Thursday, August 7, 2014

August 7, 2005 - Eckstein Walks-Off Braves in Grand Style

Sunday, August 7, 2005 - At Busch Stadium II (Chris Carpenter - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  Atlanta Braves (Jorge Sosa - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  47,714

David Eckstein's ninth-inning grand slam home run turned a 3-1 deficit into a thrilling 5-3 walk-off win over the Atlanta Braves.  It was an unexpected ending to a game that began as a pitcher's duel - at least through the first seven innings.

Both starting pitchers - Chris Carpenter and Jorge Sosa - had only given up four hits apiece - but for Carpenter, two of the hits left the yard.  Kelly Johnson's solo home run in the first inning staked Sosa to a 1-0 lead - then Jeff Francoeur added another solo blast in the second-inning.

Meanwhile, Sosa breezed through the St Louis lineup with such ease, it seemed likely Carpenter's effort would go down in the books as a tough loss.  The Cardinal ace - on his way to capturing the NL Cy Young Award - settled down after yielding that second home run - striking out ten batters along the way.

But then, questionable managerial decisions on the part of Bobby Cox ultimately facilitated the Cardinals' comeback.  It all started when Cox decided to pinch hit for Sosa - who was scheduled to lead-off the eighth-inning for Atlanta.  Pinch hitter Pete Orr was retired, along with the next two batters, as the score remained 2-0, in favor of the Braves.

With Sosa out of the game, the Cardinals' offense began to stir.  After reliever Kyle Farnsworth recorded the first two outs in the bottom of the eighth, he quickly got ahead in the count - 0-2 - to Albert Pujols.  His next pitch - which should have been a foot outside - instead caught too much of the strike zone to the world's best hitter.  Pujols blasted the pitch deep to left center field to put the Cardinals on the board for the first time in the game.  As manager Bobby Cox fumed in the Braves' dugout, he quickly made another hasty pitching change - bringing in John Foster to pitch to Jim Edmonds.  Foster couldn't find the strike zone, as Edmonds took the free pass.  At this point, Cox went to his trump card - at least he thought it was his trump card - bringing Chris Reitsma in from the bullpen to restore order.  He induced Mark Grudzielanek to ground out to the third baseman to preserve the 2-1 lead.

Then manager Tony LaRussa brought Jason Isringhausen in from the bullpen to begin the top of the ninth-inning - in a non-save situation.  Marcus Giles greeted Izzy with a single to right field - then promptly stole second with Andruw Jones batting.  Jones then walked.  When the next batter - Adam LaRoche - grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, it appeared Isringhausen might be able to wriggle out of this predicament, unscathed.  However, Francoeur - who homered earlier in the game - drove in another run with a double to right field.  At this point, Ray King was summoned from the Cardinals' bullpen to clean up the mess.

Things got messier when King plunked the first batter - Brian McCann - with a pitch.  Then he walked the next batter - Wilson Betemt - to load the bases.  The next scheduled batter - relief pitcher Chris Reitsma - was allowed to hit for himself.  Cox had lifted Sosa an inning earlier - when he was pitching brilliantly - with a two-run lead.  But he let Reitsma bat in this situation - with the bases loaded - when another hit could have put the game on ice for Atlanta.  Instead, Reitsma grounded out to end the threat - then went back to the mound to face the Redbirds in the bottom of the ninth.

Abraham Nunez singled - as did So Taguchi - to put runners on first and second.  The next batter - Hector Luna - reached base on an infield hit off the second baseman's glove.  The bases were now loaded.  Nobody out.  Nobody stirring in the Braves' bullpen.  Cox was going to keep Reitsma in there, no matter what.  Then Scott Seabol - pinch hitting for Ray King - lined one hard - but right at the third baseman for the first out of the inning.

Next up - the Cardinals' gritty lead-off hitter - David Eckstein - hardly a serious power threat.  The first pitch to Eckstein missed - for ball one.  Eckstein decided to sit on a fastball, realizing that Reitsma didn't want to walk in a run - not with this little guy at the plate.  The next pitch was right where David wanted it - inner half - belt high.  He got all of it - lining it hard - and just high enough to get over the left field wall - for a walk-off grand slam home run.

Just like that, the game was over.  The Cardinals had won by a score of 5-3 - after being shut out for the first seven innings on just four hits.  Five hits and two innings later, they had notched another dramatic win - as the shell-shocked Braves retreated to the somber atmosphere of the visitors' clubhouse.

For Chris Reitsma - his career was suddenly in a downward spiral.  Prior to this game, he had pitched well - posting an ERA of 3.04 - with 15 saves.  Just the night before, he had wrapped up an 8-1 Atlanta victory with a scoreless ninth-inning - allowing just one hit.  On August 4, he had preserved a 7-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds to record that 15th save.  However, he wouldn't save another game all season.  In this one nightmare outing, his ERA had moved up to 3.67.  It would move up to 3.93 by season's end.

The following season, his ERA would balloon to 8.68, although he somehow managed to save eight games.

By 2007, he would be exiled to Seattle - and in 23.2 IP, Reitsma would fail to record a single save.  He would lose two - win none - with an ERA of 7.61.  And that would be the end of his major league career.

It's hard to explain why major league careers suddenly take a sudden dive into the abyss.  However, it seems that Reitsma never recovered from this crushing performance in St Louis - when David Eckstein took him deep - in the ninth-inning - with the bases loaded.

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