Mon, Oct 23, 2006 - Page 20 News List

World Series throws up an unexpected first result

By Emily Shih  /  STAFF REPORTER

After a harrowing NLCS and stroll-in-the-park ALCS, here they are. The Detroit Tigers and the St Louis Cardinals in a World Series that just about no one saw coming.

As a championship series, some might say it leaves a lot to be desired. No cocky superstars, no pinstripes, no curses. The Cardinals won their last World Series in 1982, the Tigers in 1984. They both started the 2006 season off strong and then experienced rather forgettable second halves. Detroit went 19-31 in their last fifty games; St Louis, 22-28. The Cardinals had their spectacular slump in the final days of September, as a seven-and-a-half-game division lead shrunk to one-and-a-half games. The Tigers, after leading the AL Central for much of the season, crept into the postseason as the Wild Card team, having lost the division championship to the Minnesota Twins on the final day.

No one thought that either team would be here now.

Two very different post-seasons for the eventual AL and NL champions, however, have erased the similarities between the two contenders.

The Tigers bounced back from a Game 1 ALDS loss against the Yankees and won their next seven games, stunning both New York and Oakland and quickly convincing most of the nation that the NLCS was merely a moot point. When Magglio Ordonez blasted that walk-off, 3-run homer to complete the sweep of the A's, he also, in the minds of many, won the World Series for Detroit. Their pitching was too good. Their bats were too strong. The NL, whose representative teams were swept in the last two World Series, was too terrible to even contend. The World Series, for many, was over before it began.

Even after the most electrifying NLCS. Even after the Cardinals came up with surprise after unbelievable surprise -- the final surprise, of course, being that three-pitch strikeout of Carlos Beltran to end a game and a series that should have convinced all doubters that the NL teams were there to compete. But St Louis' 83 wins and near-collapse have followed them closely in the post-season, and not even an awe-inspiring NLCS has stopped the "experts" from making the hilarious prediction of "Tigers in three."

Well, it is impossible to win a seven-game series in three games, and it is even more impossible for Detroit now that the Cardinals have won Game 1. Only two days after finishing up one limit-stretching seven-game series, the Cards barely had time to fly to Detroit and put rookie Anthony Reyes on the mound against a Detroit lineup that was sure to destroy him. If "destroy him" now secretly means "get two runs on four hits against him."

Get two runs they did, while on the other side, the middle of the Cardinals' lineup brought out the big bats that went missing against the Mets. Albert Pujols doubled his NLCS RBIs with a 2-run homer in the third, Jim Edmonds contributed an RBI single in the sixth, and Scott Rolen went two-for-four, including a home run in the second inning that Endy Chavez definitely could not catch.

You could say that Game 1 was relatively unimportant. It is only one game, and the series has only begun. Detroit has an outstanding pitching rotation and home-field advantage. They have the power in their lineup and a seasoned manager. The Cardinals also have a fine rotation, including last year's Cy Young award winner and Jeff Suppan, the NLCS MVP. The lineup is nothing to scoff at, especially if Albert, Scott and Jimmy gave any indication on Saturday night of what they plan on doing for the rest of the series. Tony LaRussa is as seasoned as managers come.

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