It was another night for the underdogs as the Cardinals came through to clinch their tenth World Series victory last night in game five. Billy Ray Cyrus started it off with a very accomplished rendition of the National Anthem (despite my scepticism!) and the Cards carried it on with a 4-2 victory.
David Eckstein is really the archetypal baseball underdog: a five foot seven shortstop who has faced questions about his ability on every step of his baseball journey. Eckstein carried on his game four form with two more RBIs and collected the World Series MVP award at the end of the game. When you look at the photos of him collecting his prizes (a trophy and a bright yellow Corvette), he looks like someone who is frankly a bit embarrassed to be singled out. It may be a cliché, but Eckstein is a true team player and it’s good to see people like that come through and be the hero every now and then.
And what can you say about Jeff Weaver? The “hero” of Weaver Watch certainly had the last laugh. Having been dropped by the Angels mid-way through the season to make room for his younger brother (a baseball decision that the Angels cannot be criticised for taking, it has to be said), Weaver could have become another washed-up pitcher who once promised much but never delivered. In the biggest game of his life, Weaver pitched brilliantly: eight strong innings with nine Ks and only four hits. With the World Series there for the taking, Weaver held his nerve and gave his side an excellent chance to win the game. His team mates didn’t let him down.
The World Series is often referred to as the “Fall Classic”, but it’s hard to use the word classic in relation to this year’s event. If anything, the players often gave a good example of how not to do things on the diamond; however that doesn’t mean the series was a flop. The mistakes made during the course of the series revealed the magnitude of the event. Sometimes you see the superstars of the game making it all look ridiculously easy yet this series was coloured by examples of human failure that we all experience. The pressure and tension was there for all to see. The desire of the players to make plays often resulted in them trying too hard and falling short, but that made the series fascinating to me. The imperfections didn’t quite make it a perfect series, but they certainly made it an interesting and exciting one.
While it has been a remarkable season for Detroit, I doubt they will be able to look at it too fondly right now. To get so close the ultimate prize and then to play so poorly will be very difficult to accept. They really did not do themselves justice and Leyland will do well to use that as extra motivation next season. 2007 could be tough for the Tigers because they will be dealing with large expectations and the White Sox showed this year how competitive the American League is.
As for the Cardinals, this is probably a less-talented team than the one that was swept by the Red Sox in 2004. Guys like Pujols, Rolen and Edmunds will find this victory all the more satisfying because of their previous heartbreak. In fact, you can look at guys throughout their roster and think; “they really deserve this moment”. I read a few stories in the build-up to the World Series basically saying how terrible it was that a team who “only” won 83 games in the regular season might be crowned the best team of 2006. These stories really annoyed me and I thought at the time about the things I would write if the Cardinals did emerge victorious. As it happens, Jayson Stark at ESPN.com has already said it all (and much more besides) so go and check out this article if you haven’t read it already.
All that is left to say is congratulations to the St Louis Cardinals (“the improbable champions of America’s most improbable sport”, as Stark lyrically describes them), commiserations to the Tigers, and let’s hope next April gets here quickly. Mind you, I’m sure there will be plenty to write about in the meantime. The baseball off-season may be long, but it is never, never dull!