The imperfect team arrived at its perfect ending, followed by the perfect celebration.For the article's slide-show photo gallery, click here.
In a place the locals call baseball heaven, amid an ocean of red, the St. Louis Cardinals became World Series champions in five games and for the 10th time, defeating the Detroit Tigers, 4-2, Friday night at Busch Stadium."
It's unbelievable," Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds said, wandering the infield afterward. "Just unbelievable."
As Detroit strung lights and bunting in hopes of a Game 6, Cardinals closer Adam Wainwright threw a slider past Brandon Inge, sending 25 Cardinals into each other's arms on an infield soon to be strewn with confetti. Wainwright followed eight taut innings by Jeff Weaver, who had his third win in the postseason, or as many as he had for the Angels in three months.
David Eckstein, the runty shortstop, clenched two fists and shouted himself hoarse. He was the Series most valuable player, less than two years after the Angels cut him loose, batting .364 and driving an offense from the top."
I can't lie to you," Eckstein said, the golden trophy clutched to his chest, "I never thought I'd go to the World Series and win the MVP trophy."
As they had in three other World Series wins, the Cardinals played well enough, played hard enough, and watched the Tigers go to pieces.
As they had in 10 previous postseason wins, the Cardinals pitched well enough, and hit just enough.
They won with Albert Pujols batting .200, with Edmonds batting .235, but with Scott Rolen answering his .000 from two World Series ago to bat .421 and Yadier Molina answering his .216 in the regular season with a World Series .412.
Mostly, however, they won with a pitching staff plugged by Weaver, whose fastball and slider had life and precision unseen in Anaheim, or Los Angeles the season before, for that matter.
So, for the first time since 1982, and two years after they were swept by the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 World Series, the Cardinals put together the pitching to be better for October. Their earned-run average for the World Series was 2.05. For the postseason, in wins against the San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Tigers, it was 2.68."
Well, since the first game against San Diego, the way our pitching rose to the occasion, front end, back end," Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa said, "it's tough to score. You're facing good pitching. … "
Really, if we missed this one, it would have been tough in Detroit. This was a huge game, and [Weaver] was our biggest hero."
Reminiscent of Weaver, circa 2002, when he led the American League with three shutouts for the Tigers, this Weaver gave up four hits and had nine strikeouts.
Holding a bottle of champagne, speaking of his championship, Weaver said, "
Well, I was hoping to do it in Anaheim, but that didn't work…. I was just very fortunate to get hot when it counted."
Repeating a theme common in the sodden Cardinals clubhouse, Weaver added, "I don't think there's a guy in here that wanted to go back to Detroit."
It felt really good to see the Cardinals win. Weaver was let go by the Angels this year after his brother, Jared, made one of the most impressive debuts for a rookie pitcher in baseball history. I watched Jeff struggle early this season with the Angels. He has a kind of stoic determination to him, often noticeable after he's given up a home run. There was a cool brotherly camaraderie when both players were hanging together in the dugout.
Then there's David Eckstein. Eckstein was my favorite player when the Angels let him go before the beginning of last season. He's a small guy, but he makes up for it with incredible hustle and strength. Eckstein's the epitome of the work ethic for me. I admire his play so much -- it just felt good watching him lead the Cardinals to victory, especially in game four, with his clutch hitting.
I wish I could have watched the series with my Dad, who passed away in 2004. Dad was a lifelong baseball fan who was born in St. Louis. He worked for the Busch family when he was growing up. He would have really enjoyed seeing the Cardinals win in 2006.
I did watch the NLCS in 2004 with him, when St. Louis defeated the Astros in seven games. That's one of the last memories I have of spending time with my old man.