Two years before the 2006 baseball season, the St. Louis Cardinals had won 105 games during the regular season but were swept in the World Series by the Red Sox. In 2005, the Cardinals won 100 games, once more the best in baseball, but they didn't even reach the World Series. So when they stumbled to an 83-78 record in 2006, no one expected them to wind up as world champs.
But they did, in impressive series wins over San Diego and the Mets and a near-sweep of the surprising Tigers. The Cardinals' win total was the lowest ever for a world championship team.
Jim Leyland's upstart aggregation from Detroit was the classic combination of power and pitching. Every regular but one hit at least 13 homers, and four hit more than 20. Their starting rotation featured two 23-year-old fireballers (Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander) and 41-year-old All-Star Kenny Rogers. Their team ERA and 16 shutouts were tops in the league. The Tigers lost their last five games of the regular season, but they had no trouble knocking over the Yankees in the American League Division Series and blowing past Oakland in four straight in the ALCS.
But after a one-week layoff, the Tigers were rusty in the 2006 World Series, making critical defensive mistakes. They made three errors in the first game, handing the Cards a 7-2 win, and it got worse from there. A throwing error by rookie pitcher Joel Zumaya contributed to a 5-0 St. Louis win in game three, and a key Tigers fumble led to a 5-4 Cardinals triumph in game four. Another throwing error put the kibosh on the Tigers in game five, resulting in a 4-2 loss and St. Louis's first world title in 24 years.
Like the two previous years, the Cardinals' regular-season muscle was provided by familiar names: Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds. But this postseason was different. The big runs in the 2006 World Series were knocked in by pint-sized shortstop David Eckstein, who was named 2006 World Series MVP. So Taguchi had hit just two home runs during the season, but he belted one each in the NLDS and NLCS. Catcher Yadier Molina had batted just .216 in the regular season, but his ninth-inning homer in game seven of the NLCS gave the Cardinals the two-run lead that propelled them to the 2006 World Series.
Other big news in 2006 included the return of Barry Bonds for a full season of play. Bonds moved past Babe Ruth into second place in career home runs, but allegations of steroid use continued to plague him.
Joe Mauer set an American
League record in 2006
when he won a bat crown.
Meanwhile, the Marlins and Yankees proved that spending money is not necessarily the key to success. Florida opened the season with a payroll of just $14,998,500, but the Marlins stayed in the playoff hunt until September 26. Conversely, the Yankees boasted a payroll of $194,663,079. At times, they fielded a lineup with a current or former All-Star at literally every position. Yet they won just one playoff game, at one point going 21 straight postseason innings without scoring.
Such reasoning did not dissuade teams from spending money. After the season, teams guaranteed more than $1.6 billion to newly signed free agents.
They had the worst regular-season record of any World Series team ever, but when the pressure was on, Cardinals players stepped up -- even the unexpected ones.Lesser-known players like So Taguchi and Yadier Molina came up big. Shortstop David Eckstein, who had the fewest RBI of any big-league regular, knocked in big runs in the last two games to land the 2006 World Series MVP Award.
The next page provides headlines and summaries for some of the top stories of the 2006 baseball season.
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