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Plenty to look forward to as Cardinals open key series with Brewers

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In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman discusses Albert Pujols’ quest to hit 700 career home runs. Also, a happy birthday shoutout to Linda Gray! And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented by Window Nation!

Desperately chasing a postseason slot, more likely a wild-card berth with the division-leading Cardinals eight games ahead of them, the Milwaukee Brewers start a crucial eight-game stretch Tuesday night when they play the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

Counting the two-game series here, the Brewers will have eight successive games against division pace-setters — the Cardinals, New York Yankees and New York Mets.

On Tuesday, with their starting staff beset with injuries, they will use a bullpen pitching approach in a matchup against the Cardinals’ Jordan Montgomery. The left-hander has been one of the top pitchers in baseball since he came to St. Louis from the Yankees on Aug. 2, and he blanked the Brewers for six innings on Aug. 12 in his second start.

Montgomery has made seven starts for the Cardinals and the team has won all seven. Montgomery has allowed seven runs.

The Cardinals’ magic number for clinching the National League Central Division title is 14. Each win over the Brewers would take two off that number.

But this isn’t the only show in town this week. There is the nightly Albert Pujols watch, as the former — and current — Cardinals slugger approaches the 700-homer milestone that appeared nearly unattainable two months ago.

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman compares Albert Pujols’ home run feats to combos of other famous names in baseball. And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented by Window Nation!

And barring injury or bad weather, there almost surely will be history made on Wednesday night when Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina go to the post for the 325th time as a major-league battery, which will break the record set in 1975 when Detroit’s Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan got to 324.

Lolich, who turned 82 on Monday, already is all-too familiar to older Cardinals fans. He was the Detroit left-hander who beat the Cardinals three times, including Game 7 against Bob Gibson in St. Louis, to win the 1968 World Series for the Tigers. It is a Series loss that rankled the members of that Cardinals team more than the joy they experienced after the two World Series the Cardinals had won earlier in the decade.

“They had us down three games to one,” Lolich said. “They had to win one game and they were world champions. And ... it didn’t happen.

“I threw three complete games in that series,” Lolich said by phone from Michigan. “That one might stand, the way baseball is played today. That could last a long time.”

Unfamiliar hurlers

There is respect for the, so far, 324-start accomplishment with the same catcher by both Lolich and Wainwright. There also is little either knows about the other.

“You just mentioned Wainwright,” Lolich said. “Can I say: I don’t know who the hell he is. I thought (the record) already got broken. So Wainwright’s a pitcher? So next time those two start the game, it’s gone.

“I do go to ESPN occasionally and read the headlines at the bottom of the page. But I must not have been paying attention that these guys were getting close to breaking the record that Freehan and I had.

“My wife (Joyce) had told me she thought the record already had been broken,” he added. “But I do get things wrong once in a while at 82 years old.”

Wainwright admitted, “I know absolutely nothing about him or Bill Freehan. We’re worlds apart.

“You told me he won three games in the World Series. What was it? 1958?

“But to beat Bob Gibson in Game 7 at Busch ... that’s impressive.”

Behind Wainwright-Molina, the next active pair is the battery of Chicago Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks (now injured) to catcher Willson Contreras (now injured). That tandem has 105 starts. It would take them eight or nine years to catch the Cardinals duo, assuming that both stayed on the same club and didn’t miss many starts.

Lolich forever will be remembered as the Game 7 winner, pitching on two days’ rest, in 1968. Former American Leaguer Roger Maris, who then was a Cardinal, had said before the Series that the Cards needn’t worry that much about 31-game-winning right-hander Denny McLain. It was Lolich about whom he was concerned.

But not many know that Lolich also had called his shot.

“I was the underdog in that seventh game,” Lolich said. “There was no way I could beat the Cardinals.”

Lolich’s father and uncle were back in Michigan, and when Lolich was announced as the seventh-game starter, they quickly flew to St. Louis. The game was on a Thursday, but the elder Loliches couldn’t get a flight back to Detroit until Sunday.

“In batting practice — which was a waste of time for me — I was standing around the batting cage,” said Lolich, “and (general manager) Jim Campbell was sitting up there in the front row. I walked over and I said, ‘I want to make a deal with you.’ He probably thought I wanted more money to pitch the seventh game of the World Series — that’s the kind of guy he was.

“I told him that my dad and my uncle are here and they don’t have an airplane flight back to Detroit until Sunday. He said, ‘So what?’ I said, ‘I will win this game for you today if you let them fly back on the team airplane.’ Guess what? My dad and uncle went home on the team airplane.”

Unlikely scenario

Lolich also was the Game 5 winner and batting star when the Tigers were staring at elimination. The Cardinals led 3-2 in the seventh inning, and with one out and nobody on, Lolich was allowed to hit. He was not a good hitter as his .110 average and 362 strikeouts in 821 at-bats will attest. But the Detroit bullpen, unlike the rest of the Tigers’ team, was shaky.

Lolich singled off Nelson Briles, fueling a three-run inning to win the game 5-3 and the Tigers never looked back. They never trailed again in the Series.

Wainwright laughed when this was presented to him.

“I’ve always told you that pitchers are the best athletes on the field,” he said.

“I was surprised that I hit,” Lolich said. “I was up there in the on-deck circle and I saw Gates Brown, our No. 1 pinch-hitter, moving around in the dugout, getting his bat and helmet, I figured I’d be called back.

“When the out was made in front of me, I looked back and (manager) Mayo Smith was signaling for me to go up to the plate. I went, ‘Really?’ After the first pitch was thrown to me, I looked back at the dugout again and he waved me to stay in the batter’s box. I got a base hit out of it. Mayo was a great manager. He really knew what he was doing. So I figured: Why not?

“Swing at something flying by.”

But Lolich had faced Briles in Game 2 in St. Louis and had homered. It was the only time in his 17-season career he hit a home run.

“I did not try to hit. I admit it,” he said. “A lot of people wondered why I was such a bad hitter. I said that it was done on purpose. My job was to be a pitcher, and that’s what I got paid for.

“When I hit the ball and I would run down to first base, I would step over the bag. I wouldn’t even touch the bag. I could hurt my knee or hurt my ankle. If I’m out on the play, I don’t care.

“Even on the home run, I stepped over the bag and our first-base coach, Wally Moses, had to call me back to touch it."

Wainwright, who has 10 home runs, always enjoyed hitting more than did Lolich. But after two poor starts, he wants to enjoy pitching more, too.

“I always want to pitch well, especially on special days,” he said. “Not only do I want to pitch well, but I want to be able to. The way my delivery has been the last two times really has not allowed me to be in the right positions to throw the pitches I need to.”

So after all these years, Wainwright and Molina as Cardinals finally can beat Mickey Lolich.

Except that really doesn’t make October 1968 go away.

Said Lolich: “I’ve got that one.”

Playoff tickets go on sale 

Tickets for potential Cardinals games in the National League wild-card and division series will go on sale at 2 p.m. Friday.

Tickets for the three potential NL wild-card games and three potential division series games, starting at $20, will be available at cardinals.com and via phone at 314-345-9000. All tickets will be delivered digitally via the MLB Ballpark app. Busch Stadium sales will begin at 10 a.m. Monday.

If the Cardinals win the NL Central title and, as seems likely, finish with the third-best record among the three league division winners, they would host all the games in a best-of-three wild-card series from Oct. 7-9.

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Rick Hummel is a Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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