10/09/06 1:55 AM ET
Spiezio enjoying rebirth in St. Louis
Veteran infielder collects key hit to help Cards clinch NLDS
By Conor Nicholl / MLB.com
Spiezio has found new life, life that resembles his 2002 season that eventually ended in a World Series ring with the Angels. His offense and defense helped move the Cards one step closer to his '02 finish as the Redbirds captured a 6-2 National League Division Series-clinching victory over the Padres in Game 4.
"This is incredible, this is what it is all about," he said. "The first day I walked in, I loved the atmosphere of the clubhouse."
That atmosphere in the clubhouse was full of champagne and beer after the victory. While talking with reporters, Spiezio, smiling as wide as he had all year, paused the interview to grab and open a bottle. He also stopped the interview one more time to receive a hug from manager Tony La Russa, a man who has changed Spiezio's career.
"Terrific guy," La Russa said with a smile.
Last year, Spiezio was tossed to the scrap heap after struggling through a tough season with the Mariners. This season, he helped the Cardinals secure their third consecutive trip to the NL Championship Series.
"When Scott is in the lineup, you are winning," Ronnie Belliard said.
This year, Spiezio has provided vital offense at four positions and helped fill holes when players have been injured. On Sunday, with Scott Rolen sidelined with a balky shoulder, Spiezio was informed less than 24 hours before the start of Game 4 than he could start at third base.
"I am one of those people who prepares myself for any situation," he said before the game. "If I have to go out there and play, then I am ready to play."
"To be in this situation is what every team wants," he said. "If you came to us in Spring Training and said we had to win one of the next two games to move on to the next series, no matter what the travel is, we would have taken it. We would have taken it, because we are competitors. It's pressure when you are facing bullets and all that stuff. This isn't pressure. This is fun."
And Spiezio had plenty of fun, delivering a critical sixth-inning single to center that helped the Cards open up a 6-2 lead. When he came to bat, the crowd started chanting, "Spie-zi-o, Spie-zi-o, Spie-zi-o," a chant the veteran utility man hadn't heard since he was in the World Series with the Angels.
And like that Fall Classic -- when Spiezio hit a Game 7 homer that helped the Angels win it all -- his single on an 0-2 count was especially critical for the team's win. It also furthered a remarkable stat: In postseason play, Spiezio is 12-for-18 with runners in scoring position.
"I was just trying to protect," he said. "I was in a hole and I just wanted to battle and get a slider or a sinker. I just tried to guard both sides of the plate and I took a nice easy swing."
He also provided steady defense at the hot corner, displaying his postseason ability.
"He has World Series experience, postseason experience and he stepped up big today," teammate Gary Bennett said.
And this game for Spiezio was much greater than the one in 2002 and far better than any game in 2005. He had his wife and kids with him, and his teammates giving him hugs and pouring champagne and beer on him, furthering one of the best comeback stories in baseball.
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.