Coming off their National League championship season of 1968, the St. Louis Cardinals had started the 1969 season with only four wins in their first 12 contests. As Memorial Day weekend arrived, they had evened the keel under the direction of manager Red Schoendienst, winning 17 of their next 32 games, to find themselves in third place in the National League East, nine games behind the front-running Chicago Cubs, with the Pittsburgh Pirates sandwiched between them.
Record-setting Bob Gibson (1.12 ERA in 1968) had struggled early in the season, but after a 1-2 start had rattled off five consecutive complete-game victories, three by shutout, raising his record to 6-2 while lowering his ERA to 1.50. The hard-throwing right-hander would be facing another fireballer as the fourth-place (NL West) Reds of Cincinnati sent Jim Maloney (3-1, 2.08) to the mound to open the three-game series. The right-hander had not won a game since April 30, when he no-hit the Astros, and had not lasted more than five innings in any of his last four starts for skipper Dave Bristol. Trailing Atlanta by 5½ games, the Reds were riding high, having concluded a homestand with seven straight victories, and were hoping to sustain that momentum as they began an eight-game, three-city road trip with the series against the defending league champions.
The game was also significant in that it would be the first time that the Cardinals’ Vada Pinson, now in his 12th major-league season, would be facing his former team, and, conversely, the first time for four-year outfielder Bobby Tolan to play in St. Louis while wearing a gray shirt after the two center fielders had been traded for one another in the off season.
Only Opening Day had drawn more fans for St. Louis than the two teams did for this game, as 34,005 people were in attendance. Cincinnati had played before only one larger crowd this season, when they faced the Braves in Atlanta for a Sunday double header on April 13 before a crowd of 49,652.
Home-plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt yelled “Play Ball” at 8:00 P.M. and Gibson quickly mowed the Reds down in order to start the game.[fn]Hal McCoy, Dayton Daily News, May 31, 1969.[/fn]
Just as quickly, Maloney got two fly-ball outs, but then walked former teammate Pinson. Joe Torre followed with his seventh homer of the season. After Tim McCarver singled, Maloney threw a wild pitch and Bristol had seen enough. Jack Fisher was summoned from the bullpen and responded by shutting out the Cardinals until Chico Ruiz pinch-hit for him in the top of the sixth inning, and weathering a one-hour rain delay in the fourth inning. (Plagued by shoulder injuries, Maloney would not pitch again until June 15.)[fn]Earl Lawson, The Sporting News, “A Storybook Clout by Carroll,” June 14, 1969, p. 8.[/fn]
Wayne Granger, also included in the Pinson-Tolan trade, pitched the sixth inning for Cincinnati. Joe Torre knocked in Curt Flood with a single to stretch the Cardinals’ lead to 3-0. Meanwhile Gibson had allowed only three harmless singles.
In the top of the seventh, Alex Johnson and Lee May singled off Gibson around a Tony Perez strikeout and Johnny Bench silenced the crowd with a three-run homer — his ninth of the season — tying the game.
Clay Carroll relieved to pitch a scoreless eighth for the Reds, then duplicated Gibson’s scoreless ninth to send the teams into extra innings. Gibson quickly retired the first two Reds hitters in the 10th and manager Bristol allowed Carroll to bat with the bases empty. The Alabama native lifted a fly ball to left field. Lou Brock ran back to the warning track. The ball hit the top of the fence, and then bounced into the stands, the first (and only) major-league home run ever hit by Carroll.[fn]Ibid.[/fn] (He hit two in the minor leagues.)
Lou Brock drew a one-out walk off Carroll in the bottom of the 10th and advanced to second on Curt Flood’s groundout. That brought former Red Vada Pinson to the plate. Vada had walked, scored a run, fouled out, and twice grounded out. With the game on the line, Pinson lined out to Darrel Chaney at shortstop, extending the Reds’ winning streak to eight games.
It had been an interesting game for Tolan as well. The former Cardinal grounded out, singled (and was doubled off on a line drive), flied out, and was hit by a pitch before Gibson attempted to pick him off first base. A wild throw by Gibson allowed Tolan to race the third base, where he was stranded, while representing the tie-breaking run, in the eighth inning.
After the game Carroll, who had never before homered, and had just bounced his fly ball off the top of the fence, told sportswriters, “I knew it was a homer as soon as I hit it.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites.