SAN FRANCISCO — When Justin Verlander takes the mound Wednesday night in Game 1 of the World Series, it would be easy to conclude that he and his Detroit Tigers teammates want to right the wrongs from six years ago, when they last appeared on this stage and lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. It would, too, be a convenient assumption that the opposing San Francisco Giants merely want to add to the legacy they created two Octobers ago, when they unexpectedly won the World Series to send this city into a tizzy.
But Verlander’s task isn’t weighed down by what happened in 2006, because this situation is nothing like 2006. Verlander’s catcher in that series was Ivan Rodriguez. The offensive catalyst was slugger Magglio Ordonez. Both of those players are hailed as heroes in Detroit, because they came to the Tigers when the franchise appeared to be among the worst in baseball — and they transformed it. Now, though, they are heroes from the past; both retired this year.
The Washington Post’s Jason Reid and Dan Steinberg preview the World Series, which starts on Wednesday night in San Francisco.
Six years might not seem a long time, particularly for a sports fan. (Ask a Cubs fan.) But in baseball, it is becoming an eternity. By sports standards, the Tigers and Giants have recent appearances in the World Series. In reality, precious few central characters — managers Jim Leyland of Detroit and Bruce Bochy of San Francisco, Giants catcher Buster Posey and Verlander — are in the same roles this time around.
“It’s a lot of different faces,” said infielder Ramon Santiago, who joins Verlander and infielder Omar Infante as the only holdovers from 2006. “And it’s a different personality. That team, 2006, was good guys. But this team, I think it’s more fun.”
The winning culture and a winning foundation were established back then. But not this winning team. Baseball has long since passed the dynasty stage. Since 1998 through 2000, when the New York Yankees became the last team to win consecutive World Series, there have been nine champions. Only Boston (2004 and ’07) and St. Louis (2006 and ’11) have won twice in that time. In both cases, the second championships were won with fundamentally different rosters.
Yes, a David Ortiz or an Albert Pujols remained the same. But a Pedro Martinez was replaced by a Jon Lester, a Scott Rolen by a David Freese.
Detroit’s model of efficiency
So the Tigers enter the World Series not just without the heroes of yesteryear — Ordonez and Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco and on and on — but with a completely different cast. They will take the field Wednesday with a lineup that includes not one position player who started the first game of the 2006 World Series. Their lynchpins, Triple Crown-winning third baseman Miguel Cabrera and first baseman Prince Fielder, came in a December 2007 trade and a pre-2012 free agent deal, respectively.
Verlander, too, remains the only member of the 2006 rotation — one that included veteran Kenny Rogers and young guns Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson — who will appear in this series. Rogers is retired and neither Bonderman nor Robertson has pitched in the majors since 2010. Yet the Tigers, led by General Manager Dave Dombrowski and owner Mike Ilitch, have restocked.