SportsProf

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Ecksteined

You Google something on the internet to find out all about it. You Xerox something to make a copy of it. You use a Band-Aid to cover a boo boo on your little kid's knee. You Fedex a package because you want to make sure it gets to the place it needs to first thing in the morning.

For those of you who missed it, the Astros were up 4-2 last night with two down in the top of the ninth, up 3-1 in the NLCS, at home, with light's out closer, Brad Lidge, on the mound.

Things were looking pretty good for the 'stros, weren't they?

Then they got Ecksteined.

As with last year's World Series, the Cardinals had not been swinging the bat well in this series. The park was jumping, Houston's fans smelled the victory, and they were on their feet cheering in near delirium. The Astros have not been to the World Series in the history of their franchise, so this was quite a moment for the Houston baseball faithful.

Enter Eckstein.

There are shortstops who are more talked about. Last year, the Cardinals let their prized SS, Edgar Renteria (he who got the game-winning hit for the Marlins against Cleveland in the 1997 World Series), become a free agent. The heavy-spending Boston Red Sox inked Renteria. Then a musical chairs of free-agent shortstops ensued. The Cardinals waited, they needed an SS, but they didn't want to spend the $40 million or so that it cost the BoSox to sign Renteria. They didn't want to come close.

Enter Eckstein.

He played an instrumental role in the Angels' improbable run to a World Series victory over the Giants several years back, and he's the type of guy who just helps you win games. They inked him for a fraction of what it cost Boston to sign Renteria (I think it was something like $10 million over three years). And, he had a better year. Game-winning HRs, suicide squeeze bunts, taking the extra base, getting his uniform dirty, you name it, David Eckstein did it.

So it would figure that he would find himself in the middle of what happened last night. Actually, he started it. As he stood there at the plate, I said to myself, "There's no way David Eckstein will make the last out of the NLCS. No way." (He reminds me somewhat of Lenny Dykstra, with whom my best man played minor-league baseball and about whom my best man said, "Lenny always was thinking how to make something happen. We'd be on the road, tied 1-1 in the top of the eighth, with Lenny due to leadoff, and he'd be walking up and down the dugout, hitting his bat into his hand, saying 'C'mon, let's do something', and next thing you knew, he's standing on third base with a triple. Next thing you know, it's 4-1, and we've won the game.").

So he pulled an Eckstein.

He battled Lidge and then singled to left.

The invincible Lidge.

The second-best closer in the game, they say, next to the guy in the Bronx. Name of Rivera.

Rarified air.

Then Jim Edmonds worked Lidge masterfully for a walk.

Then Albert Pujols did what we expect of our Titans in big moments. Jacked a hanging slider so high and hard that NASA's radar system -- also located in Houston -- picked it up. 5-4, Cardinals. Jason Isringhausen, not considered one of the best closers in baseball, finished off the Astros in the bottom of the ninth.

Series is now 3-2.

But it's going back to St. Louis.

Take a bow, Eckstein.

You dented the armor of a supposedly invincible foe.

Again.

You Ecksteined them.

And Ecksteining the other team is what great baseball players do.

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