I remember sitting on a party bus thinking to myself, "How are the Cardinals even in the World Series?"
My friend, Josh, was getting married that night, and we had pictures to take. A lot of them. I wasn't excited to smile 45 different times, but there was a game that night. All I could think about was hiding after the best man toast at the reception hall to watch Game 1 of the 2006 World Series.
I loved Josh like a brother, but the Cardinals had owned a piece of my heart since I could walk, and a wise man once said you have to listen to your heart. At that moment, my heart was with Anthony Reyes' straight-bill cap and not the fact that Josh was wearing a Chris Pronger (who wasn't with the Blues anymore) jersey to a wedding. Priorities are important.
How weird was the 2006 postseason? Reyes is a good place to start.
Reyes was the troubled Cardinal brother to Rick Ankiel as far as the "what could have been" phenom Redbird arms. He had it all. The heater, breaking pitch, and next door neighbor haircut. But he was as inconsistent as pizza crust at a commercial chain restaurant, upsetting Cardinals fans and the legendary duo of Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa. He had a 5.06 ERA in 17 regular season starts. Somehow, Reyes managed to shut down the Detroit Tigers and help the Cardinals win Game 1. He'd never come close to being that good again, which can be said for a lot of the Cards on that team.
Josh would eventually get divorced, but the Cardinals would go on to win the World Series despite the odds. The epitome of improbable, the 2006 team were thieves in the night 11 years ago today, clinching the tenth World Series title in team history against a Detroit team that everybody outside of St. Louis (and even some under the Arch) picked to win.
To be honest, the 2006 Cardinals just didn't make sense. They had the MV3 in Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds, but they barely made the playoffs. Without the then-Braves pitcher John Smoltz shutting down the Houston Astros on Game 162, the Cardinals wouldn't make the playoffs at all. But, this team's World Series run defied reality.
I'm being serious. Ronnie Belliard and Anthony Reyes were heroes. David Eckstein was the World Series MVP. Jeff Weaver pitched the game of his life, even though he looked like the sad actor who didn't get the lead in the Point Break remake. Jeff Suppan was a quiet stabilizer for the rotation, and Chris Duncan hit 22 home runs that year while redefining the definition of a bad outfielder.
Yadier Molina hit .216, and Jason Isringhausen had one of his worst seasons as the closer, succumbing to his hip condition in September, paving the way for a man named Adam Wainwright.
Long before he would hide in his closet from the police, Scott Spezio contributed an .862 OPS in 119 games and was a playoff hero. The late Josh Hancock pitched valuable innings that season.
Three of the Cardinals starters with at least 15 starts that season had an ERA over 5.00. Jason Marquis lost 16 games. Imagine Michael Bay winning an Oscar and you have the 2006 Cardinals.
The National League Championship Series win over the New York Mets is more memorable than the World Series victory over the Tigers, due to how hot the Mets were coming into that series. Who can forget Game 7? Endy Chavez robbing Scott Rolen of a home run but watching Yadier Molina's two-run blast soar over the wall. Wainwright freezing a Terminator-like Carlos Beltran to seal the win. So remarkable, and so improbable.
2006 is the reason why some Cardinals fans believed in a comeback for the 2016 and 2017 teams. How many times did you hear, "remember what they did in 2006 and 2011?" You can blame that on the emotional toll that baseball takes on fans and writers. In the back of your head, a comeback is forming due to events that took place in St. Louis during October of 2006.
I remember watching Adam Wainwright's cutter land in Molina's mitt to end the World Series, and the adrenaline that shot through my body. Great sporting events can take your mind off everything for a small period of time. The players sprinting onto the field. It was surreal. After a troubling season, the Cardinals were World Series champions.
As the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers engage in one of the most exciting Fall Classics in years, I couldn't help but think back to those improbable 2006 Cardinals. You'll never see another team as oddly constructed produce such unlikely results.
Maybe I miss La Russa too much. Perhaps, I simply miss playoff baseball in St. Louis. You be the judge. I'm out.
Thanks for reading,