Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
If you would have told me that the St. Louis Cardinals would win the World Series and get just one win from Chris Carpenter and virtually nothing from Albert Pujols in doing so, I would have said you were crazy.
But you know what? That is exactly what happened and the St. Louis Cardinals - the 13th winningest team in the majors in the regular season - are the 2006 World Series champions.
If I had to rank the eight postseason teams' chances at winning the World Series before the playoffs began I probably would have had St. Louis right near the bottom of the list. And who would have questioned me? Teams that win 83 games and back their way into the postseason don't win World Championships.
There were five teams that did not even make the playoffs that had a better record than the Cardinals this season.
So how exactly did the Cardinals do it?
St. Louis' starters were lights out this series, as rookie Anthony Reyes, Jeff Suppan, Carpenter and Jeff Weaver all twirled gems. Detroit's hitters, though, made it pretty easy on them. The Tigers were patient at the plate in the first two series, but seemed to tighten up in the Fall Classic and pretty much swung at everything thrown their way.
In the ALCS against the Oakland Athletics, the Tigers lineup forced A's pitchers to throw nearly 154 pitches per game. New York pitchers averaged more than 134 in its four ALDS games. However, against St. Louis pitching, the Tigers saw just 118 pitches.
Detroit, as a team, hit just .199 against the Cardinals. Placido Polanco, the ALCS MVP, was hitless in 17 at-bats, while Curtis Granderson was just 2- for-21. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez's postseason struggles carried into the World Series and he hit just .158 against St. Louis and only .167 in the playoffs.
The Tigers did not help themselves in the field either, as they committed an incredible eight errors in five games. They also became the first team in major league history to get an error from the pitcher in five straight games.
I don't want to diminish the Cardinals run, though, because it was pretty impressive. I, for sure, did not think they would get by the Mets and I thought there was no chance that they would get past the Tigers.
St. Louis, though, proved everyone wrong and did so without any heroics from the great Pujols, who hit a home run in Game 1, but basically disappeared the rest of the series. El Hombre, who could be a few weeks away from his second straight NL MVP trophy, had just three hits in the World Series.
The Cardinals did not need him though, as Scott Rolen came back to life and David Eckstein could do no wrong. After going hitless in his first 11 World Series at-bats, Eckstein closed the Series 8-for-11 and earned MVP honors.
How about the play of Weaver? The 30-year-old right-hander, who will become a free agent, was released from the LA Angels of Anaheim earlier in the season to make room for his younger brother.
Now he is going to be a very rich man.
Weaver and Detroit's Kenny Rogers were the two best pitchers this postseason. Weaver's incredible postseason continued on Friday, as he was sensational in the Game 5 clincher, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits in eight innings - his longest outing of the season.
In his five postseason starts, Weaver posted a 3-2 mark to go along with a 2.43 ERA. His team scored a total of one run for him in his two losses.
Traditionally both Weaver and Rogers, who did not allow a run in 23 postseason innings, had struggled in the playoffs, which made their performances this October even more unbelievable. So you see Yankee fans there is hope for Alex Rodriguez.
When you take it all in, though, is it really that surprising that the Cardinals won?
Sure nobody gave them a shot at the beginning of the playoffs, but looking back at the TSN Predictions at the start of the season, 10 of the 19 people asked had the Cards in the Series and five of those people had them winning it. I am sure most publications had about the same thing.
Nobody, by the way, had the Tigers anywhere on the page.
Only one team in history -- the 1973 Mets (82-79) -- ever won fewer games than the Cardinals and made it to a World Series. No team, though, had ever won fewer games than the Cards and won a World Series.
Do you know how many times the team with the most wins in the regular season has won the World Series since the wild card became part of the equation in 1995? Just once and that was the 1998 New York Yankees.
The Cardinals are also the seventh different team to win the Fall Classic in the last seven years. When was the last time that happened in any of the other three major sports? I will give you a hint, it has never happened.
Sure baseball has its flaws, but Commissioner Bud Selig has the game going in the right direction. As a Yankee fan, though, I can't object to having the team with the best record and highest payroll winning things. But as a fan of baseball I have to admit the way things are going are much better. It certainly makes it more exciting. The MLB postseason is kind of becoming like the NHL playoffs, where pretty much every team has a chance to win. All you need to do is get hot at the right time.
However, according to the television ratings, people around the country may have a different opinion, as the ratings were the lowest in World Series history. That is a problem that needs to be addressed, but this is not the time for that.
Instead, today is the day to celebrate St. Louis' 10th World Series title and its first since beating the Milwaukee Brewers in seven games in 1982. Today is the day to appreciate the Cardinals tremendous pitching, including the improbable performance of Weaver. Today is the day to tip your hat to the great Pujols and the fiery Eckstein. Today is the day to congratulate Tony La Russa, who joined Sparky Anderson as the only two managers to win a World Series title in both leagues.
It may not have been the historic 86- and 88-year waits of the last two World Series champions, but I am sure the 24 years the fans in St. Louis had to wait seemed like an eternity.