Friday, October 27, 2006

Cardinals One Away from Championship [J. Mark English]

Matthew Leach, -

They waited out yet another rain delay. They waited out an early deficit and some shaky command by starting pitcher Jeff Suppan. They waited, and waited, and waited, for David Eckstein to get sorted out.
Now, the Cardinals may only have to wait 24 hours for their first world championship in 24 years.
St. Louis stands on the cusp of the 10th title in franchise history thanks to a come-from-behind 5-4 win over the Tigers in Game 4 of the World Series on Thursday night. Eckstein's four hits included three critical doubles as the Redbirds capitalized on the continuing defensive struggles of the American League champions.
Eckstein keyed the Cardinals offensively all night as they rallied from a 3-0 deficit, then bounced back after giving up their first lead of the game. St. Louis now holds a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with a chance to close it out at Busch Stadium on Friday.
"We're just taking every opportunity that they give us," said Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols. "They make some errors, we take advantage."
The Cards' unlikely eighth-inning rally began with a walk to Yadier Molina and the score tied at 4. Aaron Miles barely beat out a potential double-play ball, then took second on Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya's wild pitch -- on the same play where Juan Encarnacion struck out. Eckstein hit a looping liner into the gap in left-center field. The ball hit left fielder Craig Monroe's glove, but he couldn't corral it.
"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. ... It just barely got out of the reach of his own glove, hit off the tip."
That made a winner of Adam Wainwright, who took a blown save when he permitted Brandon Inge's game-tying double half an inning earlier. It was the first blown save for Wainwright since he was installed as St. Louis' closer following a season-ending injury to Jason Isringhausen in September....
Suppan survived long enough to hand it off to the St. Louis bullpen's kiddie corps, and as usual the youngsters held it down. Right-hander Josh Kinney and southpaw Tyler Johnson both gave scoreless turns, and though Wainwright allowed an inherited runner to score, there was no faulting his effort.
With the other side held down, the chance was right there. The Cards took it. Now the biggest prize in baseball is staring right at them, in their own house.
"The thing is that you can't give up," Pujols said. "You play 162 games to get where we are right now, and you can't give up. There's no tomorrow. You need to play hard for nine innings, and it doesn't matter what the scoreboard says."
But within a day, the scoreboard may say that Pujols and the Cardinals are world champions.
Comment -
Well, who would have thunk'd it? The Cardinals are now poised to win the whole darn thing. As Met fan, the idea of the Cardinals winning the World Series is a double edge sword. On the one hand, given that the National League has been maligned this whole season as a second rate league, to see a team from that league win would cancel out all doubts about the National League being inferior.
On the other hand, if the Cardinals could do this, then certainly the Mets could have as well. And since the Mets were oh so close to getting past the Cardinals, it makes this World Series bitter sweet.
But tip your hat to the Cardinals. This team just a few weeks ago looked dead in the water. They nearly collapsed at the end of the season. With something like ten games left they almost blew an 8.5 game lead to the Astros. On the last day of the season they lost, and if the Astros had won, then the Cardinals would have been knocked out of the playoffs.
For them to bounce back the way they have, and to be in a position to win the championship is truly a credit to their character.
But if a team that has won 83 games wins the Series...does anyone doubt anymore that the playoffs are nothing but a crapshoot?