September 2, 2008

Eckstein shows former team how to be hungry

Odd, how a single can overshadow eight home runs, but the sight of former Cardinal David Eckstein singling home what would be the game-winning run sort of sticks with you, especially if you where one of those who still wishes the Cardinals had never cut him loose in the first place.

It was Ecksteins' seventh inning single that brought home Jeff Salazar that broke a 6-6 tie. Stephen Drew would advance to third on the play and score during the next at-bat when Cardinals' reliever Russ Springer would throw a wild pitch, creating the final 8-6 score.

The Arizona Diamondbacks had made a deal to obtain Eckstein from the Toronto Blue Jays, where the shortstop who had been the Cardinals 2006 World Series MVP had been working out his defensive shortcomings in obscurity in Canada. Yet Eckstein had never lost one of his best attributes: to be hungrier than the "other guy" when it comes to playoff spots and big games. The St. Louis Cardinals got to see that quality yesterday afternoon, got to experience what other teams had when Crunch Time came a calling. Of course, last night, it was the Cards that got crunched.

One thing Eckstein was always a better than average hitter, especially when it counted, and not just against "beat upon" teams. Eckstein went 2-for-4 last night with two RBIs.

Not that the Cards made a bad deal for Eckstein's replacement, either, because Cesar Izturis has filled the shortstop position quite well, and not without some decent hitting of his own. But it makes one wonder why Eckstein couldn't have been moved to second place, where he played for the Diamondbacks last night, and where he'd played much of his earlier career. That he didn't have a shotgun arm probably accounted for most of his fielding errors, as those with actual playing experience can tell you, can put the pressure on you before the ground ball ever reaches you, for instance. But whatever the reason, at least some of Cardinal Nation is still a bit miffed about the Eckstein trade.

And to prove the Eckstein deal was never all that great to begin with, those who didn't much care for the diminutive shortstop, instead of hoping the Cards will play good, have to submit to hoping Eckstein has a bad game, to make themselves feel better, if only for an inning or two. Doesn't help the Cards, either way.

Joel Pineiro and a bevy of relievers couldn't hold a lead for the Cards, which also had quite a bit to do with yesterday's loss. Before Eckstein taught the Cardinals why you don't deal away your MVP just because he has a tough post-WS season in the field, the Cardinals had their chance to prove they could do without him, launching homer after homer, four in all, off the bats of Yadier Molina, Joe Mather, Albert Pujols, and Felipe Lopez. Five out of the Cards' six runs came as a result of home runs.

The home run derby in the desert wasn't limited to Redbirds, however, as the Diamondbacks' Adam Dunn, Chris Young, Stephen Drew, and Mark Reynolds all went long. And if that wasn't enough offense before the Eckstein touche, Drew went 5-for-5, hitting for the cycle with a spare double while scoring three Diamondbacks' runs personally.

The loss was the Cardinals fourth in a row, further dimming their hopes of an NL Wild Card spot, as they now trail both the Brewers and the Phillies, the WC-leading Brewers by 6.5 games.

At a time when the Cardinals are setting their September roster, it appears Joe Mather, who suffered what is believed to be a wrist strain, may be a write-off for the rest of this season, figuring that even under a best case scenario on his alleged injury, that he will miss at least a couple weeks anyhow.

The Cardinals play again at Chase Field in Arizona tonight, the second game of their three-game set with the Diamondbacks. Manager Tony La Russa sends Adam Wainwright (7-3) to the mound versus Yusmeiro Petit (3-3).

If Wainwright cannot cool the Diamondbacks' bats, all the Cardinals seem to have to hope for is to hit another pile of homers and hope that David Eckstein still isn't ticked about getting bumped off a team to which he contributed heavily in winning a World Series.