Cards clinch first title since '82 despite little from Pujols

Updated: October 28, 2006, 2:04 AM ET
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- Everyone knows the key to the St. Louis Cardinals' offense is Albert Pujols.

Well, they won their first World Series in 24 years pretty much without him. The city's first championship since the days of Whitey Ball was indeed a team effort.

"Total team," manager Tony La Russa said. "The defense was great. The pitching was great. Timely hitting. The best bench I've had in a long time. They just refused to lose."

Pujols, the NL MVP last season, is at worst a co-favorite to win it again after a monster season with 49 home runs and 137 RBI. He batted .200 with one homer, an opposite-field shot in Game 1, and two RBI in the World Series, making a bigger contribution with his defense at first base.

Even so, the 83-win Cardinals took out the 95-win Tigers in five games with a 4-2 victory Friday night.

"You can't win with just one guy," rookie closer Adam Wainwright said after his fourth save of the postseason. "Albert is probably the main reason we're here, but once we got here everybody stepped up their game. Everybody was fantastic."

Every team, not just the Tigers, talks about pitching carefully to Pujols, and that's likely a contributing factor to his low production. But Pujols admitted before Game 5 that mostly it was his fault because at times he tried to do too much.

The camera flashes always go off when Pujols is at the plate, glaring at the pitcher and prepared to uncoil. He failed to deliver in Game 5 with a single, walk, strikeout and pop-up.

His biggest play came at the start of the seventh when he made a sprawling stop of Placido Polanco's hard-hit grounder and while flat on his back flipped the ball to pitcher Jeff Weaver in time to keep the Tigers' postseason star -- and his best friend -- hitless in the Series.

"Albert is an exceptional fielder," Weaver said. "He made a great play. I just wanted to concentrate and make sure I put a glove on it.

"Anytime you make big plays it changes the momentum of the game, and I think that was a big one."

Pujols, who batted .288 overall in the postseason with three homers and six RBI after leading the major leagues with 25 game-winning RBI in the regular season, was along for the ride.

Throughout his career, Pujols has said that he'd trade his individual success for team glory. He was happy to be one of the guys spraying champagne in a raucous clubhouse.

"Definitely, we put a postseason together," Pujols said. "We forgot about the struggles of the regular season and we turned it around when we needed to.

"We got guys healthy and our pitching did an unbelievable job. We believed in ourselves and we came through."

David Eckstein, 0-for-9 the first two games, finished with six hits and four RBI in the last two to earn the MVP award. Yadier Molina, a .216 hitter in the regular season, had three hits in the clincher and was 7-for-16 in the World Series. Scott Rolen, benched in Game 2 of the NLCS because of a slump combined with a sore shoulder, hit safely in the last 10 games after being reinstated. Jim Edmonds, plagued by post-concussion syndrome and a sore left foot in the last month-and-a-half of the regular season, led the team with 10 RBI in the postseason.

"I said before the Series that they weren't just one guy," Tigers Game 5 starter Justin Verlander said. "If those guys get it going, they don't need Pujols to do it by himself because they've got a great lineup."

The pitching also outshone Pujols.

Weaver, the Game 5 hero, began his career in Detroit, had it derailed in Anaheim and celebrated its rebirth while allowing one earned run in eight innings in his longest postseason outing. At the end, the former retread stood alongside Chris Carpenter, NLCS MVP Jeff Suppan and even rookie Anthony Reyes, who threw eight shutout innings in Game 1, as pitchers the team could count on in October.

And the Cardinals capitalized on every break, taking advantage of Tigers errors in each of the last three games.

"We knew if you go man to man with those guys over there that we wouldn't have any chance," Pujols said. "We were the underdogs so we tried to take advantage of every mistake.

"In the postseason those errors are critical, they can make you pay."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press