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Cardinals beat Giants 6-5 in game at Rickwood Field honoring Mays and Negro Leagues

Game in Birmingham

By ALANIS THAMES, AP Sports Writer
Published: June 20, 2024, 8:59pm
12 Photos
A packed Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., watches the San Francisco Giants and the St.
A packed Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., watches the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals play. Photo Gallery

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Brendan Donovan hit a two-run homer and a double and the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the San Francisco Giants 6-5 in the Negro Leagues tribute game at Rickwood Field on Thursday night.

The 114-year-old Rickwood Field is the oldest professional ballpark in the U.S. and former home to baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays and the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues.

The first MLB game played at the ballpark was meant to honor Mays and many other Negro Leaguers, and it took on a more sentimental meaning when Mays, the electrifying center fielder who left an enduring mark on baseball, died Tuesday.

Tributes to Mays continued throughout the week in Birmingham, including a ceremony before Thursday’s game.

Plenty of other Negro Leagues greats were honored, including former Black Barons player Bill Greason, who at age 99, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The game also featured the first all-Black umpire crew in AL/NL history.

Donovan, who grew up in Alabama, blasted a 1-1 pitch from Giants starter Keaton Winn (3-8) for his seventh home run of the season. He was 3 for 3 with a double in the third inning and an RBI single in the sixth.

“What a special night,” Donovan said. “I mean, this is something that we should celebrate. This right here is pretty amazing. And to do it in Alabama, I’ve got some friends and family in the stands, it’s like playing summer ball again.”

Alec Burleson had a pair of singles and Masyn Winn reached twice for the Cardinals (37-37), who stopped a two-game losing streak.

Andre Pallante (3-3) pitched 5 1/3 innings in the win, allowing seven hits and three runs. He walked three and struck out five.

San Francisco’s center fielder Heliot Ramos hit a tying three-run shot off Pallante in the third for his 10th home run, but the Cardinals retook the lead on Nolan Gorman’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning.

“Any time you play center field for the San Francisco Giants, you think about Willie Mays,” Giants manager Bob Melvin said. “We’re down three, then all of a sudden we’re tied up with one swing of the bat. And he’s been doing that for a while now.”

Winn struggled through 2 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and five runs with two strikeouts and a walk. He was replaced in the third by Randy Rodríguez, who gave up a run on a wild pitch against his first batter.

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Patrick Bailey had three hits for the Giants, who closed a three-run hole with a two-run sixth. Matt Chapman led off the inning with a double, then came around to score on Wilmer Flores’ line drive to center. Jorge Soler then scored on Nick Ahmed’s sacrifice fly.

Ryan Helsley got three outs for his 24th save.

“It was fun,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “The pregame ceremony was incredible. I got emotional. Just knowing where you’re standing. Just the overall feel of the tribute to Willie Mays. The impact he had on people that he met, but also people he never met.

“That’s when you know you’ve done it right.”

Both teams wore throwback uniforms with Mays’ No. 24 on them. Over 23 major league seasons, mostly with the New York/San Francisco Giants but including one in the Negro Leagues, Mays batted .301, hit 660 home runs, totaled 3,293 hits, scored more than 2,000 runs. He was Rookie of the Year in 1951 and a two-time MVP.

“One of a kind type of place to play,” Melvin said of Rickwood. “You look around and kind of can feel what transpired here a long time ago and the players that played on the field. It’d be nice to win the game, but pretty cool experience.”