Al Hrabosky

May 9, 1977: Al Hrabosky and the gypsy war gods stifle Reds

After the first three batters of the ninth inning reached, putting the go-ahead run on third base, Al Hrabosky knew he needed to tap into something primal to escape the jam against the defending World Series champion Cincinnati Reds.

“I talk to the gypsy war gods,” he explained afterward. “I work myself into a controlled rage.”[1]

On May 9, 1977, Hrabosky and his gypsy war gods responded, striking out George Foster, Johnny Bench, and Bob Bailey to escape the ninth inning unscathed. After a game-saving play at the plate stopped the Reds in the top of the 10th, Ted Simmons homered in the bottom of the inning to give Hrabosky and the Cardinals a 6-5 win.

“These 1977 Cardinals are shaking Busch Stadium like no St. Louis baseball team has done in perhaps a decade,” wrote Dick Kaegel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The latest shock wave hit the Cincinnati Reds like a runaway mine train last night. It was a classic thriller, baseball at its spine-tingling best.”[2]

Ten years earlier, the Cardinals selected Hrabosky out of Fullerton (Calif.) College with their first-round pick (19th overall) in the 1969 draft. The lefthander reached Double-A that season, and the following year he made his major-league debut, throwing a shutout inning in a loss to the Padres. Three days later, he earned his first major-league win, entering the game in the 16th inning and throwing two scoreless innings in a 5-3 win over the Cubs.

In 1973, Hrabosky became a regular in the Cardinals’ bullpen and in 1974 he placed fifth in the Cy Young Award voting, going 8-1 with a 2.95 ERA over 88 1/3 innings. The following year he was even better, placing third in the Cy Young and eighth in the National League MVP vote with a 13-3 record, 1.66 ERA, and league-leading 22 saves.

Heading into the Cardinals’ May 9, 1977, game against the defending World Series champion Reds, Hrabosky had three saves and a 2.35 ERA in 13 1/3 innings. Earlier that season, Hrabosky had been forced to shave his beard and Fu Manchu mustache to adhere to new manager Vern Rapp’s edict that all Cardinals players be clean-shaven. As both Rapp and the Reds soon discovered, however, that didn’t mean that the Mad Hungarian had been tamed.

The Monday night game was being broadcast nationally and matched Cincinnati’s Woodie Fryman, a 37-year-old veteran lefthander and two-time all-star, against 27-year-old Bob Forsch, who won 15 games in 1975 but was looking to rebound from a tough 1976 campaign.

The two teams traded runs in the early innings as Cardinals right fielder Hector Cruz hit an RBI single in the first and Reds right fielder Ken Griffey answered with an RBI single of his own in the third.

In the bottom of the third, the Cardinals pushed two more runs across as Ted Simmons smacked an RBI double and Keith Hernandez scored Simmons with a single to left.

Forsch maintained the 3-1 lead until the sixth. After Forsch struck out George Foster to open the inning, Johnny Bench hit a solo home run and Cesar Geronimo tripled. Dave Concepcion scored Geronimo with an RBI single, and after Pedro Borbon laid down a sacrifice bunt, Pete Rose doubled to left field to score Concepcion and give the Reds a 4-3 lead.

Rapp replaced Forsch with Buddy Schultz, and Griffey greeted the lefthanded reliever with a single to right field that scored Rose and extended the Reds’ lead to 5-3.

Lou Brock led off the bottom of the seventh with a double to left field, then scored on a single by Tony Scott. One inning later, Keith Hernandez tied the game with a 400-foot leadoff home run[3] on the first pitch offered by reliever Rawly Eastwick.

To pitch the ninth, Rapp turned to Hrabosky. It immediately became an adventure.

Griffey opened the inning with a single to left. Hrabosky walked Morgan, and Dan Driessen followed with a bunt single that loaded the bases.

“I thought with Foster and Bench coming up, there was no way,” Hernandez said. “I thought they’d at least get a fly ball and get a run in.”[4]

Between each pitch, Hrabosky turned his back to the plate. Then, slamming the ball into his glove, he stomped to the mound and went into his windup. Relying on the fastball, he struck out Foster, then Bench.

With two outs, Reds manager Sparky Anderson called on Bob Bailey, who hits .370 as a pinch-hitter the previous year, to bat for the lefthanded-hitting Geronimo. It didn’t make a difference. Hrabosky struck out Bailey to end the inning.

