Cards take World Series

Published 9:49 pm Saturday, October 28, 2006

Instead of a Fall Classic, this World Series will be remembered for bumbles and stumbles, smudged hands and wet balls, rainy days and cold nights.

Flatter than the Midwestern heartland and a flop in the TV ratings, it was a yawner to most — except the St. Louis Cardinals.

They beat the Detroit Tigers 4-2 in Game 5 on Friday night behind castoffs Jeff Weaver and David Eckstein and sore-shouldered Scott Rolen to wrap up their first Series title in nearly a quarter-century and 10th overall.

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“I think we shocked the world,” Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds said.

At least those who were still paying attention.

Instead of highs, this Series will be remembered for lows:

—St. Louis (83-78) had the worst regular-season record of any Series champion in a non-shortened season.

—Detroit pitchers set a Series record with five errors, two more than the previous high.

—The Tigers became the first team since the 1956 New York Yankees to allow as many as eight unearned runs.

—Detroit hit .199, the worst in a five-game Series since the 1983 Philadelphia Phillies.

“If you don’t make the plays, you’re going to lose — whether you’re playing the Yankees or the junior varsity,” Detroit closer Todd Jones said.

After smoking the Yankees in the first round and sweeping Oakland in the second, the Tigers looked like the JV — on a bad day. They had six days off in the Rust Belt after finishing off the Athletics and looked, well, rusty.

St. Louis, which entered with one day off after beating the New York Mets, won its first title since 1982.

“No one believed in us, but we believed in ourselves,” said Eckstein, the 5-foot-7 shortstop who was selected Series MVP after batting .364.

After closer Adam Wainwright struck out Brandon Inge for the final out, the ballpark erupted. Wainwright raised his arms in triumph, catcher Yadier Molina ran to the mound and the pair bounced off toward second base, where they were joined by teammates running from the dugout and the bullpen. Ace starter Chris Carpenter and injured closer Jason Isringhausen gave manager Tony La Russa bear hugs.

Minutes later, fireworks filled the sky above the ballpark.

Minnesota, in 1987, had set the previous low for wins by a Series winner in a nonstrike year, going 85-77.

“The team that wins a world championship is the team that played the best,” La Russa said.

A repeat of 1968’s dramatic Tigers-Cardinals matchup — won by Detroit in seven games — ended on a cold night more suitable to football than baseball. The Tigers made two more errors, raising their Series total to eight — three by Inge, the third baseman, the rest by pitchers who will no doubt be practicing their infield tosses from the moment they report to spring training.

“We didn’t play well enough,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “There’s no excuse here. I don’t really know what the reasons were.”

Detroit saw its key players’ averages shrink with the temperature. AL championship series MVP Placido Polanco was 0-for-17, Magglio Ordonez 2-for-19 (.105), Craig Monroe 3-for-20 (.150) and Ivan Rodriguez 3-for-19 (.158).

“We just never got the bats going,” Rodriguez said.

It was the National League’s first title since the 2003 Florida Marlins.

La Russa, who led the Oakland Athletics to a sweep in the earthquake-interrupted 1989 Bay Bridge Series, joined Sparky Anderson (Cincinnati and Detroit) as the only managers to win Series titles in each league.

“I have such a respect and affection for Sparky,” La Russa said. “It’s such a great honor. He should really have this alone.”

While the Tigers had fielding problems, the Cardinals were mostly crisp, with the notable exception of right fielder Chris Duncan, who dropped a fly ball just before Sean Casey’s two-run homer in the fourth put Detroit ahead 2-1.

St. Louis had gone ahead on Eckstein’s infield single in the second, with Inge making a diving stop over the bag but throwing the ball low and wide to first.

“It’s the atmosphere that can get you a little tight,” Inge said. “It’s the biggest stage in the world for baseball. It can make some nerves, get people a little jittery.”

Casey, who batted a Series-high .529, homered for the second straight night, but St. Louis came right back to take a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth as pitcher Justin Verlander threw away a ball for the second time in two starts. One run scored on the error and another on Eckstein’s grounder.

“I had the wrong mind-set,” Verlander said. “I picked it up and said to myself, ‘Don’t throw it away,’ instead of just picking it up and throwing it. I got tentative.”

Rolen, who led Cardinals’ batters at .421, added a big run with a two-out RBI single in the seventh off reliever Fernando Rodney, extending his postseason hitting streak to 10 games.

It marked the first time since the 1912 Red Sox at Boston’s Fenway Park that a team won the Series at home in a first-year ballpark.

As the Tigers failed in their bid for their first title since 1984, their season ended with Kenny Rogers rested and ready with no place to pitch. Rogers, who threw 23 shutout innings in the postseason, was saved by Leyland for a possible Game 6 in Detroit on Saturday.

Rogers created a stir by pitching with a brownish smudge on his throwing hand in Game 2, when he tossed eight scoreless innings to lead Detroit to its only Series win.

Weaver, cast off by the Yankees three years ago after a World Series flop and dealt to the Cardinals by the Angels in July, allowed four hits in eight innings. He matched his season high with nine strikeouts and walked one before Wainwright finished for the save.

“It’s all the belief in yourself, knowing that you’re going to work through it,” Weaver said. “Just never say die. Just keep working.”

Notes: Fox’s 10.1 average rating for the first four games was a record low, down 9 percent from the 11.1 from last year’s Chicago White Sox sweep of Houston.