Eckstein comes up big, wins World Series MVP award

Saturday, October 28th 2006, 7:38 am
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ When David Eckstein was done hugging his teammates, hoisting the MVP trophy and saluting a roaring crowd, he leaned against the prize that goes to the top player in the World Series _ a new, bright yellow Corvette.

At that moment, he was really riding high.

``It was unreal out there,'' the St. Louis shortstop told fans Friday night. ``We got ourselves a championship.''

The Cardinals were certainly glad they had baseball's biggest little man.

``Whenever David is playing, there is absolutely no doubt that our club responds to how hard he plays,'' manager Tony La Russa said. ``He is a wonderful leader.''

At 5-foot-7 and banged up all season, Eckstein looked worn down when the Series started. But after going 0-for-11, he showed the true spirit of St. Louis and came on strong.

Eckstein hit three doubles and a single to win Game 4, then singled twice and drove in two runs in Game 5 as St. Louis beat Detroit 4-2 to clinch its first title since 1982.

Eckstein finished 8-for-22, driving in four runs and scoring three.

``When you suit up in spring training, your main goal is to win a world championship. That's all you play for,'' he said. ``All the little things that you do to get to this situation are well worth it.''

La Russa and several Cardinals lifted Eckstein off the ground as they celebrated in the middle of the diamond.

After shaking hands with commissioner Bud Selig and speaking from a podium put up near second base, Eckstein got the keys to the Corvette. Wheeled onto the infield dirt, it came to a stop near the spot where Eckstein plays.

``This is my first car I can call my own from the beginning,'' he said.

A fairy tale, maybe, and fitting.

He married actress Ashley Drane _ she's been on ``That '70s Show'' and ``That's So Raven'' _ last November and their wedding reception featured an Alice in Wonderland theme at Walt Disney World.

Eckstein became the first NL shortstop to win the Series MVP award. Three AL shortstops have done it: Derek Jeter (2000), Alan Trammell (1984) and Bucky Dent (1978).

Eckstein's size _ and 5-7 is being generous _ and enthusiasm can mask his skills. A two-time All-Star who was waived by Boston in 2000, he's now a two-time Series champion.

``I can remember talking to Don Zimmer a couple of years ago about him,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said before Game 5. ``He said, 'You look at him, you can't figure it out.' And then during the course of the game he's in the middle of every single thing.''

Eckstein sparked the Anaheim Angels over San Francisco for the 2002 crown and was invited to the White House, where his mom met President Bush. Later, at an awards banquet in New York, Barry Bonds told Eckstein's mother, ``You've got a great son.''

After the 2004 season, though, the Angels decided they could do better at the plate and in the field than Eckstein, who seems to need every ounce of energy to throw the ball to first base.

So in what amounted to a three-team merry-go-round of shortstops, Edgar Renteria went to Boston, Orlando Cabrera moved to the Angels and Eckstein wound up in St. Louis. At the time, there were plenty of other shortstops considered better than Eckstein _ Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada and Nomar Garciaparra, among them.

La Russa will take Eckstein, every time.

``To me, he's our shortstop,'' he said during the postgame party. ``And believe me, he's more than just guts, he's a very good player.''

Hobbled for much of this season, the 31-year-old Eckstein was slowed by injuries to his shoulder, hamstring and side. He also had a concussion, and was so worn down that he skipped the Cardinals' off-day workout Monday.

Other teams noticed, too, that he was banged up. Opposing outfielders started moving in against him, cheating a few feet and later taking several steps closer, aware that Eckstein couldn't drive the ball.

A couple of extra inches were all Eckstein needed in Game 4. With the score tied in the eighth inning, he hit a two-out drive that ticked off left fielder Craig Monroe's outstretched glove for a go-ahead double.

``I think they were definitely playing percentages, and that's where I probably would have been playing myself,'' he said.

The odds have been against Eckstein since he was in youth ball, when coaches began telling him he was too small to play. Eckstein comes from a family with a troubled medical past, with three family members needing kidney transplants. There's been no indication he will need one.

``He's the toughest guy I've ever seen in a uniform,'' La Russa said.