Sunday, April 22, 2012

2006 World Series: E1

The Teams
National League: St. Louis Cardinals (83-79) - 15th World Series (won in 1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967, 1982)
American League: Detroit Tigers (95-67) - 10th World Series (won in 1935, 1945, 1968, 1984)

What Happened

St. Louis was a very average team entering the 2006 postseason, but they won a pair of postseason series - including a stunning win over the Mets in the NLCS - to become the second-worst team percentage-wise to make the World Series. Once there, they were heavy underdogs against Detroit - until Detroit's pitchers started throwing the ball all around the field.

Maybe it was the full week off they had between the ALCS and the World Series. Maybe it was the nerves of a first World Series appearance for many of their players. Whatever the reason, the heavily favored Tigers completely gave away the 2006 World Series. It started simply enough - in Game 1, the Cardinals surprisingly ripped Detroit ace Justin Verlander, with Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen each hitting home runs. But a bad omen for the series came in the 6th inning, when Verlander had Pujols picked off but threw the ball away, allowing Pujols to go to third.

That error didn't change the momentum of Game 1, and neither did the next error by a Tigers pitcher. After Kenny Rogers pitched brilliantly in Game 2, closer Todd Jones had a rough ninth, including an error on a grounder, to let one run in. The Tigers still won, 3-1, but a bad trend had started.

In Game 3, St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter completely shut down the Tigers, giving up 3 hits in a complete game win. But Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya made matters worse in the 7th; with St. Louis already up 2-0 and with two runners on base, Zumaya threw a sacrifice attempt into left field, allowing two runs to score and giving the Cardinals the clinching runs. Then came Game 4, in which the Tigers were up 3-2 entering the bottom of the seventh. After a leadoff double, Detroit reliever Fernando Rodney fielded yet another sacrifice attempt by St. Louis, and yet again threw it into the outfield, allowing the tying run to score and moving the go-ahead run to second; naturally, that runner scored.

The last one came in Game 5. With the Tigers up 2-1, Verlander fielded yet another Cardinals bunt attempt. Yet again, he threw it into the outfield, allowing the tying run to score and moving the go-ahead run to third. After the Cardinals took the lead on a grounder, it was only a matter of time before they would be celebrating the title. Four innings later, they were, becoming the worst team record-wise to ever win a World Series.

Defining Game
After Game 4 was delayed a day by rain, both teams could have brought back their Game 1 starters on normal rest. Neither did so, however, and the Tigers greeted St. Louis No. 4 starter Jeff Suppan by scoring three runs in the first two innings. They were still up 3-2 entering the bottom of the seventh when the wheels fell off. It started with Eckstein's leadoff double off Rodney, which was followed by Rodney botching the aforementioned bunt attempt. With So Taguchi on second, Rodney intentionally walked Pujols, then struck out Jim Edmonds and Rolen in succession before Preston Wilson gave the Cardinals the lead with a single. Detroit re-tied the game with a pair of doubles in the top of the 8th, but St. Louis regained the lead on an Eckstein double in the bottom of the inning. Adam Wainwright shut down the Tigers in order in the 9th to put the Cardinals one win from the title.

Eckstein won the MVP on the strength of his clutch hitting; he had his hits in Game 4, and he also twice gave the Cardinals the lead in Game 5. Voters would have also been justified to give the award to either Yadier Molina or Rolen, both of whom outhit Eckstein for the series. Or, they could have given the award to Detroit's pitchers for their miserable performance in the field.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

St. Louis 7 1554
Detroit 2 30 4 2

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

69. 2006 - St. Louis (N) def. Detroit (A) 4-1
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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