Everyone's underdog is now everyone's favorite

Originally Published: October 24, 2006
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS -- The only thing missing from this World Series, other than the truth from Kenny Rogers, is a ransom note.

Someone has kidnapped the Detroit Tigers, and manager Jim Leyland would do anything -- pay the kidnappers a pack of smokes ... chew yesterday's breakfast -- to get them back. If he doesn't, and soon, the St. Louis Cardinals are going to have a championship parade here as early as this weekend.

The Cardinals have duped us. And they absolutely have the Tigers hearing voices.

Not only did the Cardinals win, 5-0, Tuesday night, but they've now put the Tigers in the dreadful position of having to win three of the next four games. Two more of those games are here at Busch Stadium, where the hometown fans perform nightly group hugs with their beloved Cardinals.

Jim Edmonds
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images Jim Edmonds' two-run double in the fourth inning gave the Cardinals all the runs they needed in Game 3.
You could feel the love after Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter did everything but give the Tigers a dose of Ambien. He needed only 82 pitches to put Detroit's lineup to sleep through eight innings. Braden Looper pulled out the whisk broom and brushed the Tigers into a dustpan in the ninth.

And that was that. The Cardinals claimed a 2-1 Series lead and have NL Championship Series MVP Jeff Suppan on the mound Wednesday night. Incredibly enough, the team nobody picked to win this thing, well, might win this thing. Even the Cardinals can't ignore the possibilities.

"I'd be lying if I said no," said Looper. "But you really try not to think about it. You sit there and you think, 'Well, we're two games away. Two more games, which doesn't sound like much, but against a team like Detroit, it's a lot."

Is it? The Tigers are playing as if they'll be charged a late fee if the Series lasts seven games. Carpenter handcuffed them to the bedpost and noogied them to death, allowing just three hits, issuing no walks and striking out six. He was more efficient than a Swiss train schedule.

At the moment, the Tigers -- and how do you put this delicately? -- suck. Leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson's Series average (.000) is lower than James Bond's .007. Placido Polanco, arguably Detroit's season MVP, is also hitless. So is Pudge Rodriguez, who looks like he couldn't hit anything off a batting tee these days. He's 0 for his last 23 playoff at-bats.

"Basically what this means is that the Cardinals went up, 2-1," said Detroit manager Jim Leyland. "If we don't swing the bats better, they'll go up, 3-1. That's as simple as it is."

The Cardinals have Leyland's team so perplexed that he's considering some lineup changes. He has to do something. They've scored a grand total of five runs in three games. Right now, they couldn't hit the Mississippi River if you put them at water's edge.

Momentum is a fickle commodity, especially in baseball and a seven-game series. But now that this series has been thrown into the dryer and shrunk to four games, the Cardinals have everything they need to finish it off: momentum, confidence, home field, and some decision-making flexibility.

The Tigers should be winning this World Series. But the Cardinals are winning it because they remembered what they're good at, while the Tigers have been stricken by a memory lapse.

The Tigers have been as patient as 2-year-olds at the plate. Carpenter didn't go to a 3-0 count on any of them during his eight innings of work.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals ... the They'll-Be-Lucky-To-Win-A-Game Cardinals ... have done just enough at just the right times. And they've done it with leadoff man David Eckstein hitting .154, Preston Wilson hitting .143 and Albert Pujols hitting .200.

Yeah, they duped us, but not the way you think. Maybe Cards manager Tony La Russa felt slighted by the pre-Series predictions, but the players didn't. At least, that's what they say now.

"I don't think it ... even came across the locker room or anybody's ever said a word about it," said Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds, who gave St. Louis a 2-0 lead with a bases-loaded double in the fourth. "We're just excited to be here and we're just trying to focus on winning games."

The Tigers are focused on self-destruction. Earlier this week, former Detroit manager Sparky Anderson, who led the Tigers to their last championship in 1984, called reliever Joel Zumaya's stuff "sinful." He could have said the same thing about Zumaya's botched throw to third in the seventh inning, when he whipped the ball toward the third-base-line ball boy. Two unearned runs later, the game was essentially done.

The Cardinals aren't supposed to be in command, but then again, rookie starter Anthony Reyes wasn't supposed to win Game 1 for St. Louis. But he did. Then Carpenter won Game 3. Now, if Suppan wins Wednesday night, La Russa could keep the house money he won with Reyes, and pitch the more experienced Jeff Weaver on three days' rest for the potential Game 5 clincher.

Of course, if the Tigers start acting like the Tigers of the AL playoffs, we're back in Detroit for Game 6. That means Rogers, who might have an endorsement deal with UPS by then ("What can brown do for you?"), is on the Comerica Park mound for Detroit.

I haven't lost faith in the Tigers, but I've gained it for the Cardinals.

Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds are supposed to be banged up. Instead, they lead St. Louis in hitting. Detroit's pitching was supposed to be superior. Instead, Reyes and Carpenter are the ones with Ws. The Tigers had the home-field advantage. Instead, almost every advantage belongs to the Cardinals.

As assorted media members waited in the interview room for Looper to finish out the ninth, a well-known national baseball writer (sorry, no names) muttered, "I can't believe the Cardinals are going to win the World Series."

He's not alone. Neither can the Tigers.

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

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