Road to redemption

Mark Pesavento
Yahoo! Sports

ST. LOUIS – After the final out of the St. Louis Cardinals' World Series-clinching Game 5 victory Friday night, Jeff Weaver sprinted toward the mob forming on the second-base side of the pitching mound to join in the celebratory dog pile.

Weaver, who had just finished pitching eight of the biggest innings of his life in the Cardinals' 4-2 win over the Detroit Tigers, hugged and leapt and whooped and hollered with his teammates as fireworks burst over Busch Stadium and streamers danced in the bitter October wind.

Across the field, Weaver spotted his younger brother, Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jered Weaver. They made a beeline for each other and clenched in a huge bear hug, oblivious to the pandemonium around them.

"I love you, man," Jered said over 46,638 revelers.

Try as he might in front of the lights and cameras, Jeff could not restrain his tears. After a long and winding road – starting with failure and then working its way back to embarrassment, mediocrity, competence and, ultimately, domination – redemption was finally his. And after a similarly arduous trek, redemption was the Cardinals'.

"After everything he's been through this season, everyone was asking how he was going to be at the dinner table at Thanksgiving," Jered said. "And now he's got all the bragging rights. You couldn't have scripted this story any better."

As achievements go, the Cardinals winning this series – filled with Detroit errors and apathy and general indifference toward things like fundamentals – is a bit like being named junior college valedictorian. Nice work, but considering the lack of worthy competition, perhaps it's nothing to brag about in the grand scheme of things.

With a World Series that drew the lowest national television ratings in history, this postseason was not a shared fascination like it was with the 2004 Boston Red Sox and their "idiot" style of play and self-indulgent moanings about a curse people either loved or hated.

This St. Louis victory was a provincial one, much like the city, where generations grow up together, marry one another, live on the same street and grow old with their Cardinals, still asking one another where they went to high school. Somehow, it fits.

This victory is for the underestimated Cardinals and their loyal fans, who live and die with their first-class club no matter what the Northeast media thinks. There are worse things to be than respectable, and not many better.

"I'm pretty excited for this city," center fielder Jim Edmonds said. "It's a humongous sports town. We haven't won here in awhile and I think it's going to be a special time for everybody."

And, yes, this one was for Jeff Weaver, the spindly SoCal native who shook off the indignity of being dumped by the Angels in favor of his younger brother and found success in the heartland with a brilliant postseason capped with a sensational nine-strikeout performance on Friday.

And this one was for Edmonds, the rock of the team, shaking the ghosts from the Cardinals' sweep at the hands of the Red Sox in 2004, a series in which he hit .067. To numb an excruciatingly painful foot injury throughout these playoffs, Edmonds received daily cortisone shots, which often left him either unable to feel his foot in games or in unbearable pain if the shot were to wear off too soon.

This one was for Scott Rolen, who battled a season-long shoulder injury and finished by saving his best baseball for a World Series in which he hit .421.

This one was for David Eckstein, the World Series MVP whose motor never idles. He was waived by Boston in 2000, only to be the catalyst of the Angels' 2002 championship team. In this Series, Eckstein finished 8-for-22, driving in four runs and scoring three times while getting daily acupuncture treatment for his sprained left shoulder.

This one was for Albert Pujols, who got the validation befitting of the best baseball player in the world. "Now I have a championship ring in my trophy case," Pujols said. "If you walk out of this game and you don't have a ring, you haven't accomplished everything."

This one was for Tony La Russa, the skipper who shook off all the criticism and the second-guessing and skillfully guided his club with a steady hand through a crippling string of injuries, including but not limited to: Edmonds, Rolen, Eckstein, Pujols, Mark Mulder and Jason Isringhausen.

This one was for the organization itself, guided by general manager Walt Jocketty, who assembled the team La Russa led to the franchise's 10th championship.

"It's the tradition of this organization and being a part of a world championship," La Russa said after the game in his office with the Tiffany trophy resting on his desk. "I told Bob Gibson, 'Because of (the history of) this organization, until you win a World Series, you're not really a part of it.' This team has become an elite club. And that feels great."

And this one was for the impassioned fans of St. Louis, who endured the sweep of 2004 and, more recently, the indignity of being overlooked by a national media that saw only this team's flaws and none of its beauty.

History will remember this Cardinals club as having the worst regular-season record in history for a champion (83-78; the 1987 Minnesota Twins went 85-77), but as far as Edmonds is concerned, that is irrelevant.

"It's not the best team," Edmonds said. "It's not the best pitching staff. It's the team that plays the best in October. For some reason, we didn't play that well down the stretch, but we stuck it together in October.

"We got lucky. Someone's got to get lucky."

As his teammates took turns spraying each other with champagne and dousing each other with – naturally – Anheuser-Busch beer, Edmonds spoke like a man who would rather be lucky than good. His team just might be a little of both.

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