“It was unbelievable,” Brock said. “It was like seeing an instant replay over, over, and over. It was slugger against fastball pitcher … one-on-one and may the best man win.”[5]

“I’ve never seen anybody pitch that way in all my life,” Hernandez said. “I was so excited, I was watching Al more than the batter. I was completely in awe.”[6]

The Busch Stadium crowd was equally impressed, rewarding Hrabosky with a standing ovation as the inning ended.[7]

“It was the most incredible thing I’ve seen in my life,” Simmons said. “It was dark and all of a sudden, he groped around until he found the light switch and turned it on. … Every pitch was a fastball. They knew it was coming – they had to.”[8]

Things weren’t much easier for Hrabosky in the 10th. After he retired the first two hitters, pinch-hitter Ray Knight singled to bring up Griffey, who already had three hits for the day. Griffey collected his fourth, doubling off the right-field wall, but Cardinals right fielder Mike Anderson relayed the ball to second baseman Don Kessinger, who in turn threw out Knight at the plate.

“When I got it and threw it to Kessinger, I saw the runner was just one step past third and I said, ‘No way he’s gonna score,’” Anderson said.

“Andy played it perfect,” said Kessinger. “He gave me a good, high relay throw where I could handle it. I knew if I could make a good throw, we’d get him.”[9]

Just a few pitches later, Simmons ended the game with his bat. With reliever Dale Murray pitching, Simmons homered to right field to give the Cardinals a 6-5 win. It was just the third home run Murray had allowed in 1,307 opposing at-bats.[10]

“I feel great about my home run, but the pitching performance Al gave was one of the finest I’ve ever seen in my life,” Simmons said. “Bench, Foster, and Bailey, three of the best fastball hitters in the game, and Al just blew ‘em away from the plate with the bases loaded.”[11]

“You couldn’t have put it on a piece of paper and designed it any better than that,” Simmons said.[12]

“It was an unbelievable game,” Kessinger said. “There was a little bit of everything. It’d be a great game even if you lose. But when you win, it’s even better.”[13]

With the win, the Cardinals improved to 17-9 on the young season while the Reds fell to 10-16 with their fifth consecutive loss.

“It’s something you’ve got to do if you’re going to win a pennant – come from behind,” Hernandez said. “It’s something Cincinnati has been doing for the last three or four years.”[14]

St. Louis finished the game with 14 hits, including two apiece from Garry Templeton, Scott, Cruz, Simmons, Hernandez, and Kessinger.

“I like ‘em – they’re aggressive,” Anderson said. “They’re gonna give the Pirates all they can handle this year, I’ll tell you that.”[15]

Despite their strong start, the Cardinals finished the year just 83-79, 18 games behind the National League champion Phillies and 13 games behind the second-place Pirates.

The 1977 campaign proved to be a contentious one for Hrabosky. Later that May, Rapp suspended Hrabosky for “sheer insubordination.” The Post-Dispatch referred to the suspension as “the culmination of a long series of disagreements” between Hrabosky and Rapp.[16]

Hrabosky was reinstated a few days later and finished the year with just 10 saves and a 4.38 ERA over 86 1/3 innings. It proved to be his final season with the Cardinals, as he was traded to the Royals for Mark Littell and Buck Martinez that December. In eight seasons in St. Louis, Hrabosky went 40-20 with a 2.93 ERA and 59 saves.

Hrabosky pitched two seasons in Kansas City, making the only postseason appearances of his career in 1978, then played his final three seasons in Atlanta. Over a 13-year major league career, he posted a 3.10 ERA and 97 saves.


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[1] Dick Kaegel, “Cardinals, Simmons Jolt The Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1977.

[2] Dick Kaegel, “Cardinals, Simmons Jolt The Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1977.

[3] Bob Hertzel “Baseball’s Day … Reds Make It 5 Straight,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 10, 1977.

[4] Dick Kaegel, “Cardinals, Simmons Jolt The Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1977.

[5] Earl Lawson, “Cards, ‘Gypsy War God’ Beat Reds, 6-5,” Cincinnati Post, May 10, 1977.

[6] Dick Kaegel, “Cardinals, Simmons Jolt The Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1977.

[7] Earl Lawson, “Cards, ‘Gypsy War God’ Beat Reds, 6-5,” Cincinnati Post, May 10, 1977.

[8] Dick Kaegel, “Cardinals, Simmons Jolt The Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1977.

[9] Dick Kaegel, “Cardinals, Simmons Jolt The Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1977.

[10] Dick Kaegel, “1307th Batter Doomed Murray,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1977.

[11] Earl Lawson, “Cards, ‘Gypsy War God’ Beat Reds, 6-5,” Cincinnati Post, May 10, 1977.

[12] Dick Kaegel, “Cardinals, Simmons Jolt The Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1977.

[13] Dick Kaegel, “Cardinals, Simmons Jolt The Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1977.

[14] Dick Kaegel, “Cardinals, Simmons Jolt The Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1977.

[15] Dick Kaegel, “Cardinals, Simmons Jolt The Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1977.

[16] Neal Russo, “Rapp Suspends Hrabosky For Insubordination,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 22, 1977.