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St. Louis' 94 victories add up to world title
The Associated Press
ST. LOUIS -- Busch Stadium had pretty much cleared out by midnight. Just a couple hundred fans remained, hoping to personally greet the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
As horns honked beyond the center-field wall and around the Gateway Arch, a curious song started to play over the ballpark sound system.
"The Gambler." That was the only noise coming from anyone named Kenny Rogers on Friday night.
Instead, the Tigers pitcher with the same name sat silently in the Detroit dugout. The lefty ace who became a scourge over a smudge watched MVP David Eckstein and the Cardinals beat the Tigers 4-2 to clinch the title in Game 5.
"They're a good team," said Rogers, one of the few Detroit pitchers who did not make a costly error. "St. Louis had the components to do well in any series. They could beat anybody.
"Their lineup is good. Their pitching staff is good," he said. "I don't think the 83 wins during the regular season was indicative of their talent at all."
Ah, those puny 83 wins. Fewest by a World Series winner ever. Count all the Cardinals' victories since opening day and it adds up to 94, still one shy of the Tigers' total from the regular season.
Which is why this is the No. 1 lesson from October: Most anyone can win the World Series these days.
Manager Tony La Russa's team with the famed birds-on-the-bat logo marked baseball's seventh straight different champion. No matter that 12 teams posted more victories in the regular season than St. Louis.
"No, it doesn't cheapen the World Series," New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said during a midweek awards ceremony at Busch. "Like I've always said, time and time again, the best teams make it to the playoffs, the hottest team wins. So it doesn't really make a difference what you've done in the regular season."
It might affect who watches, though. This cold weather Series is expected to draw chilly TV ratings, hurt by a lack of drama and megastars.
Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols homered in the opener, but did not connect again and batted .200. One of his best friends, Tigers infielder Placido Polanco, went 0-for-17 after being MVP of the AL Championship Series.
After the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox ended long droughts the past two years, the Cardinals won their first crown since 1982.
Back then, future Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith played shortstop in this baseball-crazy town. Now, it's the 5-foot-7 Eckstein, the shortest World Series MVP in baseball history.
"No one believed in our club," Eckstein said.
Certainly not when St. Louis limped into the playoffs after a late-season collapse that threatened to put it into the record books for the wrong reason.
Same was true for the Tigers a few years ago. In 2003, they lost an AL-record 119 games and looked like a dormant franchise. Smart drafts helped the turnaround, and so did the signing of free agent Ivan Rodriguez before the next season began.
Manager Jim Leyland took over the team this year and the Tigers ended a run of 12 straight losing seasons. They stumbled down the stretch, too, and wound up taking the wild card.
The Tigers roared into the World Series with a seven-game playoff winning streak. But they got a full week off after sweeping Oakland in the AL championship and when they returned for real, they looked more rusty than ready.
Before Game 5, Rodriguez admitted he was surprised Detroit was facing such a big deficit.
"Well, yeah," he said. "I think we have a great team. I think our team is very solid, it's a complete team.
"But that's baseball. That is the beauty of baseball, and being in the World Series, anything can happen."