World Series Game 5 Preview; Must Win for The Tigers
The last two times the St. Louis Cardinals held a 3-1 lead in the World Series, they returned home without a title. To try and make sure that doesn’t happen again, manager Tony La Russa chose experience over youth on the mound.
Jeff Weaver will try to clinch the Cardinals’ first title since 1982 on Friday when they face rookie Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers in Game 5 of the World Series at Busch Stadium.
La Russa opted for the veteran Weaver (0-1, 5.40 ERA) over Anthony Reyes despite the rookie’s masterful performance in a 7-2 win Saturday in Game 1, when he allowed two runs and four hits over eight innings.
Thanks to Wednesday’s rainout of Game 4, Weaver will pitch on his normal four days’ rest.
“It will be his natural day, I think,” La Russa said of Weaver. “The way he’s pitched for us makes sense to go, and we keep Anthony ready for whatever we need.”
La Russa’s decision also gives Reyes more time to prepare if there is another rainout, or the Tigers stave off elimination.
“There’s so much uncertainty about how long the series is going to go, with the weather, what days,” La Russa said. “He’s not going to start in the St. Louis portion, but there’s a chance he would start in Detroit. So we’re going to get him ready for that.”
Weaver will need to rebound from his worst postseason start – which contributed to the Cardinals’ lone World Series loss. The right-hander allowed at least two runners to reach base in each of his five innings of a 3-1 loss Sunday in Game 2 at Detroit.
“I just stayed with my game plan and tried to keep it close. (The Tigers) can be pitched to … we have the horses, we can shut this team down,” said Weaver, who is 2-2 with a 2.91 ERA in four starts during this postseason.
But the Cardinals also are quick to point out they haven’t won anything yet, and for good reason. St. Louis twice has had commanding leads heading into Game 5 of a World Series, only to lose both.
“We’re going to try to keep the same mindset and be as focused as possible,” Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein said. “We can’t change anything. We’ve got to keep everything in order.”
Facing cross-state rival Kansas City in 1985, the Cardinals lost the final three games, including an infamous Game 6 when umpire Don Denkinger blew a call at first base on a groundball that helped the Royals win and propel them to their only title.
No team has since squandered a 3-1 lead.
In 1968 against Detroit, the Cardinals also had a 3-1 Series lead before the Tigers stormed back and defeated ace Bob Gibson in Game 7 for their first championship since 1945.
Despite a 95-win regular season that put Detroit back on the baseball map, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said his team knows what’s at stake.
“We’ve got to win three in a row. And that pretty much puts it pretty simple. Are we capable of doing that? Absolutely. Are we in a good position? Absolutely not,” he said. “So I think you just go out and remind the team all the time that if you win the next game in the postseason you keep playing.
“And obviously that’s the case (Friday). We win, we keep playing. If we don’t, we don’t.”
For the Tigers to return home for a possible Game 6, Verlander (0-1, 10.80) will need to forget his World Series debut. A 17-game winner during the regular season and the probable AL Rookie of the Year, the right-hander struggled in Saturday’s loss.
Pitching for the first time in 10 days after the Tigers won the AL pennant, he allowed seven runs and six hits over five innings.
“I think maybe (with the long layoff) he was a little rusty,” catcher Ivan Rodriguez said. “I thought his fastball got better the more he pitched. I think he’ll be OK.”
Verlander is 1-1 with a 7.47 ERA in three postseason starts, giving up 14 runs and 20 hits with seven walks over 15 2-3 innings while opponents are hitting .303.
Though he’s pitched 201 2-3 innings total this year, the 23-year-old believes he still has enough left to help send the series back to Detroit.
“I actually feel great,” Verlander said. “I went out and threw the day after my start and I felt fantastic. Actually, I felt better than I did a couple of days on seven, eight days’ rest. I felt good. Since then, I felt good and I’m ready to go.”
The wet weather that forced Wednesday’s postponement of Game 4 may still be a factor. Early Friday morning, the National Weather Service’s Web site reported a 100 percent chance of a wind-driven rain during the day, diminishing to a 20 percent chance late at night.
A dire weather forecast never materialized Thursday night, and the Cardinals moved within one win of the championship by rallying for a 5-4 victory.
Eckstein’s double off hard-throwing reliever Joel Zumaya – and off the glove of diving Tigers left fielder Craig Monroe – with two out in the eighth inning scored Aaron Miles from second base with the go-ahead run.
“Facing Zumaya, you want to make sure you don’t try to overswing,” said Eckstein, who went 4-for-5. “I got a fastball and was able to get on top just enough, just barely out of the reach of Craig Monroe, who almost made one heck of a catch.”
St. Louis’ bullpen also delivered another strong effort as four relievers limited the Tigers to one run and two hits over the final three innings in relief of starter Jeff Suppan. Adam Wainwright struck out three in the final 1 2-3 innings for the save.
Sean Casey went 3-for-4 with a homer two RBI, and Rodriguez – 0-for-11 coming into Game 4 – also had three hits for Detroit. And though he was dropped from third to seventh in the batting order, ALCS MVP Placido Polanco went hitless in four at-bats and is 0-for-14 in the World Series.
Despite a .211 average in the World Series, it’s the Tigers’ poor defense that may ultimately be their undoing. Their pitchers have committed a record four errors during the World Series, and they have six overall.
The latest miscue came in the seventh inning, when reliever Fernando Rodney fielded pinch-hitter So Taguchi’s sacrifice bunt and rushed a throw that sailed over the head of Polanco covering first.
That scored Eckstein – who reached on a fly ball center fielder Curtis Granderson didn’t get to because he slipped while trying to make the catch – to tie the score at 3.
“I’m quite furious with myself,” Rodney said. “That was an easy out. It’s the same old story, you make mistakes and you pay for them.”