Cards sit one game short of title after unlikely postseason run
Friday, October 27, 2006
The Associated Press
ST. LOUIS -- The last two weeks of the regular season, the St. Louis Cardinals were running on fumes and lucky to make the postseason.
After a gutty pitching performance by Jeff Suppan, some timely Cardinals hits and one big slip on wet grass by Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson, St. Louis is on the verge of its first World Series championship since 1982.
"We're just trying to keep our focus, and our focus is to come out tomorrow night and be ready to play," said Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein.
Granderson lost his footing chasing a routine fly ball to start the seventh, gifting a double to Eckstein, who then scored the tying run on Preston Wilson's single. Eckstein then hit another double -- this one glancing off the outstretched glove of diving left fielder Craig Monroe -- for the game-winning hit.
"The fans here are unbelievable," Eckstein said. "They come out every single night supporting us and it would be a real honor to do something for them."
One caveat: The Cardinals have been up 3-1 on the Tigers in a World Series before -- the first time in 1968 -- and blew it. St. Louis is also the most recent team to let a 3-1 World Series lead slip away, in the 1985 I-70 Series against the cross-state Kansas City Royals.
The Cardinals posted a paltry 83-78 regular-season record, nothing like the 100-win St. Louis teams of 2004 and 2005.
Of course, those teams didn't fare nearly as well in the playoffs: St. Louis was swept in the 2004 World Series by the Red Sox, and lost in a six-game NLCS to the Astros last year.
But ever since the Cardinals backed into the playoffs with a horrid 3-9 finish, they've been reborn. St. Louis took out the favored Padres in four games in the division series, then outlasted the Mets in a seven-game NLCS highlighted by the stingy pitching that earned Suppan the MVP of that series.
They're one win away from their first championship since the days of Whitey Ball, when Whitey Herzog recruited jackrabbits to run wild on an AstroTurf field at old Busch Stadium. This is their sixth playoff appearance in the last seven seasons under manager Tony La Russa, and while they had no luck at old Busch, they could become the first team since the 1923 Yankees to win a title in the first year at the new ballpark.
They beat the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982, winning the last two at home in a seven-game series.
Suppan helped get St. Louis to this point, keeping it close before the offense could come alive. He allowed three runs on five hits in the second and third, but that was all the Tigers got off him in six innings.
Rookie stand-in closer Adam Wainwright made it another effective finish by the Cardinals' patched-together bullpen, retiring the side in order for his fourth save of the postseason.