Jered Weaver helps Jeff celebrate his historic night
Posted: Saturday October 28, 2006 2:53AM; Updated: Saturday October 28, 2006 3:42AM
Jeff Weaver went 3-2 in five postseason starts, striking out 28 and walking 10.
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ST. LOUIS -- Cruel autumn winds swirled about Busch Stadium in the fifth game of the 102nd World Series, blowing trash onto the field of the new, red-rinsed ballpark. His blond shaggy hair blowing in the 40-degree air, Jeff Weaver stood on the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals, party crashers of the 2006 postseason. In an October of improbable playoff heroes -- from Kenny Rogers to John Maine to David Eckstein -- here was the latest and the last, a 30-year-old dude from SoCal who blew into his hands between pitches as he delivered the kind of virtuoso performance that defines a career. The righthander with a 5.76 regular season ERA and 6.08 career postseason ERA fanned nine Detroit hitters on Friday night, threw 19 of 30 first-pitch strikes, and reclaimed the Weaver family bragging rights.
"The game of his life," Jeff's 24-year-old brother, Jered, donning a Cardinals jacket and cap, said on the Busch field amid the Cardinals' post-game celebration. The two brothers, rotation mates in Anaheim three months ago, embraced after the game with tears welling in their eyes. "When I saw him, I told him that I loved him, that I was proud of him," Jered said. "He went through a lot. Maybe he won't say it, but it wasn't an easy year for him."
You know the story: Jered took Jeff's spot in the Angels' rotation and became a Rookie of the Year candidate, made Jeff expendable and the elder Weaver -- and his $4 million contract -- were dumped onto the Cardinals, who took a chance on Jeff with one modest hope: that he would be better than Sidney Ponson. Who knew the story didn't end there? That Jeff would become a postseason force -- he posted a 2.43 ERA in five starts -- and outpitch David Wells (Game 2 of the NLDS), Tom Glavine (Game 5 of the NLCS) and now Justin Verlander?
"I've got to thank Walt Jocketty and Tony La Russa for being on my side from the get-go and really believing in me and liking the way I compete," Weaver said. "When you have all that support, you can go out there and not be looking over your shoulder and figure some things out, and I was just very fortunate to get hot when it counted."
This new Weaver is yet another product of St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan's miracle work -- through the course of the summer, the pitching guru smoothed out the hurler's delivery by making Weaver throw with a more over-the-top motion that allows for more control. "He was willing to work hard when he got here because he didn't like the way he was pitching," said Duncan. "He just wasn't putting it together [in Anaheim]. But we felt like he could turn things around."
Against the impatient Tigers hitters, Weaver's pitches had exceptional movement as he kept the ball low in the strike zone. Like Cardinals starters had been all series long, Weaver was aggressive against a group of hasty Detroit hitters, who became susceptible to breaking balls when behind in the count -- which was often. "You've got to give their pitchers a ton of credit," said Curtis Granderson. "They knew how to attack us. They got ahead of us and that's how you have your best chance against us."
In St. Louis' rhapsodic clubhouse after the game, Jered stood in a corner of the locker room embracing nearly every Cardinals player that passed by, his face with a grin as wide as Missouri. "Hope you learned some things from your older brother out there," Cardinals bullpen coach Marty Lee Mason said.
"I think a lot of us did," Jeff Weaver's kid brother said.