2006 World Series
The 2006 World Series featured two of the most storied franchises in major league history doing battle - again. The venues might be new, but these teams were no stranger to each other as St. Louis and Detroit have met in the World Series twice before, with the Cardinals winning in seven games during the 1934 Fall Classic and the Tigers raising the trophy in similar fashion during the 1968 Fall Classic.
The Cardinals, who are playing in their seventeenth Fall Classic, are returning to the World Series after only a one-year absence, though they'd probably like to forget about that sweep by the Boston Red Sox in 2004. The Tigers, who are playing in their tenth Fall Classic, haven't been since 1984, when they beat the San Diego Padres in five games. Both clubs limped badly into the playoffs and each played below .500 baseball since the All-Star break, yet baseball fans can rejoice if parity is their cup of coffee as 2006 will give us our seventh different World Series champion in seven years.
Game 1 featured the "underdog" Redbirds playing in the less than friendy confines of Comerica Park. With two out, a runner on second, the third inning, Tiger ace Justin Verlander fell behind 2-1 to Chris Duncan when the St. Louis designated hitter doubled down the right-field line to score Yadier Molina to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead. Slugger extraordinaire Albert Pujols then hit Verlander's next pitch, a fastball away, into the right-field seats for an opposite-field home run and a 4-1 St. Louis lead. Pujols' shot changed the complexion of the game and left the Tigers in a significant hole they wouldn't climb out of on this night. Detroit closer Todd Jones said after the game, "Pujols, the alien over there, hit that home run it and took the crowd out of it. He's one of those two or three guys who are out of this world when it comes to hitting."
Christy Mathewson appeared on the mound for Game 2, or at least a pitcher who is starting to look a lot like the 1905 World Series ace who finished with twenty-seven scoreless innings pitched. Kenny Rogers ran up his postseason total to twenty-three after eight more zeroes appeared next to his name this game then acknowledged Big Six in his postgame interview, "I'm no Christy Mathewson, that's for sure. I've had scoreless streaks before. I'm so glad it's happening for us as a team, it helps us win. But I will never put myself in the category of someone like that or even remotely close. I know I'm just trying to be a good pitcher and make as many good pitches as I can."
"Basically," manager Jim Leyland summarized Game 3, "our offense got three hits." Chris Carpenter, who is the only Cardinal besides Bob Gibson to win a Cy Young Award, pitched eight dominating innings in the first World Series start of his career and was responsible for those three hits. Unfazed by the chilly weather, it was 43 degrees at game time, the RedBird ace needed only eighty-two pitches to record twenty-four outs. Brandon Inge (1 single) and Sean Casey (2 singles) accounted for all the Tiger offense as no other player even made their way on to first base.
Rain moved the start of Game 4 from October 25th to October 26, and Sean Casey didn't mind the day of rest. Early in Game 4, it looked like Casey was on his way to single-handedly carrying the Tigers to a victory. He drove in the first two Tigers runs with a second-inning solo homer and then with a single in the third. The managerial chess game appeared to swing in favor of Jim Leyland who had moved the boiling Casey (hitting .462 after this Series game) from seventh to fifth in the lineup, but critical defensive struggles led to yet another loss. Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols said, "They make some errors, we take advantage" and combining that with three key doubles by David Eckstein made a 3-0 defecit into a 5-4 thriller which put the Cardinals (3-1) in close reach of their first world championship in twenty-four years.
Jeff Weaver gave yet another brilliant playoff performance during Game 5, hurling eight innings, allowing just four hits, and only two runs to score — one of which was earned. Weaver, once known for postseason letdowns before 2006, pitched as effectively as any Cardinals starter this October. A fourth-inning David Eckstein RBI groundout brought home the winning run as the consistently composed RedBirds continued capitalizing on Tigers errors. Three St. Louis runs were at least partly set up by Detroit errors. Eck, who went 6-for-9 with four clutch RBIs during Games 4 and 5, was named the World Series Most Valuable Player after Game 5 and said, "It's a great honor, but I feel like I was just trying to do what I usually do. I just got very fortunate. I found some holes."
The 2006 Cardinals now have the one thing that marks them as true, great members of the Redbird fraternity: a World Series championship. Their first World Series title since 1982 and number ten, the most of any National League team, in seventeen attempts for one of baseball's signature franchises.