- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

NEW YORK — By all logic, David Eckstein should not have been playing baseball last night. The St. Louis Cardinals shortstop had a sprained left shoulder and several bruised right fingers after getting banged around Tuesday night in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.

Anyone who knows anything about Eckstein, though, knew better. The diminutive leadoff man simply wasn’t going to miss Game 6 against the New York Mets.

“Everything’s feeling real good,” he said as he trotted onto the field for batting practice last night.

Eckstein was lucky to make it out of St. Louis in one piece. He hurt his left shoulder making a diving stop in the first inning of the Cardinals’ 4-2 victory, then took a pitch off his right hand trying to lay down a squeeze bunt in the eighth.

X-rays didn’t reveal any more structural damage than the sprained shoulder, though, and Eckstein convinced manager Tony La Russa he could play as the Cardinals sought to win the pennant last night at Shea Stadium.

“He told me to write his name in,” La Russa said. “He said his shoulder is good to go. He said his fingers are good to go. I said, ‘Well, I trust you.’ ”

Eckstein, at 5-foot-7 perhaps the shortest everyday player in the majors, has earned his manager’s trust. La Russa speaks glowingly of him.

“Over the years, I’ve had a whole bunch of really tough guys who competed very tough and got banged up and never backed off,” La Russa said. “But when you consider his stature, I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a guy tougher than David. He gets blasted with foul balls, hit balls, hit by pitches, sliding into second base, diving. He’s fearless. Toughest guy I’ve ever been around.”

Perez gets the call

Mets manager Willie Randolph wouldn’t name his potential Game 7 starter before last night’s game. Once tonight’s winner-take-all showdown was officially on the schedule, he didn’t hesitate to anoint Oliver Perez as his man.

“He’s done a nice job for us since he’s been here,” Randolph said. “He’s been very similar to Johnny Maine (last night’s winning pitcher). He’s thrown the ball well.”

At times. Perez’s won-lost record during the regular season (3-13) was among the worst in baseball. But the young left-hander has had the ability to dominate, and he managed to earn the win in Game 4 despite allowing five runs in 52/3 innings.

Perez will be going on only three days’ rest, but Randolph felt he was the best option. Steve Trachsel, the Game 3 starter, would have been in line to come back on normal rest. But the veteran right-hander was shelled by the Cardinals at Busch Stadium and also suffered a bruised right leg.

The only other possibility would have been left-hander Darren Oliver, who hasn’t started a game since 2004 but was outstanding in relief of Trachsel in Game 3, tossing six scoreless innings.

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