In Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the Mets, Scott Spiezio and So Taguchi symbolized the grit, determination and teamwork of the 2006 Cardinals.
After the Mets won the opener at Shea Stadium in New York, they had a chance to take command of the best-of-seven series with a victory in Game 2.
Many expected them to do so.
The Mets had finished the 2006 regular season with the best record in the NL at 97-65. The Cardinals at 83-78 had the worst record of any of the eights teams that qualified for the major-league postseason.
When the Mets took a 6-4 lead into the seventh inning of Game 2 at New York, the odds seem stacked against the Cardinals.
That’s when role players Spiezio and Taguchi came through.
Ten years ago, on Oct. 13, 2006, Spiezio tied the score with a two-run triple in the seventh and Taguchi knocked in the go-ahead run with an improbable home run in the ninth, carrying the Cardinals to a 9-6 victory and tying the series at 1-1.
Saved from having to overcome a deep deficit, the Cardinals won the series in seven games and went on to clinch the World Series championship, their first since 1982.
Guillermo Mota, the fourth Mets pitcher used in Game 2, entered in the seventh to protect the 6-4 lead. Mota had posted a 3-0 record and 1.00 ERA in 18 regular-season appearances for the Mets.
He retired the first two batters of the inning, David Eckstein and Chris Duncan.
Albert Pujols then worked an 11-pitch at-bat, hitting a single after fouling off six pitches. Mota, either rattled or worn down by the duel with Pujols, walked Jim Edmonds on four pitches.
That brought Spiezio to the plate.
Manager Tony La Russa had given Spiezio the start at third base, batting him fifth in the order, in place of slumping Scott Rolen, who had produced one hit in 14 at-bats in the 2006 postseason.
“There’s something in his (batting) stroke that’s not right,” La Russa said of Rolen to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Miffed, Rolen said he was “very surprised” by and “very disappointed” in La Russa’s decision.
Wrote columnist Bernie Miklasz: “It’s never entirely about baseball, the Cardinals have to introduce a new soap opera plot, ignite a feud or smolder through a psychodrama.”
Spiezio validated La Russa’s move. With the count at two strikes, Spiezio hit a triple to right, scoring Pujols and Edmonds and tying the score at 6-6. Right fielder Shawn Green prevented Spiezio’s smash from being a home run by leaping over the fence and deflecting the ball back onto the field with his glove.
“It does give me a lot of confidence because Tony puts me in a situation and knows that I can have some big at-bats for him,” Spiezio said. “Whenever you have a manager that has confidence in you, it boosts the whole morale of the team.”
With the score still deadlocked at 6-6, Mets closer Billy Wagner, who posted 40 saves in 2006, was brought in by manager Willie Randolph to pitch the ninth.
The first batter he faced was So Taguchi, who was pinch-hitting for Duncan. Though Duncan had hit 22 home runs in 2006 and Taguchi had hit two, La Russa preferred to have a right-handed batter face Wagner, a left-hander.
Wagner got ahead in the count 0-and-2 against Taguchi. Then, like Pujols did versus Mota in the seventh, Taguchi frustrated Wagner by fouling off four pitches and working the count to 3-and-2.
Wagner threw a fastball and Taguchi hit it over the left-field wall for a home run, giving the Cardinals a 7-6 lead. Video
Said a stunned Taguchi: “I don’t know what to do, so I just run.”
The Cardinals scored two more runs off Wagner. Pujols doubled, moved to third on a groundout and scored on Spiezio’s double. Juan Encarnacion singled, scoring Spiezio and extending the lead to 9-6.
In the bottom half of the inning, Tyler Johnson struck out Carlos Delgado. With two right-handed batters due up, Adam Wainwright relieved and got Green and David Wright to ground out, ending the game. Boxscore