2006 Baseball Season

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
Joe Mauer set an American
League record in 2006
when he won a bat crown.

For the first time in years, the batting champions were not from the familiar pool of usual suspects. Pirates infielder Freddy Sanchez wasn't even a regular when the season started, but he wound up taking the National League title (.344). In the junior circuit, young Twins catcher Joe Mauer (.347) became the first American League catcher to land the 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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In 2006, Barry Bonds hit his 715th home run, but did not receive the attention he normally would have, due to rumors of steroids use. Here are some of the headlines from the 2006 baseball season:

Japan Wins First WBC

Manager Sadaharu Oh receives the full honored toss after his team toppled Cuba to win the championship game on March 20 in the first World Baseball Classic. Although international baseball competitions had been held before, this was the first to use players from the American major leagues. The 16-team field played a total of 39 games in six cities in three countries.

Barry Bonds Passes the Babe

Giants outfielder Barry Bonds clubs his 715th home run on May 18, moving past Babe Ruth into second place on the all-time list. While Hank Aaron's 715th homer in 1974 was one of the greatest moments in baseball history, Bonds's blast was largely ignored by the American public. Allegations that he had abused steroids continued to dog Bonds, who was booed in every National League ballpark.

Ryan Howard Swats 58 Big Flys

Likable Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2005, then followed it up with an MVP season in 2006. The 6'4", 230-pound slugger rocketed 58 home runs, eclipsing Mike Schmidt's team record by nine. In MVP balloting, he barely nosed out superstar Albert Pujols. He also captured the National League Hank Aaron Award.

George Mitchell Spearheads Investigation

In March 2006, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig hired former Senate majority leader George Mitchell to head an investigation into steroid use by major-league players -- including some of its top sluggers. After decades of ignoring the problem, MLB began drug testing in 2003 and started penalizing those who failed tests the following year. By the end of 2006, Mitchell's investigation was still ongoing.

Fracisco Rodriguez Puts Out the Fires

Francisco Rodriguez began turning heads in 2002 when, at age 20, he struck out 28 batters in 18 postseason innings. In 2005, he took over the job as Angels closer and tied Bob Wickman for the league lead in saves. In 2006, he topped all American League closers with 47 saves and in the process became the youngest pitcher ever to reach the 100-save mark.

David "Big Papi" Ortiz Provides the Drama

Known as a clutch performer, Boston's David "Big Papi" Ortiz outdid himself in 2006. He had five walk-off hits, and three were home runs. That's about as many as most teams achieved all year. Ortiz's big year featured league-leading marks of 54 homers, 137 RBI, and 355 total bases. He finished a close second to Alex Rodriguez in American League MVP voting.

Frank Thomas Turns It Around

After injury-plagued seasons in 2004 and 2005, Frank Thomas seemed to be nearing the end of his career. His longtime team, the White Sox, did not even pick up the option year on his contract for 2006. However, the "Big Hurt" found new life in Oakland, where he amassed 39 homers and 114 RBI. His resurrection helped the A's capture the American League West crown.

Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes Spark Mets

Combining muscle and speed, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes played huge roles in the Mets' return to postseason play in 2006. Beltran had his finest power year, with 41 homers and 116 RBI. He finished fourth in the National League in both slugging and MVP voting. Reyes won his second consecutive stolen base title (64) and added 17 triples to his 19 homers.

Trevor Hoffman Sets Major League Save Mark

Trevor Hoffman gave up two of the Dodgers' four ninth-inning homers in L.A.'s amazing comeback game on September 18. Nevertheless, Hoffman's remarkable consistency (38 saves or more in seven of eight seasons) was a large part of San Diego's second consecutive division title. In the process, Hoffman moved past Lee Smith to become the majors' career save leader. He finished the season with 482.

Check out more headlines from the 2006 baseball season on the next page.

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Below are more headlines from the 2006 baseball season, including Justin Morneau growing into his position with the Minnesota Twins and the Dodgers hitting four straight home runs to win the National League West.

Travis Hafner: 42 Homers, Six Slams

For the Indians, DH Travis Hafner combined excellent strike-zone awareness with a powerful swing. He moved into the upper echelon of hitters in 2005, then improved in every category the next season, finishing with a .308 average, 42 homers, and 117 RBI. He placed second in the American League in OBP (.439) and first in SLG (.659). Moreover, his six grand slams tied an American League season record.

Justin Morneau Keys Twins' Success

In only his second full big-league season, Justin Morneau blossomed into a outstanding hitter and a key member of the surprising Twins in 2006. He overcame injuries from the previous season to bat .321. His 130 RBI were second only to David Ortiz, and he added 34 homers. Morneau's team edged out the Tigers to win the American League Central, and he won the League MVP Award by a narrow margin.

