DETROIT -- Two rookies. One is a 17-game winner and a former first-round draft pick who has had nothing but success unroll at his feet. The other: a little-known 15th-round selection who two months ago was in the minors re-learning his fastball. One is a hard-throwing intimidator who bullies hitters with a 100-mph heater; the other rarely reaches the mid-90s on his fastball and squints as he peers down the mound, as if he needs a new eye prescription.
On a chilly autumn night in the Motor City, however, it was the unheralded rookie -- the kid with the 5-8 regular season record and 5.06 ERA -- who delivered a virtuoso World Series performance. It was Anthony Reyes who shattered the Detroit Tigers' aura of invincibility.
"He pitched excellent," Jim Leyland said of Reyes after the game. "He had excellent control and basically he jammed us a lot. And he got a lot of outs on fastballs in."
While Reyes, who at one point retired 17 consecutive hitters, attacked the free-swinging Tigers almost exclusively with his fastball (after curiously using his changeup with frequency in the first two innings), Detroit starter and Rookie of the Year frontrunner Justin Verlander was uncharacteristically passive and appeared somewhat flustered in any situation with runners on base. "I thought he was very tentative," Leyland said of Verlander. "He really didn't attack them early. And I think when he realized that he felt okay that he got actually a little bit better. But I think he felt his way a little bit too much early."
Like Yadier Molina only two nights earlier, Reyes -- the first rookie starter to win a World Series game since 2002 -- was an unlikely postseason hero. No starter ever took the mound in Game 1 of a World Series with so few regular-season wins. The USC grad and former Trojan teammate of Mark Prior was also the first to start a Game 1 after posting a losing record in the regular season. On the eve of Game 1, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa convened his coaches for a staff dinner, and he had each of his coaches predict how Reyes would do. "There was actually two coaches that said [he'd go] into the eighth inning," La Russa said. "I thought if he went five or six with low runs then he had done a great job."
From the bench
If there's one thing Leyland cannot do in this series, it's let Albert Pujols beat him. And yet Leyland directed Verlander to attack Pujols in the third inning with Chris Duncan on second base. Did Leyland learn from his mistake? "I'll leave it at this: the manager's decision is either to pitch to him or walk him," Leyland said. "I pitched to him and obviously he burned us. I'm not going to get into a lot of explanation about what the thinking was. But I take the bullet there and if somebody gives criticism you accept it, because it's ultimately my decision." ... La Russa thinks his Cards learned much from their inglorious 2004 World Series appearance. For starters, they arrived in town earlier and are staying closer to the ballpark. Said the skipper, "In '04 we won [the NLCS] at home, so we celebrated until 4 or 5 in the morning and then you had to kind of stumble around the house packing. We didn't get to Boston until early evening and it was just a mess. And then the first game was there and it was a rush. We won [this time] in New York, we got here at 5 [a.m. ET]. We were packed. We think we've slowed everything down and we've really worked hard to put that one behind us and concentrate on this one."
Before the game La Russa had some fightin' words for the USA Today, who ran comments by an anonymous scout on Duncan -- son of pitching coach Dave Duncan -- that said he was a "butcher." Said La Russa, "If somebody [is here] from USA Today, I would suggest them staying away from [the elder Duncan] because they called Chris brutal. I would fear for their safety, whoever is associated with that scouting report, because he would hurt them." ... Jeff Weaver's sudden resurrection may be the most unbelievable story of the postseason; after three strong postseason starts, the former Tiger will take the mound in a Game 2 start for the Cards, but an ex-teammate had harsh words for the mellow righthander on the eve of Weaver's homecoming. "I am the wrong guy to ask about Jeff Weaver," Todd Jones said in the Detroit News. "I am not a big advocate of his and I wasn't a big advocate of his when he was here." Added Jones, "He was a good pitcher who never really panned out here. Maybe he found a home in St. Louis, but there's no love lost here that he's gone." Weaver's response: "Todd Jones is one of nicest guys I've ever run across. If he's got unkind words for me, I don't know what they're stemming from, and it's the World Series -- maybe he's just trying to get a little jab in here and there." ... Why does Reyes wear his hat with a flat bill? "The socks I've had up since Little League, so I don't feel there's any reason to change now. But the hat helps me see a little bit, gets more light in, helps me see signs." Said La Russa of Reyes' hat, "I'm not a real style master but that style is not that attractive. I don't think it's going to be copied widely by the kids of America."
Should the Cardinals so suddenly be considered the favorites in the series? Perhaps: St. Louis won with their fourth worst starter on the mound, and still has two starts to go from their ace, Chris Carpenter. In other words: in a postseason full of strange, unexpected plot twists, the best drama may be yet to come.