In this weekend’s World Series rematch, last year’s runners-up have been the ones playing like champions.
The Tigers, who had only 11 runs and 32 hits while losing the 2006 World Series to the Cardinals in five games, have totaled 22 runs and 29 hits to win the first two games between the clubs this weekend. On Saturday, Ivan Rodriguez’s three-run homer gave Detroit (26-16) a six-run lead in the third inning and the Tigers held on for an 8-7 victory.
“Not many teams are swinging the bat like they are,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of the Tigers, who have gone 12-5 this month while batting .307 and averaging 6.1 runs.
Gary Sheffield added a solo home run in the seventh for Detroit, the 463rd of his career to move him past Jose Canseco for 30th on the all-time list.
“Just keep pushing him back,” Sheffield said of Canseco, the former slugger who accused several baseball stars of steroid use.
Sheffield, who was batting .119 through April 21, is hitting .319 (29-for-91) with seven homers, 16 RBIs and 26 runs scored over his last 23 games to raise his season average to .240.
The Cardinals (16-24), meanwhile, have allowed 36 runs during their four-game skid and are trying to avoid matching their season-high five-game losing streak from April 27-May 2. On the bright side, they have reached double digits in hits in each of the last five games after doing so only four times in their previous 24 contests.
Despite scoring in five of the final six innings Saturday, Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols was unhappy with the outcome.
“It doesn’t matter how you lose a game,” said Pujols, who went 1-for-3 with three walks but is still batting only .267. “If you lose, you lose. No matter by how much or how little.”
St. Louis may find hits harder to come by against Justin Verlander (4-1, 2.76 ERA), who goes for his fourth consecutive win when he starts for the Tigers in the series finale. Opponents are batting just .237 against the 2006 AL rookie of the year, who has not yielded more than three earned runs in any of his eight starts.
He beat the team with the best record in baseball Tuesday, holding Boston to two runs and six hits over 7 2-3 innings of the Tigers’ 7-2 victory.
Verlander earned the win against the Cardinals last June 23, when he gave up four runs in six innings but received seven runs of support as Detroit won 10-6. He suffered two losses in the World Series, though, giving up 10 runs—seven earned—and 12 hits over 11 innings.
St. Louis, which is trying to avoid a regular-season sweep at Detroit for the second straight year, will send Brad Thompson (2-0, 4.03) to the mound. The right-hander, a converted reliever who is making his fourth career start, defeated the Dodgers at Los Angeles on Monday, giving up three runs and scattering eight hits over a career-high 6 2-3 innings.
He gave up one run in one-third of an inning in a relief appearance against the Tigers last June, but retired both batters he faced in Game 2 of the World Series at Detroit.