The Game of Baseball

As the minutes ticked down before what could be the last game of the 2006 baseball season — and with no offense intended for Tiger fans — it hit me as it does at this time each year … how truly long and wonderful that long stretch of calendar is when the national pastime is in it. It all started this time with pitchers and catchers reporting, then the World Baseball Classic, then Opening Day.

Here are some Canon Powershot pics I just took around a playable Busch Stadium in hopes of conveying some of those little things that all add up to such a great sport and the feeling that goes with it. Maybe we will be flying back to Detroit this weekend. Maybe there will be pandemonium in this city tonight. In the meantime, enjoy this little glimpse into the good stuff.

Game 5 has just started. Justin Verlander vs. Jeff Weaver. Cold and windy night. And a special salute to you Red Sox fans, who did something unimaginable exactly two years ago tonight right here in St. Louis. My view of this game is from an almost identical location to that one — Busch Stadium, only the facility has changed. That truly proved that anything can happen at the World Series. Kind of amazing that the Cardinals are in the clinch situation on this anniversary. Let’s see what happens …

Game 4: Cardinals 5, Tigers 4

And they did…

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The Cardinals are one victory away from ending their longest drought of world championships. It’s not like Red Sox or White Sox drought-busting stuff, but it’s been long enough in the eyes of many fans here in St. Louis. The last title was 1982. The amazing thing is that this Cardinal team won 83 games in the regular season, so if the Cardinals win one game in their remaining three chances at this World Series, it would be the fewest regular season wins by a world champion in Major League Baseball history.

It also could be the first time since the 1923 Yankees that a team won it all in the year it christened a new ballpark. This is a Powervid capturing the scene at new Busch Stadium immediately after the final out of Thursday night’s dramatic 5-4 comeback victory over the Tigers:

All eyes will now return to the weather maps. As of this writing, a ghostly fog of mist is shrouding Busch, and it will be followed by steady rain throughout the day. Earlier forecasts called for this band of showers to move into Illinois at around 4 or 5 p.m. ET, but keep an eye on MLB.com throughout the day for updates and we’ll see if this one gets in as scheduled. Just think of those fans who have been holding tickets here this week. Those with Wednesday tickets were rained out and told to use them today (Friday) for Game 5, expecting to see a clincher. That is what people who had the original tickets for Thursday’s expected Game 5 were planning to see, a clincher, but instead they saw Game 4. So now those people who were rained out on Wednesday could be rained out for a second time, and then they would have tickets to a possible Saturday clincher. It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds, but hopefully there will be ball on Friday night.

Who’s your World Series MVP so far?

Game 6, In-Game

Two in-game questions:

(1) Would you have batted our fellow MLBlogger John Rodriguez or switch-hitter/postseason RISP master Scott Spiezio against Fernando Rodney in the bottom of the sixth? That one was already being second-guessed by many fans on the concourse after the inning. Tony La Russa could have double-switched and put the pitcher in Preston Wilson’s 6 spot in the order and Spiezio at 9, giving him the possibility of thus batting in the sixth and perhaps ninth. Or was it the right move, saving Spiezio for later? It needed to be a lefty, so I don’t think Ronnie Belliard would have been the right choice there even though the second baseman (Aaron Miles) had just batted and a natural double-switch. Either way, those were two giant strikeouts by Rodney to end that inning.

(2) When do you pitch Chris Carpenter if the series goes back to Detroit? If it goes back with a 3-2 Tigers lead, it seems logical to pitch him against Kenny Rogers on three days’ rest (only 82 pitches last outing) because you don’t risk leaving your ace in the hole in the World Series. If the Cards go there ahead after five, I’d start Anthony Reyes in Game 6 (Jeff Weaver is pitching Game 5) and then Carpenter is available if there’s a Game 7. That one seems like a no-brainer. . . .

By the way, the weather doesn’t look horrible in Detroit this weekend. The Weather Channel is calling for some showers, but not seeing the snowshowers in the forecast that people had been talking about earlier. And everyone here is hoping that forecast holds up for Friday, with that all-night/day soaker moving out of St. Louis around 5 or 6 p.m. ET. If that storm system slows down during the day, there certaily would be some jeopardy for Game 5.

