Castoff Weaver finally wins the big one with Cardinals

Updated: October 28, 2006, 2:18 AM ET
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- So many people said Jeff Weaver couldn't win the big one.

He didn't have the stomach for it. He was too flaky. He was too soft.

Elias Says
Jeff Weaver
Weaver
Cardinals Game 5 starter Jeff Weaver shares a distinction with former major league pitcher Joe Niekro, who died unexpectedly on Friday. Before St. Louis acquired Weaver earlier this season, he pitched for the Angels along with his brother Jered. They were the 18th pair of brothers to each start a game as a pitcher for the same team in the same season. Some other recent pairs were Joe and Phil Niekro for the Braves (1974) and Yankees (1985); Andy and Alan Benes for the Cardinals (1996, 1997, 2001); Pedro and Ramon Martinez for the Dodgers (1992 and 1993) and Red Sox (1999 and 2000); Rick and Paul Reuschel for the Cubs (1976); Gaylord and Jim Perry for the Indians (1974 and 1975).

Well, all those people were wrong about Jeff Weaver.

Cast off by one team this summer, Weaver pitched the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series title Friday night against the Detroit Tigers -- one of his former clubs -- with a performance worthy of any October ace.

Dropping down at a tough angle to baffle right-handed hitters, Weaver struck out nine in a dominant outing. He allowed only two runs (one earned) and four hits in eight splendid innings for a 4-2 victory.

"He was our biggest hero," manager Tony La Russa said.

Most unlikely, too.

Weaver went 3-10 with a 6.29 ERA for the Los Angeles Angels this season before they traded him to St. Louis on July 5 for minor league outfielder Terry Evans. In fact, the Angels had designated Weaver for assignment specifically to make roster room for his little brother, Jered.

But under the guidance of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, Weaver started to come around.

"I've had struggles before and found it again," he said. "When you come to a team that believes in you from the get-go, it just builds your confidence."

Filling a hole in an injury-depleted rotation, the 30-year-old right-hander pitched well down the stretch and earned a playoff start.

Surely, though, that's when he would fall apart.

After all, the last time everyone saw Weaver in the postseason he was walking off the mound in Florida, eyes glazed over, after allowing a homer to light-hitting Alex Gonzalez that gave the Marlins a victory over the New York Yankees in 2003.

Turn on the bright lights and Weaver will hide in the corner, people said.

Not this time.

"I was hoping to do it in Anaheim, but that didn't work," said Weaver, a bottle of champagne in front of him at the postgame podium. "When you have all that support you can go out there and not be looking over your shoulder and figure some things out, and I was just very fortunate to get hot when it counted. It's a dream come true. It's unbelievable."

Weaver first shut down San Diego for a 2-0 win during the first round, then pitched well in the NL championship series against the New York Mets, beating Tom Glavine in a crucial Game 5.

"He wanted a piece of it," Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter said. "You could see it in his eyes every single time."

Weaver, who broke into the majors with the Tigers in 1999 and pitched for them until 2002, lost 3-1 to Kenny Rogers in Game 2 of the World Series. But La Russa went right back to Weaver on Friday after Wednesday night's rainout put him on full rest for Game 5.

Boy, did he deliver.

"It's funny how things work," Weaver said. "You couldn't ask for a better scenario. Just kind of full circle."

And not a bad pressure performance to put on the resume for a guy who can become a free agent.

But first, champagne.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press