Cards' Weaver takes strange route to NLCS Game 1 starter

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

NEW YORK -- Jeff Weaver endured the embarrassment of getting cut by the Angels in late June to make room for his little brother.

Now, it's all worked out. Weaver is about to start the opener of the NL championship series.

"Without Weaver, I hate to think where we'd be," St. Louis Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said.

Weaver, who'll oppose the Mets' Tom Glavine on Wednesday night, was the second reclamation project the Cardinals tried as their fifth starter. They gave up on Sidney Ponson in June but remained patient with Weaver despite little return: He won only two of his first 10 starts.

His numbers never really recovered from the 3-10 record and 6.29 ERA that led to Weaver, a 14-game winner last year for the Dodgers, being designated for assignment and traded by the Angels. He finished the year 8-14 with a 5.76 ERA.

That's a far cry from 24-year-old Jered Weaver, who was 11-2 with a 2.56 ERA for the Angels.

But big brother is still pitching. The 30-year-old Weaver was 3-0 in his last five starts for the Cardinals to help them avoid a late-season collapse. He accounted for two of St. Louis' last four victories.

Then, he handcuffed the Padres with breaking balls for five shutout innings in Game 2 of the division series for his first postseason win.

"I just finally kind of got my feet on the ground, and got back to who I was," Weaver said. "My strengths are changing my arm angles, giving different looks and I kind of got away from that a little bit."

Molina vs. Reyes

One of the most interesting subplots of the NLCS is St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina matching up with Mets speedster Jose Reyes, who swiped a major league-best 64 bases this season.

The strong-armed Molina threw out 41 percent of would-be basestealers this season and also had seven pickoffs. He got Mike Piazza wandering off first in the first inning of Game 3 in the Cardinals' first-round series against San Diego.

Reyes hit .300 and scored 122 runs in a breakout regular season for the Mets, who led the National League with 146 steals. Reyes was caught stealing 17 times.

"I'm not looking to get him [Reyes] on base, I'm just trying to get him out at the plate," Molina said.

Turnover at the top

The last four seasons, each league has had four representatives in the World Series. If the Cardinals don't make it past the Mets, it'll be five years in a row with all-new opponents.

Since 2002, the White Sox, Astros, Red Sox, Cardinals, Marlins, Yankees, Angels and Giants have had a shot.

Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty, whose team was swept in 2004 by the Red Sox, believes that trend is more indicative of what can happen in a short series rather than overall parity. Jocketty's exhibit A is the New York Yankees, bounced by the Tigers in the first round this year despite a monster payroll.

"I definitely think the playoffs are a crapshoot, because you see great teams that get beat right away," Jocketty said. "It's a very good team that got eliminated."

Praise for Peterson

The Mets finished third in the NL with a 4.14 team ERA, tied for second with 43 saves and allowed the third-fewest runs in the league.

Tom Glavine, who'll start Game 1 for the Mets, said a lot of that has to do with the work of pitching coach Rick Peterson.

"You know, as far as the young guys and the staff go, what's great about him is he takes the time to try to help everybody get better," Glavine said. "He obviously has a vested interest in us doing well, but he has a genuine interest in guys that come over here and helping them get better."

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