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Said La Russa, "He was our biggest hero."
Weaver's moment of glory stood as just one of many reminders of how the postseason laughs at the convention of the regular season. Of the 80 major league pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, Weaver ranked 76th at 5.76. He was so bad with the Los Angeles Angels (3-10, 6.29) that the club designated him for assignment after 16 starts. The Cardinals, desperate for starting-pitching help, took a chance on him, sending a minor league outfielder to the Angels to give Dave Duncan a crack at fixing Weaver.
"Dunc and [bullpen coach] Marty Mason looked at video of his recent starts," La Russa said, explaining the decision to add Weaver. "Dunc said, 'Look, he's healthy, and when he gets his arm in a good spot, he's got life on his pitches.' I made a couple of calls, and people told me the guy was good for your ball club. The biggest thing is when Dunc tells him, 'I believe in you. You're good.' Sometimes you need to hear that."
Weaver went 5-4 with a 5.18 ERA in 15 starts for St. Louis but elevated his game in the postseason. He worked quickly, attacked hitters, threw as hard as 93 mph and exhibited none of the mopey mound presence that often dogged him through his bouncing among five organizations (Tigers, Yankees, Dodgers, Angels and Cardinals) before he turned 30 this summer.
"I've had struggles before and found [my game] again," said Weaver, a career 86-101 pitcher. "When you come to a team that believes in you from the get-go, it just builds your confidence. I'm just very fortunate to be able to go out there and compete on that stage and have the opportunity and take advantage of it."
For the last three outs La Russa handed the ball to Wainwright, the rookie who until this year had never been a reliever and until a month before had never been a closer but who buzzed through the postseason without allowing a run. There was a brief spot of trouble: a double by Casey with one out and a walk to Placido Polanco with two outs. But Wainwright collected himself and at 10:26 on the night of 10/27 slipped an 0-and-2 slider past a swinging Inge. Busch Stadium, the first ballpark with a world championship in its inaugural year since Yankee Stadium in 1923, quite literally shook with the joy and roar that had been 24 years in the making.
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