Eckstein began the
Series 0 for 11 but reached base in his final three appearances in Game 3, a
5--0 Cardinals win headlined by the masterpiece of ace righthander Chris
Carpenter. Eckstein began Game 4 with the kind of at bat that separated the
Cardinals from the undisciplined Tigers. Even though he fell behind righthander
Jeremy Bonderman 0 and 2, Eckstein wound up seeing nine pitches, fouling off
four and beating out an infield hit on a half swing on the last one.
That battle with
Bonderman presaged the most pivotal at bat of the Series, which occurred a
couple of hours later: a duel between Eckstein and Tigers righty reliever Joel
Zumaya with two outs and a runner on second in the eighth inning of a 4--4
game. Should you ever lose your faith in baseball, roll the footage of
Eckstein's at bat, which reaffirmed the beautiful democracy of the sport.
Wrapped beneath his uniform as if he came straight from triage, Eckstein
stepped in against the 6'3" Zumaya, who wears a flame tattoo on his left
arm and a menacing goatee on his chin, sports a bloodshot right eye (from
chronic allergies) and throws a baseball harder than any man alive. You half
expect him to ride a Harley out of the bullpen to the mound. It was a
Eckstein took four
straight pitches from Zumaya to run the count to 3 and 1 before turning around
a 100-mph heater. The line drive flicked off the glove of diving leftfielder
Craig Monroe as teasingly as a goodbye kiss and fell for the game-deciding
double. " David Eckstein was a role model for me when he won the World
Series in 2002, and he's still a role model," says backup infielder Aaron
Miles, who scored on the hit. "He talks about persevering and says over and
over how baseball doesn't owe you anything. If anything, you owe baseball. I
model my game after him."
Cardinals patiently wended their way through October, with the built-in off
days of the postseason mitigating the lack of rotation depth that plagued them
in the regular season. Their top three starters, Carpenter, righthander Jeff
Suppan and Weaver, started all but two of St. Louis's 16 postseason games and
covered 62% of the innings, up from 35% in the regular season.
Though it began
all three series on the road, St. Louis outpitched the two top pitching staffs
in baseball, those of the San Diego Padres and the Tigers, and won the NLCS by
twice beating the Mets' deep bullpen in New York (including Game 7). "What
this tells you," says Detroit first baseman Sean Casey, "is that you've
got to get in the playoffs. That's all you need to do: Get in. And then you've
got a shot like anybody else. Look at them. They're world champions."
tenacity was abetted by Detroit's abysmal, near-comical play. The eight
unearned runs allowed by the Tigers were the most in the World Series in half a
century. Third baseman Inge committed three errors, and centerfielder Curtis
Granderson, giving new meaning to Fall Classic, flopped on the wet turf while
chasing a routine fly ball by Eckstein in Game 4.
image of the Tigers, though, will be that of their pitchers throwing to bases
as if blindfolded. Every playoff team is armed with massive amounts of scouting
information on opponents, compiled in thick binders and DVDs and reviewed on a
daily basis in pregame meetings with scouts and coaches. Who knew, though, that
the Cardinals' shrewdest game plan for defeating the Tigers was scrawled on a
homemade sign held by a fan at Busch Stadium during Game 5. It read HIT IT TO
fielded 14 chances and erred a record five times. Tigers righthander Justin
Verlander provided the perfect coda to an imperfect series when, with Detroit
leading 2--1 in the fourth inning of Game 5, he threw away a bunt on what
should have been an easy out at third base. "I picked it up and said,
'Don't throw it away,' instead of just throwing it," Verlander said
afterward. "I got tentative. We kind of cut our own throats."
Only two days
before, Tigers manager Jim Leyland, enduring a stretch of rain and inactivity
that would have his team play just three times in 11 days, burned his way
through a carton of cigarettes. "Worst day for my lungs," he said
before adding, in what had to be a rare admission at a World Series: "We're
bored, to be honest with you."
If Detroit lost
its edge, the Cardinals, and especially La Russa, gained perspective. The
Cardinals' manager had taken three 100-win powerhouses to the World Series and
lost 12 of 13 games to inferior teams. (The 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers and 1990
Cincinnati Reds beat his Oakland A's teams; the 2004 Red Sox swept his
Cardinals.) This was the meekest of the 12 teams he piloted into October, and
yet it joined his stacked '89 A's as the only ones to win a title.