10/27/06 2:24 AM ET
Eckstein rises to occasion
Four hits move shortstop one win away from another ring
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
"Fabulous," reliever Tyler Johnson said.
"When the game was on the line, he stepped it up big-time," pitcher Braden Looper said.
"Eck was superb tonight," second baseman Aaron Miles said.
Preston Wilson had a big hit himself, but he could only shake his head and smile when Eckstein was brought up.
"You can't say enough about him," Wilson said. "He did everything he could to annoy them to the bitter end. It's amazing how he gets so much out his ability, but he does."
He is only 5-foot-7, but Eckstein does have a World Series ring after playing with the Angels in 2002. Now he has pushed his teammates to within one win of adding a valuable piece to their own jewelry collection, going 4-for-5 with three huge doubles that carried the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory over the Tigers in Game 4 of the World Series on Thursday night.
The four hits match the most for a Cardinals player in a World Series game. It marks the eighth time the feat has been accomplished, last by Larry Walker on Oct. 23, 2004, against Boston during Game 1 of the Fall Classic.
"He's the definition of a clutch performer," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "A guy with that talent, he's the toughest guy I've ever seen in a uniform."
Eckstein was tough and he also lived a charmed existence on Thursday with two of the biggest hits in the Series that helped the Cardinals come back after they trailed, 3-0, going into the bottom of the third inning.
Eckstein started the comeback with an RBI double in the third, bringing home the Cardinals' first run. But that was only the prelude to bigger things to come.
The Cardinals trailed, 3-2, when Eckstein led off the seventh inning with a drive to deep center off of Tigers reliever Fernando Rodney. The ball seemed catchable, but Detroit center fielder Curtis Granderson slipped on the outfield grass and couldn't recover, giving Eckstein a double.
"This is probably the biggest stage that you can be on, and having the opportunity to be in that situation, I was just hoping that I would find a way to put the barrel of the bat on the ball," Eckstein said. "And, fortunately, I was able to do it and it felt good."
So Taguchi dropped a sacrifice bunt with the intention of moving Eckstein to third. But he went farther than that. Rodney slipped as he went to field the ball and threw wildly to first, allowing Eckstein to score.
Taguchi scored on an RBI single by Wilson to give the Cardinals a 4-3 lead before the Tigers tied it up in the eighth. That gave Eckstein one more chance, and he again delivered with another hit that left them celebrating deep into the night along the banks of the Mississippi River.
Eckstein came up with Miles at second and two out in the bottom of the eighth. This time, Eckstein was facing Joel Zumaya, the Tigers' 100-mph flame-throwing reliever. But Eckstein hung tough and belted one into the left-center field gap.
Left fielder Craig Monroe gave chase and made a valiant diving attempt. But the ball ticked off the end of his glove, giving Eckstein a double and the Cardinals a 5-4 lead.
"I was hoping it was going to find a little bit of dirt, grass out there," Eckstein said. "But the ball was kind of straightening out, and it kept going and it just reminded me, I played with a guy name Darin Erstad that made a catch like that at Yankee Stadium. It just barely got out of the reach of his own glove, hit off the tip."
That's all the Cardinals needed.
"Huge hits for us all night long," winning pitcher Adam Wainwright said. "When Eck hit that ball, I said, 'All right, let's hold them right here.'"
He did, and the Cardinals are now one win away from wrapping it all up. Eckstein could even be pushing his way into Most Valuable Player contention, even after going 0-for-9 during the two games in Detroit.
He went 2-for-4 in Game 3 on Tuesday and was even bigger on Thursday night, even if he is only 5-foot-7. It's about hits, not inches.
"I felt a lot better at the plate," Eckstein said. "Over the past couple of days, I said it after Game 2, I felt a lot more comfortable, a lot more patient, and I just needed to find some holes. And tonight, I don't know if it was the prettiest ones, the swinging bunt, and then Curtis slipping in center, and then the one just barely finding grass. It's nice to actually have a little luck involved."
There was much said about Eckstein in the Cardinals' clubhouse on Thursday, but there was nobody talking about him being lucky.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.