Saturday, September 30th, 2006: On the heels of losing 8 of their previous 10 games to allow Houston to climb within 1.5 games of the Central Division lead, the Cardinals were down 2-0 entering the bottom of the 8th inning against Milwaukee.
A loss would send them to the seasons final* day with a .5 game lead.
*Due to a rainout, the Cardinals only played 161 games. A loss on Sept. 30th + a STL loss/HOU win on Oct. 1 would have forced the rainout to be played, as a must win for the Cardinals to tie the Division. The two would have then had to play a play-in game.
The Cardinals couldn’t afford to lose this game. A single by Pujols and double from Rolen has runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out. Milwaukee went to lefty Brian Shouse to faced Edmonds, for whom LaRussa would pinch hit Encarnacion. Milwaukee intentionally walked him, then bringing in closer Francisco Cordero who retired Belliard and was set to face notoriously bad hitter Yadier Molina.
LaRussa pinch-hit with red soulpatch-sporting utility man, Scott Spiezio.
With 2 outs and 2 strikes, Spiezio ripped a bases clearing triple. It gave the Cardinals a 3-2 lead and swung them to their 83 and final win. While it didn’t mathematically clinch the division it effectively capped the title.
It was the Spiezio Moment, which I will define as a clutch, season altering singular moment that — in hindsight — was a major factor, if not the deciding factor, in the divisional race. It may or may not include an unexpected role player (consider that a bonus).
Another great example came in 2011. While the Cardinals would produce some thrilling moments over the final 4 games, winning 3 of them to snag the Wild Card, the Spiezio Moment came via Cubs closer Carlos Marmol in game #158. After walking in the tying run, Carlos Marmol popped a wild pitch, allowing Adron Chambers to score for the walk-off win.
At a time when every win was huge, that swung a win out of what could have been a loss. 2011’s Spiezio Moment.
Now that we know what a Spiezio Moment is, let’s dig into 2019’s candidates.
Because of the nature of the moment, it really could not exist outside of the final 10 games of the season. Without a doubt, the 4-game series at Wrigley field was full of clutch moments. Every single one of them proved to be season defining, as every win helped stave of Milwaukee’s late charge.
Yadi had a clutch hit in Game 2, though it came earlier in the game. Game 4’s flipping of the score in the 9th inning was also worthy, though it was combined effort as opposed to a singular moment.
The two candidates to come out of that series are:
Molina/Dejong Back-to-Back vs Kimbrel: I’m bending my extremely arbitrary rules for this one, as it was two separate plays. But let’s be real, turning a loss into a win via back-to-back HR’s on back-to-back pitches, at Wrigley field, is as clutch as it gets. It is on the short list of season defining moments, and the one thing that will keep the awful Victory Blue uniforms in the highlight reel for years after they are retired.
Matt Carpenter Takes The Air Out of Wrigley: The moment that Matt Carpenter’s HR ball cleared the outfield wall, it became the front runner for 2019’s Spiezio Moment. Consider the circumstances. This wasn’t just Game 1 of the 4 game series at Wrigley, it was Game 1 of the overall 7 game stretch vs the Cubs. It was a tone setting game, and the Cardinals had lined themselves up to fire the opening shot with a dominant outing from Jack Flaherty. And then they coughed it up with a wacky 9th inning from Carlos Martinez. Wrigley was rollicking after the Cubs scored 3 runs to tie the game. The pressure was on.
To lose this game would have been devastating emotionally as well as in the standings – where the Cubs and Brewers would have simultaneously climbed to just 2 games out. Capping Maddon’s parade of “look who’s back” was closer Craig Kimbrel. On his first pitch, Matt Carpenter sucked the air out of Wrigley field. All the momentum that the Cubs gained in the 9th was gone on the first pitch of the 10th. The win was a back breaker for the Cubs, who failed to make the big pitch for the rest of the series.
And Carpenter, in a deep slump for most of 2019, didn’t start the game and would have likely already been in and out of the game as a pinch hitter if it weren’t for a Kolten Wong injury getting him into the lineup. Chalk up an “unlikely hero” bonus to this one.
Unfortunately, the well ran dry as far as Spiezio Moment candidates over the final week.
The team got ahead early and held on in the first game in Arizona, and then couldn’t hold on to leads in games 2 and 3. Then they lost the first 2 games against the Cubs. A dramatic near-comeback on Saturday night’s game would have produced a candidate, if not the winner.
Sunday’s game was ultimately a blow-out.
And the Winner is…
In the end, there was only one moment that could stake the claim to being 2019’s “Spiezio Moment” for the St. Louis Cardinals:
Sam Hilliard’s 2-out, game tying HR off of Josh Hader on Saturday night.
Honorable mention: Trevor Story’s walk-off HR an inning later.
Yeah, yeah, it’s a cop-out to pick a moment that didn’t actually involve the Cardinals — I would have liked for the Cardinals to provide some clutch offensive performances in the last 4-5 games — but my goodness did they have high stakes in that game.
Technically, the Cardinals’ Spiezio moment is probably the entirety of the Cubs series. Pick any of the 4 games, there is a worthy choice.
But the Cardinals are in a bad situation if it weren’t for the heroics of the Colorado Rockies.
Imagine the Brewers hanging on to win that game and pulling even in the division. Sure, the Cardinals probably still beat Derek Holland with Flaherty on the mound, but Milwaukee would not have pulled regulars midway through Sunday’s game and punted the result. They very well could have won that game to hold a tie and setup a disaster Game 163-into-Wild Card scenario.
After catching every break for 3 weeks (aside from losing Yelich) the door finally swung back the other direction for the Brewers. Left-on-left matchup, dominant pitcher on the mound, chance to tie the division lead, and a rookie pinch-hitter at the plate. And he takes Hader deep.
No moment was more pivotal for the Cardinals in the final 10 games.
Thanks for reading.
Photo Credit: Barton Silverman/The New York Times