Play Ball

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Scott Rolen was stretching, the weather was cooperating, the fans were on their way, and the start of Game 4 was on for 8:27 p.m. ET. Starting lineups are being announced as I’m typing this, white towels are waving like mad, so this is not going to be a re-enactment of the 1911 six days of rain after all. It wasn’t looking good for a while. The heavy soaker will arrive close to midnight locally tonight and then is forecasted to vamoose hopefully around 4-ish on Friday. All systems point to no further rainouts here, but then we’ll turn our attention to that Detroit weekend weather.

Now the attention shifts back to scoring for a while instead of meteorological matters. Here is the thing that sticks out most to me: In the combined three games, the Tigers have scored three runs in the first inning, and then they have one run in the fifth and one run in the ninth. The Cardinals failed to score in only the first and fifth innings. The big question right now isn’t about the rain tonight (although it definitely will be if this becomes a marathon extra-innings affair), but whether Detroit can start hitting.

It’s always a good day at the ballpark when you see this man around the field. Red Schoendienst, still a special member of the Cards’ coaching staff, is amazingly a link to the Redbirds’ 1946 world champions. Sixty years later, he’s helping the club prepare during another one. That’s a living legend around these parts, and he’s also one of the nicest guys you’ll meet.

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No, Scott Spiezio did not shave the Cardinal Soul patch during the rainout. You still see the velcro versions on the chins of fans everywhere here.

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That’s Bill Findley in the background during B.P. The Cardinals’ head groundskeeper is mentioned in the story I wrote for MLB.com about the weather outlook, and he is just hoping the estimated 16-hour band of steady rain that starts late tonight will disappear as forecast by sometime around 5 p.m. ET. on Friday. Findley said the key will be keeping the field as dry as possible during the heavy soaker, but it’s a given that this field is going to take on a massive amount of moisture. My understanding is that new Busch’s drainage will be up for it, but all will be staying tuned…

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OK, it’s National Anthem time. Here’s a last look at B.P. Apologies to Tiger fans for the paucity of pregame Detroit shots, but your friendly blogger was writing about the weather at that point. It’s amazing how much you enjoy seeing players on the field in any capacity after a rainout like that. Play ball.

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Tomorrow is Game 5 of the 2006 World Series. The way starting pitchers have dominated so far in this series, it would be interesting if someone makes a bid to match what happened in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. The actual anniversary has long passed since that was on Oct. 8 of that year and we played three rounds these days. But it’s something to keep an eye on. No one ever has thrown a no-hitter in a World Series before or since. It will be Justin Verlander vs. Jeff Weaver.

Game 4 Rained Out

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ST. LOUIS, 9:21 p.m. CT — The news was just given to us here at Busch Stadium: The fourth rainout of the postseason. Those who had tickets to tonight’s game have to wait to use them on Friday night. Those who have "Game 5 tickets" will be able to use those on Thursday for what will now be Game 4 — assuming, of course, that there is a game Thursday night.

Jimmie Lee Solomon of MLB just said that the front "stalled" and "it became apparent that we couldn’t get it started." As for the next two days, he said "they’re gonna be dicey. Tomorow there is a 70 percent chance of rain — it’s going to be light rain. We don’t know whether that rain will linger like it did tonight. We hope it will move straight through." He said Friday’s forecast is bad as well, with a possible soaking. This is going to be an adventure the next couple of days.

Fans have been packed tightly in the concourses and some fans are out under umbrellas here at Busch Stadium as everyone continued waiting for word on whether tonight’s Game 4 would be played. Obviously they did everything humanly possible to give this one a chance to be played, because Thursday night looks really bad as well. Someone just asked if there has ever been a World Series doubleheader. The answer is no, and perhaps not a bad idea (day/night) the way things are looking. This storm is very slow-moving, just hanging over the Arch and us here by the Mississippi River, steady rain that goes back and forth between drizzle and downpour. In the end, it was just hanging around too much tonight. It’s raining now, and that means we’ll try to play Game 4 Thursday night…keep your fingers crossed.