Alfonso Soriano Joins the 40/40 Club

On September 16, Washington's Alfonso Soriano removed the base that signified his 40th steal of the season. He thus became the fourth player ever to swipe 40 bases (41) and belt 40 homers (46) in the same year. When he laced his 40th double six days later, he became the first-ever 40-40-40 man. After the season, he signed an eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs.

Catcher Joe Mauer Wins Bat Title

There was a lot of grumbling in Minnesota when the Twins swapped their talented young catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, before the 2003 season. But phenom Joe Mauer stepped in and did everything expected of him -- and more. His .347 average in 2006 was a result of his gorgeous batting stroke, one of the purest in baseball. Mauer was the first catcher ever to win the American League bat crown.

L.A. Belts Four Straight Home Runs

It was one of the wildest finishes to a ballgame ever. The Dodgers, locked in a tight race for the National League West lead with the Padres, trailed San Diego by four runs as they batted in the last of the ninth on September 18. They proceeded to swat four consecutive homers -- byJeff Kent, J.D. Drew, Russell Martin, and Marlon Anderson -- to tie the game. The Padres retook the lead in the tenth, but Nomar Garciaparra belted a two-run homer to give L.A. an 11-10 win.

Yadier Molina's HR Wins NLCS

The 2006 NLCS had a bit of everything: superb pitching, sensational defense, astonishing comebacks, and late-game heroics. Game seven was tied 1-1 in the top of the ninth when catcher Yadier Molina popped one over the left-field fence to give the Cards a 3-1 lead. The drama wasn't over, though. The Mets threatened rookie closer Adam Wainwright, loading the bases before he fanned Carlos Beltran to end it.

Magglio Ordonez HR Clinches 2006 World Series Berth

Forty games over .500 in August, Detroit slumped down the stretch, finishing 19-31 and surrendering the division crown. After dropping the first ALDS game to the Yankees, the Tigers restored their roar, beating New York in three straight. Strong pitching helped them take the first three games of the ALCS. With the score 3-3 in the last of the ninth of game four, Magglio Ordonez powered this three-run homer, vaulting the Tigers to the 2006 World Series.

Tigers Pitchers Go Wild

A week layoff after the ALCS may have contributed to Detroit's mistake-ridden play in the 2006 World Series. All five games featured an error by a Tigers pitcher. A bad throw by Fernando Rodney in the seventh inning of game four allowed the Cardinals to tie and then take the lead. Another "E-1" in the fourth inning of game five helped St. Louis turn the game around.

The next page highlights key events and details from the 2006 baseball season.

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The 2006 baseball season seemed like it might be the year of the Detroit Tigers. They had consistent numbers all season and then took out the Oakland A's in a dramatic manor to put them in the 2006 World Series. But, when they got there, they found the Cardinals were too much for the Tigers to handle. Below, you will find the highlights from the 2006 baseball season:
  • In the ALDS, Oakland sweeps Minnesota while the Tigers upset the Yankees in four.

  • Detroit sweeps the A's in the ALCS, which concludes with Magglio Ordonez's walk-off home run.

  • In NLDS action, the Mets sweep the Dodgers while the Cardinals top the Padres in four games.

  • Yadier Molina's ninth-inning homer helps St. Louis beat the Mets in game seven of the NLCS.

  • Thanks to hot pitching and eight Tigers errors, St. Louis defeats Detroit in five 2006 World Series games.

  • David Eckstein's clutch hitting earns him the 2006 World Series MVP Award.

  • Detroit's Kenny Rogers tosses 23 straight scoreless innings in the postseason.

  • St. Louis wins the National League Central with an 83-78 record, fending off a ferocious late-season charge by Houston.

    Curt Schilling
    Curt Schilling pitched
    over 3,000 career
    strikeouts in 2006.

  • Boston's Curt Schilling tops 3,000 strikeouts for his career.

  • The National League East-champion Mets (97-65) are the only National League team with 90 victories.

  • In the National League West, the Padres and Dodgers each go 88-74 and make the playoffs, with L.A. the wildcard.

  • The Yankees win their ninth straight American League East crown. Boston's streak of seven straight second-place finishes comes to an end.

  • In the American League Central, Minnesota wins the title on the last day of the season.

  • Oakland takes the American League West crown by four games over the Angels.

  • The Phillies' Ryan Howard wins the 2006 National League MVP Award.

  • Howard tops the National League with 58 homers (a Phillies record) and 149 RBI.

  • Young Twins slugger Justin Morneau (.321-34-130) cops the 2006 American League MVP Award, barely beating out Derek Jeter (.343, 118 runs).

  • Minnesota's Johan Santana is the unanimous choice for the 2006 American League Cy Young.

  • Santana leads the American League in wins (19), ERA (2.77), and strikeouts (245).

  • The 2006 National League Cy Young goes to Arizona's Brandon Webb (16-8).

  • Albert Pujols of St. Louis smashes .331-49-137 and leads the National League in slugging (.671).

