Jeff Weaver David Eckstein Adam Wainwright

October 27, 2006: Cardinals win the 2006 World Series as Jeff Weaver outpitches Justin Verlander

The pitching matchup between Cardinals starter Jeff Weaver and Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander certainly appeared lopsided on paper.

But in Game 5 of the 2006 World Series, Weaver outpitched that season’s American League Rookie of the Year, needing just 99 pitches to get through eight innings in a 4-2 win that clinched the 10th world championship in Cardinals history.

The 29-year-old Weaver was a Tigers first-round draft pick in 1998 and made his major-league debut the following season, making 29 starts for a Tigers team that won just 69 games. In more than three seasons in Detroit, Weaver went 39-51 with a 4.33 ERA before the Tigers sent him to the Yankees in a three-team trade that also included the Athletics.

Weaver pitched two seasons with the Yankees before he was traded to the Dodgers in a deal that sent Kevin Brown to New York. After winning 27 games in two seasons with the Dodgers, Weaver signed with the Angels ahead of the 2006 season. However, the California native struggled, going just 3-10 with a 6.29 ERA before the Angels designated him for assignment on June 30 and replaced him in the rotation with his younger brother, Jared Weaver.

“Maybe I was throwing too many strikes,” Jeff Weaver said. “I was getting hurt quite a bit on 0-2 pitches. … When I got into trouble, it was always the three-run home run or something like that. My damage control was pretty poor.”[1]

On July 5, the Angels traded Weaver to the Cardinals for minor-league outfield prospect Terry Evans and cash considerations. To make room for Weaver, the Cardinals designated Sidney Ponson for assignment.

“Thursday’s trade for the decidedly unremarkable Jeff ‘The Wrong’ Weaver … epitomized what might be the fate of the slightly imperfect ’06 Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell wrote. “… Weaver is just the latest low-risk, low-budget quick fix for a Cardinals team that’s now clearly in transition.”[2]

Others, however, were more positive about the move.

“Duncan’s overall success rate with fading veterans is superb,” fellow Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote. “That’s why we expect to see Jeff Weaver improve in St. Louis.”[3]

Miklasz’s column also quoted Christina Kahrl from The Baseball Prospectus, who wrote, “Considering that Weaver’s 29 and in relatively good repair, and that he’s coming back to the DH-free league where he enjoyed solid success, it’s easy to see that this could be the move that secures the Cardinals’ bid for the playoffs.”[4]

Weaver went 5-4 with a 5.18 ERA in 15 regular-season starts for the Cardinals. In the postseason, however, Weaver pitched his best, winning Game 2 of the NLDS against the Padres and Game 5 of the NLCS against the Mets. Though he lost his World Series Game 2 start against the Tigers, allowing three runs in five innings, he entered Game 5 with a 2.43 ERA for the postseason.

Meanwhile, Verlander had enjoyed a breakthrough regular season but struggled in the postseason. The Virginia native went 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA in his first full season in the majors, winning Rookie of the Year honors and placing seventh in the Cy Young Award voting. Despite his regular-season success, Verlander entered the contest with a 7.47 ERA through three postseason starts.

With his team on the brink of elimination, Verlander walked three batters in the first inning before escaping the jam with the bases loaded. One inning later, however, the Cardinals scored the game’s first run.

Catcher Yadier Molina opened the second inning with a single up the middle before So Taguchi advanced him to second with a sacrifice bunt. Molina advanced to third when Weaver grounded out to Tigers shortstop Carlos Guillen, then scored on an infield single by David Eckstein.

The Tigers took the lead in the top of the fourth when Sean Casey homered for the second night in a row, a two-run shot that gave Detroit a 2-1 lead.

It didn’t last long. In the Cardinals’ next at-bat, Molina and Taguchi each singled. Weaver grounded the ball back to Verlander, but when Verlander tried to throw out Molina at third, his throw sailed wide, allowing Molina to score. Eckstein drove in his second run of the game – and gave St. Louis a 3-2 lead – when he grounded out to shortstop.

