In his two months with the Cardinals during the 2006 regular season, Ronnie Belliard didn’t compile dazzling statistics, but he did play a significant part in Cardinals history.
Belliard’s performance in the 2006 National League Division Series enabled the Cardinals to eliminate the Padres and advance on a postseason path that led them to their first World Series title in 24 years.
On July 30, 2006, the Cardinals acquired Belliard, a second baseman, from the Indians for infielder Hector Luna.
In declaring Belliard the everyday second baseman, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said, “Sometimes you have to seize the moment. This is our chance to win.”
Belliard gave the Cardinals an infield that had at each position a starter who had been a big-league all-star: Albert Pujols at first, Belliard at second, David Eckstein at short and Scott Rolen at third.
When acquired by St. Louis, Belliard was hitting .291 with eight home runs and 44 RBI for a Cleveland club that was 13 games under .500. In 54 games with the Cardinals, though, he batted .237 with five homers and 23 RBI.
After losing nine of their final 13 regular-season games and barely holding off Houston to win the NL Central championship, the Cardinals stumbled into the first round of the playoffs against San Diego.
That’s when Belliard played his best as a Cardinal.
In Game 1 at San Diego, the Padres trailed by four runs in the seventh inning, but had the bases loaded with two out. Todd Walker came to the plate against reliever Tyler Johnson. Here’s how Ryan Fagan of The Sporting News described what happened next:
Todd Walker’s sharp grounder seemed destined for right field, but second baseman Ronnie Belliard, who never will be accused of playing too shallow, dived on the outfield grass, knocked the ball down, rolled over and threw out Walker by a step. It was the play the locker room was buzzing about.
If the ball had gotten past Belliard, two runs would have scored and the Padres would have had the tying runs on base with Dave Roberts (who was 3-for-3 in the game) up next.
Instead, the Cardinals went on to win, 5-1, setting the tone for the series and restoring their swagger after their wobbly finish to the regular season. Boxscore
“Ronnie Belliard probably made the biggest play of the year right there,” Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds said afterward.
Added Pujols: “I never thought he was going to get to the ball.”
In the clubhouse, his Cardinals teammates presented Belliard with a game ball.
“I think I got lucky on that one.” Belliard told reporters. “… It was a pretty good play and I know we need that play for the win.”
Belliard also delivered with the bat. In the decisive Game 4 against the Padres, Belliard’s two-run, two-out single in the first tied the score and helped St. Louis regain momentum en route to a 6-2 victory. Boxscore
For the four-game series, Belliard batted .462 (6-for-13). “He had a phenomenal series,” Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter told reporters.
The Cardinals went on to eliminate the Mets in a classic seven-game League Championship Series and then knocked off the Tigers in the World Series.
Belliard’s strong play didn’t last. He was hitless in 12 at-bats in the World Series. On Oct. 31, 2006, he declared for free agency and then sat for five months without an offer. He finally was signed by the Nationals on March 24, 2007.