In the opening game of this series of the doomed, the Phillies followed a magnificent one-hit pitching performance by Palmer to the win. It was Palmer's first complete game since 1986 and his first shutout since he pitched a five- inning, rain-shortened perfect game against St. Louis in 1984. It was the Phils' first one-hitter since Don Carman one-hit the Mets last September.
The only hit Palmer allowed was a leadoff single in the sixth inning by Tim Jones, the Cards' rookie second baseman. Jones was a last-minute replacement for Jose Oquendo, who went to a local hospital to be present for the birth of his twins.
"Yeah, if Jose doesn't have the babies tonight, we might have had a no- hitter thrown at us," declared Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog.
Palmer walked three batters and fanned six en route to his remarkable victory.
"What can I say? You need a little luck to pitch a game like this," said Palmer, who got 17 outs on ground balls. "I could throw the same pitches on another night, and those ground balls might find a hole on the AstroTurf.
"But there's no question, it is very satisfying to get a complete game like that. When you have the rap of being a five- or six-inning pitcher, it feels really good. The thing was that I beat Atlanta in my first game after the all-star break, and then I had two lousy starts in which I tried to pitch outside myself.
"Tonight, I didn't fight myself or let anything upset me. I took it one batter at a time. A no-hitter? Well, if there had been no hits up there, I might have been a wreck. I didn't concern myself with that. I just wanted to finish the game."
Palmer threw only 111 pitches during the hot evening. He changed his uniform three times to try to stay fresh.
"He was tired," said manager Lee Elia, who visited the mound in the ninth after Palmer had walked Ozzie Smith with one out.
"I had mixed emotions going out there because I knew he was tired. But he had pitched so darned well, and I decided to go with him and let him finish this one. You just can't pitch better than that unless you pitch a no- hitter."
The Phils did little offensively themselves against Cardinals starter Joe Magrane, whose record of 1-5 (he is winless in nine starts) belies his 2.38 earned run average. They managed a first-inning run on Mike Schmidt's RBI single, and they scored in the fourth on Juan Samuel's walk and stolen base and Magrane's two-base throwing error.
Both runs might have been prevented if Oquendo had played second. In the first, Jones couldn't turn a makable double play when he was taken out on a hard slide by Phil Bradley. And the more acrobatic Oquendo might have been able to stop Magrane's wild throw.
But the Cards are one futile team these days. They have managed to get only four baserunners to third base in their last three games. They won only eight games in the month of July and are next to last in the league in runs scored.
"Yeah, we're like a soccer team," said Herzog. "If we get two down, it's as good as over."
St. Louis' collapse has allowed the Phils to climb out of the cellar, which has been home since the first month of the season. In the process, the Phillies are also only 4 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Cubs in a three- team race for mediocrity in the NL East.
"It might not seem like much to some people, but, yes, it feels good to get out of last, and I just want to see us keep it going and keep moving upward," said Elia.
"I think it's a big deal to get out of last. This club has gone through a lot. We have had an awful hitting slump. We had the change of general managers. We have had a lot of injuries. So I think it's great to get out of last place."
However, the Phils would be back in last place with a loss tonight. They aren't exactly marching upward just yet.
"You wonder why it's taken this long for us to get out of last," said Samuel. "And there's two more games here and two more months to go. There's a long way to go. But it's nice to look at the standings and see we're out of last place for a change."