Postgame fact: Don't count Cards out so quickly

Updated: October 24, 2006, 12:25 AM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Baseball is all about short-term memory loss.

The Tigers go 59-29 during the first half ... we love them. The Tigers stagger into October after winning just 11 of their last 27 regular-season games ... we mock them. The Tigers breeze through the playoffs ... we love them. The Tigers lose Game 1 of the World Series Saturday night at Comerica Park ... we, uh, doubt them?

And then there are the St. Louis Cardinals, picked to lose this Series by everybody but one of manager Tony La Russa's pooches. Anonymous scouts, talking heads, newspaper hacks were all in general agreement: Tigers in three games.

That's a joke, though La Russa wasn't laughing when he learned of a USA Today prediction story saying the very same thing. When it comes to people disrespecting his ballclub, La Russa has a fuse as short as chin stubble. So you can imagine how much he wanted to stick it to anybody and everybody who figured the Cardinals were only making a four-game cameo appearance in this World Series.

This is what happens when you fall in love with a story line. Even after Saturday evening's 7-2 loss, I still think the Tigers are going to end the postseason with champagne on their unis. But no way is this thing over in five or six games. The Cardinals are too proud, too well-managed, and too experienced to become afterthoughts and footnotes.

Road Relief
St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals had lost eight straight World Series games away from home before Saturday's win over Detroit in Game 1:
Year
Game
Opponent
Result
2006
1
Tigers
W, 7-2
2004
2
Red Sox
L, 6-2
2004
1
Red Sox
L, 11-9
1987
7
Twins
L, 4-2
1987
6
Twins
L, 11-5
1987
2
Twins
L, 8-4
1987
1
Twins
L, 10-1
1985
7
Royals
L, 11-0
1985
6
Royals
L, 2-1

Eleven of the 25 players on the St. Louis roster have been on World Series rosters. La Russa has managed five different World Series teams. So anybody who thinks the Cardinals are here to visit the GM plant, lose a pair to the Tigers, and then roll into the fetal position can forget about that scenario.

We loved the Cardinals -- until mid-June. Then they became the Chicago Cubs, then the Cardinals, then the Cubs, and then who-knows-what by the end of the season. Whatever they were, they didn't look like a team that was going to require a victory parade.

But now the romance is back, or at least it should be after the way the Cardinals sent the Tigers to the chop shop. They neutered the soldout and once-geeked Comerica Park crowd. And they neutralized the Tigers' home-field advantage.

Remember the pre-Game 1 chatter?

Pre-first-pitch prediction: Cardinals rookie pitcher Anthony Reyes, with his 5-8 record and an ERA north of 5.00, wouldn't have much of a chance against Detroit's 17-game winner and Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander.

Postgame fact: Reyes pitched into the ninth, gave up just four hits and two runs, and had America asking, "What's the deal with the bill of his cap?" Meanwhile, Verlander was gone before the sixth inning ended. He had eight strikeouts, but couldn't keep two of his pitches in the ballpark, or Detroit in the game. Just so you know, Verlander has now given up 6, 4, 3, 2, 6 and 6 earned runs in his last six starts -- none of which reached the seventh inning.

Reyes, who was originally drafted by the Tigers (but didn't sign), was everything that Verlander wasn't: aggressive, consistent, almost oblivious to the situation. He knew as early as his pregame warmups that he had good stuff, and then proved it by rendering a sometimes offensive-impaired Detroit lineup useless.

"That was probably the best game of his life," said his impressed Cardinals teammate, Albert Pujols.

The best -- and also most important -- for Reyes and the Cardinals. A Game 1 victory guarantees nothing, but it does give the Cardinals a nice ego boost. La Russa ends his personal eight-game World Series losing streak, and the Cardinals don't have to worry about being on the wrong end of another World Series sweep (the Boston Red Sox did it to them in 2004).

"That was then, this is now," said Pujols.

Pre-first-pitch prediction: Dinged-up Pujols and Scott Rolen, who had combined for a grand total of one RBI in the seven-game NL Championship Series, might struggle against Detroit's pitching.

Postgame fact: Pujols and Rolen accounted for three hits and 763 feet of home runs against Verlander. Rolen's solo homer tied the game in the second inning and Pujols' two-run dinger extended the Cardinals' lead to 4-1 in the third.

Why the Tigers, with two outs and first base open, decided to pitch to the best hitter in baseball makes as much sense as tuna fish-flavored mouthwash. But that's what they did, though Detroit manager Jim Leyland would later say, "We weren't supposed to pitch to him there."

Someone screwed up, and Leyland wasted little time assessing blame.

"I'll take the bullet," he said.

Leyland has built up a protective coat of Kevlar in recent weeks, thanks to a long and successful series of postseason strategic and tactical decisions. But this time he -- and Verlander -- might have gotten a little too cute with a guy who bruises baseballs for a living. Verlander let a pitch wander over the meaty part of the plate, and Pujols sent it far into the chilly Detroit night.

Pre-first-pitch prediction: The Cardinals, stretched as long as Reyes' game socks, would be gassed by the time they got to Detroit.

Postgame fact: The Tigers played as if they had a coat of rust on their bats and gloves. They could only manage those four hits and committed three errors.

"I just think you give the other team credit," said Leyland.

There's a novel idea, especially when it comes to the Cardinals. The next time, don't be so surprised.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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