A little more than three weeks ago, the St Louis Cardinals weren’t a sure-bet to make the playoffs.
In the throes of an 11-17 September, the Cardinals lead in the NL Central had slipped to a game-and-a-half over the Houston Astros. The Cardinals limped into the playoffs during the last weekend of the season with only 83 wins… and many pundits (including yours truly) predicted an early post-season exit for the Redbirds.
This morning they are World Champions!
The Cards won the World Series in a thoroughly unexpected manner: the team’s question-mark pitching staff unexpectedly out-performed the much ballyhooed Tigers staff (both on the rubber and in the field – where Detroit pitchers made five errors fielding their position)… and its anemic offense (which under-performed throughout the Series) was shockingly led by by light-hitting catcher Yadier Molina and even-lighter-hitting SS David Eckstein, not the trio of Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Preston Wilson.
Eckstein, the former Red Sox farmhand who was GIVEN AWAY by then-GM Dan Duquette after the 2000 season, was named the World Series MVP after batting .364 with 4 RBI in the five-game series. After beginning the Series 0-for-9 in Detroit, Eckstein ignited the Cards offense by going 8-for-13 in the three games in St Louis, including three doubles in Game 4 and a pair of RBI in both Game 4 and Game 5.
The championship gave the Cardinals the tenth world championship in the franchise’s history… the franchise’s first in twenty-four years. St Louis broke a losing streak of sorts—as the Cards had come up on the short end of the championship series in 1985, 1987 and 2004.
St Louis starter Jeff Weaver—who came into the big leagues with the Detroit organization—pitched eight innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits while striking out nine.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said: “If we didn’t win this one, we would have had to go back to Detroit. This was a huge game and (Weaver) was our biggest hero”.
The victory gave St Louis the distinction of being the team with the fewest regular-season wins to have won the World Series… and made La Russa only the second manager to win the World Series with teams from both leagues (Sparky Anderson).
Errors and miscues played a big part in the series. The Tigers made eight errors in the five-game series—one of the worst displays of fielding in World Series history.
In the second inning, 3B Brandon Inge threw wildly to first base allowing Eckstein to reach on a broken-bat grounder… scoring Molina and giving the Cards a 1-0 lead.
After Detroit took the lead in the top of the fourth inning on a Sean Casey 2-run home run, errors again doomed the Tigers. In the bottom of the inning, Yadier Molina and So Taguchi stroked one-out singles to put runners on first and second for St Louis with pitcher Weaver coming to bat. Weaver bunted directly back to Detroit starter Justin Verlander, who threw the ball down the left field line—allowing Molina to score and putting Taguchi on third base and Weaver on second base. Eckstein followed with a force out to shortstop Carlos Guillen that scored Taguchi and put St Louis ahead 3-2.
Detroit never scored again. Game. Set. Match.
After the game, Detroit manager Jim Leyland told reporters: “We got beat by a team that played a lot better than we did during course of the series”. No excuses.
And that simple statement says it all… Detroit showed its age and played nervously… St Louis showed it had been there before and they became champions.