Of the 10 pitchers who have accounted for the 11 championship-clinching World Series wins for the Cardinals, Jeff Weaver is the most improbable of the group.
Ten years ago, on Oct. 27, 2006, Weaver delivered the performance of his career, limiting the Tigers to two runs in eight innings and striking out nine in the Cardinals’ 4-2 victory in the decisive Game 5 of the World Series at St. Louis.
The triumph, sealed by Adam Wainwright’s scoreless relief in the ninth inning, gave the Cardinals the 10th of their 11 World Series titles and capped an unexpected comeback for Weaver, whose pitching career appeared to be in shambles three months earlier.
During the 2006 regular season, Weaver had a combined 8-14 record and 5.76 ERA for the Angels and Cardinals. He was 3-10 with a 6.29 ERA for the Angels. For the Cardinals, who acquired him July 5 in a trade that sent minor-league outfielder Terry Evans to the Angels, Weaver was 5-4 with a 5.18 ERA.
In comparison, the other nine pitchers who won decisive games of World Series for the Cardinals had glowing season statistics. Weaver is the only one who had a regular-season ERA higher than 3.65 and who failed to achieve double-digit wins.
The other nine (Bob Gibson achieved the feat twice) include four pitchers who would be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame: Jesse Haines, Burleigh Grimes, Dizzy Dean and Gibson. Eight won as starters and one, Harry Brecheen, won as a reliever.
Here are the pitchers who won clinching games for the Cardinals in the World Series:
_ Jesse Haines, Game 7, 1926. Regular-season record: 13-4, 3.25 ERA.
_ Burleigh Grimes, Game 7, 1931. Regular-season record: 17-9, 3.65 ERA.
_ Dizzy Dean, Game 7, 1934. Regular-season record: 30-7, 2.66 ERA.
_ Johnny Beazley, Game 5, 1942. Regular-season record: 21-6, 2.13 ERA.
_ Max Lanier, Game 6, 1944. Regular-season record: 17-12, 2.65 ERA.
_ Harry Brecheen, Game 7, 1946. Regular-season record: 15-15, 2.49 ERA.
_ Bob Gibson, Game 7, 1964. Regular-season record: 19-12, 3.01 ERA.
_ Bob Gibson, Game 7, 1967. Regular-season record: 13-7, 2.98 ERA.
_ Joaquin Andujar, Game 7, 1982. Regular-season record: 15-10, 2.47 ERA.
_ Jeff Weaver, Game 5, 2006. Regular-season record for Cardinals: 5-4, 5.18 ERA.
_ Chris Carpenter, Game 7, 2011. Regular-season record: 11-9, 3.45 ERA.
Weaver is the only winner of a Cardinals World Series clincher who pitched for a big-league team other than St. Louis during the regular season. He also is the only one of the 10 who defeated his former team in the World Series finale. Weaver debuted with the 1999 Tigers and had a 39-51 record in four years with Detroit before he was traded to the Yankees in July 2002.
Helped by the mentoring of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, Weaver was much more effective in the 2006 postseason than he had been in the regular season. Weaver was 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in the National League Division Series versus the Padres, 1-1 with a 3.09 ERA in the NL Championship Series against the Mets and 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA in the World Series. (Weaver started Game 2, a 3-1 Tigers victory.)
In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Derrick Goold wrote, “Weaver points to the confidence the Cardinals gave him as why he was able to pull out of his early-season struggles. That’s how he was able to execute.”
Citing the influence of Duncan, Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said, “Dave has a way of working with guys and getting the most out of them. (Weaver) wanted to get better.”
Wrote columnist Bernie Miklasz: “Dave Duncan’s work in reviving Weaver was the latest of many such success stories in Duncan’s career as a pitching coach. Whatever the Cardinals are paying Duncan, it isn’t enough.”
In Game 5 of the World Series, the Tigers led, 2-1, in the fourth. In the bottom half of the inning, the Cardinals had Yadier Molina on second base, So Taguchi on first and one out with Weaver at the plate.
Attempting to sacrifice, Weaver bunted the ball to Justin Verlander, the Tigers’ starting pitcher. Verlander fielded the ball cleanly but threw wildly past third baseman Brandon Inge.
“He didn’t throw the ball,” analyst and former Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver said of Verlander on the Game 5 telecast. “He goosed it to third base. He just tried to push it over there.”
Molina rounded third and scored the tying run. Taguchi scooted from first to third and Weaver got to second. The next batter, David Eckstein, grounded out to shortstop Carlos Guillen and Taguchi raced home with the go-ahead run, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 lead. World Series Game 5 video, with bottom of the fourth inning at about the 53-minute mark.
The Tigers committed eight errors _ five by pitchers and three by Inge _ in the five World Series games.
In the sixth, with two outs and the bases empty, Sean Casey doubled over the head of right fielder Chris Duncan (son of Dave). With the tying run in scoring position, a composed, determined Weaver struck out Ivan Rodriguez on three pitches, ending the threat.
Weaver retired the Tigers in order in the seventh and eighth innings. The Cardinals added a run in the seventh on Scott Rolen’s RBI-single. Boxscore
Weaver retired 14 of the last 16 batters he faced. His nine strikeouts were the most in a World Series game since Josh Beckett had nine for the Marlins in Game 6 versus the Yankees in 2003.
After Wainwright struck out Inge for the final out, Weaver celebrated on the field and in the clubhouse with his brother, Jered, who had replaced him in the Angels’ rotation. “Weaver wept as he embraced his younger brother,” Joe Strauss reported in the Post-Dispatch.
In summarizing the performance of a Cardinals pitching staff that posted a 2.05 ERA in the World Series, Miklasz wrote, “The wild card in this deck of aces was Jeff Weaver.”
Previously: Why Cardinals took a chance on Jeff Weaver