Saturday, October 28, 2006

Little Team That Could: MVP Eckstein leads Cards to a Championship

One of the smallest guys in the league came up huge in the biggest series in the game and lifted a team of overachievers on his shoulders and carried them to a world title.
Little (5'9") David Eckstein, a former walk-on at Florida and Red Sox prospect who couldn't get out of their farm system became one of the most unlikely World series MVPs in history when he was named the recipient following the Cardinal's 4-2 series-clinching win Friday night.
Eckstein epitomized everything the Cards were about in this series: playing above your head, never giving up, and playing the game the right way. His 4 hits (3 doubles) in the Game 4 series-turning win was really where he won the award, but just for good measure he tacked on a 2-4, 2RBI performance in the clincher. Nobody in their right mind would have thought that A.) The Cards would win, and B.) if they did that a guy not named Pujols, Edmonds or Rolen would be the MVP. But this whole postseason defied all logic, so I guess having a midget with a slingshot arm win the same award that Manny Ramirez won 2 years ago is a fitting conclusion.
Meanwhile the folks in Motown will be scratching their heads over what went wrong and how it went wrong so quickly for a team that was on top of the world a mere 2 weeks ago. They were riding high when Magglio Ordonez won the ALCS with a series-sweeping home run on October 14th. But wrapping up the series that early proved costly for the Tigers as their pitchers were rusty for the World Series, and with a .199 batting average, it appears their hitters were as well.

So where did it all go wrong for the team that 'shocked the world' by knocking off the Stankees in the ALDS and then swept thorough the A's in the ALCS? It started on the mound. Tiger pitchers committed an error in each of the 5 games, a WS record, and Justin Verlander made two, including the play at third base last night that changed the game. With runners on first & second Cardinals starter Jeff no longer an underachiever Weaver laid down a sac bunt. Verlander leapt off the mound, and in a scene reminiscent of every other game in the series, wheeled and threw wide of Brandon Inge at third base. As the ball rattled around the wall Yadier Molina (3-4, 2R) came around to score the tying run, and when Eckstein grounded out to score So Taguchi with the 3rd run the Cards had their winning margin.

Verlander was better than his first outing, but not by much. Although his velocity was there (he hit 100mph on the gun several times) his location was not; he walked 3 batters and threw 2 wild pitches in the first inning! Despite that disastrous inning he came out of it unscathed, but gave up an unearned run (the 8th for Detroit in the series) in the 2nd on a sicle by (who else) Eckstein and an error by Inge.

But the Mayor, Sean Casey, who provided Detroit with all of its offense the past two games, got the lead right back for Detroit. A strange error by left fielder Chris Duncan, where CF Edmonds waved him off until the last second despite the fact that the ball was in left field, allowed Maggs to reach, and Casey knocked the next pitch out of the park for his second 2-run homer in as many nights. But that lead was erased by the Verlander gaffe, and the Tigers never recovered.

That's because other than Casey the Tiger hitters never showed up in the series. The gruesome numbers speak for themselves:

Granderson: 2-21
Monroe: 3-20
Pudge-less: 3-19
Polanc-o for 17

The Tigers batted a measly .199 as a team, the lowest in a 5-game series since the Phillies hit .195 in the '83 series vs. Baltimore. Other than Casey (9-17) and Carlos Guillen & Inge (both 6-17) the Detroit batters were as cold as the record setting temperatures.

Combine ice-cold hitting with piss-poor fielding and mediocre pitching and there you have it, a recipe for World Series failure. To top it all off Smokey Jim Leyaland will have an entire winter to answer the question as to why he went with the rookie Verlander, who had already had a shaky outing in the series and left his star lefty, Kenny Rogers, he of the o.oo ERA, 22 inning scoreless streak and dirty brown palm, on the bench instead of throwing his best pitcher in an elimination game. Leyland had been making all the right moves in the postseason up until the series, but he may have saved his worst decision for the worst possible time.

The Tigers head back to Motown for a long off-season of 'what if's.' Although Leyland has said that they have nothing to be ashamed about, that they came further than anyone expected and got flat out beat by a better team, that is small consolation for a title-starved city that was only 4 wins away from greatness. But after countless mistakes & misfires, and allegations of cheating by their best pitcher, these Tigers will go down in history as a team that was on the verge of having it all, yet walked away with nothing. Weaver became a postseason hero with 8 innings of 4-hit, 1ER, 9K ball in the clincher

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