ST. LOUIS -- He's one of those players who contributes to his team in ways that often go unnoticed.
|Craig Counsell's three-run homer capped a four-run seventh inning Friday night.
Friday night, though, when the Arizona Diamondbacks needed it the most, Craig Counsell delivered in a way no one could miss.
Counsell's three-run homer capped a four-run seventh inning as the Diamondbacks defeated the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-3, to take a 2-1 lead in the National League Division Series.
With two outs in the seventh, with a run in and runners on first and second, the left-handed hitting Counsell stepped to the plate against southpaw Mike Matthews.
On paper, it looked like a dream matchup for the Cardinals as Counsell entered the at-bat with a .250 lifetime average against left-handers with 0 home runs. Meanwhile, Matthews in his career had held lefties to a .194 mark with just one homer.
The dream, though, turned into a nightmare for St. Louis as Counsell lifted a shot down the right-field line that landed just inside the foul pole and in the first row of seats.
The homer may have traveled just 362 feet, but it carried a lot of weight as it sparked a dormant offense and put the Diamondbacks one win away from advancing to the NL Championship Series. It also brought the spotlight on a player who hasn't gotten it much this year.
"He's been the unsung hero for us all year, doing whatever he's had to do to get on base and create things," outfielder Luis Gonzalez said. "He quietly does the job for our team. He's been the spark plug all year."
Counsell has played all four infield positions for the Diamondbacks this season and has hit up-and-down in the lineup. When Tony Womack struggled, he batted leadoff. When Jay Bell struggled, he moved into the second spot in the order. Despite all the position changes and batting order slots, he managed a .275 batting average while committing just eight errors.
Throughout the season, Manager Bob Brenly referred to Counsell as the Diamondbacks' most valuable player next to Luis Gonzalez, who cracked 57 home runs.
Postseason success is nothing new to Counsell. In 1997, as a member of the Florida Marlins, he scored the winning run in Game 7 of the World Series. While Friday's homer didn't win the series, it dramatically changed the series with the Cardinals suddenly on the brink of elimination. For that reason, Counsell ranks it near the game-winning run as far as his career highlights go.
"It's not the World Series, but it was a big hit for us, it was a huge hit for us," said Counsell. "It's one of my top two thrills. I'll give it that."
In fact, it was such a thrill that Counsell raised his hands after rounding first, a rare show of emotion from an old-school player.
"With Gonzo on deck you know they're going to give you something to hit," Counsell said. "I wanted to be aggressive knowing that Gonzo was coming up and [Matthews] gave me a good pitch to hit for that reason."
The ball was hit well, but there was still some doubt when it left the bat whether it was going to have enough distance to clear the fence, and if it did clear the fence, whether would it remain fair.
"I thought it had a pretty good chance," Counsell said. "I was just hoping it was going to stay fair. I'm never really sure because I don't hit too many, but I thought it had a chance."
And after Counsell's home run, the Diamondbacks had a better chance in the series.
"Our backs were kind of against the wall and we did what we had to do," Counsell said. " I think that's a trait of this team. It's someone different every day. I'm not going to hit many home runs."
Maybe not, but he hit the biggest one in Diamondbacks' history Friday night.
Steve Gilbert is the site manager of azdiamondbacks.com