Why the St. Louis Cardinals Deserved the 2006 Series.
|Not my best work, written back in December of 2006.
Many baseball fans have been unfairly ridiculing the St. Louis Cardinals’ World Series Title. Fans have referred to the Series as “laughable”, “humiliating”, and a host of other degrading monikers. The “experts” agree with the fans jealous, biased opinions, spewing their own accusations. To paraphrase a witty cardinals fan‘s ballpark sign, “the experts are idiots”.
The Cardinals fought and scrapped for every hit, run, and win this season; their performance was very similar to the classic Gas House Gang era. However, in a diluted era when a steroid-laden solo homer will draw more applause than a slick diving stop, the Cardinals season was written off early as a futile effort at a title run.
As close to disaster as the cardinal’s season came, it began with hopeful promise. Not only was All-Star and smooth fielder Scott Rolen healthy, Chris Carpenter, former middle-of-the-road journeyman, had blossomed into the NL’s answer to Johan Santana. With emerging talent in Yadier Molina and Anthony Reyes, a lineup showcasing the best player in baseball, Albert Pujols, was icing on the proverbial cake.
Things were looking even better at the start of the season, with Albert Pujols breaking records with every swing and Carpenter in even rarer form, Cardinals fans looked past Isringhausen’s early inability to throw a ball within a foot of the strike zone. With Rolen looking like the MVP of old, fans were expectant to a snatch a title before looming free agency took its toll.
As every Cardinals fan remembers, though, summer brought heat, Howard, and a decimating plethora of depleting disasters. The most shocking, by far, was the strained lower back of superstar Albert Pujols. Though he would recover, the three-week break would halt his record chase. Two other injuries, namely to closer Jason Isringhausen and center fielder Jim Edmonds, also came close to halting the Cardinals title run. The factor that stopped it was the unpredictable inclusion of two unknown rookies, Chris Duncan and Adam Wainwright. Chris Duncan, son of pitching coach Dave Duncan, made a difficult transition from first base to left field. A few misadventures were to be expected, but his batting prowess, 22 homeruns in 350 at-bats, would certainly net him the rookie of the year, if naught for the fact that the National League's shocking influx of superb rookie talent. His timely performance was crucial.
Adam Wainwright began the season in triple-A, at least a season away from a big league career. Even if he did make it to the bigs soon, he was projected to be nothing but a journeyman middle reliever for his entire career. But when Jason Isringhausen went down with a demoralizing shoulder injury, Wainwright stepped in, allowing manager Tony LaRussa to avoid the dreaded closer-by-committee. With a sinking fastball and a curve reminiscing of Isringhausen’s, Wainwright was nearly perfect through the rest of the season.
As summer wore on and the end came into sight, the Cardinals saw something they hadn’t seen for a long time: competition from within the division. However, it wasn’t the usual antagonists, such as the Astros or Brewers, but the pitching-poor Reds. The Reds rode their big bats to within half a game, and even acquired the division for a few hours. As the tough will do, though, the Cards got going and behind clutch performances of Gary Bennett, Chris Duncan, and So Taguchi, they crept past the opposition and into the playoffs.
Albert Pujols is generally considered someone you try to avoid pitching too, especially with the game, or the year, on the line. Mr. Pujols proved this; a homer and a double highlighted several clutch hits in the NLDS. Albert’s hitting sparked the Cardinals to roll over the Padres in four games and into the National League Championship series against the Mets. The series would become a classic. The Mets and Cards would struggle through th series until a Game Seven dripping with pressure and nostalgia decided things. Though the Mets took an early lead, the Cardinals swarmed back to reclaim the advantage behind Yadier Molina’s homer late in game seven. The Cards then placed their World Series hopes on young closer Adam Wainwright. He proceeded to put the entire audience on the edge of their seats loading the bases with only a single out recorded. However, showing veteran poise and capability, Wainwright finished the game by striking out All-Star ceter fielder Carlos Beltran with a jaw-dropping curveball, and the Cards were headed to the World Series.
The Cards took Game One from Detroit, thanks to an error by Tigers pitcher Verlander, which would mark a trend throughout the Series. Detroit would come back for Game Two, but cardinal spirit grew high and Tigers errors piled up even faster as they gave away the next two games. Thanks to yet another Tigers pitching error, the Cards rolled over the Tigers to secure the World Series.
The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals had it all. Personal highlights, dominating pitching, comeback rallies, rookie standouts, and the rock-solid Albert Pujols to tie it all together. With such a season as that, how do they not deserve baseball’s highest title?