Tim McCarver

How Tim McCarver won Game 5 of the 1964 World Series

Tim McCarver was just an 18-year-old out of Memphis, Tennessee, when the New York Yankees came calling.

To recruit the catching prospect, the Yankees called upon no less an authority than Bill Dickey, the Hall of Fame catcher who won 11 World Series titles over a 17-year career. Dickey gave McCarver a brand-new mitt and offered to take him on a fishing trip to discuss the finer points of the position,[1] but the Yankees’ $60,000 bid ultimately fell short of the Cardinals’ $75,000 offer.[2]

Five years later, McCarver had the Yankees wishing they bid just a bit more, especially after his three-run, 10th-inning homer put the Cardinals just one win away from the 1964 World Series title.

“That home run did much more than win a game for us,” Cardinals manager Johnny Keane said after the game. “It did a lot for the boy’s career. He’s only 23. That home run will bring his career ahead a couple of years. You could see that when he came into the dugout.”[3]

Led by third baseman Ken Boyer, pitching ace Bob Gibson, and the midseason acquisition of outfielder Lou Brock, the 1964 Cardinals surged late in the season to beat the Cincinnati Reds by a single game for the National League pennant. In the American League, the Yankees went 22-6 in September to surge from third place and win the pennant by a game over the White Sox.

Following two tight races to determine who would reach the World Series, it was fitting that the Cardinals and Yankees were deadlocked at two games apiece after Ken Boyer’s grand slam lifted the Redbirds to a 4-3 win in Game 4.

Game 5 matched Gibson against 22-year-old rookie Mel Stottlemyre. Gibson had battled flu symptoms and a sore throat for three days, and the night before he hadn’t been able to sleep. He called trainer Bob Bauman to give him a sleeping pill at 2 a.m., but it didn’t “go too well,” and he wasn’t sure he had his good stuff.[4]

His stuff may have been better than he thought. Gibson and Stottlemyre maintained a scoreless tie until the Cardinals pushed two runs across in the fifth. Gibson started the rally himself with a single to left field before Curt Flood reached on an error by Bobby Richardson, the Yankees’ normally sure-handed second baseman. Brock singled to right field to score Gibson and Flood made it 2-0 when Bill White grounded into a fielder’s choice.

Gibson, meanwhile, was cruising through the Yankees’ lineup. His greatest danger had come in the second inning, when he issued a leadoff walk to Mickey Mantle and then hit Elston Howard with a pitch. Joe Pepitone to hit a bouncer back to Gibson for the first out of the inning, and after he intentionally walked Tom Tresh, Gibson struck out Clete Boyer and Mel Stottlemyre to end the threat.

Seven innings later, however, Gibson couldn’t work around a misplayed ground ball that allowed Mantle to reach first with nobody out. Gibson struck out Howard, then Pepitone lined a pitch off Gibson’s hip. Gibson required quickly, pouncing on the ball near the third-base line and firing a strike to White to catch the fleet-footed Pepitone at first base.

“Gibson is the only pitcher I know who can make that play,” Keane said.

For his part, Pepitone wasn’t convinced.

“I want to see those pictures,” he said. “My foot hit the base and then I heard the ball hit White’s glove. I couldn’t believe it when the umpire called me out.”[5]

With the Yankees down to their final out, Gibson’s athletic play seemed to have all but clinched the game, but Tresh homered to right field to tie the score.

“Sometimes a situation arises, after a controversial play or something like happened to Gibson, that breaks a pitcher’s concentration,” Tresh said. “Then I look for a chance to swing at the next pitch. I figure three swings are better than two. It was a real good fastball and I was lucky to be swinging in the same zone.”[6]

If Gibson hadn’t been able to throw out Pepitone one batter earlier, the game would be over and the Yankees would be one win away from winning the series. Instead, the two teams went to extra innings.

“Don’t worry,” Gibson told his teammates when he returned to the dugout. “We’ve been a scrapping team all year and we can scrap back again.”[7]

Yankees reliever Pete Mikkelsen walked White to start the 10th. Boyer, who had won the game one day earlier with a grand slam, reached on a bunt single.

