The diminutive St. Louis Cardinals' leadoff hitter hit a grand slam off Chris Reitsma with one out in the ninth inning for a 5-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday. He hit his fourth career grand slam and the second game-winning slam of his career on a 1-0 pitch from Reitsma (3-3), who had entered the game with nine straight saves.
"Once in a while," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said, "you get a miracle."
The 5-foot-7 Eckstein hit a drive over the left-field wall that helped the Cardinals take two of three in a series matching NL division leaders and the teams with the two best records in the league.
Abraham Nunez and So Taguchi singled and pinch-hitter Hector Luna reached on an infield hit that glanced off Reitsma's glove to start the ninth. Pinch-hitter Scott Seabol popped up before the game-winner from Eckstein, who also doubled, walked twice and stole a base.
"I didn't even watch it, I ran," Eckstein said. "That's probably all I've got right there."
Ray King (3-2) got the last out in the top of the ninth in relief of 16-game winner Chris Carpenter, who allowed two runs and four hits in eight innings with 10 strikeouts and two walks. Carpenter missed the manic celebration at home plate, watching the festivities from the clubhouse as he iced his arm.
"There were a few guys in here that went crazy just like they did out there," Carpenter said. "It was a great ending."
The winning grand slam was the Cardinals' first since Tommy Herr beat the New York Mets on April 18, 1987, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It was Eckstein's first game-winning slam since he connected off Toronto's Pedro Borbon on April 28, 2002, with his second grand slam in two days when he was playing for the Angels.
Not surprisingly for a small guy, he prefers the squeeze.
"You like to win the game but there's something about the squeeze play," Eckstein said. "It's do or die. I get more opportunity to do that, too."
Reitsma blamed himself for trying to get to Luna's grounder.
"If I let that go, maybe we turn two," he said. "You just react in that situation and it hit the top of my glove."
He also said Eckstein hit a mistake pitch.
"I was trying to get it down a little bit," Reitsma said. "I just let it out there. What can you say- it was a bad pitch. It seems like every time I give up a home run it's a big one."
Braves starter Jorge Sosa allowed four hits in seven scoreless innings and the Braves got home runs from Kelly Johnson and Jeff Francoeur, who drove in another run with a ninth-inning double off Jason Isringhausen.
Albert Pujols added his 31st homer for the Cardinals, who completed a 4-3 homestand.
Carpenter, who hasn't lost in 10 starts since June 8, gave up only one hit in his last six innings. He allowed two homers in a start for only the second time this season, and the first since May 2 at Cincinnati.
Johnson hit his eighth homer on a 3-2 pitch with one out in the first and Francoeur hit his eighth in only 22 major league games leading off the second.
The Cardinals were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position during Sosa's stint, with Pujols stranding two runners in the first and leaving a man on third with one out in the third on a pair of popups. Pujols took out his frustration on Kyle Farnsworth with a homer to straightaway center in the eighth, cutting the gap to one.
- Francoeur is 16-for-39 during a nine-game hitting streak with three homers.
- A crowd of 47,714 was the Cardinals' 28th sellout and their 21st straight crowd of more than 40,000. They drew 318,389 for the seven-game homestand.
- Chipper Jones, out since Tuesday with a strained right rotator cuff, missed his fifth straight game.
- Before Sunday, Reitsma had earned a save or a victory in 11 of 12 outings.