Did you know that all three of Larry Jaster's starts were complete game victories? Baseball Almanac likes to take a look "beyond the stats" and we hope you enjoy the following research:
Larry Jaster: Dominating the Dodgers like no other
The iconic Los Angeles Dodgers come to town on Monday, defaced by a messy divorce and ownership dispute. It wasn't always this way.
Back in 1966, it was perfectly clear who owned the Boys in Blue. They belonged to Cardinals lefthander Larry Jaster, lock, stock and bat barrels.
"It was just one of those wonderful things to be a part of that you really can't explain," said former Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver. "Most of the things in the game you can explain after they happen. But with Larry, I can't explain it."
Nothing quite like it had ever happened before, and nothing has equaled it since. A rookie and fifth starter on a Cardinals pitching staff that included Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton, along with Ray Washburn and Al Jackson, Jaster shut out the defending world champion Dodgers five consecutive times.
The feat's only reference point belongs to Philadelphia's Grover Cleveland "Ol' Pete" Alexander, who tossed five blankets over the Cincinnati Reds in 1916. But Pete's repeats did not happen in consecutive starts. "Larry Legend" went five for five against the Dodgers in the Summer of '66.
"He was no longer living at the time, but I got a letter from Alexander's wife afterward," Jaster said. "She congratulated me and told me if he was alive, her husband would be rooting for me. I still have it in my memorabilia."
The '66 Dodgers were on their way to 95 wins and a second consecutive NL pennant. They were built on speed, defense and a poisonous pitching rotation that featured Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Claude Osteen and Don Sutton. Three — Koufax, Drysdale and Sutton — are in baseball's Hall of Fame. Osteen was twice a 20-game winner and had 15 or more wins eight times.
On the other hand, the Dodgers' offense was shut out 20 times that summer, three times while losing the '66 World Series to Baltimore. Nobody had manager Walter Alston's crew confused with "Murderer's Row." But nobody had them under his thumb like Jaster.
In 45 innings Jaster allowed the Dodgers 24 hits — all singles. He struck out 31, walked eight and limited Los Angeles to a .157 batting average. Lineup instigators Maury Wills and Willie Davis, who combined for 59 steals that season, were five for 31, with Wills going one for 15.
The Cardinals would finish 83-79, a pace that might make them contenders in today's divisional broadsheet. In 1966, it was good enough for sixth place, 12 games off the pace. "We had a good club, especially after we got Orlando Cepeda (in a trade)," McCarver said. "But that was a tough league that season. That was a tough league that decade."
Jaster finished 11-5 overall in '66, or 6-5 with a 4.63 earned-run average against the rest of the NL. He tied for the league lead in shutouts with his five Dodger donuts.
"I didn't walk many," Jaster said. "And I kept their speed off the bases. They really weren't a home run hitting team, but I was amazed I didn't give up an extra-base hit to anybody. Even though I wasn't a ground-ball pitcher, I remember several times having first and third, one out and we turned a double-play behind me."
ALL DEFENSE, NO OFFENSE
Offensively, the Cardinals were even less formidable than the Dodgers. Both teams hit 108 home runs, the fewest in the league. The Cardinals scored the fewest runs in the NL (571) — even with the early season deal to acquire Cepeda — and had a league-worst on-base percentage of .298.
Still, anchored with McCarver behind the plate, Curt Flood in center field, Julian Javier at second base and Dal Maxvill at shortstop, the '66 Cardinals led the league in fielding efficiency (.712) and finished third in double plays (166). With Jaster's contribution, they led the NL in shutouts by their starters and were second to the Dodgers (3.02) with a team ERA of 3.56.
"Tim McCarver was one of the smartest catchers in calling a game," Jaster said. "And we were great up the middle, with Flood, Javier and Maxvill. We had one of the best defenses in the league, if not the best."
Details from Jaster's Fab Five reflect the stingy similarities between the teams. He started the streak by beating Osteen 2-0 on April 25 at LA, beat Drysdale 2-0 on July 3 at LA, outpitched Drysdale again 4-0 on July 29 in St. Louis, topped Osteen 4-0 on Aug. 19 at LA, then beat Sutton 2-0 on Sept. 28 in St. Louis. The average time of the five games was two hours, 14 minutes.
"It's hard to believe," Los Angeles outfielder Davis told reporters after the fifth loss. "He's throwing just one pitch — the fastball — and he's keeping it around the plate. Most guys beat you by keeping the ball low; he's keeping it up. I just don't know."
