Rested, Weary and Ready
Saturday, October 21, 2006
DETROIT, Oct. 20 -- While the St. Louis Cardinals were slogging through a seven-game National League Championship Series, leaving them ragged and sore -- but, stunningly, one of two teams still playing baseball on the eve of the World Series opener -- Curtis Granderson was kissing babies in the restaurants and malls of a suddenly baseball-mad Detroit.
"Babies in little Tigers uniforms -- everywhere," he said, shaking his head in admiration. "I stood for a picture with two of them just today."
While the Cardinals were enduring grueling games, exasperating rainouts and late-night flights in an effort to vanquish the New York Mets and live to see Saturday night's Game 1 at Comerica Park, Todd Jones was working the phones in a quest for extra World Series tickets and convenient flights for family and friends.
"Basically," Jones said, "I've been everyone's travel agent."
While the Cardinals were burning through pitchers, asking achy muscles for one more stand, putting their nervous systems through a series of unfathomable lows and incomprehensible highs the past week, Andy Van Slyke was in his easy chair with the remote, delighting in watching the Cardinals fight for their playoff lives -- and having no bigger nuisance in the world than those ubiquitous MLB promos featuring a certain tuxedoed septuagenarian.
"The culmination of what is going to take place," said Van Slyke, the Tigers' first base coach, looking ahead to Saturday night and the first World Series game in Detroit in 22 years, "was well worth sitting through every commercial with Tommy Lasorda."
Two teams with vastly different experiences over the past week will stand on opposite foul lines during pregame introductions Saturday night and try to soak in the special feeling of a moment few outside of their own clubhouses expected them to experience. This World Series, perhaps more than any other, has proven there is no logic to how the postseason plays out, no single formula for success.
The Tigers, who will send rookie fireballer Justin Verlander to the mound in Game 1, will have gone seven days without a game -- your basic bye week -- having swept the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS. For them, the extended layoff means their injured (most notably first baseman Sean Casey and ace reliever Joel Zumaya) are healed, their arms are fresh and their travel-agent duties are over.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, were extended to seven games in the NLCS by the Mets, winning Thursday night's Game 7 on a two-run home run in the ninth inning by light-hitting catcher Yadier Molina, arriving at their Detroit hotel at around 4 a.m. Friday. The Cardinals face serious questions about their health, the state of their pitching staff (which contained no better Game 1 option than rookie Anthony Reyes) and just how much fuel they have left in their tanks.
"I think I slept from 6:30 [a.m.] to 2 [p.m.]," said Cardinals rookie closer Adam Wainwright, who survived a harrowing ninth inning Thursday night to earn the save in the clinching win. "You wouldn't think you could sleep until 2 in the afternoon, but you can if you've been up all night, staring at the ceiling and smiling."
Truth be told, neither team looked like a World Series contender when the postseason began 2 1/2 weeks ago. The Cardinals had only 83 wins to their names, fewer than any other playoff qualifier, and very nearly choked away an 8 1/2 -game lead with 12 games to play in the season. The Tigers, meanwhile, did in fact fritter away a 10-game lead in the AL Central, and staggered to the finish line with a 19-31 record over their final 50 games.
But once October began, both the Tigers and Cardinals embodied the cliche that -- in the postseason -- it is a whole new ballgame. Suddenly, Verlander's fatigued right arm was full of lightning again. Suddenly, Tigers veteran lefty Kenny Rogers was Sandy Koufax. Suddenly, the Cardinals had dependable starting pitchers other than ace Chris Carpenter. Suddenly, reserve outfielder So Taguchi was hitting 1.000.
"Obviously," Tigers Manager Jim Leyland said, "we were kind of a dud towards the end of the season. [And] the Cardinals, everybody is talking about how they struggled towards the end of the season. . . . We're for real. We deserve to be here. I think we proved that, just as the Cardinals have."
Still, the Tigers' accumulation of rest, in relation to the Cardinals' lack thereof, is merely one of several reasons the Tigers are widely perceived to be the overwhelming favorites. Another is the sheer dominance of the AL over its older sibling recently. The AL has won nine straight all-star games and eight straight World Series games, and included in the AL's 154-98 record this season in interleague play was the Tigers' three-game sweep of the Cardinals here in June.
Before the final game of that series, Albert Pujols, the Cardinals' slugger, was posing for photos with Tigers personnel and their families on Family Day at Comerica Park. As he posed with the Leylands, Pujols leaned over to the Tigers' manager and said something softly.
"I told him, 'You have the team to do it -- to get to the World Series,' " Pujols said. " 'The next time I see you, hopefully it will be at the World Series.' "