Thursday, October 19, 2006

Solid Gold: Endy Chavez Saves the Game

By Nicholas Stix

With the seventh game of the National League Championship Series tied 1-1, with one out in the top of the sixth inning, Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen coming up to bat, and Cards centerfielder Jim Edmonds on first base, Mets skipper Willie Randolph went out to speak with his starter, Oliver Perez.

Randolph was debating removing Perez, but the 25-year-old lefty and catcher Paul Lo Duca talked him out of it.

Rolen had been largely worthless to the Cardinals this series. His surgically repaired left shoulder, which contains five screws, had quit on him with a month to go in the season. He couldn’t turn on a fastball out over the plate, and Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, like millions of other people, had lost faith in Rolen’s hitting ability. The other day, LaRussa had benched Rolen, and the incensed third basemen stopped talking to his manager. The only good swing Rolen had had this series before tonight, was when Mets closer Billy Wagner threw him a two-strike gift slider, perhaps 83-mph, in the ninth inning last night, and Rolen smacked it into left field for a double. That double saved Rolen’s start for tonight.

Perez’ first pitch to Rolen was a fastball, and Rolen jacked it. As the ball sailed out of the park, Mets left fielder Endy Chavez made an apparently futile leap over the fence. Up, up, up he went, his glove rising 18 inches over the fence, as the ball came down … in his glove!

With the “snowcone” barely in the webbing, Chavez didn’t even know he had the ball, until he came down and looked in his glove. Seeing his good fortune, he grabbed the ball, and threw a strike to the cutoff man, who threw another strike to first baseman Carlos Delgado, to double off Jim Edmonds by a country mile.

Between innings, the crowd called Chavez out for not one, but two curtain calls.

While hitting .306 this year, Chavez was absolute perfection in the outfield, with 218 chances, including nine assists (in only 120 games), playing all three every positions. Recently, Mets manager Willie Randolph rightfully called him one of the best outfielders in the game. Mets fans had known that all season; now the rest of the baseball world knows it, too.

Meanwhile, the erratic Perez pitched the game of his life, giving up only one run in six innings. After seven innings, the game is still tied 1-1.

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