Davis touched on the most astounding number associated with Jaster's performance. That is, the number of fingers McCarver put down whenever Jaster pitched. That is, the number one.
"He did it almost entirely with one pitch — the fastball," McCarver said. "I remember, outfielders would always infuriate me when, standing 300 feet or so away, they would tell me about calling a game. Curt (Flood) and I were never at odds. But we were one day when he came in while I was shaving and said, 'Tim, you have to call for something more than a fastball from Larry; you have to show them a different look.'
"I said, 'Curt, you ever see his breaking ball? He doesn't have a breaking ball. Curt, you never talk about that when he's facing the Dodgers.' Curt said, 'They're different hitters,' and I said, 'Bull.'
"I loved Curt, I still do, but Larry had no breaking ball. He had a high fastball. He had the kind of stuff people would say they couldn't wait to get up and hit against. But most high fastballs are light, that's why they say keep the ball down. His high fastball tended to be heavy. It wouldn't jump off the bat. It would carry as a lazy fly ball, not as a pea."
THE STREAK ENDS
Jaster made his major league debut against the Dodgers in 1965, pitching a 1-2-3 inning of relief. Thus, over three seasons, his goose egg lasted 52 2/3 frames before coming to an end in 1967. Facing the Dodgers on April 14 at Busch Stadium, Jaster mesmerized again, whitewashing the defending NL champs through six innings. But in the seventh, with runners at the corners and one out, with the Cardinals leading 8-0, Jeff Torborg lifted a fly to Roger Maris in right field and Jim Lefebvre raced home to pop the bubble.
When you haven't reached it in more than 50 innings, there's no place like home.
"I remember when he scored, he jumped on the plate," said Mike Shannon, with a laugh. Currently the team's lead broadcaster, Shannon was on the Cardinals bench that day. "I mean, it exasperated the Dodgers. It was just a phenomenon, no question about it."
The Dodgers won the battle that night, but Jaster again won the war and the decision as the Cardinals prevailed 8-4. But the exciting promise Jaster demonstrated with his mastery of the Dodgers never materialized. He would throw two more shutouts in his entire career, the last a two-hit gem over Tom Seaver and the Mets in 1968.
During the same '68 season, Jaster was bothered by a "frozen shoulder." In the current medical environment, he would have undergone MRIs to identify the issue, perhaps surgery to correct it. In 1968, surgery amounted to a pitching career death certificate.
Jaster rehabbed the shoulder with stretching exercises and a lead ball, but he never recovered the late life on his fastball. After beating his old friends the Dodgers 5-1 on July 14, 1968, Jaster was 7-4 on the season and 30-16 on a career less than three seasons long. He went 2-9 the remainder of the '68 season and 5-17 over the remainder of his career.
He became, in baseball vernacular, a "4A pitcher," excelling at Class AAA, struggling in the big leagues.
"I pitched after the shoulder problem; it didn't hurt me to throw," he said. "But it wasn't the same stuff coming out of the hand. I was mainly a fastball pitcher. I didn't have the slider and changeup like Carlton did. When I lost my fastball, basically I had a problem."
Jaster's last pitch as a Cardinal was clouted for a grand slam by Detroit's Jim Northrup in Game 6 of the '68 World Series.
CLOSING A CAREER
After the season, the Cardinals left Jaster unprotected in the expansion draft. He was selected by Montreal, where he added more baseball trivia to his legacy.
In 1969, he made the first start and tossed the first pitch in Montreal Expos history. A few days later, slathering insult on top of injury, he gave up the first home run at Montreal's Jarry Park. The blow was a grand slam off the bat of former teammate Maxvill, one of six career homers for the slugging Maxie.
Jaster's final big league season was with Atlanta in 1972 and, fittingly, his last start came against the Dodgers. He tossed five innings and allowed two runs. He spent two more years pitching for Class AAA Richmond before retiring at age 30.
At that point, Jaster returned to school and earned a master's degree in physical education at the University of New Mexico. At age 67, he is the father of three and now lives in St. John's Fla. He continues to work as a minor league pitching instructor for the Orioles.
Forty-five years have passed since his bewitching of "Da Bums." And Jaster still gets asked about it from time to time. "Every now and then it will pop up somewhere," he said. "At the time there wasn't much of a buzz about it. ... But I think nowadays, when you look back at it, it's even more amazing to me."
Who might own the Dodgers in the future remains to be seen. But it's unlikely anyone will ever own them like Larry Jaster.
Copyright © 2012, Baseball Almanac, Updated for Baseball Almanac and reprinted with the express written permission of Dan O'Neill and St. Louis Today.
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