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NOTES

Banged-Up Eckstein Stays in the Lineup

October 19, 2006|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — David Eckstein stood in a small cove between the visitors' clubhouse and visitors' dugout at Shea Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, a space wide enough to swing a bat and that's about all.

He pulled batting gloves over his hands, the right one with a nearly imperceptible wince. He'd bruised those fingers the night before, when a Guillermo Mota fastball rode in on his top hand on a squeeze attempt.

He gripped a bat that had been propped on his thigh, drew it back and swung, easy at first. He had sprained his left shoulder the night before, on a Paul Lo Duca grounder toward the hole in the first inning. He made the play, but his shoulder, he said, "popped down," and it cost him in pain and a full day's treatment.

"I'm good to go," he said.

St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa had his lineup eight-ninths completed for most of the day. The leadoff spot he left empty. It would be Eckstein or Aaron Miles.

By late afternoon, La Russa said, "He told me to write his name in."

So, he did. In five plate appearances, Eckstein walked and stole a base, but he did not hit the ball out of the infield and he grounded to second to end the game.

Two years after leaving Anaheim, Eckstein is every bit what he was for the Angels, who cast him aside, and more. He has batted .293 for the Cardinals. His on-base percentage is .373.

And La Russa adores him, just as Angels management once seemed to.

"I don't know if I've ever been around a guy tougher than David," La Russa said. "He gets blasted with foul balls, hit balls, hit by pitches, sliding into second base, diving. He's fearless. Toughest guy I've ever been around."

*

The Mets kept Game 7 alive in a very critical seventh inning.

Starter John Maine had been replaced with one out and one on in the sixth inning, and reliever Chad Bradford got Scott Rolen to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Bradford started the seventh inning and, on an 0-and-2 pitch, gave up a single to Ronnie Belliard. The next batter, Yadier Molina, flied to center field. Pitcher Chris Carpenter was on deck and had thrown only 76 pitches, but the Cardinals were running short of offensive chances. La Russa sent rookie Chris Duncan to bat for Carpenter.

Duncan, a left-handed hitter, had homered off left-hander Pedro Feliciano in Game 5. Rather than go to that matchup again, Mets Manager Willie Randolph summoned right-hander Mota.

Mota's best pitch is his changeup, especially against left-handed hitters. He gave up a triple to Scott Spiezio on a fastball in Game 2, but five days later, with Belliard at first and the powerful -- and left-handed -- Duncan at the plate, Mota threw four consecutive changeups, the last of which Duncan grounded to second for another double play.

tim.brown@latimes.com

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