With some help from a soggy field and a big hit by little David Eckstein, the St. Louis Cardinals took control of the World Series with a wild 5-4 comeback win over the Detroit Tigers on Thursday.
Eckstein's tiebreaking double glanced off the glove of Craig Monroe in the eighth inning, and the Cardinals capitalized on Detroit's sloppy defense to take a 3-1 Series lead and move within one win of their first championship in 24 years.
"He's the toughest guy I've ever seen in a uniform," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said, praising his scrappy shortstop.
Jeff Weaver has the chance to nail it down this morning when he pitches against rookie Justin Verlander at Busch Stadium. Each lost his first start in this Series.
"The fans here are unbelievable. They come out every night supporting us and it would be a real honor to do this for them," Eckstein said.
The 1.7m Eckstein hit three doubles and a single as St. Louis overcame an early 3-0 deficit to close in on its 10th World Series title. The last team to squander a 3-1 Series lead, however, was the 1985 Cardinals against Kansas City.
After Wednesday's rainout, only the second World Series washout in 20 years, showers were expected again on Thursday. But the heavy stuff stayed away on a 12oC night, and much of the back-and-forth game was played in a light mist that obscured the Gateway Arch beyond center field.
The mist got heavier in the sixth, however, and the Tigers began to struggle with the elements.
With St. Louis trailing 3-2 in the seventh, Eckstein hit a drive to right-center that Curtis Granderson appeared to have in his sights before he slipped to the slick turf, kicking up a huge divot. The ball fell for an easy double.
"If I had stayed up, I catch it easily," Granderson said.
Pinch-hitter So Taguchi dropped down a sacrifice bunt, and reliever Fernando Rodney threw the ball way over the head of Placido Polanco covering at first base, allowing Eckstein to score the tying run.
It was the fourth error by a Tigers pitcher in four games, a record for one pitching staff in the World Series.
"Obviously, it was a little bit of a freak inning," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "It's not our best fielding in the world, but that's baseball."
After an intentional walk to Albert Pujols and two strikeouts, Preston Wilson singled to left against Rodney to give St. Louis a 4-3 lead.
But Detroit catcher Ivan Rodriguez opened the eighth with a double and Brandon Inge tied it with a double off rookie Cardinals closer Adam Wainwright.
That set the stage for St. Louis' final rally. Yadier Molina drew a leadoff walk from Joel Zumaya before Aaron Miles beat out a potential double-play ball.
Miles moved up when strike three to Juan Encarnacion got past Rodriguez for a wild pitch, and Eckstein hit a drive to left-center.
Monroe sprinted to his left and laid out with a desperate dive, but the ball ticked off the tip of his glove. The left fielder lay prone on the grass as Miles scored the go-ahead run.
Wainwright set down Detroit in order in the ninth to the delight of the red-clad crowd.
National League Championship Series MVP Jeff Suppan allowed three runs in six innings for St. Louis.
Making his first start in 12 days, Detroit's Jeremy Bonderman was staked to a three-run lead and was visibly steamed when he was pulled after 5 1-3 innings with the score 3-2. He slammed his glove and hat on the bench, knocking over a full cup, and kicked the ground.
Detroit led 3-0 thanks to Sean Casey's first career playoff home run and the first off Suppan in these playoffs, plus a RBI single in the third followed by another from Rodriguez.
Eckstein doubled in the Cardinals' first run in the bottom of the inning, and in the fourth Molina hit an RBI double with two outs to cut the score to 3-2.