The New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals have a long history with each other including big games and some even bigger trades.
When thinking about significant rivalries in New York Mets history, a few key relationships come to mind. There’s the always-newsworthy Subway Series rivalry with the Yankees, which involved the “Subway World Series” in 2000. The Mets and the Atlanta Braves have also been fierce division rivals since the 1990s when the Braves began a 14-year streak of consecutive NL East titles.
However, the St. Louis Cardinals are perhaps the most worthy contender for “longest-standing Mets rival.” They hosted the very first game in Mets history when the Mets began their existence at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. As became typical of the “lovable losers,” the Amazins lost that first game to the Cards. The Mets were then swept in a subsequent two-game series against the Cardinals before finally winning their first game against the Redbirds on July 6 at the Polo Grounds.
12 years later, the Mets and Cardinals again made history, when they played a game that seemed like it would never end. On September 11, 1974, their game started innocently enough at 8 pm and limped to the finish line at 3:13 am the following morning. 25 innings after it began, the Mets finally succumbed in a 4-3 loss to the Cardinals. This game is notable for being “the longest game in MLB history in terms of innings in a game played to a decision without a delay or suspension.”
A couple of weeks before that historic 1974 game, a first baseman from San Francisco named Keith Hernandez made his MLB debut for the Cardinals. He enjoyed a prolific career in St. Louis, winning the NL MVP award (along with Willie Stargell) in 1979 and helping the Redbirds to the World Series title in 1982.
As Mets fans fondly recall, Hernandez was the centerpiece of a seminal moment in the history between these two teams. On June 15, 1983, the Mets sent pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey to the Cardinals in exchange for Hernandez. He was every bit as instrumental to success in Flushing as he had been to the Cardinals and became a crucial factor in the Mets’ rise to brash, arrogant greatness in 1986.
Throughout the 1980s, the Mets and the Cardinals were bitter rivals. Between 1985 and 1988, they each won two NL East division titles. The Cardinals made it to the Fall Classic in 1985 and 1987, losing both to the Kansas City Royals and the Minnesota Twins, respectively. The Mets only made it to one World Series during that time, but luckily, they managed to win that one.
The two teams were no stranger to trash-talking during the 1980s. A 1987 article described how some Cardinals fans hated the Mets so much that they created t-shirts and flew banners over Busch Stadium stating quite plainly, “The Mets are pond scum.” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog also had pointed words for his 1980s rivals: ”Whatever they do gets headlines. When we do something, it’s in the corner of a paper.”
The outspoken Mets players of the time had no problem coming back with opinions of their own. In the midst of the 1987 division race, Howard Johnson quipped, “I wish the Cardinals would be on DiamondVision more often–especially when they lose.” Gary Carter also commented that the Cardinals were “looking over their shoulders” at the Mets during that time.
Two years earlier, Carter had started his career in Queens off with a bang by hitting a walk-off homer on Opening Day against the Cardinals, sending the Mets to a 6-5 victory and immediately endearing himself to Flushing fans.
Unfortunately, Terry Pendleton’s two-out, game-tying home run on September 11, 1987, extinguished any hope the Mets had of catching up to the Cardinals in the division. The Cards ended up with the NL East title, and the last laugh, that season.
Nearly 20 years later, the two met again for a do-or-die postseason series in 2006. The Amazins were a dominant force in the National League that year, winning their division handily by 12 games. The Cardinals, now in the NL Central division, squeaked into the playoffs with an 83-78 record and won their division by just 1.5 games.
Of course, as long-suffering baseball fans know, the regular season goes out the window as soon as the playoffs begin. The 2006 NLCS initially shaped up as a chance for the powerhouse Mets to show off their World Series chops. It ended up being the series of Aaron Heilman, Yadier Molina, Endy Chavez, and a curveball that curved a little too much. The Cardinals stormed to the World Series title that year after winning the NLCS in seven games. The Amazins, once again on the short end of the rivalry, went home wondering what could have been.
Though the Cardinals again had the upper hand over the Mets in 2011 by winning their second World Series title in five years, 2012 featured a triumph over the Redbirds. On June 1, 2012, Johan Santana pitched against the Cardinals at Citi Field. Nine innings later, he and his teammates celebrated on the mound, reacting jubilantly to the first no-hitter in team history. This game, despite its controversies, was a truly joyous moment for the franchise in Flushing, and a major recent win in their rivalry with St. Louis.
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The Cardinals have made the playoffs more often than the Mets in recent years, but as of this season, both teams are looking strong for the future. They will no doubt continue adding to their rich history when baseball finally gets back underway.