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Daniel Descalso: An appreciation of the former St. Louis Cardinals infielder

The Daniel Descalso era came to an end in St. Louis this week, so let's look back at the October memories to which the infielder contributed during his time with the Cardinals.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals announced that the club has not tendered infielder Daniel Descalso a contract for the 2015 season prior to Tuesday night's deadline for offering such to arbitration-eligible players. The Cardinals' decision not to pay Descalso around $1.4 million (MLBTR's projected 2015 salary for him) is understandable. Descalso can't hit well, as his .243/.311/.341 (.288 wOBA, 81 wRC+) will attest. He also isn't a particularly skilled fielder, especially at shortstop. Further, Descalso is poor for the club's current roster because it's difficult to justify playing a lefthanded hitter of Descalso's caliber at third or second base when he'd be playing over Matt Carpenter or Kolten Wong. (That's why Descalso only notched 184 plate appearances in 2014.) Throw in the seven-figure salary Descalso would have commanded in his second year of salary arbitration and the Cardinals' decision to not offer him a 2015 contract makes perfect sense from both a baseball and business perspective. But that doesn't take away from the role he played in some of the most dramatic moments in Cardinals franchise history.

2011 World Series Game 6

After David Freese's triple during the bottom of the ninth in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, there was Josh Hamilton's two-run homer in the top of the tenth. The jubilation of the previous half-inning was snuffed out by that big fly. The Cardinals were once again down by multiple runs, their season once again on the verge of ending.

Ahead by two, Rangers manager Ron Washington turned to veteran lefty Darren Oliver. Over Oliver's career, which spanned from 1993 to 2013, lefthanded batsmen managed a line against him roughly on par with righthanded swingers: .272/.342/.430 to .277/.346/.443. But in Oliver's age-40 season of 2011, lefties hit just .227/.269/.318 against him. The Cardinals had two lefthanded hitters due up against Oliver to start off the bottom of the tenth:

  • Daniel Descalso, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the top of the eighth and stayed in the game replacing Rafael Furcal at shortstop as part of a double-switch that also brought closer Jason Motte into the game at the start of the ninth, led things off.
  • Batting second for the Cards was Jon Jay, who came into the game in the bottom of the fifth as a pinch-hitter for reliever Lance Lynn and stayed in the game replacing starting center fielder Skip Schumaker.

(Typing these two bullet points caused nostalgia to swell up inside of me to such an extent that I find myself missing Tony La Russa.)

Descalo rapped a grounder that found its way through the right side of the infield for a hit. Jay slapped a flare to left field. Suddenly, the tying run was on first base and the Cardinals' second rally in as many inning was afoot. Kyle Lohse pinch-hit for Edwin Jackson and laid down a sacrifice bunt. Then Ryan Theriot grounded out, plating Descalso and bringing the Redbirds within one with the inning's second out. Washington intentionally walked Albert Pujols in order to pitch to Lance Berkman. With the third-most-dramatic hit of the night, Berk singled home Jay, continuing the rally that Descalso had ignited and tying the game.

You know how that game ended.

2012 NLDS Game 5

A year later, the Cardinals were in Washington, playing a deciding NLDS Game 5 against the National League's best team. The Nationals jumped out to a 6-0 lead after Adam Wainwright lasted just 2 1/3 innings. But the Cards didn't quit. Instead, they chipped away at Washington's lead before ultimately prevailing 9-7. Descalso was integral in that comeback:

  • In the fifth, Descalso led things off with a double, advanced to third on a Pete Kozma single, and came around to score on a Gio Gonzales wild pitch. That tally made it 6-2.
  • Three innings later, Descalso belted a homer over the right-field wall that made it a 6-4 contest.
  • With two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth of a 7-5 game, Descalso dug in and laced a rocket up the middle that deflected off shortstop Ian Desmond's mitt and into the outfield, plating two and tying the game.

You know how the Cardinals took their ultimate lead in that game. But you may not recall that the club's ninth run, the insurance run, was one Daniel Descalso, the second runner who touched home on Kozma's game-winning hit.

Correction: Even though the author watched the highlight video five times before writing, this post incorrectly stated that Descalso's game-tying 2012 NLDS Game 5 hit occurred in the eighth inning of that contest. The mistake has been corrected.