October 19, 2006: Cardinals beat Mets in Game 7 on Molina homer
It all came down to this one game to decide who would face the Detroit Tigers in the 2006 World Series. The top-seeded Mets were 97-65 during the regular season and had swept the Dodgers in the first round of the National League playoffs. They managed to do this even though Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez were out with injuries. The Cardinals went 83-78, the worst record of any playoff team that season.1 But they beat the San Diego Padres three games to one in the Division Series.
The Mets had prevented elimination in the sixth game of the Championship Series when John Maine outpitched Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter. But that was last night. With the series tied, at the end of this evening one team would claim the championship and one would go home.
The Cardinals started Jeff Suppan, the eventual series MVP. Suppan had won Game Three when he pitched masterfully for eight innings as the Cards won 5-0. Mets manager Willie Randolph sent Oliver Perez to the mound. Perez had pitched five strong innings during the Mets’ 12-5 win in Game Four and Randolph was hoping for another solid performance.
The Mets struck first when they scored a run in the bottom of the first inning. After getting the first two batters to ground out, Suppan gave up a double to Carlos Beltran and walked Carlos Delgado. David Wright singled to right field and Beltran scored from second. The Mets were up 1-0. No one suspected that this would the only run they would score that night.
In the top of the second, the Cardinals tied the game. Jim Edmonds led off with a single to right field. He moved to third base when Yadier Molina singled to left. Edmonds scored when Ronnie Belliard bunted down the first-base line. The tie score would last through the next 6½ innings.
Perez settled down and allowed only one hit in the next four innings. He was pulled after needing some heroics from his teammates to get out of the sixth inning. After walking Edmonds to open the inning, Perez was visited by manager Randolph.He had thrown 87 pitches. Scott Rolen, one of the Cardinals’ best hitters, was due up.
Rolen drilled the first pitch, a 91-mph fastball over the middle of the plate, to left field. Mets fans were silent, expecting to see a home run. But Endy Chavez leapt at the last minute to make the catch. His right elbow touched the top of the wall to snare the ball before it landed in the Cardinals’ bullpen. He landed against a sign reading, “The Strength to Be There” as he came down with the ball in his glove. The crowd went wild.2
Edmonds was halfway toward third when Chávez caught the ball. The Mets doubled him off first to end the inning. “When I saw it in my glove, I looked for Edmonds and I saw him right next to the shortstop and I said, ‘We have a chance to get him on first,’” Chavez said later.3
Perez ended up allowing just four hits and striking out four before he was sent to the bench. Chad Bradford came in from the bullpen and pitched a flawless seventh inning before Randolph pulled him for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the inning.
Meanwhile, Suppan settled down and held the Mets in check.The New Yorkers’ offense, so potent during the regular season, was silenced. They mustered only two hits through eight innings against Suppan and reliever Randy Flores.4
The Mets came close to scoring again in the sixth inning. Suppan walked Delgado. Wright hit a groundball to third and Rolen threw the ball into the first-base stands. With runners now on second and third, Suppan walked Shawn Green intentionally. With the crowd hoping to see the Mets take the lead, Suppan regained his poise and struck out second baseman Jose Valentin. Then he got Chavez to fly out to center field. The scoring threat was over.5
Aaron Heilman came in to pitch for the Mets in the eighth inning and struck out two of the three batters he faced. But things did not turn out as well for him when he returned to the mound in the top of the ninth.
After Heilman struck out leadoff batter Jim Edmonds, he gave up a single to Rolen. Molina then hit a first-pitch changeup 370 feet over the left-field wall and the Cardinals were ahead. The home run set off a wild celebration in the Cardinals dugout. “It was definitely one of those pitches where as soon as I threw it, that’s not where I wanted it to go,” Heilman said. “I knew it was up. Usually when your offspeed pitches are up, it’s not a good thing.”6 His mistake gave the Cardinals the lead and the game headed into the bottom of the ninth with the score 3-1.
“It just seemed like an eternity for him to round the bases,” David Wright said of Molina.7
Molina was an unlikely hero. He had struggled to a .216 average during the regular season as he struggled to find himself at the plate. It was only in the postseason that he found a comfort zone; he batted .348 with two home runs, a team-high six RBIs during the Championship Series.8 When Cardinals manager Tony La Russa watched the ball clear the fence, he thought: “Son of a [gun], we’re [three] outs away from being the champions!”9
Rookie Adam Wainwright took the mound for the Cardinals in the bottom of the ninth after Flores had been pulled for a pinch-hitter. La Russa said of the moment, “[Y]our heart starts going boom-boom-boom-boom and it’s an easy call – here comes Wainwright and then it became just like the movies.”10
Wainwright started off shaky, giving up singles to Valentin and Chavez to start the inning. He struck out Cliff Floyd and got Reyes to line out to center field, then walked Paul Lo Duca.
Beltran now came to the plate. “I’m not a guy who gets nervous,” Wainwright said after the game. “I can remember only a handful of times in my life when I’ve been really nervous. This was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life.”11
His first pitch to Beltran was a changeup for a called strike. The second pitch was a curveball. Beltran fouled it off. Then, Wainwright said later, he threw “the best pitch I’d ever thrown. If he beats me, I will know he did it against my best.” Beltran took a 74-mph curveball on the outside edge of the plate. Later Beltran said he didn’t swing because he knew that he knew he couldn't hit it.12 That pitch won the game for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals had won the National League championship in dramatic fashion. With the win, they had 83 victories, one more than the 1973 Mets who set the record for carrying the fewest regular-season wins to the World Series.13
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also used the Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball-Almanac.com, and Retrosheet.org websites for box-score, player, team, and season pages, pitching and batting game logs, and other pertinent material.
1 Mark Hale, “Look Back at the Mets’ NLCS Loss to Cardinals With Those Who Were There,” New York Post, October 30, 2011.
2 Ben Shpigel, “Mets Are Called Out; Cards Head to World Series,” New York Times, October 20, 2006.
5 Joe Straus, “From the Archives: The Night a ‘Nervous’ Wainwright Froze Beltran,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 18, 2016.
12 Derrick Goold, “10 Years Ago, Wainwright Threw the Curve That Froze New York,” St. Louis Post Dispatch, October 19, 2016.