This is all amazing. I have been through all four rainouts this season. The first one was Game 2 at Yankee Stadium between the Yanks and Tigers — a situation similar to what we’ve just seen here tonight. The second was the scheduled opener of the NLCS at Shea Stadium between the Cards and Mets, and the third was here in St. Louis when that NLCS shifted there. I have this raincloud stuck over my head throughout this month. Are you kidding me? And it was a miracle that we snuck a major storm system in between Games 1 and 2 last weekend in Detroit. Mother Nature hates MLB this month.

For more info on the rainout, keep an eye on MLB.com.

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Game 4 Pregame

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Get ready for Billy Ray and daughter Miley Cyrus for the National Anthem tonight at the World Series, because there is going to be a Game 4 no matter what. It won’t be as brutally cold as it was Sunday night in Detroit, but it will be nagging rain as well as cold and the problem is that the forecast doesn’t look much better in coming days here. And as we saw with the Comerica Park crowd for that Game 2, there will be a general indifference to the conditions by fans, especially if St. Louis goes up 3-1. After all, sopping-wet bunting is still World Series bunting.

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If you haven’t been to new Busch yet and get a chance in the future, perhaps even this week, be sure to closely inspect the ground outside the Home Plate gate area. These aren’t your average dedication bricks that are becoming more popular for new parks (but notice the "1st Date 1962" tile at the top of the pic below). In the center of each quadrant of dedication bricks is a "Greatest Moments" tile, and they tell fascinating stories — from the "First Harvest" that talks about Branch Rickey’s first farm system call-up to this NL Pennant tile…

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… to my favorite here: The story of why all that Cardinal Red is so dramatically on display during this part of the 102nd World Series …

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Faced with three guys (Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco and Pudge Rodriguez) in an 0-for-34 combination at the plate this series, Tigers manager Jim Leyland just came into the interview room here at Busch and announced a changeup. "Yeah, I did change the lineup a little bit," he said. "Granderson is still going to lead off. Monroe is going to hit second, Guillen moved up to third, Ordonez fourth, Casey fifth, Pudge sixth, Polanco seventh and Inge eighth." Jeremy Bonderman is pitching and batting ninth; he’s 0-for-18 this season and said he has never come close to a hit in ’06. Opposing starter Jeff Suppan homered in the last series; big plate advantage to STL in the 9-hole.

Tony La Russa, when asked about his lineup for tonight, after the obvious penciling of David Eckstein at the top: "Well, Duncan will hit second and play right field, Albert, Jimmy hits fourth, Scott fifth, Wilson is going to play left field and hit sixth, Molina and Miles will play second base and bat eighth."

Funny story: The St. Louis Rams practiced today and Brett Romberg said Anthony Reyes got him tickets for Game 5. Then Romberg told him, "Thanks for the tickets, but I’m coming in my Tigers colors." Reyes told the media here: "He might be doing that just to get at me. I’ve met him. He’s a cool guy, so whatever he wants to do."

By the way, there is a fairly large Tigers-clad contingent of fans around St. Louis if you wander around the city. There are obviously not as many Tiger fans as there are Red Sox fans who completely invaded the Gateway to the West in 2004, but it’s still noticeable. Lots of old-English D’s worn around local establishments.

One hour till the Hank Aaron Award winners from each league are announced right here by commissioner Bud Selig and The Hammer himself. It will be the decision of the people, as fans voted for this prestigious award again exclusively at MLB.com. Somewhere here will be people who won tickets in the sweepstakes that went along with that online balloting, and they probably would prefer last night’s weather but they probably won’t complain too much about being here.

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Game 3: Cardinals 5, Tigers 0

MLB.com has a large continent at the World Series as usual, and the hub of our editorial operations at Busch for this part of the series is Big Mac’s namesake suite. Adjacent to it from where I am posting this entry is the Albert Pujols Room. We were in the Ozzie Smith Room for the NLCS. Each room is adorned with framed photos of that Cardinal great’s career. You can’t help but feel some nostalgia when you work the games in St. Louis.

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This was right above me on the wall as I was typing, and pardon the punctuation in the first sentence of the synopsis…

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After watching what happened here tonight, one can’t help but wonder if someone in the future will be blogging from the Chris Carpenter Room. Carpenter just turned in an outing that has to at least be mentioned with the long list of dominant World Series performances by a Cardinal — maybe not Bob Gibson’s 17-strikeout opener in the 1968 Fall Classic against these Tigers, but certainly one that will be remembered, complete game or no complete game.

