Anything can happen in 'Shocktober'
Entire '06 postseason full of surprises, chills and thrills
ST. LOUIS -- There was no Subway Series. Johan Santana didn't beat Barry Zito in the opener at home. Neither runner scored under Paul Lo Duca's tag. Carlos Beltran didn't hit the pennant-winning grand slam. Detroit pitchers couldn't hit any mitt but the catcher's. An 83-win regular season didn't matter, Jeff Weaver's 8-14 record didn't matter, and who says you have to draft players much taller than 5-foot-7?
Nothing made any sense in the Surprise Postseason of 2006, and no one really cares right now here in the Gateway to glory, where the Cardinals and their fans will enjoy a downtown victory parade at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday.
What this Shocktober just proved is that all you have to do is get here, and then anything can happen.
There have been surprising developments in Major League Baseball as long as there have been players, because they are human like the rest of us and capable of doing things a lot better and a lot worse than others expect. But just look at this era of the stunning. The Marlins shocked the Yankees in 2003, the Red Sox and White Sox won for the first time since the Pleistocene, and now the Cardinals just polished off a Tigers club that wasn't supposed to be there and was rested for a full week.
It was the logical conclusion to an illogical postseason, and maybe that's why a record 76 million fans poured through the turnstiles throughout a season like this. Maybe next year it will be the Rockies or the Royals, the Cubs or the Devil Rays, the Pirates or the Rangers. This postseason just proved that predictions don't matter.
"I think the idea is to just get to the postseason first, and that's the main thing," said Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan, who started that unforgettable Game 7 against the Mets at Shea Stadium and was the National League Championship Series MVP. "I understand how everyone else looks at this, but as a player you can only do whatever has been your approach to winning in the regular season. ... To a player, it is totally different than how most fans see it. Just get here first, and any team can win."
Here is a look back at all of the surprises from a mind-boggling month:
Oakland went to Minnesota to play the first two games at one of the toughest ballparks for a visitor. Santana, the probable American League Cy Young Award winner, was the first opponent. Frank Thomas homered twice in that game, Zito won the classic pitchers' duel, and the A's took those first two games on their way to a sweep.
Facing the Tigers, the Yankees showed off one of the scariest lineups anyone ever saw, batting around and scoring five runs in the third inning of Game 1. Most people wrote this one off. Then there was that strange rainout, and Tigers pitching completely shut down that lineup the rest of the way. Kenny Rogers had lost every game he'd pitched against the Yankees dating back to 1993, but he beat Randy Johnson in Game 3. Detroit won in four, leading to a buzz about Yankees manager Joe Torre's job security until the club announced he would be coming back.
Dodgers righty Brad Penny started the All-Star Game for the National League and tied for the league lead with 16 victories. In the NLDS against the Mets, he pitched one inning of relief. He would have started Game 4 for the Dodgers, and his lower-back issues had been a primary reason for the inaction, but that just doesn't happen to an All-Star starter in a postseason. The Mets, who lost Orlando Hernandez the day before the series started, made sure there was no Game 4, and everyone was surprised to see Lo Duca tag out two runners at home on the same play.
The Padres were supposed to be better than they were in the 2005 NLDS, when the Cards swept them. They had won the NL West in dramatic style, and the Cardinals had won the NL Central because the Astros couldn't win on the last Sunday and force a one-game playoff. This time, they had the home-field advantage, but it didn't matter. Cards in four.
League Championship Series
The A's and Mets each had home-field advantage in their best-of-seven series, both coming off Division Series sweeps.
It didn't matter.
The A's never saw what hit them. Zito had bested Santana on the road, but in Game 1 of this one at home he allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings. The Tigers' 5-1 victory was followed by Alexis Gomez's huge game for Detroit, so Oakland's advantage went away and the Tigers went to the World Series in four.
The Mets had the best record in baseball during the regular season, and even despite the losses of Pedro Martinez and El Duque, the general consensus was that New York would have at least one team in the Fall Classic. It turned out to be a spectacular NL Championship Series, and one that ended in the most improbable of ways. With two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Cards ahead by two, Cardinal-killer Beltran faced Adam Wainwright -- a rookie replacement making the Major League minimum salary, there instead of injured closer Jason Isringhausen. Wainwright struck Beltran out, looking/swinging/looking.
The Cardinals entered Game 1 with fewer regular-season victories (83) than any team in World Series history except the 1973 Mets (82). The Tigers, like the Cardinals, struggled badly in the second half. Both teams entered the playoffs on a dubious note, with the Tigers being swept by the Royals in the final regular-season series and thus handing the AL Central to the Twins while taking the Wild Card.
So the mere presence of both of these clubs in the Fall Classic was surprising enough. Then it was one surprising development after another. It was a series marked by pitchers who dominated and pitchers who threw balls away, ominous daily weather forecasts and ticket-swapping by fans, and a 5-foot-7 hero they called "little big man."
Game 1: Anthony Reyes of the Cardinals and Justin Verlander of the Tigers become the first pairing of rookies to start a World Series opener. Reyes might not have done what Bob Gibson did (17 strikeouts) for St. Louis the last time these clubs opened a Fall Classic, but it was memorable enough. Reyes retired 17 consecutive Tigers in one stretch and tossed shutout ball into the ninth inning of a 7-2 victory at Comerica Park. Detroit committed three errors, and Verlander threw away a pickoff attempt.
Game 2: Kenny Rogers continued his remarkable scoreless innings streak, running it to 23 in a 3-1 victory for Detroit that evened the series. Only Lew Burdette (24 in 1957) and the great Christy Mathewson (27 in 1905) had longer streaks in a postseason. People talked through the ensuing travel day about a smudge that had been seen on Rogers' pitching hand, but the Cardinals did not press the issue. Tigers closer Todd Jones threw wild to first base with only one out to go for a shutout, leading to a run.
Game 3: Chris Carpenter pitched eight scoreless innings of three-hit ball at Busch Stadium, and Jim Edmonds continued to make up for lost time by stroking the two-run double that provided the first scoring in a 5-0 romp. Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya, pitching for the first time in exactly two weeks, threw wildly to third base and allowed two runs to score.
Game 4: After a rainout on Wednesday, the teams reconvened. Probably the most important moment of this World Series came when the footing under Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson gave way, leading to an inning for St. Louis that helped wipe out an early Detroit lead and the impetus for a 5-4 Cardinals victory. Tigers reliever Fernando Rodney threw wildly to first base, allowing one run to score and setting up another.
Game 5: Weaver, 8-14 in the regular season, allowed only one run in eight innings. Yadier Molina, a .216 hitter in the regular season, continued to hit in the postseason more like Joe Mauer. Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein, coming off a four-hit night, was 2-for-4 with a run and two RBIs, earning the World Series MVP trophy. Verlander threw wildly to third base, allowing one run and setting up another.
"Look," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said before Game 1, "83 wins is what it was. We were a real good team a lot and not a very good team a lot. But in the postseason, where you're playing these short series, if you're playing good, things like [upsetting the Padres and Mets] can happen. I don't think anyone's laughing at us."
They definitely weren't laughing at the Cardinals after they beat the Tigers. St. Louis was the world champion, another complete surprise with fewer victories (83) in the regular season than any champ before. No one expected this.
No one expected this Shocktober. No one last month expected that there would be a parade coming right here by the Arch. Read all those preseason prognostications you want next spring. Then properly line the bird cage.
It's as opposite these days as it can be from 1927, when the Yankees won 110 games in a 154-game season and then swept the Pirates in four, prompting Babe Ruth to say, "We won the World Series before it even started."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.