One of the great pennant races in National League history took place in 1964, with no fewer than five teams remaining in contention until the season's final two weeks. The Philadelphia Phillies had a seemingly insurmountable 6 ½-game lead with just two weeks remaining on the schedule. However, they collapsed down the stretch, losing 10 straight games at one point, to fail in their attempt to win their first league championship in 14 years. Manager Gene Mauch attempted to eliminate the other pennant contenders from the race by starting his two best pitchers, Jim Bunning and Chris Short, on short rest during the season's final days. However, the strategy backfired, enabling the hard-charging St. Louis Cardinals to overtake his squad and capture the N.L. flag. The Cardinals finished the campaign with a record of 93-69, just one game ahead of both the Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds. The San Francisco Giants finished fourth, three games back, and the Milwaukee Braves came in fifth, just five games off the pace.
Although the Cardinals ended up representing the National League in the World Series, they had neither the league’s top offense nor its best pitching staff. Led by Hank Aaron and Joe Torre, the fifth-place Braves topped the senior circuit with 803 runs scored. Aaron hit 24 home runs, knocked in 95 runs, scored 103 others, and batted .328. Torre hit 20 homers, drove in 109 runs, and batted .321.
Meanwhile, the runner-up Cincinnati Reds finished well ahead of the Cardinals with an outstanding 3.07 team ERA. Jim O’Toole headed Cincinnati’s pitching staff, leading the team with 17 victories and a 2.66 ERA. Jim Maloney finished second on the club with 15 wins and a 2.71 ERA. Cincinnati’s best player, though, was Frank Robinson, who hit 29 home runs, knocked in 96 runs, scored 103 others, batted .306, and stole 23 bases.
Johnny Callison and N.L. Rookie of the Year Richie Allen starred for the Phillies. Callison earned a second-place finish in the N.L. MVP voting by hitting 31 homers, driving in 104 runs, and scoring 101 others. Allen hit 29 home runs, knocked in 91 runs, batted .318, and led the league with 125 runs scored, 13 triples, and 352 total bases. Chris Short and Jim Bunning anchored Philadelphia’s starting rotation. Short finished 17-9 with a 2.20 ERA. Bunning compiled a record of 19-8, with a 2.63 ERA and 284 innings pitched.
Orlando Cepeda, Willie Mays, and Juan Marichal helped keep the fourth-place Giants in the pennant race the entire year. Cepeda hit 31 homers, knocked in 97 runs, and batted .304. Mays led the league with 47 home runs and a .607 slugging average, knocked in 111 runs, scored 121 others, and batted .296. Marichal won 21 games, pitched to a 2.48 ERA, struck out 206 batters, and led all N.L. hurlers with 22 complete games.
In the end, though, it was St. Louis that prevailed in the hotly-contested senior circuit. Although the Cardinals finished just sixth in the N.L. with a team ERA of 3.43, their starting rotation included three of the league’s top pitchers. Bob Gibson proved to be the team’s most effective pitcher over the course of the season, posting 19 victories and leading the club with a 3.01 ERA, 245 strikeouts, 17 complete games, and 287 innings pitched. Ray Sadecki led the staff with 20 wins, and Curt Simmons finished third on the team with 18 victories.
On offense, the Cardinals finished just seventh in the National League with 109 home runs. However, they topped the senior circuit with a team batting average of .272, and they placed second with 715 runs scored, a .324 team on-base percentage, and a .392 team slugging percentage. First baseman Bill White hit 21 home runs, drove in 102 runs, and batted .303. Centerfielder Curt Flood batted .311, scored 97 runs, and led the N.L. with 211 hits. After being acquired in a trade with the Cubs during the season's first half, leftfielder Lou Brock served as the team's offensive catalyst the remainder of the year. In 103 games with the Cardinals, he batted .348, scored 81 runs, and stole 33 bases. Brock ended the campaign with a .315 batting average, 111 runs scored, 43 stolen bases, and 200 base hits. Third baseman Ken Boyer earned N.L. MVP honors by hitting 24 home runs, batting .295, scoring 100 runs, and leading the league with 119 runs batted in.
Boyer subsequently helped shift the momentum of the World Series to the Cardinals’ side when he hit a grand slam home run against Yankee starter Al Downing in Game Four that gave St. Louis a 4-3 victory that evened the Fall Classic at two games apiece. The clubs split the next two contests, before a weary Bob Gibson persevered through nine tough innings to give the Cardinals a 7-5 Series-clinching victory in Game Seven. The day after the Series ended, St. Louis manager Johnny Keane resigned to take over the managerial post left vacant when the Yankees fired Yogi Berra.
Other outstanding performers, notable events, and points of interest from around the league follow:
• April 17 – The New York Mets played their first game at Shea Stadium and lost 4–3 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Willie Stargell hit the first home run in the stadium's history.
• April 23 – At Colt Stadium, Ken Johnson of the Houston Colt .45's threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds but lost 1-0.
• June 4 – Sandy Koufax pitched the third of his four career no-hitters, defeating the Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia.
• June 15 – In one of the worst trades in Chicago Cubs history, the Cubs dealt Lou Brock, Jack Spring and Paul Toth to the St. Louis Cardinals for Ernie Broglio, Doug Clemens and Bobby Shantz.
• June 21 – On Father's Day at Shea Stadium, Philadelphia’s Jim Bunning struck out 10, drove in two runs, and hurled the first regular-season perfect game in 42 years, as the Phillies beat the New York Mets 6–0.
• July 7 – At Shea Stadium, Johnny Callison's ninth-inning three-run home run off Dick Radatz capped a four-run rally, giving the National League a 7–4 win over the American League in the All-Star Game.
• December 1 – The Houston Colt .45s officially changed their nickname to the Astros. The change coincided with the team's impending move from Colt Stadium to the Harris County Domed Stadium, also known as the Astrodome.
• Bob Gibson struck out 13 men in 10 innings in Game Five of the World Series.
• Tim McCarver of the Cardinals led all World Series hitters with a .478 batting average.
• Sandy Koufax struck out 18 Chicago Cubs on April 24.
• Despite being limited to 223 innings by arm trouble, Koufax finished 19-5, with a league-leading 1.74 ERA and seven shutouts.
• Pittsburgh’s Bob Veale led all National League pitchers with 250 strikeouts.
- 1964 World Series, Al Downing, Astrodome, Bill White, Bob Gibson, Bob Veale, Bobby Shantz, Chris Short, Cincinnati Reds, Curt Flood, Curt Simmons, Dick Radatz, Eddie Mathews, Ernie Broglio, Frank Robinson, Gene Mauch, Hank Aaron, Jim Bunning, Jim Maloney, Joe Torre, Johnny Callison, Johnny Keane, Juan Marichal, Ken Boyer, Ken Johnson, Lou Brock, New York Yankees, Orlando Cepeda, Philadelphia Phillies, Ray Sadecki, Richie Allen, Roberto Clemente, Ron Santo, San Francisco Giants, Sandy Koufax, Shea Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals, Tim McCarver, Warren Spahn, Willie Mays, Willie Stargell