Struggling Weaver shows up in Game 2

Monday, October 23, 2006

DETROIT -- Shades of the old Jeff Weaver returned at precisely the wrong time for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Squinting for signs all game but finding few answers, the stringbean righty who revived his career this postseason took a big step backward on a nippy Sunday night.

Weaver was lucky to leave Game 2 of the World Series after five innings trailing by only three runs. The Detroit Tigers, the team that gave him his start in 1999, went on to win 3-1 to even things at one game each.

Weaver did not consider this a setback, nor did manager Tony La Russa or pitching coach Dave Duncan. Duncan said the Tigers made solid contact only a handful of times.

"They managed to get some miss-hit balls over the infield and through the infield, and sometimes that happens," Duncan said. "He threw the ball very good, he had good stuff, pretty good command.

"You don't miss-hit balls unless they're balls that are hard to hit," he said.

Still, the Tigers had Weaver in trouble the whole time. He earned points for escaping dire situations, but his outing illustrated how close the Tigers came to turning it into a rout.

"They were aggressive and swinging early and made it tough all night," Weaver said. "But it's a team that can be pitched to and we feel good about our chances."

It certainly wasn't the same Weaver that the Cardinals had seen lately.

Weaver threw five scoreless innings against San Diego in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs, freezing the Padres with breaking balls.

In the opener of the NL championship series, he pitched well in losing 2-0 to the New York Mets. He then worked six strong innings to win Game 5 in St. Louis.

But against the Tigers, Weaver struggled from the start. The second batter he faced, Craig Monroe, sent a fat fastball well over the left-field wall.

The problems were just beginning as he reverted to early-season form -- he began the season 3-10 for the Angels this season and got traded away.

"I felt good," Weaver said. "Just a lot of balls that bled in. The only pitch I would take back was the cutter that I threw to Monroe, I just missed my location."

The Tigers had at least two baserunners in all five innings, getting nine hits and a walk against the right-hander. It added up to another bitter World Series memory for Weaver.

In 2003 when he was with the New York Yankees, he surrendered a 12th-inning home run to Florida's Alex Gonzalez that evened the series at two games apiece. The Marlins went on to defeat the Yankees in six games.

A mitigating factor in that failure: Weaver had been pitching for the second straight game after a 28-day layoff.

When he faced the Tigers on Sunday night, he had been on a roll.

Weaver had been 2-1 with a 2.16 ERA in the postseason after going 8-14 with a 5.76 ERA for the Cardinals and Angels, who designated him for assignment in June to make room for kid brother Jered in their rotation.

A free agent after this season, his surge lately has led to thoughts he could fit in a reconstituted rotation next year.

Only one starter, ace Chris Carpenter, is under contract after the season. The Cardinals have long admired Weaver's live arm.

Weaver started the year with an $8 million contract after winning 14 games for the Dodgers in 2005. By the time the Angels gave up on him the price tag, a minor leaguer, was minuscule.

Once near the bottom, his stock had been on its way back up.

He was 3-0 in his last five starts, finally rounding into form and helping the Cardinals avoid a historic collapse in September. His name has been added to a succession of veteran success stories for Duncan, who's worked wonders with Dave Stewart, Woody Williams and Kent Bottenfield.

Weaver refused to blame the weather. It was 45 degrees at gametime and the temperature plummeted.

"The first couple of innings were a little chilly, something to get used to," Weaver said. "Once you get the adrenaline going, during the course of the game there's no problems with that."

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