As the Blues won their tenth straight game, the amazing year of Jordan Binnington continued with his second straight shutout. Binnington is now 12-1-1 with a 1.58 GAA and a .963 save percentage for a Blues team that appeared lost before he began starting games. Binnington isn’t an overnight success. He was drafted by the Blues in the third round of the 2011 draft, and last year was loaned to Providence when the Blues didn’t have their own AHL team and didn’t have a spot for him with the Chicago Wolves. But now he’s the toast of the town, enjoying one of the great breakout seasons in St. Louis sports history. Here are a few that I remember, and I hope Binnington can enjoy the same level of success that most of these guys had…
- Terry Metcalf: In 1974, the St. Louis Football Cardinals were coming off back-to-back-to-back 4-9-1 seasons. Metcalf didn’t make much of a mark in his rookie year out of Long Beach State, but he and the team broke out in ’74. After a quiet opener, Metcalf ran for 95 yards; 75 coming on a second quarter touchdown in the second win of a 7-0 start. In the third game, he had a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. In game four, he rushed for 95 more, including a 24-yard touchdown run. As the Cardinals improved to 5-0, Metcalf ran for 57 yards and a score, and set up another score with a 56-yard kickoff return in a win against the hated Cowboys. In game six, a win over Houston, Metcalf put together 265 all-purpose yards…77 rushing, 13 receiving, 141 on kickoff returns and 34 on punt returns…to lead the team. As the Cardinals clinched their first playoff spot in fifteen years in St. Louis, Metcalf compiled 2,058 all-purpose yards in his breakout season.
- Vince Coleman: In 1985, the Cardinals called up the little-known Coleman when Tito Landrum went on the disabled list because of an abdominal injury. Coleman had terrorized the minors with 145 stolen bases in A ball in 1983 and 101 in Triple A in 1984. When he was called up on April 17 the Cardinals were 2-5, and Whitey Herzog told him “you’ll be here for a couple of weeks until Tito is healthy, then you’ll go back to (AAA) Louisville.” Coleman replied, “I’m not going back.” He had a hit and a couple of stolen bases in his first game, against Montreal. In Coleman’s second game, against the Pirates, he had four hits and two RBI. By the time those two weeks were up, Coleman had a .305 batting average, fourteen stolen bases and eleven runs scored. He never went back. He spent the whole season surprising us, stealing 110 bases and scoring 107 runs for the National League Champions…earning rookie of the year honors.
- Brett Hull: During the year he got traded to the Blues, 1988-’89, Hull scored 32 goals. In his first full year in St. Louis, he scored 41, good for a tie for nineteenth in the NHL that season. In Hull’s exit meeting with coach Brian Sutter, Sutter told him he could be a lot better. And he broke out in 1989-1990 with a then-Blues record 72 goals…still the ninth best goal scoring season in history. Of course, Hull would break the record for goals by a winger…that still stands…with his 86-goal season in 1990-1991.
- Kurt Warner: You know this story well enough. Trent Green suffers a terrible knee injury in the third pre-season game of 1999 against the Chargers. Warner…who at one point had been stocking shelves at a Hy-Vee grocery store in Iowa… starts the regular season opener against the Ravens and passes for three touchdowns. Then he throws for three more against Atlanta. And three more against Cincinnati. And FIVE against the 49ers. Warner passes for 41 touchdowns and 4.353 yards…winning both NFL regular season and Super Bowl MVP’s. Because of the championship, maybe the greatest breakout season ever in any sport.
- Roman Turek: After a couple of non-descript seasons as a backup in Dallas, Turek came to the Blues for the 1999-2000 season. In his first year as a starter, he played in 67 games, winning 42 of them, and had a .912 save percentage, a 1.95 GAA, and a league-leading seven shutouts. He won the Jennings trophy for fewest goals allowed, was second in the Vezina race, and sixth in MVP voting. Alas, things fell apart in the playoffs, in which he had an .882 save percentage and a 2.75 GAA in a first round loss to San Jose.
- Albert Pujols: He was the Cardinals’ Minor League Player of the Year in his first full year of pro baseball in 2000, and had a sensational spring training in 2001. Even with that, Tony LaRussa sent him down, convinced that Pujols needed more seasoning. But a Bobby Bonilla pulled hamstring suffered late in spring opened up a spot on the roster, and the Cardinals started the year with Albert in the majors. After getting a hit in the opener and then going oh-fer in the next two, Pujols took off on a thirteen-game hitting streak that saw him go 22-for-47 with three homers, three doubles and thirteen RBI in the thirteen games. He went on to make history, turning in the best first-eleven years we’ve ever seen, and winning 2001 rookie of the year with a slash line of .329/.403/.610 with 37 homers and 130 RBI.
- Chris Carpenter: In six seasons in Toronto, Carpenter was 49-50 with a 4.83 ERA. After spending 2003 healing from surgery, Carpenter emerged in 2004, going 15-5 with a 3.46 ERA. Before he was shelved by a September nerve injury, the team went 20-8 in Carpenter’s starts. Of course, he went on to 95-44 record with a 3.07 ERA in St. Louis, and became one of the best post-season pitchers in Cardinal history.
As great as ALL of those breakout seasons were, Warner, Pujols and Carpenter are set apart because of their championships. I’m hoping Binnington winds up being the product of THAT kind of breakout season. In fact, my preference is a Warner-type run for him the rest of the way in 2019.