“I can’t remember going through with a bunt since 1961,” he said.[8]

“I decided on the Boyer bunt at the last moment,” Cardinals manager Johnny Keane said. “After all, Ken hasn’t practiced it much. If he didn’t bunt on the first chance, we were switching to the hit sign.”

Keeping up the pressure, Cardinals shortstop Dick Groat attempted a bunt of his own, but he had to pull the bat back on a pitch outside the strike zone. That left White ranging off third, but as Howard attempted to pick him off at second, White advanced to third.

After Groat hit into a fielder’s choice, Keane considered calling for yet another bunt – this time from McCarver.

“I considered a squeeze for Tim, but I was afraid of a pitchout,” he said. “Howard kept looking at me all day.”[9]

After McCarver worked the count full, Mikkelsen threw a fastball over the heart of the plate. The lefty swinger, who only hit nine homers during the regular season, pulled it over the right-field wall to give St. Louis a 5-2 lead.

“I should have been extra careful,” Mikkelsen said. “If I walk him, it loads the bases but no one scores. I’m a sinkerball pitcher and that one was up too high, but you’ve got to give that guy credit.”[10]

“I was just trying to meet the ball, to get the guy in from third base,” McCarver said. “I didn’t think the ball would carry to the bullpen in right field. I was happy when I got to first base because I knew the run was in, but I was dazed when I saw the ball go out. By the time I got to third, I was laughing out loud. I’m always laughing, you know, even when I’m sad. The way I feel now, I’ll never be sad again.”[11]

Of course, before McCarver could celebrate, Gibson and the Cardinals had to hold off the Yankees. Gibson struck out pinch-hitter Mike Hegan, then got Phil Linze to fly out. Richardson kept the Yankees’ hopes alive with a single to center that brought slugger Roger Maris to the plate, but Gibson got him to pop the ball up and Boyer reached into the grandstand to make the catch for the final out.

Gibson finished the game with 13 strikeouts, the third-highest total in World Series history. His 12 strikeouts through nine innings matched Mort Cooper’s Cardinals World Series mark set when he fanned 12 Browns in 1944. Both the Yankees’ runs against Gibson were unearned.

“They were swinging at a lot of high pitches, Elston Howard twice,” Gibson said. “The Yankees don’t normally swing at those.”

When the Cardinals returned to St. Louis that evening with a 3-2 lead in the series, they were greeted by a crowd of 10,000 Cardinals fans who chanted, “Timmy, Timmy, Timmy.”[12]

The Yankees evened the series two days later with an 8-3 win, but with Gibson and Stottlemyre squaring off once more, the Cardinals won Game 7 for the seventh World Series championship in franchise history.

McCarver finished the series with a team-leading 11 hits in 23 at-bats for a .478 average and a .552 on-base percentage. His 21-year career included 12 seasons with the Cardinals and nine with the Phillies. In addition to the 1964 championship, McCarver played for the Cardinals’ 1967 championship team and the 1968 National League pennant winners.  

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[1] Neal Russo, “Tim, Who Got Away, Puts Yanks On Hook,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 1964.

[2] Tim McCarver with Ray Robinson (1987), Oh, Baby, I Love It! Baseball Summers, Hot Pennant Races, Grand Salamis, Jellylegs, El Swervos, Dingers and Dunkers, Etc., Etc., Etc., Villard Books, New York, Page 11.

[3] Jim McCulley, “Big Hit in 10th Put McCarver On the BB Map,” New York Daily News, October 13, 1964.

[4] Ed Wilks, “Gibson Took Pill, Threw Aspirins,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 1964.

[5] Ed Wilks, “Berra Is Still Chasing Birds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 1964.

[6] Ed Wilks, “Berra Is Still Chasing Birds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 1964.

[7] Neal Russo, “Tim, Who Got Away, Puts Yanks On Hook,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 1964.

[8] Neal Russo, “Tim, Who Got Away, Puts Yanks On Hook,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 1964.

[9] Neal Russo, “Tim, Who Got Away, Puts Yanks On Hook,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 1964.

[10] Ed Wilks, “Berra Is Still Chasing Birds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 1964.

[11] Neal Russo, “Tim, Who Got Away, Puts Yanks On Hook,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 1964.

[12] “Cards Tell Crowd They’ll Win Series,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 1964.