. . . And Then There Was One
The St. Louis Cardinals. The only team that won 11 postseason games. The only playoff team that won its last game. The only team whose players can say they are the 2006 World Series champions.
Who'da thunk four weeks ago? The Cardinals barely made the playoffs, holding off the Houston Astros on the final weekend of the season to capture the National League Central title. St. Louis (83-78) entered postseason play with the third-worst record ever and emerged as the World Series champ with the lowest winning percentage of all time.
Better to get pinned with that label than to win 116 games like the Seattle Mariners in 2001 and the Chicago Cubs in 1906 and not win the World Series. Flags fly forever. The number of victories just becomes a piece of trivia. Quick, how many regular-season games did the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals win on the way to their last championship? The answer is 92 but nobody really cares anymore.
There are only two things that matter: (1) making the postseason and (2) winning your last game. Do both of those and you can call yourselves World Series champs.
The Redbirds went into the Fall Classic as heavy underdogs. The Detroit Tigers, winners of 95 games during the season and seven in a row in the playoffs, were made 2:1 favorites to win the World Series. The American League destroyed the National League in inter-league play this year, going 154-98 (.611). The AL had also shown its superiority of late by winning 10 straight All-Star Games and 10 of the past 14 World Series. The poor team from the NL didn't stand a chance or so most pundits and fans thought.
The fact that the Tigers had six days off going into the World Series received a lot of attention - and for good reason. The last half dozen teams with five or more days of rest all went on to pop champagne corks in the locker room following their final game. But there were a couple of trends working against Detroit. Five of the six division and league championship series in 2006 were won via upsets (with only the Mets' sweep of the Dodgers in the NLDS going by the book). Moreover, the team with the lower win total during the regular season had captured the World Series title more often than not since the introduction of divisions in 1969.
Thanks to the Cardinals, the team with the inferior record has now won 3-of-the-last-4, 6-of-the-last-8, 10-of-the-last-14, and 21-of-the-last-37 World Series. Call it mystifying. Call it exciting. Or do as Billy Beane and call it a crapshoot or "five hands of blackjack." Roll the dice or deal the cards. The recipe is pretty straightforward. Make the postseason, give your club a 1-in-8 chance to win it all, get hot, and earn the right to tell the world that the reason you won was because your team pulled together when it mattered most. It's as simple as that.
The Cardinals won the NL Central, then played their best baseball of the season in beating the Padres in the NLDS, the Mets in the NLCS, and the Tigers in the World Series. Make no mistake about it, St. Louis won it all fair and square. The team did just enough from April through September and everything asked of it during October. St. Louis was the only team to win all three of its postseason series and that, my friends, is all that matters.
Sure, some people will say that Detroit didn't hit or field or run the bases well. And you know what? Those folks are right. But rather than calling the Tigers out for losing the Series, why not give credit where credit is due? St. Louis beat Detroit four games to one. The Yankees didn't do that. The A's didn't do that. And the Cardinals didn't give the Padres or the Mets a chance to do that either.
The St. Louis Cardinals. The only team that won 11 postseason games. The only playoff team that won its last game. The only team whose players can say they are the 2006 World Series champions. Congratulations to management, the players, the city of St. Louis, and Redbird Nation.
Part Two: Monday. An in-depth look at the Cardinals and how they stack up for 2007.