2001

For all of the stars who made the 2001 Cardinal season what it was, perhaps most prominent was the newest, Albert Pujols. Pujols made the opening-day roster, the result of Bobby Bonilla suffering a strained left hamstring March 24 that forced the veteran to the disabled list, and the 21-year-old Pujols made the most of his opportunity. Pujols, primarily been a third baseman who had appeared in 133 games with three minor-league clubs as a first-year professional in 2000, hit a National League-record eight April home runs and never looked back. Pujols was the first Cardinal rookie selected for the All-Star Game since left-handed pitcher Luis Arroyo in 1955 and the first to play since third baseman Eddie Kazak in 1949. He went on to play in 161 games, drew 154 starts at four different positions, and batted .329 with a Cardinal rookie-record 37 home runs and an NL rookie-record 130 runs batted in. His club Triple Crown was the first by a Cardinal since Ted Simmons in 1973 and the first by a Cardinal rookie since Rogers Hornsby in 1916. He broke three NL rookie batting records, set or tied seven club rookie marks and earned unanimous selection as NL Rookie of the Year. Finishing among the league leaders in no fewer than 10 offensive categories, he became the first Cardinal rookie chosen to the Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger team, as well as finishing fourth in voting for the Most Valuable Player award.

Mark McGwire hit 29 home runs in 299 at-bats and played in 97 games in his final major-league season. The first baseman hit the 583rd home run of his career, and 220th as a Cardinal, October 4 at Milwaukee, three days after his 39th birthday, and while continuing to have difficulties with his right knee.

Centerfielder Jim Edmonds, who finished fifth in the league with 12 assists and continued adding to his collection of spectacular catches, won his fourth Rawlings Gold Glove Award in five seasons. Edmonds kept up his end at the plate, too, hitting .304 with 30 homers and 110 RBI, including a .373 average with 14 homers and 69 RBI in his last 44 games.

Second baseman Fernando Vina, who committed just nine errors in 151 games and whose .987 fielding percentage was good enough for a second straight NL fielding crown, won his first Gold Glove. The Cardinal leadoff hitter, Vina finished seventh in the league with 191 hits, continued taking 'em for the team by being hit by a pitch 22 times, second-most in the league, and struck out just once per 19.7 plate appearances, also second in the NL.

The fourth Cardinal with a .300-plus qualifying average, Placido Polanco, hit .307 and led the club with 21 three-hit games. His 20-game hitting streak, July 21 to August 11, was club's longest, and the league's third-longest, of 2001. J.D. Drew suffered a broken finger when he was hit by a pitch June 17, but still managed to finish the season batting .323 with 27 homers and 73 RBI.

Matt Morris, back in the starting rotation two years after elbow surgery, became the Cardinals' first 22-game winner since Bob Gibson recorded 23 victories in 1970, in addition to tying Arizona's Curt Schilling for the major-league lead in wins. Morris netted his first All-Star Game selection and was named NL Comeback Player of the Year. The veteran righthander also tallied a record 15 Busch Stadium victories, surpassing John Tudor's 1984 total of 14.

Darryl Kile added 16 victories and he and Morris ran 5-6 in the league ERA race, 3.09-3.16, one of five categories in which they placed in the top 10 together. Lefthander reliever Steve Kline made a club-record 89 appearances and posted a 1.80 ERA, second-best among NL relievers. Kline was one of four Cardinal relievers to appear in 60-plus games, the others being Dave Veres (71), Mike Timlin (67) and Gene Stechschulte (67).

Stechschulte even figured in the mix offensively, hitting the first pitch ever delivered to him as major-league batsman for a pinch-hit home run, April 17 against Armando Reynoso of Arizona. He became the fifth Cardinal ever, but the third in less than 12 months, to homer in his first major-league at-bat. In addition to becoming the 16th player to hit a career first-pitch homer, he was also the 13th big-leaguer to pinch-homer in his first at bat.

Lefthander Bud Smith made his big-league debut June 10 and won his first start June 17 against the White Sox. Smith and Woody Williams, and August 2 acquisition from the Padres for Ray Lankford, combined to win all seven of their September outings. In the first of these starts, September 3 at San Diego, Smith walked four but recorded seven strikeouts and posted the ninth no-hit game in club history. Two nights later, Williams tossed a two-hit shutout to complete a three-game sweep of the Padres, which triggered an 18-3 run bringing the Cardinals into a tie for first place. Williams went 7-1 in 11 Cardinal starts and was named the NL Pitcher of the Month for September.

The Cardinals held opponents to two or fewer runs 62 times, most in the league, and finished third in the NL with a 3.93 ERA. The Redbird staff recorded a 2.99 ERA and yielded a .217 batting average from September 1 to the end of the season. The club went 17-5 in September, then, with a 5-1 win at Milwaukee October 2, the club's 34th win in 45 games, tied the Astros for the Central Division lead.

The Cardinals finished 93-69 and co-owners of the first shared championship in major-league history, although having lost the season series to the Astros, the Cardinals assumed the position of wild-card qualifier to the National League postseason field. Williams and Smith followed up their September efforts and claimed victories in the second and fourth games, respectively, of the National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Following the three-hour, 36-minute rain delay of the start of Game Four at Busch Stadium, Polanco became the first player in 95 years to lay down three sacrifice bunts in a major-league postseason game, matching the efforts of the Cubs' Joe Tinker in the 1906 World Series. Morris followed up his outstanding season by holding the Arizona ballclub to two runs over 15 innings in two starts. However, he lost 1-0 in the series opener and then, after Drew's game-tying home run in the eighth inning of the deciding fifth game, watched the Diamondbacks score a run in the ninth for a 2-1 win.


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