If you’ve been following the NLCS on television or radio, odds are you’ve heard quite enough about David Eckstein. Sure, he’s short. He’s scrappy. He makes tough plays look impossible, and then he makes them. He even fights through injuries so that the Cardinals can avoid the ignominy of putting Scott Spiezio at second base. And Tuesday night he played a great game, going 2 for 5 along with sparkling defense. But because I, too, have had enough, I promise not to write another word about him in this article.
Behind another solid pitching performance from Jeff Weaver, the Cardinals took a 3-2 series lead with a 4-2 win in their final game in St. Louis. Homers from Albert Pujols and Chris Duncan put the Cards ahead to stay, and excellent bullpen work from Josh Kinney, Randy Flores, and Adam Wainwright kept the lead intact. Tony LaRussa only had to make two mid-inning pitching changes, and amazingly, he won the game without the help of a Spiezio triple.
With each postseason start, Weaver gets a little better. In the NLDS, he shut out the Padres for five innings, but owed many thanks to the Friars for doing so much of the work themselves. He lost Game 1 of this series to the Mets, but looked surprisingly competent for five innings. Tuesday he pushed all the way into quality start territory, working six complete and allowing only one 2-run Mets outburst.
Weaver still doesn’t look like someone you’d want pitching a crucial postseason game—for the second start in a row, he walked more batters than he struck out—but somehow, with smoke, mirrors, and flowing blonde locks, he’s getting the job done. Best of all for Jeff, he’s earning himself more attention on the free-agent market with every scoreless inning he throws.
By way of contrast, while Tom Glavine‘s financial future is hardly in doubt, he didn’t do himself any favors with Tuesday’s outing. He only threw 80 pitches (only half for strikes), but after struggling in the 4th, he continued to cough up the hits, forcing Willie Randolph to go to the bullpen. While the Mets bullpen did their job, they couldn’t give up negative runs, which is what they would’ve needed to do to get Glavine off the hook for the Game 5 loss.
Aside from Duncan’s four-bagger off of Pedro Feliciano, both bullpens were outstanding. That’s particularly reassuring to the Cardinals after Sunday’s post-Anthony Reyes disaster. Despite giving up the insurance run in the 6th, Feliciano led the Mets in WPA with a 5.6% contribution. He came into a bases-loaded, one-out jam and retired Jim Edmonds and Ronnie Belliard without allowing any further damage. Those two at-bats changed the face of the game: when Randolph went to the bullpen, the Cardinals had a 79.6% of winning the game; at the end of the frame, it was down to 66.3%. The Mets didn’t build on that momentum, but those two outs kept the game within reach at a crucial moment.
Flores and Wainwright performed a similar service for the Cardinals in the 8th. Kinney, who had been extremely sharp in the 7th, allowed a one-out single and a double to Carlos Delgado and David Wright. Before Delgado’s AB, the Mets had a mere 9.7% chance of winning; as Shawn Green came to the plate, it was up to 28%. Flores coaxed a flyout from Green, pushing the Mets back down to 16%. Wainwright then retired Jose Valentin, again knocking the Mets WPA under 10%, where it would stay for the remainder of the game.
Headed back to New York for Game 6, the Cardinals once again look like a credible playoff threat. It’s tough to take an 83-78 team seriously, but if Pujols hits for power, Rolen and Edmonds play their accustomed level of defense, the bullpen makes like Game 4 never happened, and Weaver continues to impersonate a #2 starter, the Cards look less like the ’05 Padres and more like the ’04 Cardinals. You know, the sort of team that can waltz right into the World Series … and lose.