Cardinals 4, Tigers 2

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Postgame: Video Tony La Russa   Video David Eckstein
Postgame: Video Jeff Weaver   Video Tigers’ Jim Leyland

ST. LOUIS (AP)—No Fall Classic, for sure.

Flatter than the Midwestern heartland and a flop in the TV ratings, this World Series crowned a champion that barely made it to the postseason and then had to survive rain and cold as much as the bumbling Detroit Tigers.

The St. Louis Cardinals will take it, though.

They beat the 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.

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

Manager Tony La Russa’s team had just 83 regular-season wins, the fewest by a World Series champion, and nearly missed the playoffs after a late-season slump.

But St. Louis beat San Diego and the New York Mets in the first two rounds, then won its first title since 1982 by taming a heavily favored Tigers team that entered the Series with six days’ rest and still looked stale.

Detroit pitchers made five errors, two more than the previous Series record.

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 La Russa bear hugs.

Minutes later, fireworks filled the sky above the ballpark.

“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.

St. Louis (83-78) almost didn’t even make it to the postseason. The Cardinals had a seven-game NL Central lead with 12 to go but lost eight of nine before recovering to finish 1 1/2 games ahead of Houston, the defending NL champion.

Minnesota, in 1987, had set the previous low for wins by a Series winner, 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.

“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.”

Eight of the 22 runs allowed by the Tigers were unearned, the most by a team since the 1956 New York Yankees against Brooklyn.

“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.

Detroit, which had won in three straight Series appearances since 1940, hit .199, the lowest in a five-game Series since the 1983 Philadelphia Phillies, with the averages of key players shrinking with the temperature. ALCS 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,” said Rodriguez, stating the obvious.

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.”

La Russa, who took over as Cardinals manager in 1996, had yearned for a title in this tradition-rich baseball town.

“I just saw Bob Gibson,” he said about a half-hour after the final out. “When you’re around here, especially if you’re around here for a while, I just don’t feel you can join the club unless you can say you won a World Series. Now we can say this group can join the club.”

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 just threw it away. 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.

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.”

Verlander gave up three runs—one earned—and three hits, recovering from early control problems to give the Tigers a decent effort. Throwing up to 100 mph, he walked the bases loaded and tied a Series record with two wild pitches. But he escaped when Ronnie Belliard hit a grounder up the middle that shortstop Carlos Guillen just got to in time to make an off-balance throw to first, beating Belliard by less than a step as Casey scooped the ball on a bounce.

Albert Pujols hit just .200 with two RBIs in the Series but turned in the night’s niftiest play, sprawling to snare Polanco’s grounder to first leading off the seventh. Then he made a one-bounce throw from his back to Weaver covering the base.

“Anytime you make big plays, it changes the momentum of the game,” Weaver said, “and I think that was a big one.”

Notes

The record for unearned runs allowed in the Series is 13, shared by the 1903 Pittsburgh Pirates and 1909 Tigers. … Verlander was the first pitcher to lose twice in a five-game Series since Oakland’s Storm Davis in 1988. … Fox’s 10.1 average for four games was a record low, down 9 percent from the 11.1 from last year’s Chicago White Sox sweep of Houston.

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