Today’s Postseason Series From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is the 2006 National League Championship Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals were a major disappointment in 2006. After back-to-back 100-win seasons and a trip to the World Series, the Cards suffered through poor play, losing seven in a row during the next to last week of the season in an attempt to blow a seven game division lead. The lineup rode the bats of future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols (178 OPS+) and all-star Scott Rolen (126 OPS+). Injuries to the rotation led to Tony La Russa counting on Adam Wainwright as his closer at the end of the year and only having one real good starter in Chris Carpenter. St. Louis somehow breezed by the Padres in the NLDS, allowing only six runs in four games.
The Mets were the best team in the National League in 2006. They ranked third in the league in both runs scored and allowed and featured a mix of veterans and youth in their lineup (both David Wright and Jose Reyes were 23 while Carlos Beltran was 29 and Carlos Delgado was 34). The pitching staff was based much more on the veterans (five of their top pitchers were 34 or older). The Mets cruised past the Dodgers in their division series in a three game sweep, setting up the matchup of former division rivals.
Neither team had won the World Series since the 1980’s, just like their awaiting American League opponent the Detroit Tigers.
Game 1 was in Shea featuring Jeff Weaver for the Cards and Tom Glavine for the Mets. Both teams were held scoreless through the first five innings, but in the bottom of the sixth Carlos Beltran came to the plate following a Paul Lo Duca two out single. Beltran got a 2-2 pitch and crushed it off the scoreboard in right center to give the Mets a 2-0 lead. That would be all the scoring as Glavine went seven innings and the Mets took Game 1.
In Game 2 the scoring started early. This time Jose Reyes led off the bottom of the first with a double, followed by a 36-point bunt by Lo Duca. After Carlos Beltran walked Carlos Delgado went yard, making the score 3-0 and already threatening to end Chris Carpenter’s night very early. The Mets’ John Maine couldn’t keep it there, though, as he walked Jim Edmonds to lead off the second, then after an error and another walk Yadier Molina doubled to score a pair and cut the lead to one. In the bottom half, though, the Mets got one back. Endy Chavez doubled and Maine put down a 35 pointer. Jose Reyes then singled to score Chavez and make it 4-2. That didn’t last long, either, as Albert Pujols came up with one out in the third and drew a walk. Edmonds then crushed a two run homer to tie the game.
The game remained tied until the bottom of the fifth when Delgado blasted his second homerun of the night, this one a solo shot giving the Mets a 5-4 lead. They followed that up with another run in the sixth as Reyes scampered home from first on a Lo Duca double and the game was at 6-4.
Then in the seventh Guillermo Mota was on the hill and got the first two outs easily. Then Albert Pujols worked the count full and singled to keep the inning alive. That was followed by a walk from Jim Edmonds. Then former World Series hero Scott Spiezio came up launched fly ball into the right field corner. The ball deflected off of Shawn Green’s glove for a game-tying, two-run triple. The game remained tied into the ninth when the Mets went with their all-star closer Billy Wagner. The first hitter was defensive replacement So Taguchi. Taguchi was also a 36 year old who made his debut as a 32-year old four years earlier and had a career .399 slugging percentage coming into the postseason. Naturally, Taguchi launched a 2-2 pitch deep into left field for a lead-taking homerun. The Cards would add two more runs and take Game 2 9-6 to even the series.
The scenes moved to St. Louis for Game 3. The Cardinals sent Jeff Suppan up against Steve Trachsel (probably most famous for giving up Mark McGwire’s 62nd homerun in 1998). Trachsel didn’t last long. He started off rough, allowing the first three hitters to reach (only picking off Eckstein spared him from giving up any runs early). Then with two out Spiezio tripled to score a pair and give the Cardinals the early lead. Then to lead off the second, Jeff Suppan hit an 0-2 into the seats for a 3-0 lead. Trachsel then loaded the bases and with no one out his night was done. Darren Oliver then threw a pitch to the backstop and after three groundouts the score was 5-0, which is where it would stay. Suppan allowed three hits and one walk over eight innings and only twice did a hitter reach second.
