St. Louis One Step from Taking World Series Title

The St. Louis Cardinals are on the verge of winning the World Series after taking a 3-1 lead with a win over Detroit on Thursday night. The Cardinals rallied to beat the Tigers 5-4.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The St. Louis Cardinals are one win away from the World Series title. Last night on their home field the Cardinals won the most exciting game of the series so far, beating the Detroit Tigers 5-4.

St. Louis, now leading three games to one, relied on the clutch play of its smallest player and some key mistakes by the Tigers.

From St. Louis, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: If you zoom in on St. Louis shortstop David Eckstein and block out the glitter of the World Series, you could swear you're watching a kid down at the park playing a little league game. He's 5'7”, chokes up on the bat, sprints to first base when a pitcher walks him. He's friendly and polite and seems to have stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Then, you zoom back, let the glitter in, watch him play a game like last night and you realize the little leaguer very much belongs in the majors. Example? None better than the bottom of the eighth inning, game tied four all.

Eckstein batting against Detroit's most feared pitcher, reliever Joel Zumaya, possessor of scary 100 mile-per-hour fastballs. Zumaya pitches, Eckstein swings and drives in the winning run. His manager Tony LaRussa marvels.

Mr. TONY LARUSSA (Team Manager, St. Louis Cardinals): Game-winning hit against a guy throwing 100. I mean that's all you need to know. Get a come through like that in that situation, a guy with that talent. He the toughest guy I've ever seen in a uniform.

GOLDMAN: Here's the tough guy Eckstein's take on the big hit.

Mr. DAVID ECKSTEIN (Shortstop, St. Louis Cardinals): And having the opportunity to be in that situation, I was just hoping to find a way to put a good at-bat together, put the barrel of bat on the ball. And fortunate enough, I was able to do it, and it felt good.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

GOLDMAN: Eckstein's hit, which just glanced off the glove of Detroit's leaping left fielder Craig Monroe, was Eckstein's third double of the night and fourth hit overall. It sent the Busch Stadium crowd into one more fit of ecstasy. Last night was the best game of the series, a back and forth drama filled with hits. That's right, hits.

The much-maligned batters for both teams finally woke up. Detroit had 10 hits, St. Louis, 9. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they also led in the mistakes category. Fernando Rodney became then fourth Detroit pitcher in as many games to commit a costly error.

Note to Tigers manager Jim Leyland, time to work on your pitcher's fielding skills, quickly. In the seventh inning, Rodney picked up a bunted ball and threw it over the head of the Detroit player covering first base. Eckstein scored on the play, but he really shouldn't have been on base.

At the start of the inning, Eckstein had lofted a routine fly ball at the center field. Detroit's Curtis Granderson slipped and fell, and what should have been an out became one of Eckstein's doubles.

The outfield was wet from the rain that forced the previous night's game to be canceled. But Granderson said conditions had been pretty good until Eckstein's hit.

Mr. CURTIS GRANDERSON (Outfielder, Detroit Tigers): Just that one, and it wasn't a slip, the ground just gave. You know, I pushed a lot of the dirt, because when I went to go back and check there's a big divot right there.

Unidentified Man: It was more sort of soft dirt and not wet dirt?

Mr. GRANDERSON: A combination, you know. A little bit of wet on top, but then at the same time I pushed it. If it was just wet, you know, I wouldn't have left a divot I would have just scraped across the top.

GOLDMAN: When asked about the slips, mistakes almost plays and clutch hits, players on both teams said it's baseball, anything is possible, which need to be the Tigers' rallying cry right now. One more loss and the World Series they were supposed to be destined to win will slip away.

Best perhaps to remember a long time ago when only one Detroit player was alive. It was 1968 and St. Louis lead Detroit three games to won in the World Series. The Tigers won three in a row and took the title.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, St. Louis.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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