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It's all looking up for Cardinals

Rookie Reyes gets 17 fly-ball outs from jumpy Tigers hitters and Pujols, Rolen homer in 7-2 Game 1 win.

October 22, 2006|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

DETROIT — Before a skeptical nation, having advanced from the league regarded as inferior, the St. Louis Cardinals won another baseball game Saturday night, this on the shoulders of a rookie pitcher whose inclusion on the roster was in question as late as Friday.

Handed the baseball in the first game of the World Series, Anthony Reyes didn't give it back until the ninth inning, and the road-hardened Cardinals, with early home runs from Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen, defeated the Detroit Tigers, 7-2.

Game 2 is tonight, left-hander Kenny Rogers starting for the Tigers against right-hander Jeff Weaver, weather permitting.

The brim of his cap steam-ironed flat, his pant legs pulled to his knees, Reyes perplexed the Tigers with a fastball he placed in and around the strike zone, some dangerously at their letters, others forcefully on their hands.

The Tigers made 17 outs in the air, swinging aggressively at a Reyes fastball that strained to reach 90 mph. In between Cardinals fielders standing patiently beneath their pop-ups, the Tigers committed three sixth-inning errors (two on the same play by third baseman Brandon Inge), fueling a three-run inning and pushing the Cardinals' lead to a comfortable 7-1.

The Tigers had six days off since their American League Championship Series sweep of the Oakland A's, then appeared jumpy at the plate -- Reyes, who threw 86 pitches in four innings a week before against the New York Mets, threw 90 in eight-plus against the Tigers. Detroit's rookie starter, Justin Verlander, took a while to find full velocity on his fastball, which typically runs into the mid to high 90s, and he didn't get an out in the sixth. Then, there were the errors, which began with Verlander's.

"I know the guys were prepared today," Tigers left fielder Craig Monroe said. "We didn't make a couple plays. We took some good swings. Man, we took some good swings and just missed them."

Reyes had never faced a batter in the Tigers' lineup, then pitched them with guile. From Carlos Guillen's run-scoring single in the first inning to Guillen's scratch single in the seventh, Reyes went 17 consecutive batters without allowing a baserunner. Then he got five more Tigers in a row into the ninth, which began with a first-pitch fastball to Monroe, who hit it more than 400 feet into the left-field bleachers.

As it was, Reyes allowed only four hits, walked one, and left the first rookie pitcher to win a World Series game since the Angels' John Lackey in Game 7 in 2002.

"I don't think they've seen the ball come out of my hand," Reyes said, speaking of the advantage of seeing a lineup for the first time. "I tried not to throw the ball to the same spot more than a couple times."

So he threw down and threw high, fooled them with changeups, and survived the mistakes. In his NLCS start against the Mets, he abandoned pitching from the windup because Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan believed he was tipping his pitches.

"I switched it up," Reyes said, "just in case."

He'd worked on it through the week, and on Saturday night -- because so few Tigers reached base -- pitched almost exclusively from the windup.

"He and Yadier [Molina, the catcher] were both very prepared to pitch and catch that game," Duncan said. "When Anthony pitches aggressively he generally gets pretty good results. And he pitched aggressively tonight."

Reyes allowed a run in the first and the Cardinals scored the next seven. Rolen homered with one out in the second inning. It was his first hit in 16 World Series at-bats, dating to his 0-for-15 showing in 2004 against the Boston Red Sox.

The Cardinals, who'd struggled for runs against the Mets, scored three more in the third, one on a Chris Duncan double and two -- with first base open -- on Pujols' home run. Few teams even consider pitching to Pujols when they don't have to, but Tigers Manager Jim Leyland gave the go-ahead to Verlander, who threw a first-pitch fastball, seemingly high and away, but only 88 mph.

Pujols drove it into the right-field seats, and Leyland immediately regretted the decision. Pujols did not drive in a run in the Cardinals' last World Series, and drove in one in the NLCS, with a home run.

"I don't think you can change anything that happened two years ago," Pujols said, speaking for himself and Rolen. "That was then, this is now."

The sixth-inning rally began with a more judicious walk to Pujols. Verlander's subsequent pickoff attempt ended up down the right-field line, however, and Jim Edmonds followed with a single, Duncan with a double. Verlander was replaced by reliever Jason Grilli, who got Juan Encarnacion to hit a two-hopper to Inge. He bobbled it and threw it past catcher Ivan Rodriguez, then was bowled over by Rolen coming around third. It was ruled interference, and Rolen was awarded home.

"I looked up and I was in mid-stride and he was right in front of me," Rolen said.

They agreed, generally, that this now belonged to Reyes.

"That was probably the best game of his life going out there," Pujols said, "the crowd being loud and getting out through that first inning and only giving up one run, that was big."

tim.brown@latimes.com

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