06/27/2002 00:33 am ET
Williams gives Cardinals a lift
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- It was one of those St. Louis baseball moments, the sort of thing that reminds you why people call this the best baseball town in America.
Woody Williams had pitched brilliantly for seven innings, allowing the Brewers just four hits and no runs. But the veteran right-hander started to wear down in the eighth. He gave up a leadoff homer to Matt Stairs, followed by doubles by Eric Young and Ryan Thompson.
Williams wanted desperately to close out the inning, but with the hot-hitting lefty Tyler Houston coming to the plate, manager Tony La Russa elected to go to his best lefty out of the bullpen, Steve Kline.
Disappointed and frustrated, Williams trudged back to the dugout. But as he did, the crowd of 32,686 gave him a deafening and heartfelt ovation. They knew what the game meant to Williams, and what his performance meant to the team. The Cardinals needed a win, not just in the standings but in their hearts and minds.
"I knew I needed to have a good game," Williams said. "I feel that way every time out there, but especially tonight."
Earlier in the day, the Cardinals had attended the memorial service for Darryl Kile. They had dropped four in a row, including both games since Kile's stunning death. A single win can't come anywhere near making up for that loss, but another defeat on the field would have been doubly tough to take. And Williams was taking a lot of that weight on his shoulders.
"You could see it when [Williams] walked off the field, he just couldn't contain it any longer," said Milwaukee manager Jerry Royster. "He did a great job under a very tough situation. The circumstances weren't real good but that's him, though. He has the heart of a lion."
Then, almost as if it had been scripted, Kline got the critical out, and Jason Isringhausen shut the Brewers down in the ninth, giving St. Louis the 5-2 win and another small step forward.
"It's a big day," said catcher Mike Matheny. "We were all very excited to play. We knew Woody was going to come out with his A game. We just knew that we had to get something rolling offensively and give him some confidence and help him get in his rhythm out there, and he did a phenomenal job for us."
Williams was clearly, undeniably upset that he wasn't able to finish the inning. But he couldn't help tipping his cap to the Cardinal faithful, who were trying to will him and his teammates to a victory.
"It just made me break down," Williams said of the ovation. "It's been an emotional day for everyone, I'm sure including you [reporters]. It's special. Very, very special."
Even Matheny, who was upset at himself over the hits Milwaukee had strung together, was touched by the outpouring from the stands.
"I didn't get to enjoy it much because I was still kind of stewing over a mistake I made out there that may have [made] him come out of the game," Matheny said. "I know he wanted to finish that one and he was on a roll where he could have. But a couple things led to giving them no option. But he did a great job for us and I was real proud of him."
In addition to Williams' quality showing on the mound, he came up big at the plate as well. Williams, one of the Cardinals' best hitting pitchers, drove in St. Louis' second run with a two-out, two-strike single up the middle in the second inning.
"Woody was just what we know about Woody," La Russa said. "Just outstanding. And just basic baseball. If you give up two-out hits, a lot of times you get beat. When you get them, a lot of times you win. That was the difference today. We just got some clutch two-out hits."
The skipper, who had the unpleasant task of removing his gutty starter from a close game, was as impressed by the crowd as he was by his team.
"If he'd come in and just gotten the third out ... he wouldn't have gone out there [to hit in the next inning]. They wouldn't have the change to acknowledge him," he said. "So that, in a way that we really didn't want, Thompson's double enabled Woody to get that demonstration from the fans."
Then he added, in an acknowledgement that there are still games to be won, drama or no drama: "I think Woody could have done without it."
Matthew Leach covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.