The 2006 team was special. Hardly the best Cardinals team of my lifetime, in fact when measuring by regular season wins they tie for a meager 25th (with the 1992 and 1998 teams), and I’ve been alive for 38 years so that’s bottom fifty percentile stuff. And they didn’t play in the most exciting postseason for a recent Cardinals team, a distinction that obviously belongs to the 2011 squad. But they were the first Cardinals team I was able to witness (at least, in a cognizant sense) win the whole thing. If you fall into the all-important 15-40 age bracket, you can probably say the same.
As you’ll see in a moment, Adam Wainwright struck out Brandon Inge to close the books on the 2006 season and Joe Buck remarked almost too casually that this was St. Louis’ first title since 1982. Did those 24 years really signify a drought? By most standards probably not. But from the time when the Cardinals won their first title in 1926, it was their longest title-less stretch, outpacing the eighteen years between 1946 and 1964. Throw in all the close calls (1985, 1987, 2004) and the preceding playoff appearances that ended prematurely, and 2006 felt like the ultimate relief. As he himself has acknowledged in interviews, Joe Buck really should have been more excited.
Similar to last week with 1982, this is a closer look at the final pitch and ensuing celebration from the 2006 World Series. Here’s Buck on October 27, 2006, with the call.
Taking it back to the beginning, think about that knot in your chest when this slider was on its way to home plate.
That was not an easy inning. It wasn’t a Game 7, but the high-stress felt eerily similar to the end of the NLCS with the Mets from that same year. After Magglio Ordonez grounded out to lead off the inning, Sean Casey doubled to center and later advanced to third with two outs on a wild pitch. Our old pal Placido Polanco walked to set the stage for Inge with two runners on and the Cardinals clinging to a 4-2 lead. An extra-base hit ties the game, a home run is obviously much worse. Had the Tigers found a way to win, the series and momentum would have shifted back to Detroit. And almost every Cardinals fan had seen too many 3-1 series leads lost to be comfortable (if at the time you only were alive for the 1996 NLCS, one counts as too many) and watching another game after that would have been a lot to bear, right?
Thankfully, we didn’t have to find out.
Yadier Molina jumping into Wainwright’s outstretched arms was great, a memory to savior forever. Feel free to watch it again. But then shift your attention to the person in the upper-left corner. What are they holding? I’m referring to this person.
I hope that’s not a dog.
It is not a dog. Or at least I don’t think it’s a dog. I see what could be a striped tail, so that’s probably a tiger stuffed animal of some kind. Although they are clearly excited so that is not a Tigers fan. I welcome any help here.
On to the 00:10 mark and oh no, poor Placido.
Polanco was a solid, versatile player for the Cardinals, a 4-win player in 2001 while spending significant time at third, shortstop, and second base before the team parlayed that the following year into a significant piece in the Scott Rolen trade. For that Albert Pujols was thoughtful enough to give him a head tap before joining the celebration.
As for that celebration, here at the 00:16 mark I ask you to respect the single organized pile of men.
That’s how it’s done. To see how it’s not done, here’s a peek at what happened during the 2011 celebration.
I count seven independent celebrations, a bullpen slow to the scene, and one Lance Lynn lost on the mound. What a mess. It’s astonishing to think they were able to accomplish all that they did. That’s for next week though.
I can only guess that the 2006 team was baseball’s penance to our fans for all the times truly great Cardinals teams came up short. A victory that felt even better since it came just two years after the 2004 team, probably the best Cardinals team of a lot of our lifetimes, got outplayed so thoroughly in the World Series. I don’t know if an 83-win team winning the World Series made up for Denkinger, Jack Clark’s injury in ‘87, the blown 3-1 lead in ‘96, et al, but it sure felt like it at the time. Before that evening it was certainly a fine feeling knowing that my favorite baseball team had won nine World Series titles - more than any team in the National League - but it felt so much better finally watching one unfold in real time.
Again, credit to the incomparable @SimulacruMusial (né VanHicklestein) for his help with this post.