The Cardinals added an insurance run in the seventh when Scott Rolen hit an RBI single to right field that scored Eckstein.

Now holding a two-run lead, Weaver finished strong, striking out Craig Monroe and Guillen in a 1-2-3 eighth inning. With Adam Wainwright waiting to close out the game, Weaver’s night was complete after 99 pitches. Over eight innings, he struck out nine Tigers while holding them to one earned run on four hits and a walk.

“I owe it all to Walt Jocketty for bringing me over here and giving me the opportunity to play on a team that can win,” Weaver said. “I just wanted to make it work and everything fell into place.”[5]

Wainwright, who famously struck out Carlos Beltran to end the NLCS, needed to escape another jam in the ninth. With one out, Casey doubled and was replaced by pinch-runner Ramon Martinez. Wainwright retired Ivan Rodriguez on a ground ball back to the mound for the second out of the inning, but when former Cardinal Placido Polanco drew a six-pitch walk, it placed the tying run on first base and gave Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge the opportunity to put Detroit ahead with one swing of the bat.

However, Wainwright stood tall just as he had in the NLCS, striking out Inge on three pitches to end the game. Inge swung and missed at the final strike, an outside breaking ball that gave St. Louis its first World Series championship since 1982.

“I think we shocked the world,” center fielder Jim Edmonds said. “It’s an unbelievable experience.”[6]

The Cardinals’ 83 regular-season wins marked the fewest by a World Series winner. In fact, 12 teams had better records than the Cardinals – including five that didn’t qualify for the postseason.

“We had our ups and downs in the regular season, but we turned it around when we needed to,” first baseman Albert Pujols said.[7]

Molina finished the game 3-for-4 with two runs scored while Eckstein went 2-for-4 with two RBIs. None of the Cardinals’ eight hits went for extra bases.

“The defense was great,” said manager Tony La Russa, who joined Sparky Anderson as the only managers to win World Series titles with both American and National League clubs. “The pitching was great. Timely hitting. The best bench I’ve had in a long time. They just refused to lose.”[8]

Eckstein, who hit just .195 in the NLDS and NLCS, went 8-for-22 with three RBIs and three runs scored in the World Series to win MVP honors.

“I think the No. 1 thing about Eckstein is that most people don’t really give him credit for the amount of talent he has,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “He never misses a ground ball. They say, well, he doesn’t have a strong arm, but everybody is always out. And I think what happens is because he’s smaller in physical stature everybody thinks that there’s this cute little kid, he doesn’t have a lot of talent, but a nice kid who plays hard and hustles. Believe me, there’s a lot more to this guy than that.”[9]

With two errors in Game 5, the Tigers finished with eight for the series, the most in a World Series since 1956. The five errors committed by Detroit pitchers set a World Series record for the most by a pitching staff.[10]

“We didn’t play well enough,” Jim Leyland said. “There’s no excuse here. I don’t really know what the reasons were.”[11]

Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player.

[1] Joe Strauss, “Cardinals dump Ponson to make room for Weaver,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 8, 2006.

[2] Bryan Burwell, “Face it, faltering Cards now are in rebuilding mode,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 7, 2006.

[3] Bernie Miklasz, “Duncan should receive credit, not scorn,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 8, 2006.

[4] Bernie Miklasz, “Duncan should receive credit, not scorn,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 8, 2006.

[5] Bob Dutton, “Cardinal Rule,” Kansas City Star, October 28, 2006.

[6] Ronald Blum (Associated Press), “A perfect 10,” Springfield News-Leader, October 28, 2006.

[7] Bob Dutton, “Cardinal Rule,” Kansas City Star, October 28, 2006.

[8] Ronald Blum (Associated Press), “A perfect 10,” Springfield News-Leader, October 28, 2006.

[9] Drew Sharp, “Series win assures La Russa’s legacy,” Detroit Free Press, October 28, 2006.

[10] Jon Paul Morosi, “Tigers fall apart in the field,” Detroit Free Press, October 28, 2006.

[11] Ronald Blum (Associated Press), “A perfect 10,” Springfield News-Leader, October 28, 2006.