- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2006

ST. LOUIS — He’s the smallest guy in uniform every time he steps onto the field, yet he somehow seems to stand above everyone else on a routine basis. Maybe there’s more to David Eckstein than meets the eye.

“He is the definition of a clutch player,” St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of his 5-foot-6 shortstop, who last night was selected MVP of the World Series. “He’s the toughest guy I’ve ever seen in a uniform.”

Strong praise for someone who looks like he should be playing infield for his high school junior varsity team, not a major league club which won the World Series. Eckstein deserves it, though, because for all his shortcomings, he’s still capable of taking over a game like he did Thursday night by going 4-for-5 with the winning hit in the Cardinals’ 5-4 victory over the Detroit Tigers.

In a back-and-forth Game 4 at Busch Stadium, Eckstein rose to the occasion. He drove in St. Louis’ first run with a third-inning double, he jump-started a two-run rally in the seventh when Detroit’s Curtis Granderson slipped on his deep drive to center and he drove in the winning run in the eighth with a line-drive double just past a diving Craig Monroe in left.

“This is probably the biggest stage that you can be on,” said Eckstein, who was a member of the 2002 World Series champion Anaheim Angels. “Having the opportunity to be in that situation, I was just hoping that I would find a way to put a good at-bat, put the barrel of the bat on the ball. And fortunately, I was able to do it and it felt good.”

For all his success over six major league seasons with the Angels and Cardinals, Eckstein will forever have his critics. Some say he doesn’t have enough range to play shortstop. Others point to his awkward throwing motion. More say his lack of power comes back to haunt him.

So why is it Eckstein always seems to get the last laugh?

“I think what happens is because he’s smaller in physical structure, everybody thinks there’s this cute, little kid [who] doesn’t have a lot of talent but plays hard, hustles,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “Believe me, there’s a lot more to this guy than that. This guy is a very talented baseball player.”

No Kenny in St. Louis

Wednesday night’s rainout left Leyland with the option of bringing back left-hander Kenny Rogers on regular rest for Game 5 last night. Leyland, though, wanted no part of that.

After the controversy Rogers created in Game 2 in Detroit with a foreign substance (likely pine tar) on his pitching hand, the 41-year-old would likely have been treated unmercifully by the Busch Stadium crowd. With the Tigers needing to win three straight to win the series, Leyland said it made more sense to stick with rookie Justin Verlander last night.

“I’m not going to pitch him in this atmosphere,” the manager said following Game 4.

Leyland tried to change his tune slightly yesterday, insisting Rogers wouldn’t have been fazed by pitching in front of the St. Louis fans. Rather, he felt his pitcher, who hasn’t given up a run in 23 postseason innings, was extra-motivated pitching in front of his own fans.

“We have to win three games,” Leyland said. “I made that decision, and however people want to look at that, I’m sure you can make a case for either way.”

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