Hart doubled home Tito Fuentes with a bullet down the right field line. In the bottom of the frame, Curt Flood singled with one out, but instead of Francona stepping in, it was Phil Gagliano who had replaced Francona on the base paths two innings earlier. Gagliano grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the afternoon. As the loyalest of Cardinal fans meandered out of old Sportsman’s Park for the final time, the worst kept secret in St. Louis was confirmed. The Baby Bull would be moving into the new $24 million ballpark to bolster an anemic Cardinal attack. The old guard reminisced of the day seven years ago when, under almost identical circumstances, the Cardinals and Giants got together to trade a southpaw for a first baseman. “Sad Sam” Jones helped push the Giants into a pennant chase, and a few years later, 1B Bill White led the Cardinals to a world championship.