ST. LOUIS – Detroit and St. Louis emerged a from a rainout of their fourth World Series game the night before not only in search of traction on the slick turf of Busch Stadium but at the plate, as well.

Well, the bats came to life Thursday night, even as the wheels came off in soggy St. Louis, resulting in the most entertaining game of the 102nd World Series.

What else could be said of a game that resulted in Detroit now being close to slip-sliding away in this Series because a fielder and then a bullpen could not keep their feet under them?

The Cardinals, 5-4 victors in a bizarrely entertaining game, lead the Series, three games to one. David Eckstein’s RBI double in the eighth was the decisive blow. Detroit literally and figuratively could not hold onto a game the Tigers had in hand.

First, centerfielder Curtis Granderson’s stumble led to a pair of unearned runs for St. Louis in the seventh.

Granderson, one of the Tigers whose bat revival led Detroit to within nine outs of evening the Series, had cautioned about slick conditions just before the fourth game had been scheduled, then rained out the night before.

“In the outfield, you just have to make sure you get a grip, because the ball is going to be soaked by the time it gets to you,” Granderson said.

He should have worried about his footing instead. That’s what failed him when Eckstein sent a fly ball his way leading off the bottom of the seventh.

When Granderson tried a mid-course adjustment, he slipped and fell. The ball flew by him, and Eckstein flew into second. Eckstein then scored when reliever Fernando Rodney threw So Taguchi’s bunt down the right-field line.

When Preston Wilson followed back-to-back strikeouts of Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen with an RBI single, the Cardinals led, 4-3, and were within sight of the organization’s 10th world championship.

But Ivan Rodriguez’s double and a Brandon Inge two-bagger, off stopper Adam Wainwright, knotted the score, again in the top of the eighth.

Not to worry, Cardinals fans soon learned.

Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya walked the first man he faced in the eighth, then, two outs later, lost the game on Eckstein’s backbreaking double.

Until Thursday night, outbursts of offense had been as rare as good weather in the thrifty Series.

Neither the Tigers nor Cardinals, hitting .185 and .196, respectively, entering Thursday night’s game, could be accused of flirting with the Mendoza Line.

There had been exceptions, however, most notably Rolen on the Cardinals’ side and Sean Casey on the Tigers. Their five hits, including two Rolen doubles and a Casey homer, showed in the first half of Thursday night’s game.

Game 5, weather permitting, will be played here on Friday night. Justin Verlander of the Tigers and Jeff Weaver of the Cardinals, two righthanders who had lost their earlier starts in the Series, will start.

The caliber of Thursday night’s starters suggested that the teams’ offensive struggles would continue.

Detroit’s Jeremy Bonderman finished second in the American League in strikeouts this season with 202. And the Cardinals’ Jeff Suppan was nearly perfect against the Mets in the NL Championship Series, going 1-0 with a 0.60 ERA in two starts.

Granderson had predicted all it would take was one good swing to loosen the Cards’ pitching stranglehold. Casey, seemed to provide that when he drilled the second pitch he saw from the righthander into the Cards’ bullpen in right-center.

The one-out hit in the second produced Detroit’s first run since the fifth inning of a Game 2, seemingly played a lifetime ago on Sunday in Detroit.

Casey was not finished. Granderson led off the third with a double, the centerfielder’s first hit in 15 trips to the plate, and after Carlos Guillen walked, Casey doubled in a second run. Rodriguez, 6 for 12 lifetime against Suppan entering the game, then singled in a run for a 3-0 Tigers lead.

The string of hits was what Tigers manager Jim Leyland had hoped would come of a shuffle in which Casey moved from seventh to fifth in the order, ahead of I-Rod; and Guillen jumped several spots to the third hole in place of the hitless Placido Polanco.

The Cardinals did not smoke the ball against Bonderman, but their timing proved impeccable at times. A pair of two-out doubles, by Eckstein in the third, and Yadier Molina in the fourth, plated two runs.

Molina’s double drove in Rolen, who moments earlier had turned a hit to left into a hustling double.

Rolen’s sixth hit in 14 Series at-bats continued his hot hand. So, too, did his double leading off the bottom of the sixth.

Sacrificed to third, Rolen was set up to tie the game. Rodney, brought on to relieve Bonderman, had other ideas. He quickly silenced the Cardinals and their fans with consecutive strikeouts of second baseman Aaron Miles and pinch-hitter John Rodriguez to end the inning.



(c) 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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AP-NY-10-27-06 0026EDT


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