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Force to Reckon With
Melissa Segura
November 08, 2006
FOLLOWING A LATE-SEASON SWOON, THE CARDINALS WON THE NL DIVISION SERIES FOR THE THIRD STRAIGHT SEASON
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November 08, 2006

Force To Reckon With

FOLLOWING A LATE-SEASON SWOON, THE CARDINALS WON THE NL DIVISION SERIES FOR THE THIRD STRAIGHT SEASON

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"When you come to a new team, and you start out a little rough, you can't help but kind of look over your shoulder, wondering what your teammates or coaches are thinking," Weaver said. But when he did look over his shoulder, what he saw was Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan offering a helping hand. Together Weaver and Duncan isolated some technical glitches--from the angle of Weaver's arm to the way he lined up facing home before his delivery. Through subtle corrections with St. Louis, Weaver dropped his ERA by over one run, to 5.18, and collected five more wins.

By the time Game 2 rolled around, the mass of Weaver's struggles lessened and the acceleration improved. Inning by inning Weaver chipped away at a Padres lineup that featured eight lefthanded hitters, a demographic that averaged .357 against him in the regular season. Weaver, along with four mates from the bullpen, combined for a four-hit shutout that not only gave the Cards a 2-0 victory but also a 2-0 lead and put the ball in the hands of experienced postseason pitcher Jeff Suppan as the Cardinals returned home to close out the series.

NEWTON'S THIRD LAW: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Now here's where our friend Newton tempers his excitement. As our physicist declares, for every positive there is a negative, for every up, a down. In Game 3 Suppan struggled through 4 1/3 innings, surrendering three runs off six hits, a deficit for which the Cards' offense could not compensate. "I think it was a combination of [the Padres' Chris Young] pitching a good game and us not playing very well," said centerfielder Jim Edmonds after the 3-1 loss. "It didn't seem like we were as in tune or prepared."

That lack of focus threatened the Cardinals at the outset of Game 4 in St. Louis. The normally unshakable Carpenter suffered through a two-run, three-walk and 35-pitch first frame but soon found his rhythm and shut out the Padres for six more innings before passing the ball to his bullpen.

Even with Carpenter's focus, the Cardinals relied on offensive firepower throughout the lineup to clinch the Game 4 victory. In the first inning second baseman Ronnie Belliard tied the game after he drove in the first two runs with a two-out single. Belliard finished the series as St. Louis's unsung hero, going 1 for 3 for the game and batting .462 (6 for 13) for the series. The score stayed locked until the sixth inning, when Pujols started off the bottom half with a five-pitch walk. One out later rightfielder Juan Encarnacion belted a hanging breaking ball deep to rightfield. The triple sent Pujols home and opened up the game. Spiezio followed with a single to score Encarnacion, Carpenter hit a grounder allowing Belliard to slide home, and finally shortstop David Eckstein bunted up the first base line to send home Spiezio on the squeeze. By the end of the sixth inning the Cardinals had taken a 6-2 lead over the Padres, and they never looked back.

A team that 12 days earlier hit rock bottom by losing seven in a row redirected that energy straight up and now wiped the champagne from its eyes. "You never know what can happen," Carpenter said. "Maybe you've seen it in the past with teams that aren't supposed to be there and aren't supposed to win. They end up going on to win the World Series."

But just as the Cards ascended upward, a team from New York expected the law of gravity to take hold and for that Big Apple to fall from Newton's tree.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

TURNING POINT

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