  • Joe Mauer of the Twins becomes the first catcher ever to win the American League batting championship (.347).

  • Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez leads the senior circuit in batting (.344) and doubles (53).

  • Red Sox slugger David Ortiz tops the American League in home runs (54), RBI (137), total bases (355), and walks (119).

  • Trevor Hoffman's league-high 46 saves for San Diego give him 482 for his career -- a new Major League record.

  • Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett dies on March 6 at age 45.

  • In March, the inaugural World Baseball Classic features players from the U.S. major leagues wearing the uniforms of their home countries. Japan wins the 16-team tournament, besting Cuba for the title.

  • Two Team USA players make the WBC All-Star Team: Jeter and Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr.

  • Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies goes hitless on April 6, ending his two-season hitting streak at 38 games, ninth longest ever.

  • On April 9, Colorado's Cory Sullivan triples twice in one inning against San Diego.

  • In late April, Kevin Mench of the Rangers becomes the first righthanded batter to homer in seven consecutive games.

  • On May 28, Barry Bonds clubs his 715th career home run, moving him past Babe Ruth for second place on the all-time list. Bonds finishes the season with 734, just 21 behind Hank Aaron.

For more highlights of the 2006 baseball season, see the next page.

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Below are more highlights from the 2006 baseball season, including Miguel Tejada playing in his 1,000th consecutive game and salaries for some Yankees soaring.

  • On July 1, Baltimore's Miguel Tejada becomes the seventh player in major league history to play in 1,000 consecutive games.

  • With two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Texas's Michael Young slams a two-run triple that gives the American League its ninth straight All-Star Game victory.

  • On September 6, Marlins rookie Anibal Sanchez pitches the first no-hitter in more than two years.

  • Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels leads the American League with 47 saves.

  • Philadelphia's Chase Utley paces the National League in runs (131).

  • Juan Pierre of the Cubs cracks a circuit-best 204 hits.

  • Four American League players make at least $19 million, and all are Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Jeter, and Mussina.

  • Detroit flamethrower Justin Verlander (17-9) breezes to the 2006 American League Rookie of the Year Award.

  • Shortstop Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins is named the 2006 National League Rookie of the Year.

  • Randy Johnson pockets his 4,500th career strikeout, the third most in history.

  • The Cardinals open their new ballpark, which -- like its two predecessors -- is called Busch Stadium.

  • Three big-league pitchers push past the 200-win mark for their careers: Pedro Martinez, Schilling, and Kenny Rogers.

  • Former Negro Leaguer Buck O'Neil, age 94, becomes the oldest player to play in a professional game -- the Northern League All-Star Game in Kansas City, Kansas.

  • Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina becomes the first pitcher in American League history to win 10 or more games for 15 straight seasons.

  • Yankees closer Mariano Rivera records his 400th save.

  • Chipper Jones of the Braves ties a major league record with an extra-base hit in 14 straight games.

  • Carlos Delgado of the Mets belts his 400th career homer.

  • Atlanta's record of 14 consecutive division titles is finally snapped.

  • Six National League pitchers tie for the lead in wins with just 16: Webb, Aaron Harang, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, John Smoltz, and Carlos Zambrano.

  • Two American League hurlers post 19 wins each -- Santana and the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang.

  • Bonds leads the National League in walks for the 11th time.

  • The Marlins have an unprecedented four first-year hurlers with at least 10 wins: Sanchez, Josh Johnson, Scott Olson, and Ricky Nolasco.

  • Joe Girardi lasts just one season as manager of the Marlins, but he wins National League Manager of the Year honors after he is fired.

  • Tigers skipper Jim Leyland takes home the 2006 American League Manager of the Year Award.

  • Carl Crawford of Tampa Bay wins his third consecutive triples title (16) and his second consecutive stolen base crown (58).

  • Jose Reyes of the Mets repeats as National League leader in triples (17) and steals (64).

  • Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki tops the American League in hits (224).

  • Grady Sizemore of the Indians leads the American League with 53 doubles.

  • Rangers pitcher R.A. Dickey ties a major league record by allowing six home runs in just 3-1/3 innings.

  • The reigning champion White Sox have more wins than any National League team except the Mets, but they fail to make the playoffs.

  • Pitcher Greg Maddux wins his 16th Gold Glove Award, tying him with Jim Kaat and Brooks Robinson for the most Gold Gloves for a career.

  • The Baseball Hall of Fame's Special Committee on the Negro Leagues selects 17 Negro Leaguers for induction.

  • Pitcher Bruce Sutter is elected to the Hall of Fame.

  • On October 11, Yankees pitcher Corey Lidle dies when he pilots his small plane into a Manhattan building.

  • In November, the Red Sox pay $51.1 million for the rights to negotiate with Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. Then they sign him to a multiyear, $51 million contract.

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