Anthony Reyes

How Anthony Reyes won Game 1 of the 2006 World Series

On paper, the Game 1 matchup between Justin Verlander and Anthony Reyes certainly seemed lopsided.

Though just 23, Verlander had been the No. 2 overall draft pick just two years ago and was coming off a regular season that would earn him American League Rookie of the Year honors and a seventh-place finish in the Cy Young balloting. With a 17-9 record and 3.63 ERA, Verlander had tied veteran Kenny Rogers for the team lead in wins and had the lowest ERA in the Tigers’ starting rotation.

Meanwhile, with a 5-8 record and a 5.06 ERA in 17 regular-season starts, Reyes’ Game 1 start made him just the fifth pitcher with a losing record to open a World Series and his five regular-season wins were the fewest ever for a Game 1 starter.

After a seven-game battle with the Mets for the National League championship, the Cardinals’ top three pitchers – Chris Carpenter, Jeff Weaver, and Jeff Suppan – hadn’t had enough time to recover, leaving St. Louis manager Tony La Russa to choose between Reyes or Jason Marquis. However, since Marquis hadn’t pitched since late September, La Russa opted to go with Reyes.[1]

“We actually had a coaches’ dinner last night and each coach put down what they thought he would do,” La Russa said. “There were actually two coaches that said (he would pitch) into the eighth inning. I thought if he went five or six with low runs, he would have done a great job. So to get into the ninth inning. … you saw the Anthony Reyes we’ve seen for the prior two years. He doesn’t scare. He’s got great composure and gets it rolling.”[2]

At first, however, it looked as though the Tigers might continue the offensive success that had carried them through the American League playoffs. With one out in the first, Craig Monroe doubled to left field and Carlos Guillen singled him home to give Detroit a 1-0 lead.

Scott Rolen tied the game in the top of the second with a solo home run, and in the third inning the Cardinals broke the game open. After Yadier Molina singled, La Russa called for a hit-and-run and Molina broke for second. With Verlander’s pitch off the plate, So Taguchi was forced to literally throw the bat at the ball, resulting in a ground ball that allowed Molina to safely reach second. Had Taguchi missed, Molina likely would have been thrown out at second.

“We just didn’t feel we could score runs if we had to accumulate hits,” La Russa said. “He handles the bat really well and you try to be aggressive. He put the ball in play only because he has terrific bat control.”[3]

It proved to be a small but vital play. Two batters later, Chris Duncan stroked a two-out double into right field that scored Molina. Although first base was open, the Tigers opted to pitch to Pujols and he made them pay, blasting a two-run homer over the right-field wall to give St. Louis a 4-1 lead.

“I take the bullet there,” Leyland said. “The manager’s decision is either to pitch to him or walk him. I pitched to him and obviously he burned us.”[4]

“You don’t want to pitch around him,” Verlander said. “You want to make quality pitches. It wasn’t a horrible mistake. It was on the black, but I wanted it down and it was up. It wasn’t a bad pitch to most people, but it was a bad pitch to him.”[5]

From there, the game fell apart on the Tigers. In the sixth, they committed three errors, including one play in which third baseman Brandon Inge was charged with two errors on a single play. After Edmonds drove in a run with a single and Rolen hit a ground-rule double that put runners at second and third, Juan Encarnacion bounced a ground ball to Inge at third base.

Inge bobbled the ball before firing home to try and catch Edmonds coming to the plate. However, his throw sailed wide of catcher Ivan Rodriguez and reached the backstop. As Rolen rounded third, he collided with Inge, who was standing a few feet off the foul line. Rolen fell to the ground and though he was tagged out at the plate, he was ruled safe due to Inge’s interference.

“I was looking to see if the ball was going to bounce back (off the wall) and I was in mid-stride and suddenly he was right there,” Rolen said. “I just went over the top of him. I think I might have hit my head. I don’t really remember.”[6]

As the Cardinals took a 7-1 lead, Reyes continued to roll. After Guillen’s RBI single in the first inning, he retired 17 consecutive batters before Guillen got him again, this time with a single in the seventh. When Guillen, who finished the evening with three of the Tigers’ four hits, hit a home run to lead off the ninth, it marked the end of the best game in Reyes’s career.

“The presence he had on the mound and the confidence he threw the ball with is what everybody was most impressed with,” Rolen said. “He seemed to attack the hitters tonight. He went after everybody. … He never wavered.”[7]

Reyes needed just 91 pitches – including 67 strikes – as he matched his longest career outing.

“I tried to focus on the glove,” said Reyes, 25. “I forgot about what type of game this was and focused on the glove. Whatever signs (Molina) put down, I tried to hit the mitt as best I could and not worry about anything else.”[8]

Though Reyes was known for having a plus changeup, after the first inning he and Molina challenged the Tigers with a steady diet of fastballs.

“It seemed like they were trying to sit on my other pitches, so I didn’t feel like it was necessary to throw any other kind of pitch,” Reyes said. “Just try to hit the corners.”[9]

Braden Looper closed out the ninth inning to secure the 7-2 win. With momentum on their side, the Cardinals went on to win the series in five games.

“I don’t know if I can top this,” Reyes said. “It’s definitely the best thing that’s happened in my career.”[10]

Reyes’ dominant performance proved to be the highlight of his career. In 2007, he went just 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA. Ahead of the 2008 trade deadline, the Cardinals sent him to Cleveland for reliever Luis Perdomo. Reyes spent the rest of that season with the Indians and made eight starts in 2009 before his major-league career ended with a 13-26 record and a 5.12 career ERA.

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[1] Roger Rubin, “Young Cardinal earns his wings in Series,” New York Daily News, October 22, 2006.

[2] David Wilhelm, “Reyes twists Tigers’ tails,” Belleville News-Democrat, October 22, 2006.

[3] John Lowe, “6th-inning miscues seal Tigers’ fate,” Detroit Free Press, October 22, 2006.

[4] Sam Borden, “Reyes Hurls,” New York Daily News, October 22, 2006.

[5] John Harper, “Leyland’s Bluff,” New York Daily News, October 22, 2006.

[6] Sam Borden, “Reyes Hurls,” New York Daily News, October 22, 2006.

[7] Roger Rubin, “Young Cardinal earns his wings in Series,” New York Daily News, October 22, 2006.

[8] David Wilhelm, “Reyes twists Tigers’ tails,” Belleville News-Democrat, October 22, 2006.

[9] Roger Rubin, “Young Cardinal earns his wings in Series,” New York Daily News, October 22, 2006.

[10] Roger Rubin, “Young Cardinal earns his wings in Series,” New York Daily News, October 22, 2006.