Cardinals win it in the clutch

October 27th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Cardinals win it in the clutch

ST. LOUIS - David Eckstein is a spindly 5-7, the sort of player whose jersey hangs loosely on his shoulders and whose face only barely rises above the microphone that sits on the table in the interview room.
That's why Craig Monroe was playing so shallow in the eighth inning on Thursday night, hardly imagining Eckstein driving the ball over him.
And so, of course, he did. It was fitting, too, that the most unlikely of hits - a hard line drive from a player who barely hits them - would send the Cardinals to the verge of a most unlikely accomplishment. Eckstein's RBI double off hard-throwing reliever Joel Zumaya was just far enough away from Monroe's dive, and proved to be the difference in a 5-4 Cards victory that has the NL champs one win away from their first World Series title since 1982.
"He's the definition of a clutch player," Cards manager Tony La Russa said. "Then you try to give an example of what that means: game-winning hit against a guy throwing 100 (mph). That's all you need to know."
The Tigers will look to stave off elimination in Game 5 on Friday night, weather permitting, though they certainly seem destined for disappointment. Although their stagnant lineup mustered some runs Thursday night, they played another sloppy game in the field and were victims of bad luck when center fielder Curtis Granderson toppled on the wet turf in the seventh, floundering helplessly as Eckstein's fly fell for a double.
That sequence sparked memories of Curt Flood's famous fall in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series between the Cards and Tigers, the tumble giving the Tigers two runs - and two innings later, the World Series after they had trailed three games to one.
"I knew that question would be asked tonight," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said when he was asked about the similarities. "I talked about it afterwards. I said, `I know one of the first questions I'll get when I go down to the press conference is if I remember Curt Flood slipping,' and I do."
He sighed then for a second, before adding: "But right now I'm not real interested in Curt Flood."
That's understandable. The Tigers were heavy favorites entering this World Series and have been completely underwhelming since it began. While their lack of hitting has been confounding, their shoddy fielding has been downright maddening for Leyland, who can do little about it now. A Tigers pitcher made an error for the fourth straight game Thursday night, and they all have been costly.
The latest miscue, in the seventh, proved crucial - a "freaky" inning, said Leyland. First came Granderson's fall, though he would not blame the slick grass, saying, "I just lost my footing on that one. If I'm standing up, I catch it easily."
He wasn't and he didn't, and with the Cards trailing 3-2 La Russa sent pinch-hitter So Taguchi up to sacrifice Eckstein to third.
Taguchi put down a perfect bunt but reliever Fernando Rodney was tentative with his throw, seemingly scared to throw it hard to first. Unfortunately for the Tigers, his soft toss was too high, sailing to the fence as Eckstein raced around to score.
The gaffe was reminiscent of Zumaya's wild throw to third in Game 3 and La Russa reacted the same way both times: typically cool and calm, he jumped around the dugout waving both hands over his head.
"Those plays, you have to take your time and I didn't," Rodney said. "The ball slipped out."
His miscue tied the game at 3, erasing a Detroit lead provided by Sean Casey's second-inning home run, and extended by RBI singles an inning later from Casey and Ivan Rodriguez.
When Cards outfielder Preston Wilson followed Rodney's blunder with a single to left to give the Cards a one-run lead, the 46,470 at Busch Stadium erupted once more.
Their joy was short-lived, however, since Braden Looper gave up a leadoff double in the eighth and closer Adam Wainwright couldn't bail him out, allowing another double to Brandon Inge that tied it at 4.
For a moment, the stadium was quiet as the specter of extra innings loomed. But then came a walk to Yadier Molina and Aaron Miles avoiding a double play by legging out a grounder. Two batters later, Eckstein came up and Monroe came in, with two out.
When Eckstein swung and the ball took off, Monroe's eyes widened. He chased the liner into the gap and then laid out, belt buckle facing straight down at the ground as he stretched.
He felt the ball glance off his glove and roll away, Monroe burying his head in the turf as the rest of the play unfolded.
Monroe had been that close to a spectacular catch, that close to a play that could have saved the Tigers from themselves. Now, he and his teammates are that close to going home.

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