Now, the Cardinals may only have to wait 24 hours for their first world championship in 24 years.
St. Louis stands on the cusp of the 10th title in franchise history thanks to a come-from-behind 5-4 win over the Tigers in Game 4 of the World Series on Thursday night. Eckstein's four hits included three critical doubles as the Redbirds capitalized on the continuing defensive struggles of the American League champions.
Eckstein keyed the Cardinals offensively all night as they rallied from a 3-0 deficit, then bounced back after giving up their first lead of the game. St. Louis now holds a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with a chance to close it out at Busch Stadium on Friday.
"We're just taking every opportunity that they give us," said Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols. "They make some errors, we take advantage."
The Cards' unlikely eighth-inning rally began with a walk to Yadier Molina and the score tied at 4. Aaron Miles barely beat out a potential double-play ball, then took second on Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya's wild pitch -- on the same play where Juan Encarnacion struck out. Eckstein hit a looping liner into the gap in left-center field. The ball hit left fielder Craig Monroe's glove, but he couldn't corral it.
"I was hoping it was going to find a little bit of dirt, grass out there," Eckstein said. "But the ball was kind of straightening out, and it kept going. ... It just barely got out of the reach of his own glove, hit off the tip."
That made a winner of Adam Wainwright, who took a blown save when he permitted Brandon Inge's game-tying double half an inning earlier. It was the first blown save for Wainwright since he was installed as St. Louis' closer following a season-ending injury to Jason Isringhausen in September.
Nonetheless, the rookie showed tremendous composure. He recovered after Inge's double to strike out the next two batters, then pitched a perfect ninth against the 2-3-4 spots in the Detroit lineup.
"Obviously it was disappointing that he scored there," Wainwright said. "Coming into the game right there, trying to get a strikeout, or out, however I can get an out without him scoring, and probably didn't throw the right pitch there. But I held them to one [run] and that was the big key there. Once they did score the run, [I had to] keep them right where they were standing and not get any further."
After rallying from the 3-0 hole, a tie game was no problem for the Cards. It was getting the lead that was tough -- but not too tough for a team that has made a specialty of coming back all October.
Eckstein delivered the RBI double that got the Cards on the board for the first time in the third inning. That two-bagger, like his third one, scored Miles. Following a single, Miles stole second before coming home for the first run.
"You have to come back and score [after falling behind]," Miles said. "It does a lot for the morale of the team, in the dugout. It does a lot for the pitcher. He feels like, 'OK, we've got a game here. We're going to get this going.'"
An inning later, Scott Rolen doubled to extend his hitting streak to nine games. Molina's double scored him and cut the lead to a single run, and the Tigers were surely starting to get nervous. But the contest remained 3-2 until the seventh. Suppan kept the Tigers off the board after the third inning before departing after six, while the Cardinals couldn't break through any more against Jeremy Bonderman.
Teams Up 2-1, Improve to 3-1 and Win World Series
|Thirty-two teams in Major League Baseball history have taken a 2-1 World Series lead, went on to win Game 4 and proceeded to win the Fall Classic, while only six have lost.|
|NY Giants||1905||Philadelphia A's||4-1|
|Chicago Cubs||1908||Detroit Tigers||4-1|
|Philadelphia A's||1911||NY Giants||4-2|
|Boston Red Sox||1912||NY Giants||4-3*|
|Philadelphia A's||1913||NY Giants||4-1|
|Boston Red Sox||1915||Philadelphia Phillies||4-1|
|Boston Red Sox||1916||Brooklyn Dodgers||4-1|
|Boston Red Sox||1918||Chicago Cubs||4-2|
|Cincinnati Reds||1919||Chicago White Sox||5-3**|
|Philadelphia A's||1929||Chicago Cubs||4-1|
|NY Giants||1933||Wash. Senators||4-1|
|Detroit Tigers||1935||Chicago Cubs||4-2|
|NY Yankees||1936||NY Giants||4-2|
|NY Yankees||1941||Brooklyn Dodgers||4-1|
|St. Louis Cardinals||1942||NY Yankees||4-1|
|NY Yankees||1943||St. Louis Cardinals||4-1|
|Cleveland Indians||1948||Boston Braves||4-2|
|NY Yankees||1949||Brooklyn Dodgers||4-1|
|LA Dodgers||1959||Chicago White Sox||4-2|
|NY Yankees||1961||Cincinnati Reds||4-1|
|St. Louis Cardinals||1967||Boston Red Sox||4-3|
|NY Mets||1969||Baltimore Orioles||4-1|
|Oakland A's||1972||Cincinnati Reds||4-3|
|Oakland A's||1974||LA Dodgers||4-1|
|NY Yankees||1977||LA Dodgers||4-2|
|Baltimore Orioles||1983||Philadelphia Phillies||4-1|
|Detroit Tigers||1984||San Diego Padres||4-1|
|LA Dodgers||1988||Oakland A's||4-1|
|Toronto Blue Jays||1992||Atlanta Braves||4-2|
|Toronto Blue Jays||1993||Philadelphia Phillies||4-2|
|Atlanta Braves||1995||Cleveland Indians||4-2|
|NY Yankees||2000||NY Mets||4-1|
|* Game 2 ended in a tie
** Best-of-nine format
In the seventh, Detroit's defense again began to disintegrate. Eckstein hit a leadoff double as center fielder Curtis Granderson slipped, and then scored when pitcher Fernando Rodney threw the ball away on So Taguchi's sacrifice bunt. After an intentional walk to Pujols and two strikeouts, Preston Wilson's single gave the Cardinals their first lead.
Wilson waited on a changeup from hard-throwing Zumaya, and poked it through the left side. Pujols was thrown out trying to draw a throw on the play.
"It was just a changeup up," Wilson said. "When it got through, I knew it was hit kind of hard and right at the left fielder. So I was just hoping for either a bad throw or for them to cut the throw off. The guy cut it off and we took the out on the bases for the run."
Suppan received no decision, but gave an admirable performance on a night when he wasn't at his sharpest. Tigers first baseman Sean Casey burned the right-hander twice with a homer and an RBI single, but Suppan for the most part minimized trouble. He stranded seven Tigers in his six innings and again was credited with a quality start for holding Detroit to three runs over six.
"I was able to go six and try to keep it close," Suppan said. "I think for a pitcher like myself, obviously command and changing speeds are so important. And there were times when I just wasn't putting the ball where I wanted to. When that happens, you have a different plan of attack. You have to change speeds more. You have to sometimes miss by a lot instead of missing down the middle."
Suppan survived long enough to hand it off to the St. Louis bullpen's kiddie corps, and as usual the youngsters held it down. Right-hander Josh Kinney and southpaw Tyler Johnson both gave scoreless turns, and though Wainwright allowed an inherited runner to score, there was no faulting his effort.
With the other side held down, the chance was right there. The Cards took it. Now the biggest prize in baseball is staring right at them, in their own house.
"The thing is that you can't give up," Pujols said. "You play 162 games to get where we are right now, and you can't give up. There's no tomorrow. You need to play hard for nine innings, and it doesn't matter what the scoreboard says."
But within a day, the scoreboard may say that Pujols and the Cardinals are world champions.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.