Twenty-five years ago Wednesday, a 13-year-old boy sat in a red seat in a red sea.
It was the seventh inning at Busch Stadium and the Cardinals hadn’t scored.
A single. A walk. Hope peeked.
And then, Dmitri Young hit a triple. Two runs scored. Hope peaked.
Down 3-0 to start the inning, the Cardinals tied it when Young then scored on a hit.
This was what October was all about.
The boy in the stands? David Freese.
“Now that right that there is amazing!” Young said by phone Wednesday night. "David Freese wound up being a World Series Hero. Wow! That’s real cool.”
Freese was there to experience “The Dmitri Young Game,” when the seldom-used pinch-hitter thwacked a two-out opposite-field triple that drove in two runs. It was Game 4 of the 1996 National League Championship Series.
Fifteen Octobers later, the St. Louis native Freese thwacked his own two-out opposite-field triple that drove in two runs.
That was the most-famous triple in Cardinals’ history (baseball history?), but the Young triple has a particularly important part of local lore.
They say that kids who grow up on St. Louis baseball are spoiled. But for most kids born in the 1980s — thus too young to properly remember the 1987 World Series — their childhood memories always ended in September.
From 1988-1995, the Cards never made the playoffs. So 1996 was many St. Louisans “first” playoffs.
First gets quotation marks because some people like myself (born in 1980) were alive in 1982, 1985 and 1987, but their first vivid playoff memories were from 1996. I was 16 at the time. I was in the stands, too, for the Dmitri Young triple. I just remember this delicious delirium, this overwhelming sense of a feeling I’d never felt before. It’s pretty cool what October can do to you.
Some of the most-famous triples in Cardinals history are by some of the most-random Cardinals in history. Adron Chambers, for instance, tripled in three runs in a key game during the improbable September of 2011. Scott Spiezio famously tripled in three in the division-winning game in late 2006 … and later in 2006, he tripled in Game 2 of the NLCS. Tony Pena, who had never had more than four triples in a season, tripled in Game 6 of the 1987 NLCS. Jose Oquendo drove him in with a sacrifice fly for the game’s only run. The Cards then won Game 7 and thus the pennant. And a fellow named Jack Rothrock tripled and scored a key run in Game 3 of the 1934 World Series for St. Louis.
And then there was Dmitri Young, drafted fourth overall in 1991 and a rookie on the 1996 Cards. He only had 29 at-bats during the regular season and hit .241 without one triple. But in Game 4 of the NLCS, with the Cards up in the series two games to one, manager Tony La Russa called on Young. It was an interesting decision, considering La Russa had three other lefties with more experience on the bench. But the skipper liked the matchup of Young with reliever Greg McMichael.
“As I walk up there to the plate, my music is playing: ‘If I Rule The World’ by Nas and Lauryn Hill. Well, at that very moment, that’s when I knew that Chipper Jones was the coolest dude on the planet. He was headed-nodding to the song as I’m walking up. I'm nervous as hell and I see this, and I’m like: this dude has some rhythm! He’s cool. And that kind of broke the ice.”
And on the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Young walloped one to the wall. It caromed off the fence similar to the way Freese’s triple did in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, thrillingly or chillingly rolling, depending on which team you rooted for.
"It was just so electric," said Young, who had just turned 23 that month and is now 48.
After the game, Braves manager Bobby Cox said: “Mac had been our ace (in the bullpen) but tonight he was not good. … (Young) is a dead fastball hitter. We threw him three straight (offspeed pitches) and then we threw him a fastball and he knocked the hell out of it.”
Later that inning, it was Royce Clayton who drove in Dmitri to tie the game.
“Royce was my mentor way back when, growing up in Southern California,” said Young, who is the head coach at Camarillo High School in California, but previously was an assistant at Oaks Christian under head coach, yup, Royce Clayton. “And then when we were teammate in St. Louis, that was just the awesomeness for a baseball player — playing with somebody that you looked up to as a mentor.”
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Cardinals stud Brian Jordan homered. The team took a 4-3 lead — which would be the final score. In the stands, Jordan’s young son, Bryson, actually fainted in the stands (but was OK afterwards).
In the Post-Dispatch the next morning, the headline announced: Dmitri’s Da Man (with that headline out-doing the Game 3 headline, in honor of Ron Gant’s two-homer performance: DA DO RON RON!).
The Cards led the NLCS three games to one.
The Yankees had just won the ALCS. Their manager was the Cards’ former manager, Joe Torre, a former MVP for St. Louis.
The teams famously met in the 1964 World Series … and in autumns before.
It was the last season of the career of Ozzie Smith.
The Cards lost the next three games to Atlanta’s John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
The Braves lost to the Yankees in the World Series.
But Dmitri’s triple, which just turned 25, remains a part of St. Louis history.
And who knows, maybe there was a 13-year-old boy in the stands for David Freese’s triple who will someday make some three-base magic for the Cardinals in October.