Holding the right ‘Cards’ when it counts

Max Petrunya

After narrowly holding on to the top spot in their division after losing seven of their last 10 regular season games, the St. Louis Cardinals shocked Major League Baseball fans by defeating the American League Champion Detroit Tigers in five games to win the 2006 World Series. The Cardinals, who won only 83 regular season games, showed fans that despite their low win total, they can win games when it counts the most.

Fresh off a mentally and physically grueling seven-game series against the National League’s favorites to win this year, the New York Mets, the Cardinals traveled to Detroit on Oct. 21 to face Jim Leyland’s Tigers.

The Tigers, who swept the Athletics in four games, came into this year’s World Series on over a week’s rest. Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals, playing on one day’s rest, came into Detroit and beat the Tigers in Game 1 with a score of 7-2. Starter Anthony Reyes threw eight innings for the Cardinals and gave up two earned runs on just four hits against the Tiger’s rookie pitching sensation Justin Verlander.

Game 2 pitted the postseason’s most dominant starter, Detroit’s Kenny Rogers, against the Cardinals’ Jeff Weaver. In this game, the Tigers held the opposition to four hits, with Rogers’ throwing eight shutout innings to extend his postseason streak of shutout innings in the playoffs to 23. The Tigers would win the game 3-1.

With the series now tied, it appeared that the Tigers had shaken off the rust they accumulated from having a week off. The teams traveled to St. Louis for Games 3, 4 and 5.

Game 3 was dominated by the Cardinals, who held the Tigers to three hits and no runs as Chris Carpenter and St. Louis defeated Nate Robertson and Detroit 5-0 in the Series’ first game in the City of Arches.

Game Four went to St. Louis, who beat the Tigers 5-4 in the Series’ closest contest. Closer Adam Wainwright earned the victory for the Cardinals as the Tigers’ rookie Joel Zumaya was credited with the loss. The teams were neck and neck until David Eckstein drove in the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth and Adam Wainwright came in to seal the victory. Leading the series 3-1, the Cardinals had the chance to end the series with a win in Game 5, the last game to be played in St. Louis before possibly heading back to Detroit for Games 6 and 7.

Travel arrangements were unnecessary, however, as the Cardinals and Jeff Weaver again defeated Justin Verlander and the Tigers 4-2 to claim this year’s title. The win marked the franchise’s first World Series title in 24 years.

St. Louis shortstop David Eckstein was named World Series MVP, as he went 8 for 22, with four RBIs and three runs. Eckstein’s game-winning RBI in Game 4 not only gave the Cardinals a 3-1 Series lead, but also helped to provide St. Louis with a crucial physical and mental victory that would be the deciding factor in the Series.

St. Louis’ victory is considered by most baseball analysts to be an enormous upset over the once red-hot Detroit Tigers. The Cardinals won the lowest number of regular season games of any playoff team this year and qualified for the playoffs by just 1.5 games over the Houston Astros. Detroit’s inexperience left them susceptible to catching the wave of meltdowns that went through American League teams this postseason.

The Tigers’ young pitching staff would become the first in World Series history to commit errors in every game. The error streak would ultimately come full circle, as Brandon Inge and Justin Verlander committed crucial errors in Game 1, and also in Game 5. Todd Jones, Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney also contributed to this record, putting up errors in Games 2, 3 and 4 respectively.

This win wasn’t about which team played better; it was about which team played worse. Regardless of how the game’s fans remember the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series title, St. Louis showed baseball purists that a team’s number of regular season victories isn’t as important as winning games when it counts.