Duncan oversees eclectic group
Cardinals pitchers come together in splendid postseason
ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan watched the World Series trophy presentation from near second base and his eyes were rimmed with tears."We've pretty much had an up-and-down year," Duncan said. "There were periods where we pitched brilliantly and periods where we weren't so good. But for the most part, we gave this team a chance to win. He knows the numbers weren't so good. The Cardinals had led the National League with a 3.49 team ERA in 2005, but dropped to ninth this season. Their 4.54 ERA was the third highest for the Cardinals' staff in the last 11 years. Yet when the Major League season finally came to an end on a cold and windy Friday night at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals were the ones who were pouring champagne over their heads while celebrating their first World Series title in 24 years. The pitching staff and the tireless work of Duncan had something to do with it, especially considering Jeff Weaver was on the mound on Friday night. Weaver, acquired from the Angels on July 5, was just one of an eclectic group of pitchers that Duncan had to work with during a long and trying season, and the Cardinals almost stumbled at the end of the regular season. But they were terrific throughout the playoffs, compiling a 2.68 ERA through three rounds and a 2.05 ERA in the World Series, while holding the Tigers to a collective .199 batting average. "It's a pretty unique staff," Duncan said. "There was a lot of inexperience out there. But they stepped up to the plate when they had to. They were fearless." To get a feel for what the Cardinals went through as a staff, just consider the four winning pitchers from the World Series.
That group consisted of a rookie starter, a rookie reliever pressed into closer duty late in September, an All-Star right-hander who may have been Duncan's greatest reclamation project and Weaver, who was traded to the Angels because he lost his job to his little brother.But Duncan went to work with Weaver, and it was his brilliant performance on Friday night that put the Cardinals over the top. "I think it starts from day one, when he kind of pulls you aside and you sit and talk to him about his thoughts," Weaver said. "I think not only his thoughts, but he wanted to know what my thoughts were, who I was as a pitcher. "He wasn't really looking to change anything. He wanted just to reiterate what my strengths are so I'm speaking of them and knowing what they are. And then to execute and go out there and perform doing those, and not try to change, that was the other thing." Chris Carpenter missed all of 2003 because of shoulder surgery, but signed with the Cardinals, went to work with Duncan and won a Cy Young Award in 2005. He pitched eight shutout innings in a 5-0 victory in Game 3, simply another testament to the pitching coach. "Dunc's been great to me," Carpenter said. "He has so much knowledge. He gives you so many weapons. He's able to prepare you so well with all of his charts and things that he keeps to go out and have a game plan and basically, you know, you've got to go out and execute it. And if you can do that, you're going to be successful. "I came over here in '03, wasn't able to pitch, but I was able to sit around and listen and watch. He talks about throwing the ball down in the strike zone and getting ahead and attacking the strike zone, and all these things that have helped me progress and be successful, and I owe him a lot for what I've done the last few years."
Duncan's 20-20 vision
|Dave Duncan has overseen 10 20-win seasons by seven different pitchers since becoming a pitching coach in 1983.|
|1983||La Marr Hoyt||CWS||24|
Weaver replaced Mark Mulder, who made only 17 starts before his season ended in August because of shoulder surgery. Anthony Reyes, the rookie who won Game 1, is in the rotation because Sidney Ponson proved to be a bust. Adam Wainwright, the Game 4 winner, took over as closer when Jason Isringhausen was lost in September to a hip injury.Wainwright is part of a bullpen that underwent major changes over the course of the season. Right-handers Brad Thompson and left-hander Randy Flores are the only two active relievers who pitched for the Cardinals in the playoffs last year. Right-hander Josh Kinney was once rescued by the Cardinals from an independent league. Left-hander Tyler Johnson was a 34th-round draft pick. Josh Hancock was released by the Cincinnati Reds in Spring Training. Duncan and bullpen coach Marty Mason molded them all into a championship staff. "I've learned over the years he's the absolute complete pitching coach," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "We've had all kind of starters, relievers, right, left, young guys, old guys, and they come in with different issues and there isn't anything that Dunc is not qualified to talk about. You can go right down the list, I can give you an example with everybody. He's absolutely complete. "It's hard work. What he and Marty do is hard work. We get on planes after a series, whether it's postseason or whatever, and I'm reading a book and they're watching tape. And they're not just watching to check something off the list, 'This is what I did.' They're watching and picking up insights. They're doing more than just saying, 'OK, I watched the tape.' They're really watching, and picking up stuff that gives our pitchers a chance." La Russa and Duncan have been together for 24 years, going back to 1983, when the Chicago White Sox won a division title and LaMarr Hoyt won the American League Cy Young Award. He was the first of four pitchers to win it with Duncan as his pitching coach. There have been 10 20-game winners in that time. There are no 20-game winners on this year's staff. Only world champions.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.