It was Aug. 8 last year. The Cardinals were playing the Braves at Busch Stadium, and they had put in seven scoreless innings. Despite being down by only two runs, things were looking grim.
The lack of runs could in no way be attributed to a lack of effort by shortstop David Eckstein. He had done everything that a lead-off man should do. He had gotten on base. A lot. He walked twice. He stole second base. He slid into third on a passed ball by the Braves catcher. He hit a double. He stood on base, often in scoring position, and waited, waited, waited for somebody behind him to do something. Anything. Which they didn't.
Then came the bottom of the ninth, and Davy found himself in an odd place. No longer the lead-off man, he was finally in a position to do something big, since doing something little and then counting on the rest of the team was getting him nowhere.
It is my belief that David Eckstein, all 170cm of him, stood in the batter's box with the bases loaded and only one out and thought, "Finally." And he busted a home run over the left field wall. Walk-off grand slam, Cardinals win.
In St. Louis, they know to never overlook Eckstein. What he lacks in height, he makes up for with pure ? I'm not even sure of the word for it. Heart? Gumption? Incredible will? It's the thing that makes him sprint for first base when he gets walked, when virtually every other player in the game just jogs. It's the thing that stretches him that crucial extra meter when he's diving for a ground ball. And it's the thing that had him pounding out hit after hit in Game 4 of the World Series, including the eventual game-winning RBI double.
In a game that could have easily gone either way, the difference proved to lie in two places -- Tiger mishaps and the St. Louis shortstop who never quits.
In many ways, he is emblematic of this Cardinals team. No one expected him to fill the very large shoes of All-Star shortstop Edgar Renteria, just as no one expected these Cardinals to be playing for the championship. But he did, and they are. Unlikely, unexpected and completely underestimated, they are there -- still in the game and full of faith.
And it's not over yet.
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