Editors note: 10 years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals surprised the baseball community by winning the World Series, a signature moment in franchise history. To mark the anniversary, the St. Louis Baseball Writers Dinner Sunday night will honor the 2006 team, with tickets still available for the event. The following column was written by the BND’s Joe Ostermeier, chairman of the St. Louis Baseball Writers chapter, for inclusion in the dinner program Sunday:
St. Louis Cardinals fans had never waited so long for a World title, and because of that a wild celebration ensued when the Redbirds defeated the Detroit Tigers in five games to win the 2006 Fall Classic.
The Game 5 win behind Jeff Weaver came exactly 24 years and one week after the Cardinals’ 1982 title — the longest stretch between championships in franchise history.
No matter, not on this Friday night at Busch Stadium, an Oct. 27 date that still reverberates in team lore.
Nobody — at least no one without the Birds and the Bat on their chest — saw this one coming:
▪ Not after the Cardinals limped to an injury-marred 83-win regular season.
▪ Not after the team went 13-15 in August and 12-17 after Sept. 1.
▪ Not after the Redbirds found themselves facing the heavily favored San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Detroit Tigers as the postseason unfolded.
Eleven wins in 16 postseason games later, the Cardinals stood atop the baseball world, savoring a championship few others thought they would earn.
“What motivated us a little more was how people were disrespecting us,” first baseman Albert Pujols said after the series ended. “People weren’t giving us enough credit, they said we weren’t good enough to (win) the World Series.
“We just proved those people wrong. I’m glad that we did. I had a good feeling we were going to do this.”
What motivated us a little more was how people were disrespecting us. People weren’t giving us enough credit, they said we weren’t good enough to (win) the World Series. We just proved those people wrong.
Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols
Indeed: The Cardinals knocked off an 88-win Padres team in four games in the Division Series. They outlasted the 97-win Mets in a thrilling seven-game NLCS — remember Yadier Molina’s two-run homer in the rain in the ninth inning at Shea Stadium in Game 7? — then found the going easier against a mistake-prone 95-win Tigers team in the Series.
“I just feel so proud of my team,” Molina said. “Nobody wanted us to be in the playoffs. Nobody expected us to win the World Series. We showed everybody now.”
It didn’t come easy. The Cardinals won the franchise’s 10th title even as they staggered to the finish line in the regular season: After reaching a season-high 16 games over .500 at 58-42 on July 26, the team promptly lost eight in a row and limped to a 25-36 record the rest of the way.
Beset by second-half injuries to Jason Isringhausen, Jim Edmonds and David Eckstein, the Cardinals saw their NL Central lead shrink from a season-high 6 ½ games on Sept. 7 to 1 ½ games on Oct. 1 — just enough to give the team the nod over Houston for the division title.
We barely made the playoffs, and we turned around and played as good a baseball as we can play, and ended up being world champions. We played good baseball when it counted at the back end.
St. Louis third baseman Scott Rolen
“We’re probably not supposed to be here right now, but we played better as a team,” third baseman Scott Rolen said. “We were bad at the end of the season, there ain’t any doubt about it. A lot of people said we backed into the playoffs.
“But because of that, we didn’t have to prove anything to anybody. We barely made the playoffs, and we turned around and played as good a baseball as we can play, and ended up being world champions. We played good baseball when it counted at the back end.”
And how: Rolen hit .421 (8-for-19) with a homer and two RBIs against Detroit, the Cardinals got a win apiece from four pitchers – Weaver, Chris Carpenter, Anthony Reyes, and rookie starter-turned-closer Adam Wainwright – and Eckstein hit .364 (8-for-22) with four RBIs and three runs scored.
“We came together so much,” said Eckstein, the Series’ Most Valuable Player. “A lot of people doubted us, especially after the month of September we had. But we stuck together as a team, nobody pointed fingers at one another.
“We knew if we could get out there and get healthy and just play our game, we’d have a chance to win. We were not going to be dominating, but we were going to find a way to win. And we were able to do that.”
We knew if we could get out there and get healthy and just play our game, we'd have a chance to win. We were not going to be dominating, but we were going to find a way to win.
World Series MVP David Eckstein
The Series and season came down to one final, memorable pitch, a curveball from Wainwright that dropped off the tabletop to Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge – setting off fireworks and an impromptu parade of fans who drove downtown to be near Busch Stadium as the champagne sprayed.
“Every dream I’ve ever had about baseball just got fulfilled,” Wainwright said. “It’s such a special time in my life right now. It’s been the best year of my life, and I’ll probably never be able to top it.”
Joe Ostermeier, chairman of the St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, has written about the Cardinals for the News-Democrat since 1985. He can be reached at 618-239-2512, @JoeOstermeier