It's been a good time to be a St. Louis Cardinals fan in recent years. The team has played in the postseason 10 times since 1996, winning three National League pennants and two World Series crowns. Overall, the team has been crowned champs 11 times in the franchise's long history.
There are several reasons why the 2006 World Series is my favorite:
Limping In - A big reason I favor this World Series is the story of how the Cardinals got there. In 2004 and 2005, the Cardinals dominated the National League Central, winning 105 and 100 games, respectively, in those years. But 2006 it was a different story. On June 18, the Cards were 16 games above .500 and had a 5 1/2-game lead over the division. From then on, however, the Cardinals were 11 games under .500 and finished with just 83 wins. The rest of the NL Central was just as bad, luckily, and the Cardinals edged into the playoffs as champs of a very weak division.
National League Division Series - The Cardinals had gotten some players back from injury late in the season and had felt like they could make some noise in the playoffs. They started by beating the San Diego Padres three games to one in the Division Series. A .462 batting average from unheralded Ronnie Belliard and two wins from Chris Carpenter put the Cardinals into the National League Championship Series for the third straight year.
NLCS - In the NLCS, the Cardinals faced the New York Mets, whose 97 wins tied the New York Yankees for most in the majors that year. The Cardinals led the series 3-2 going back to New York and needed just one win at Shea Stadium. The Mets won Game 6 to force a final game. The Cardinals sent journeyman Jeff Suppan to the hill, and "Soup" delivered a great game, allowing just one run in seven innings.
The ninth inning of Game 7 provided two of my favorite moments on the way to the 2006 championship: Yadier Molina's tie-breaking home run in the top of the inning, and Adam Wainwright's strikeout of Carlos Beltran with the bases loaded to send the Cardinals to the World Series.
World Series - The National League champion Cardinals were given little chance to beat the Detroit Tigers in the 2006 World Series. The Tigers had wrapped up their AL crown on October 14 and had a whole week to rest before the World Series started on October 21.
They had a dominant pitching staff led by Justin Verlander. The Cardinals sent rookie Anthony Reyes to the mound in Game 1, asking him to beat the 17-game winner Verlander. Reyes did just that, retiring 17 Tigers in a row at one point. After that 7-2 win, the Tigers seemed to deflate. The Cardinals won in five games, and the final out offered another lasting Cardinals moment. Rookie closer Adam Wainwright, hero of Game 7 of the NLCS, did it again. He struck out Brandon Inge to give St. Louis the title.
Significance - The 2006 championship was the Cardinals' first since 1982. It was the 10th in franchise history, and the first of two the team would win with the powerful combination of Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa. Shortstop David Eckstein, small but mighty, was named Series MVP for hitting .364 with three doubles and four runs batted in. The fact that the Cardinals turned an 83-win disappointing regular season into the team's first championship in over two decades made it all the more special to me.
A native of St. Louis, Brad Boeker has rooted for the Cardinals for over 40 years.