Carpenter is now 5-1 in his eight career post-season starts. He ties John Tudor for the second-most postseason wins ever for a Cardinals pitcher behind Gibson’s seven. And after the game, it also was vintage Carpenter. He even essentially apologized to one inquiring reporter in the interview room while answering a question by saying, "That’s all I’ve got for you." It’s a lot of "I just had a gameplan and executed" stuff, not terribly exciting, but he’s a pitcher who just does most of his talking on the field. Ask him why he’s typically so dominant at home, and he’ll tell you that he was better on the road than at home last season and that it’s not a big deal.

In the end, it was a very big deal to Cardinal fans, because St. Louis is now up in the series, 2-1, with NLCS MVP Jeff Suppan about to take the ball against Jeremy Bonderman here Wednesday night. When Carpenter pitches in St. Louis, this is a scene that is so familiar, and this was the view from the Mark McGwire Room after a 5-0 victory:

Final

This series still has the makings of a seven-gamer. It’s almost in the Cardinals’ World Series DNA if you look through their rich history, and that was the outcome of both previous World Series meetings with the Tigers in 1934 and 1968. That seems to be what Jim Leyland is thinking, anyway.

"Basically what this means is that the Cardinals went up 2 1," said the Tigers’ manager, who hinted that there could be some lineup tinkering for Game 4. "If we don’t swing the bats better they’ll go up 3 1. That’s as simple as it is. But at the same time when I say that, I think we’ll swing the bats better. We’re certainly not conceding anything. I think this is a great atmosphere. It’s World Series baseball and it’s fun to be here and we need to grind it out."

See you for pregame.

New Ballpark, Another World Series

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"Go Crazy, folks, go crazy." Those were the immortal words of the late Jack Buck in a different Busch Stadium in a different time, but the World Series is back in a brand-new ballpark for the first time and the feeling is the same. That photo illustrates the remarkably beautiful sight lines of new Busch, and also the color of the day. It’s also a lot warmer than it was for Game 2 in Detroit.

My colleague Ben Platt of MLB.com took the following shot of Cards fans entering what they describe locally as "Baseball Heaven On Earth."…

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It was sunny and mild all day right into pregame stretching by the Cardinals, and now it’s jacket weather at gametime….

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Here is a pic that will show how you can leave the Motor City and still find some things in common between the ballparks. There are no pickup trucks as there are high atop the center-field wall at Comerica Park, but this Ford Plaza is just behind the seats beyond right-center field at new Busch…

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It is the 17th World Series to come to St. Louis, as the giant sign outside Busch reminds visitors. The only question now is whether the Cardinals can end their longest drought of world championships in club history, dating back to 1982…

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One of the new traditions to greet a new postseason setting has been the sound of motorists honking whenever they pass right by new Busch. The stadium was built hard against I-40, and you can almost reach out and touch the vehicles as they zoom past. Often they leave a honk of support here in Redbird Nation…

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Below is the first World Series pitch for a new ballpark. Game 3 is under way after a day or two in which "Smudge & Pudge" filled the sports-talk radio airwaves here in St. Louis. It’s back to business, and back to a new setting. It’s a beautiful night at Busch, more to come…

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Game 2: Tigers 3, Cardinals 1

One of the great things about really brutal conditions at a World Series is that you never will forget it if you were there. Ask any White Sox fan who watched Game 2 of the last World Series in Chicago, when Scott Podsednik hit the walk-off homer that literally brought more rain on a blustery night. Ask any Red Sox fan who toughed out the opener of the 2004 Fall Classic. Ask any Tiger fan who watched Kenny Rogers deal against St. Louis to even up the 2006 World Series at a game apiece.

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As predicted, the rains finally let up for gametime Sunday night and then it was just a matter of dealing with some serious wind chill. But this is the Upper Midwest. It’s going to be time to shovel some snow here soon. More than 50,000 Tiger fans at Comerica Park dressed in layers, snagged a bunch of those giveaway blankets at the credit card-signup kiosk, and mostly ignored the elements because of one theme that I heard over and over:

"Any night the Tigers are winning a World Series game is a good night. Who cares about the weather? We’ve waited long enough for this."

