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Beating the law of averages

After watching the Cardinals celebrate, other teams know nothing is impossible as they think about changes for 2007.

October 29, 2006|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — Late Friday night -- maybe it was early Saturday morning -- two paunchy men in Wal-Mart St. Louis Cardinals jerseys and fading streaks of red face paint stood washing their hands in a Busch Stadium restroom.

Accountant Pujols says to insurance agent Rolen: "You know what I heard?"

"What's that?"

"There was more beer sold here during the rainout than there was in two games in Detroit."

"Huh," says Rolen.

"Not that that's anything to be proud of," says Pujols.

"Unh-uh," says Rolen.

The streets of downtown St. Louis hummed for hours after the final pitch. The last rectangle of confetti had found a puddle, and then the bottom of someone's shoe, when a pickup truck slowed near a crowded intersection. A balding guy leaned out of the driver's-side window and stated, "Hey, the Cardinals won the World Series."

Not amazed. Not euphoric. Just, "Hey, the Cardinals won the World Series," and, oh, "My rain gutters probably need some unclogging."

So, too, stand baseball's general managers, humming along, change coming. In some cases, they are frantic, sure. But, on the day Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Nomar Garciaparra and 56 others filed for free agency, with many more to come, it is fair to say this was a World Series that revealed nothing to general managers.

An average team beat another average team because one of them could not catch or throw the ball, which is all that separated two teams that could not hit the ball. This was no blueprint for October anything.

It was pitching too, but the two best pitchers in the Series were Jeff Weaver and a scrubbed-down Kenny Rogers.

The Cardinals wore it well.

Tears rolled down Weaver's cheeks as he fell into a hug with his brother, Angels pitcher Jered, both of them in Cardinals gear.

"I've had struggles before and found it again," the elder brother said. "When you come to a team that believes in you from the get-go, it just builds your confidence. And you know what they say, just never say die, just keep working."

And there was the look-what-we-did eyes of Tony La Russa, long after the game was done, standing in an office adorned by all that hokey Redbirds stuff.

"As we got into it," he said, "I actually started getting concerned, because they were wanting it so much I didn't want them to be disappointed. And they're not."

They won in five games, a marathon by recent standards; the previous two World Series were sweeps. They won in three time zones, they won with a rookie, a castoff and a lame duck in their starting rotation, along with Chris Carpenter, the annual Cy Young candidate. They won with a neophyte in the ninth inning, a nightly coin-flip in the outfield, and a 5-foot-7 shortstop who was, of course, deemed the most valuable among them.

They'll have the parade today, from new Busch Stadium to aged Union Station, baseball's seventh route in seven years.

As pitching seems to thin, so the World Series trophy travels, and now come the months in which the baseball people build their own teams that can catch and throw and hit, but maybe can't pitch it at all.

So, out come the quick-fix free agents -- Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee and perhaps Aramis Ramirez are expected among position players. Miguel Tejada, Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones and Pat Burrell might be had in trades, along with whomever the New York Yankees choose to move, and the Dodgers and Angels will be neck-deep into anyone who can swing an adult-sized bat.

The wealthy wait on Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Scott Boras-represented Japanese right-hander who could cost $20 million simply for the right to negotiate. They wait on Barry Zito, the left-hander who has never had a losing season and, since his rookie year, never pitched fewer than 213 innings. He also comes with Boras. And on Jason Schmidt, who is 33 and perhaps not what he once was, but possesses a bulldog quality scouts adore.

And, as usual, everyone eyes the Yankees, because they are the economic hammer. They say they will not trade Alex Rodriguez and Rodriguez says he would not permit a trade, but if there is one thing worse than being unloved in New York, it is being unloved and having vetoed a trade.

It would benefit the Yankees to diversify their offense and enliven their defense, which is why many in baseball believe they will trade Gary Sheffield and listen to offers for Rodriguez.

Behind Randy Johnson, who just had back surgery, and their new ace, Chien-Ming Wang, there are only questions in the starting rotation, so this could be the season they promote Phil Hughes, the 6-foot-5 right-hander who has not yet pitched above double A.

First, the Cardinals have their day, while the Tigers return to Detroit for a weekend of rain and wind, as if the World Series had never ended.

tim.brown@latimes.com

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