ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) — Welcome back to Cards Capsules, the series in which we take a look back at memorable Cardinals games from the last 20 years in St. Louis baseball history. Without any baseball to watch in the present due to the spread of coronavirus, what better way to fill the time, eh?
Previous Cards Capsules:
Today we dive into the most memorable called-strike three in Cardinals history.
2006: Adam Wainwright serves Carlos Beltran an all-time knee-buckler
I told you he’d be back, didn’t I? Carlos Beltran pummeled the Cardinals in the 2004 National League Championship Series as a member of the Houston Astros, and in 2006, he returned to torment the Redbirds in another NLCS, this time as a New York Met.
Entering the decisive Game 7 at Shea Stadium on October 19, 2006, Beltran had a .362 average with seven homers, nine RBIs and a preposterous 19 runs scored in 13 career NLCS games against St. Louis. If anyone wielded the power to take over this game and propel the Mets to the World Series, it was Beltran. All eyes were locked on the 29-year-old All-Star center fielder.
He got things started right away in the first when he knocked a two-out double off Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan. A bloop single by David Wright a couple batters later gave Beltran his 20th-career NLCS run against the Cardinals—and it gave the Mets an early 1-0 lead. Things weren’t off to a great start for St. Louis, but they wouldn’t take long to turn around.
In the top of the second, the Cardinals constructed their own miniature rally, tallying a Jim Edmonds single through the right side and a Yadier Molina flare to left to set up first and third with one out for Ronnie Belliard. Taking no chances with the pitcher on deck, the St. Louis second baseman Belliard pushed a safety squeeze bunt to the right side, allowing Edmonds to score from third to tie the game.
After allowing a walk and two hits to produce the Mets run in the first, the 31-year-old Suppan didn’t permit a single hit over his next six innings of work, scattering another four walks to keep New York off the scoreboard.
That kept the Cardinals tied long enough for Scott Rolen to hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the sixth inning. Rolen definitely hit that ball over the left field wall, too. But Endy Chavez brought it back.
That moment was unfathomably difficult, frustrating for the Cardinals and Rolen in particular. Rolen wasn’t at his best health in that postseason, dealing with a left shoulder injury that caused him difficulties at the plate earlier in the postseason. After Rolen started the playoffs 1-for-14 with a walk through Game 1 of the NLCS, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa benched him for Game 2—which became a sore spot in a soured relationship between the player and his manager. Rolen was traded to Cincinnati after the next season.
On the broadcast of Game 7, Joe Buck even addresses that Rolen’s status for the Cardinals lineup was in question for that game. Rolen got the nod, though, and with a deep drive to left field in the sixth, seemed to have made the most of it—before, of course, Chavez snatched it away with a gravity-defying catch, the home run ball suddenly resembling a snow cone at the end of Chavez’s glove. Jim Edmonds, who was already around second base when the ball was caught, was easily doubled off of first to end the inning.
The Cardinals had struggled to produce against lefty starter Oliver Perez all night, a frustrating truth considering his awful numbers during that season (3-13, 6.55 ERA). That blast off Rolen's bat was their best chance for damage and Chavez took Perez and the Mets off the hook.
To make matters worse, a trouble spot immediately cropped up for Suppan in the bottom of the sixth after a walk and a throwing error by Rolen created a scoring chance for New York. Without having allowed a hit, Suppan had a bases loaded jam on his hands. He bore down on Jose Valentin before getting the hyped-up Chavez to pop-out on the first pitch he saw. Suppan was out of the jam, the game still tied.
Suppan navigated the seventh unscathed and actually faced a batter in the eighth. A walk to Beltran ended his night before he could record an out in that inning, though, as the Cardinals turned to left reliever Randy Flores to keep the score tied. Flores responded with two clutch strikeouts and a harmless grounder to first base to end the inning. Another exhale for Cardinals Nation.
Somehow, someone would have to tally another run to break this 1-1 score. The Cardinals catcher with a .216 batting average that season decided it ought to be him.
After a Rolen single with one out in the top of the ninth, Yadier Molina came to bat in what felt like a rather unsuspecting circumstance. Molina wasn’t known for his bat in the early days of his MLB career, but his performance in the 2006 postseason represented a definite turning point on that front. Entering Game 7, Molina was 10-for-32 with an .840 OPS for the playoffs—and he was about to add to those totals in a significant way.
Yadi launched a deep fly ball to left to virtually the same spot as where Chavez robbed Rolen a few innings prior. Molina, though, hit his shot a dozen feet or more further than Rolen hit his.
Watching the moment at home in the basement, I remember shouting “You’re not catching that one, Chavez!”
Elation. It took until the last inning of the game, but the Cardinals finally had a lead. They were three outs away from a trip to the World Series, with the closer getting warmed up in the bullpen.
Except, in September 2006, the season ended for Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen due to a hip injury. For the playoffs, St. Louis decided to roll with rookie reliever Adam Wainwright in the closer role. He had three career saves to his name entering that postseason, but successfully converted the final out of the Cardinals NLDS win over the San Diego Padres.
This test would prove just a bit more pressurized.
Wainwright allowed two straight singles to open up the bottom of the ninth, bringing pinch-hitter Cliff Floyd to the plate. In a bit of foreshadowing, Waino dropped a 75-mph hammer into the strike zone to catch Floyd looking at strike three. One out.
A line out by Jose Reyes and a walk to Paul Lo Duca brought the scariest man in the New York lineup to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded.
Adam Wainwright vs. Carlos Beltran. The series, the season on the line.
Wainwright got Beltran into an 0-2 pitcher’s count after a first pitch strike and a foul ball off the foot. You could forgive Waino if he decided, at this point, to waste a pitch or two. Try and get one of the hottest hitters in baseball to chase.
Instead, as Wainwright said in the Cardinals 2006 World Series film, he decided "I am gonna just throw the nastiest curveball I've ever thrown and if he hits it, I'll tip my hat. But if not, we're going to the Series."
And the rest is history.
My favorite part of the World Series film breaks down the Beltran at-bat. Then it shows a brief Tony La Russa reaction. The good stuff starts around 13:30 in this video. Make sure you watch through the La Russa part after the final strike. Blink and you’ll miss it, but it’s good comedy.
The Cardinals ultimately took down the Tigers in five games in the 2006 World Series, and there was plenty to remember from that series. But the drama of this NLCS clincher stands out more prominently in my mind that anything from the Fall Classic that the Cardinals won with relative ease.
If I’m watching back one game from that 2006 Cardinals season, you can bet it’ll be this one. You can watch it, too, if you’re feeling the quarantine blues.
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