Weaver delivers another stellar effort
Right-hander helps bring Cardinals to cusp of World Series
ST. LOUIS -- Whatever doubts people had about Cardinals right-hander Jeff Weaver pitching in big games, they were all erased on Tuesday night when he delivered his second straight strong outing against the Mets in the National League Championship Series.
Weaver pitched six strong innings in in Game 5, his longest outing in the postseason, bested Mets left-hander Tom Glavine and helped St. Louis get within a win of the World Series with a 4-2 victory. It was a game in which Weaver was able to contain the Mets' hottest hitters, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, who went a combined 1-for-5 against the right-hander. It was a stark contrast from Game 1, when Beltran hit the game-winning homer off Weaver.
The only blemish in Weaver's outing on Tuesday came in the fourth inning, when he gave up a two-run double to Jose Valentin to give the Mets a 2-0 lead. But by the time Weaver left the game for pinch-hitter Chris Duncan in the bottom of the sixth, the Cardinals had built a 3-2 lead.
"This is the biggest game that I've ever thrown," Weaver said. "No doubt about it. It started with San Diego [in the NL Division Series], the first big one," Weaver said. "I'm trying to continue to gain momentum and continue to throw well. Hopefully, the next big game will be there in Detroit. We have to win one more and we'll see what happens."
Weaver said the key to success against the Mets was staying ahead in the count. He threw 95 pitches, 58 for strikes.
"When you replay that game, and you see the outs that he got and also the innings against a club like that, he doesn't have an easy inning where he can just flip it up there," manager Tony La Russa said. "I mean, the more you think about what he did, the more credit he deserves, the more impressive he was."
There was a time not too long ago when Weaver was not impressive in the postseason or even the regular season. During his undistinguished time with the Yankees, Weaver gave up three runs in 3 2/3 postseason innings. One of those runs came in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series. In the 12th inning of that game, Weaver gave up the game-winning home run to Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
Though he re-established himself during the regular season as a member of the Dodgers in 2004, Weaver still had problems in October, giving up six runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Cardinals in the NLDS.
There was even a time during the '06 season that it seemed unlikely that Weaver would be on any postseason roster. He started the year with the Angels and was unspectacular, going 3-10 with a 6.29 ERA. He struggled so much that the Angels designated him for assignment and recalled his brother, Jered, who enjoyed a solid rookie campaign.
The Angels ended up trading Weaver to the Cardinals on July 5 for Minor League outfielder Terry Evans. After a few rough outings, things started to click for Weaver. In his last 10 starts during the regular season, Weaver was 3-2 with a 2.92 ERA.
Outfielder Preston Wilson arrived in St. Louis on Aug. 18 and he rarely saw the Jeff Weaver who struggled in Anaheim.
"Down the stretch, he was one of our more consistent guys," Wilson said. "The last month and a half of the season, I saw him pitch very well. He maybe had one or two rough outings. He did a great job for us, and tonight, it was more of the same."
Weaver credits La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan for sticking by him when were things were bad.
"They showed confidence by picking me up [in the trade]," Weaver said. "Since Day 1, they have shown great confidence in me. They worked through my struggles, something that really didn't happen in Anaheim. When you have your coaches and your manager sticking behind you, it makes you that much more comfortable and confident to turn it around. Just getting hot when it counts."
If the Cardinals win the pennant on Wednesday, it would mean Weaver will face the Tigers in the World Series. The Tigers were Weaver's first big-league team and he acknowledged that he has been thinking about the possibility of going back to Detroit.
"It would be an interesting situation," he said. "I'm very happy for those guys over there. There's a couple of guys that I played with that have been through tough times. We win one more ballgame, and it will be a good situation to get back there."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.