And that was from a Tigers fan from Johnson City, Tenn. Philip Poremsky was here with his wife Diane (both pictured here), and they were huddled together in the standing area behind the lower-level seats on the third-base side when I met them in the eighth inning. There would be plenty of time to thaw out. They saw Detroit play a World Series game.

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"On our way to the park, we thought it was going to rain, and that was our biggest fear," Diane said. "We all have airline tickets to leave town in the morning, and we didn’t want to have to deal with changing those. Everything has worked out."

That was the recurrent theme with each Tiger fan you talked to here. Many, many years from now, they will remember that they were here for the first World Series victory by a Tigers team since the 1984 clincher. They will remember the wind chill. They will remember chanting "KEN-NY! KEN-NY! all night and watching C-Mo’s long ball. And maybe they will see them again next weekend.

Back to St. Louis, where Busch Stadium weather will be nicer on Tuesday and the color of the day will be lots of red. Incredible amounts of red. And this guy whose picture I took outside of Comerica before Game 1 will not seem quite so out of place.

Game 2 Pregame

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You can see how bundled up Tiger fans are for Game 2 of the World Series tonight, and the one right in front is Jocelyn Benson of Detroit. She’s 29 today, and a little rain and cold isn’t going to ruin her party. Benson, calling it an "extra special birthday," is a season ticket holder at Comerica and I asked her what her best memory of this dream season is so far.

Img_0834"Seventh inning of the clincher over the Yankees. Cano hit one to Granderson to end the seventh inning, and he caught it and then threw it to me." Showing the ball, she then said, "I’m hoping he’ll come out and sign it for me now."

Benson has this memory of that unforgettable American League Division Series celebration scene here: "It was a release of energy we had bottled up all season, of winning the division and never getting to celebrate that one."

The scene here tonight is very much like last night, only with extra layers of clothing such as those on this man to the right. You have to dress a little like a viking tonight. All signs point to Game 2 as scheduled and a lot of gritting teeth out on the field as 15- to 25-mph winds and temps in the 30s will have a classic Upper Midwest late October feel. The bottom line is just getting it played. It will be interesting to see what effect the conditions have on red-hot lefty Kenny Rogers, facing a heavy righty lineup on a night when wind is already blowing out hard to left field.

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Those folks are ready for everything tonight. What  makes Comerica Park so incredible is the openness — you can see the action practically from anywhere here, even from outside the gates. And that same openness also makes the wind just cut through the concourse and these concession stands. At least they have a warm fire in front of them for the brats.

Here’s Jeanne Zelasko staying dry under the FOX tent and ready to get the mic on at 6:30 p.m. ET …

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Fortunately this moved through just as predicted, leaving only cold and wind…

This is John Deere country …

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Nothing can keep Tiger fans away from the souvenir shops at Comerica. The lines here are incredible. Here’s the best advice: The MLB.com Shop. Get all your World Series gear right there from the comfort of your home computer in your cushy chair. Or bundle up and stand in line and say you were here for the World Series …

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Here are the particulars on tonight’s musical performers, for those of you watching it on FOX:

FIRST PITCH: Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, who guided the Tigers to their 1984 World Series win over San Diego. STAR SPANGLED BANNER: Multiple Grammy winner and legendary singer and songwriter Anita Baker. GOD BLESS AMERICA: American Idol alumnus and former Marine Josh Gracin will perform "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch. Born and raised in Westland, Mich., about 30 minutes west of Detroit, Gracin?s self-titled debut was certified Gold by the RIAA, and included the No. 1 smash "Nothin? To Lose."

It will be cold, windy, a little rainy and maybe a little snowy. But it will be Game 2. The lineups:

St. Louis
Eckstein 4
Spiezio DH
Pujols 3
Rolen 5
Encarnacion 9
Edmonds 8
Wilson 7
Molina 2
Miles 4
(Weaver pitching)

Detroit
Granderson 8
Monroe 7
Polanco 4
Ordonez 9
Guillen 3
Rodriguez 2
Casey DH
Inge 5
Santiago 6
(Rogers pitching)

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