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Archive for Friday, October 20, 2006

Tigers, Cards no strangers in big games

October 20, 2006

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— Every thirtysomething years, the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers wind up playing each other in the World Series.

If the last two meetings were any indication, this matchup could be a doozy.

The Cardinals and Tigers, two of the most traditional franchises in baseball history, split a pair of seven-game classics decades ago. St. Louis' Gas House Gang got the best of Detroit in 1934, and Mickey Lolich pitched the Tigers to a comeback victory against Bob Gibson in '68.

This time, Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Kenny Rogers and Ivan Rodriguez will be some of the big names involved when the 2006 World Series begins Saturday night at Comerica Park in Detroit.

And the two intense managers, Tony La Russa of St. Louis and Detroit's Jim Leyland, are old friends. Leyland spent five years scouting and working for La Russa and the Cardinals before returning to the bench this season.

"I never had a finer boss," Leyland said recently.

Now, it's Detroit's old English "D" against the Cardinals' famous logo, birds on the bat.

"I admire the franchise. It's just a great history," La Russa said, referring to the Tigers. "It's great to see the place packed again. It's obviously personal relationships with the general manager, the manager, and I know their coaches well. ... So there's a lot there. And I'm a baseball fan, the story of the Tigers this year, it's just a great story."

The AL champions and their stable of power arms will be coming off a week of rest when the World Series starts. The Cardinals, on the other hand, needed the full seven games to beat the New York Mets in the NL championship series.

"I don't think it means anything this time of year, whether we got more rest than they do," Leyland said. "This time of year, all teams go on adrenaline. That's not going to have any bearing on anything."

Back in June, the Tigers swept three games from St. Louis in Detroit during interleague play, part of an eight-game losing streak for the Cardinals.

After stunning the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs, the Tigers completed a four-game sweep of Oakland in the ALCS last Saturday, making it five straight years that a wild-card team has reached the World Series.

Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya and the rest of a Detroit pitching staff that led the majors in earned-run average (3.84) will face a Cardinals lineup anchored by Pujols, the reigning NL MVP.

St. Louis appeared to be fading when it backed into the NL Central title on the final day of the regular season, but the Cardinals bounced back to beat San Diego in four games in the first round.

Then they got past the favored Mets in the NLCS, winning 3-1 Thursday night in New York behind Yadier Molina's tiebreaking homer and another Game 7 gem by Jeff Suppan.

That gave the Cards their second pennant in three years and 17th overall. Yet they're still searching for their first World Series championship since 1982.

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