2006 Cardinals: Best 83-Win Team in History?

Their opponents went 7-for-62 (a .113 batting average) with two outs and runners in scoring position in the postseason. That, too, wasn't luck or coincidence, though it may have looked like it from afar.

It had just as much to do with game-planning and this team's intense preparation -- a culture established by La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan, and embraced by every occupant of their locker room.

"There's a lot more emphasis here, in terms of preparation, than any team I've been on," said catcher Gary Bennett. "In terms of the amount of guys who show up at 1 o'clock to watch video and want to take in that kind of information. ... And the way they get guys to stick to the plan, from 1 to 25, with one goal -- to win the game. I've been on teams that shared that goal but didn't have the talent. Here, they put that mix of guys together who 1) believe in that and 2) stick to it and put their egos aside."

In all three postseason series, the Cardinals zeroed in on the flaws in every one of those seemingly imposing lineups they faced. Which is how Detroit hit .199 against them, and San Diego hit .225 against them, and the Mets hit .231 against them. It was all by careful design, executed by pitchers who were practically hypnotized into believing, without any doubts, that The Plan would work.

And that carried them to Friday night in Busch Stadium, the night they would close this out.

Weaver hadn't pitched through the eighth inning in even one start in the regular season. But of course, he did on this night.

Eckstein had kicked off this World Series by going 0-for-his-first-11. But of course, he would drive in two runs on this night, score another and roar to an 8-for-11 finish in this World Series.

And then, for the grand finale, into this house of chills would trot Adam Wainwright, summoned to pitch the electrifying ninth inning in search of his fourth save of this postseason -- which, of course, is one more game than he saved during the entire regular season.

Wainwright made it just exciting enough that Bennett said later he didn't remember breathing during the entire ninth inning. And if he did, he said, "it was only enough to just sustain life."

But with two outs, two on and the potential winning run at home plate, Wainwright snapped an 0-2 slider past Brandon Inge for the out that completed the Cardinals' astonishing October. And landing at the bottom of the pileup that followed was "the best feeling," Wainwright gushed later, "I've ever had in my whole life."

All his life, he'd been watching other pitchers -- Mariano Rivera, Troy Percival, Keith Foulke -- rack up the final out of all those World Series the rest of the baseball earth got to play in. And now it was his life, his team, his World Series, his mob scene behind the mound.

So no wonder he was having such a tough time believing this was really happening -- to him.

"It felt almost like I was on the outside looking in, watching somebody else do that," he said. "My wife even said to me she couldn't believe we'd just won. It felt like we won the game, but somebody else was out there celebrating. I don't think I could describe the feeling any better than that."

We know there are going to be many, many people out there who think someone else should have been celebrating, too -- because they think an 83-win team somehow wasn't worthy enough of this trophy. But why? Why wasn't this a great thing for this sport?

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