And Eckstein vs. Zumaya was a mismatch. No contest. Yes, Eckstein schooled Zumaya, turned around his 100-mph heater for a run-scoring double that flicked off the glove of Monroe and made the Cardinals a 5-4 winner.
"I tell my friends he's one of the most clutch players I've ever seen," Wainwright said. "Every time he comes up with a runner on, you know he's going to give you a great at bat."
Before Eckstein's moment of truth, both teams had taken turns trying to give the game away, though Detroit did so in a much more unsightly manner. The Tigers blew a 3-0 lead, and the Cardinals blew a 4-3 lead with five outs to go, but Detroit's troubles afield proved most damning. Tigers pitchers kept throwing balls to bases as if they were blindfolded, with Fernando Rodney airmailing a seventh-inning bunt well over first base, a World Series-record fourth error by the Detroit pitching staff.
That gaffe followed a memorable one in centerfield, where Curtis Granderson turned a routine fly ball--by that pest Eckstein, of course--into a rally-starting double when he flat-out fell to the wet turf, as if tripping over a curb somebody just happened to have freshly laid in the outfield.
"It wasn't a slip," Granderson said. "I went to plant and the ground just gave way."
The winning rally in the eighth was abetted by more Detroit mistakes, though none qualified as official errors. Trouble began when Zumaya walked the leadoff batter, Molina, on four pitches. Miles replaced him at first after he forced Molina at second with a grounder. Zumaya obtained the second out by whiffing Juan Encarnacion but bounced a slider on the third strike that skipped through the legs of catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Miles advanced to second on what was scored as a wild pitch, bringing Eckstein to the plate.
With the runner at second instead of first, Monroe cheated a few steps closer to the infield from what would have been his normal depth, defending against a possible play at home.
Zumaya would use nothing but his bully of a fastball. The first, at 99 mph, just missed. So did the next. Eckstein was letting these pitches go like an old woman picking through fruit at a grocery stand; they looked good, but not exactly right. Eckstein took a third fastball at 99 mph, and this one was called a strike by home plate umpire Mike Winters. Now Zumaya came back with still another heater, this one at 100 mph. Winters called this one a ball.
Four pitches into the at bat, Eckstein still hadn't swung and was ahead on the count, 3 and 1. He had pushed Zumaya into a spot in which the righthander had to throw toward the fat of the strike zone.
So the big guy threw one 100 mph and the little guy won. Eckstein drilled a liner toward the gap in left centerfield. It was an out, a fairly easy one, if Monroe had been playing normal depth. But Monroe had to scramble for it. He dived and extended his gloved hand toward the baseball. It kissed the very fingertips of his glove--a faint goodbye kiss--and fell to the wet turf. Miles dashed home with the tie-breaking run.