Friday, October 27, 2006

One for the Other Thumb

2006 World Series Champions!

Tigers - 2
Cards - 4 FINAL

St. Louis WINS 2006 World Series 4-1

The St. Louis Cardinals wrapped up their National League best 10th World Series title tonight with lights-out pitching, 2-out hitting and the federally-mandated throwing error by a Tiger pitcher.

The Real Story

How WRONG were all the experts? The word at the outset of this series was "Tigers in 3". The Cardinals were cast as a weak pitching team with a one-man offensive show, an injured group of core players and a shaky bullpen. They would wilt under the Tiger assault according to conventional "wisdom".

A funny thing happened on the way to the Tiger coronation.

As I mentioned before this series began, this series came down to a battle of nerves and the team with the nerve to stare into the face of World Series pressure without flinching would prevail. The deciding factor was the Cardinals' experience. In 2004 a far more loaded 105-win Cardinal team experienced the worst of World Series collapses vs Boston. They'd suffered through it, survived it and made it back to the show in 2006. They were the tougher team mentally because of it.

Dream Weaver

Jeff Weaver is born-again hard. This is not the same guy I saw pitch for the Dodgers against the Cardinals in the 2004 NLDS and literally melt down under the pressure. This Jeff Weaver could watch Chris Duncan make two potentially fatal Curly Joe plays in right field -- plays that would have broken the old Jeff Weaver -- shake it off, bear down and get out of the inning with the lead and eventually the win. That was pitching. That was will. Check out the line:

8 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 K

Carpenteresque. Great job by a much-maligned man on a mission to stick it to the team that bad-mouthed him for years. Congratulations to him.

Pressure cooker

A lot will be made of the Tigers many errors and lapses in the series. The 8 team errors, 5 by pitchers in each game, were unprecedented. But what must be remembered is that their errors were borne of the pressure the Cardinals put on them. Leadoff doubles, well-executed sacrifices, numerous situations with runners in scoring position, 2nd & 3rd, bases loaded with less than 2 outs, hard-hit balls and the stress of being shut down offensively combined to crack the Tigers' will and shake their confidence. There are no errant throws by pitchers without runners on base to press the issue. The Cards did all of this, mind you, with an uncharacteristically scant offensive contribution from the one-man gang, Albert Pujols. In this series, the Tigers thought they could win but the Cardinals knew they could. Experience and heart won out.

The Rundown

In Game #2 Anthony Reyes came out and showed that this Tiger line-up wasn't as scary as advertised. It could be pitched to. Reyes did just that stole home-field advantage from Detroit. Even in Game #2, the game the Cards lost, Weaver pitched well in defeat but was out-dueled by a red-hot Kenny Rogers, who'd apparently prepared for his start by hugging Tony Snow's tar baby.

Then came the lockdown. Chris Carpenter pitches brilliantly Game #3 and cruises to a 5-0 win to take command of the series. Jeff Suppan bends but doesn't break to keep the Cardinals close enough to take a come-from-behind win in Game #4, setting up Weaver's Game #5, series clinching masterpiece.

Go crazy, folks!

Game balls:

David Eckstien earned the series MVP award by turning up the heat in the last 3 games and stroking the big hits in prime time.

Yadier Molina for being "that guy", the "it" guy, coming from nowhere to perform as the Redbirds' most reliable hitter throughout the post-season. He takes his place among the great "it" guys of World Series history as noted in my previous post.

Adam Wainwright is a grown man. This kid wasn't even supposed to make the roster this year but he pitched his way into the bullpen and moved up the ladder all season long making great major league hitters look like head-slapping idiots repeatedly. The way he grew into the closer's role on an emergency basis was one of the most impressive transformations I've ever seen. What a starting rotation we'll have next year when this guy steps in with Reyes, Weaver, Carpenter and whichever veterans the Cardinals retain and/or acquire in the offseason. This experience will be invaluable.

Tony LaRussa actually earned the "genius" label this year. Towards the end of the year his every move came up roses.

The Bullpen emerged from the dead to pitch light's out ball for the entire postseason. Guys who looked shaky going to the playoffs showed up like seasoned veterans. In addition to Wainwright, Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney, Randy Flores and Braden Looper came through with flying colors. Great job!

This one makes up for the 2004 October catastrophe. For me the 2004 season is finally over. After two consecutive season of being the best team in baseball only to be foiled by a wild card team the word was the Cards would fall short again. Their roughtly 290 wins over 3 season were to go to waste. But they got into the post-season with the worst record in the playoffs and won it all.

That's poetic.

It's just.

It's the 10th World Series title.

One for the other thumb.

Best Fan Sign: "Hit it to the pitcher!" LOL!