La Russa makes all the right moves
Game 3 was a night of good surprises for the Cardinals
ST. LOUIS -- It was a day of surprises in the Cardinals' clubhouse Saturday at Busch Stadium, from the ceremonial posting of the lineup in the afternoon to Steven Tyler walking into the room and chatting with players late at night after an impromptu and certainly memorable rendition of "God Bless America."
"We had no idea he was going to be here," Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein said after the visit by the lead singer of Aerosmith, which is in town for a concert on Sunday. "He was unbelievable tonight. That was the first time I've ever heard him live. It was amazing, one of the most amazing things about the whole night."
That's saying a lot, considering what 47,053 fans saw on the field. Scott Rolen was back in the starting lineup at third, and he made a spectacular barehanded play and then another stunning pickup of a ball that ate others alive. Scott Spiezio was out in left field again, and he came through right away with the decisive two-run triple. Preston Wilson was in right, and he scored twice and nailed Jose Valentin at second on a throw.
It was not immediately clear, but one wondered if Tony La Russa was even responsible for bringing Tyler to the ballpark and then having the mic taken over to the rocker's seat on the third-base side for that postseason musical classic.
The Cardinals are suddenly in control of the National League Championship Series by virtue of a 5-0 victory that gave them a 2-1 series lead entering Sunday night's Game 4 at Busch. They are making all of the right moves now, saying all the right things ("manana" is a word Albert Pujols said repeatedly amid the postgame din), getting a home run from a pitcher, of all people, and playing the postgame clubhouse music at concert-decibel levels. Dream on, dream until your dream come true.
"I haven't been out there in left in a while, and it was nice to see my name in there again and be able to contribute," Spiezio said in a noteworthy understatement, considering that he has become the star of this series following his big game-tying triple a night earlier in New York. "I love it. It's just a real exciting experience, something that's fun to be a part of. This is what it's all about.
"Tony had a good reason for all the moves he makes. Just look at the game Scott had. When I was playing third [Friday], I had one ball hit to me -- then Rolen came in and has made four or five unbelievable plays."
Jeff Suppan's superlative outing, complete with his own homer, had people chanting "Sooooup!" all night, and Rolen's handiwork at third was an example of the support he received. Rolen, who had made a dazzling diving catch after entering Game 2 as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the eighth, made a barehanded grab of a Paul Lo Duca grounder to end the sixth inning. That was followed by Rolen's backhanded short-hop grab on David Wright's grounder to end the seventh.
"The defense was great behind Supp, but you can't play good defense if you don't make good pitches," Rolen said. "He was getting ground balls and everybody seemed to be in the right spots. When he's making his pitches and putting the ball where he wants to, balls get hit at the defense."
Rolen, on the two plays at third:
Barehanded: "It was unusually high and kind of a do-or-die play. It had a little spin on it. It wasn't going to hurt anything to take a shot at it, and it kind of stuck in my hand and worked out."
Backhanded: "I just kind of reacted to that. I just cleared my body a little bit, tried not to let it eat me up and took it on the backhand side."
When asked when he decided on starting Rolen for Game 3, La Russa explained: "I penciled in lineups for the first four games, and he was in this one in pencil and last night [for Game 2]. Once you get to start thinking about it, you get more serious. But you always wait until the next day. It's one of those things, you don't have to make out a lineup until you get to the ballpark.
"That's the neat thing about our club," La Russa continued. "Guys like So Taguchi, [Juan] Encarnacion [and] Chris Duncan, who you would like to have play, and they didn't play because we have enough good players."
Dream on, dream until your dream come true.
Like Rolen, Wilson is dreaming of a championship ring. He got to sleep at about 5 a.m. CT earlier in the day. The Cardinals had left Shea at 1:28 a.m., then flew to the Midwest to get into their beds for whatever rest was possible before the first NLCS game in this ballpark. When he got to the park, Wilson saw his name in the lineup.
Encarnacion had started in right field for St. Louis in the first two games, going 0-for-4 in Game 1 (when Tom Glavine owned the Cardinals) and 1-for-4 with an RBI in Game 2. Here's why: Encarnacion had been 4-for-24 (.167) with no RBIs against Mets starter Steve Trachsel, and Wilson had been 8-for-20 (.400) with five RBIs against him.
"I guess Tony saw that I had hit him pretty well in the past," Wilson said. "To me, I can say that it didn't matter to anyone what the travel schedule had been. I'd rather be getting in at 5 a.m. and playing a postseason game than sitting at home. So I'm not complaining about any kind of time. It was time to play.
"I'm just glad we came out the way we did. The first time through the lineup, almost everybody had a really good at-bat. To make the pitcher throw that many pitches at the start was good to see. Soup was outstanding and there were some unbelievable plays out there tonight. But two wins doesn't mean anything -- four is the number that matters. That's a good ballclub over there and we have to respect that."
Wilson showed the Mets no respect in Game 3, smashing the comebacker off Trachsel's leg and knocking the pitcher out of the game, the Mets' rotation injury du jour. In the fifth inning, Valentin singled to right and challenged Wilson by trying to stretch it out to a double, but Wilson's peg to Eckstein was true.
"Jimmy [Edmonds, the center fielder] did a great job letting me know I've gotta throw it," Wilson said.
"Everybody has done a great job," Pujols said. "It's a different person every day."
Anything can happen once you get into the postseason. Eckstein said that again as the music blasted in the clubhouse. The Tigers already have proven it in the American League, where they are now waiting for one of these two teams to meet them. The Cardinals are suddenly looking much better than the Cardinals team that won a division despite a staggering finish. It was one glorious night for the red-clad people of St. Louis, a night filled with surprises that included a famous singer and another new look with the Cardinals lineup. Now, it's rookie Anthony Reyes vs. Oliver Perez in Game 4 -- a new night, a new crowd, perhaps another night closer to what this city hopes will be an end to the longest drought of world championships in its history.
Dream on, dream until your dream come true.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.