Game 4 was anything but a classic pitchers’ duel. Mets’ starter Oliver Perez gave up three homers in 5.2 innings, including one to David Eckstein (he of the career 27 homers in 3,785 plate appearances up to that point), but managed to still be credited with the win because Anthony Reyes and the Cardinals bullpen gave up four homers of their own – two to Carlos Beltran – as the Mets rolled, 12-5 to even the series at two games apiece.
Game 5 pitted Glavine against Weaver in a Game 1 rematch. The Mets got on the board first when Shawn Green and Jose Valentin hit back-to-back doubles in the fourth to give New York a 2-0 lead. Glavine couldn’t hold it, though, as Albert Pujols would homer with one out in the bottom half of the inning. Then with two out Scott Rolen drew a walk and Edmonds singled. Ronnie Belliard then singled and the game was tied. In the very next inning Eckstein led off with a bloop single and scored on Preston Wilson’s double. Chris Duncan later added a homerun and the Cardinals were going back to New York with a 3-2 series lead.
Game 6 started with John Maine getting into early trouble before dodging a huge bases loaded bullet in the first. In the bottom half Jose Reyes led off with a homerun off of Chris Carpenter for the early lead. The game remained that way until the fourth when Shawn Green’s single scored Beltran. The Mets added two more runs in the seventh with Lo Duca’s RBI single and despite a ninth inning rally the Cardinals fell short, 4-2, and the series was going to a seventh game.
The Mets got the scoring started in Game 7 when with two outs Beltran doubled and Delgado walked. Then David Wright singled to score the game’s first run. In the second Edmonds led off with a single then after Rolen flied out Yadier Molina singled and men were on the corners. Naturally, Tony La Russa called for a safety squeeze, which I guess worked because the Cardinals tied the game and now there were two outs and a runner on second. Suppan struck out and the inning was over.
Things remained uneventful until the sixth. With one out Edmonds drew a walk then Scott Rolen lined the first pitch deep to left. The Mets left fielder Endy Chavez sprinted back to the fence, reached up and over it and robbed Rolen of a homerun. Edmonds was on his way to third as Chavez caught it, and was easily doubled off to end the inning. In the bottom half of the inning Delgado drew a one out walk then Wright reached on a Pujols error. Shawn Green was intentionally walked to load the bases just so Jose Valentin could strike out and Chavez could pop out on the first pitch he saw, ending the inning.
It remained tied into the ninth. Then with one out Scott Rolen singled. That brought up Yadier Molina.
Now up to that point Molina had 16 career homeruns and career .238/.291/.342 line (64 OPS+) in 1,033 plate appearances. Even now he is considered an all-star mostly for his defense (his career OPS+ is 98). Willie Randolph elected to stay with the righty Aaron Heilman instead of going to his closer, left-handed Billy Wagner*. Molina promptly launched the first pitch into the left field bullpen and the Cardinals had the lead, 3-1.
*-Wagner’s splits in 2006:
Vs. Righties: .234/.308/.341
Vs. Lefties: .161/.190/.214
In the bottom of the ninth Adam Wainwright immediately gave up two straight singles which prompted Randolph to send up pinch hitter Cliff Floyd. Wainwright caught Floyd looking and got Jose Reyes to line out to center. That brought up Carlos Beltran.
Coming into this at-bat Carlos Beltran had 62 plate appearances against the Cardinals in postseason play. In those PA’s he was 18-50 with seven homers and 12 walks. In other words, he was murder to the Cardinals.
Beltran took the first pitch for a strike, then fouled off the second pitch. Wainwright then made Beltran’s knees buckle with a curveball for a called strike three and the series was over. Jeff Suppan was the MVP of the series (because someone had to be). The total runs for the series were 28 for St. Louis, 27 for New York.
The Cardinals would go on to defeat the Tigers in the World Series in five games for their first title since 1982. The Mets would have to wait another nine years before finally getting back to the World Series, but 1986 remains the last time the ‘Mazings won it all.