Neither team was given much chance to advance far into October by many baseball pundits. Both teams stumbled through the second halves of their seasons. The Tigers, enjoying their first successful season after 12 years of futility, surprised the baseball world by building a ten-game lead in the American League Central, but eventually the lead evaporated in the final months and they lost the division to the Minnesota Twins on the last day of the season after being swept by the last-place Kansas City Royals at home, settling for a playoff berth as the AL Wild Card. The Cardinals held a seven-game advantage in the National League Central over the Cincinnati Reds and an 8 1⁄2-game lead over the Houston Astros with just two weeks to play. However, the combination of a seven-game losing streak by St. Louis and an eight-game winning streak by the Astros (highlighted by a four-game sweep of the Cardinals in Houston) caused the Cardinals' lead to shrink to 1⁄2-game with only a few games left. However, the Cardinals held on to clinch the division after an Astros' loss to the Atlanta Braves on the last day of the season.
Thus, both the Tigers and Cardinals were clear underdogs in their matches, against New York Yankees and San Diego Padres, respectively. The Tigers' pitching took care of the vaunted Yankees lineup, and won their series 3–1. The Cardinals also won their series 3–1, including the first two games in San Diego. The Tigers then swept the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS, winning game four on a three-run walk-off home run by Magglio Ordóñez in the bottom of the ninth. The Cardinals won their series against the New York Mets with the help of a ninth-inning home run by Yadier Molina in a tense Game 7.
The Tigers had home-field advantage in the Series, due to the AL's 3–2 win over the NL in the 77th Major League Baseball All-Star Game on July 11 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. These two teams had already played against each other in June 2006. The Tigers swept the Cardinals 3–0 in Detroit, part of an eight-game Cardinals losing streak. This was the first time since 2000 that teams meeting during the regular season met again in the World Series.
The Series marked the third time in a row that both teams sought to win a championship after at least a 20-year drought. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox ended their 86-year hiatus by defeating the Cardinals; in 2005 the Chicago White Sox ended an 88-year drought by defeating the Houston Astros, who were competing in their first World Series after 43 seasons. The Tigers had not appeared in the World Series since winning it in 1984. The Cardinals last won in 1982, losing three times since then, in 1985, 1987 and 2004.
The Tigers were the eighth wild card team to compete in the World Series since MLB introduced the wild card in 1994. A wild-card team participated in the Series from 2002 to 2007.
Riding the momentum they built up during their surprisingly easy ALDS and ALCS victories, Detroit entered the Series as a prohibitive favorite. Bob Nightengale of USAToday expressed popular sentiment when he said "Tigers in three".
St. Louis' manager Tony La Russa joined his mentor, Sparky Anderson, as only the second manager to win the World Series with teams in both leagues. La Russa won in 1989 with the Athletics. Coincidentally, Anderson first accomplished the feat by managing Detroit to their previous championship in 1984. He was chosen to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 2. Interestingly, if the Tigers had defeated the Cardinals, Jim Leyland would have joined Anderson for this feat instead of LaRussa as he had already won the 1997 World Series with the Florida Marlins. When he came to St. Louis, La Russa wore number 10 to symbolize the team's drive to their 10th championship and pay tribute to Anderson, who wore number 10 while manager of the Cincinnati Reds. After winning the championship, he chose to continue wearing number 10 to pay tribute to Anderson.
Jim Leyland is the seventh manager to win pennants in both leagues. The previous six are Joe McCarthy (1929 Cubs and the Yankees of 1932, 1936–39 and 1941–43), Yogi Berra (1964 Yankees, 1973 Mets), Alvin Dark (1962 Giants, 1974 A's), Sparky Anderson (1970, 1972, 1975–76 Reds, 1984 Tigers), Dick Williams (1967 Red Sox, 1972–73 A's, 1984 Padres), and Tony La Russa (1988–90 A's, 2004, 2006 Cardinals).
Additionally, the opposing managers are close friends. Leyland was La Russa's third base coach for the Chicago White Sox in the early 1980s. Leyland also served as a Pittsburgh-based advance scout for the Cardinals before he was hired by the Tigers.
This was the first World Series in 22 years to have two previous World Series-winning managers facing each other, but at the helms of new teams. As previously mentioned, Leyland previously won the 1997 World Series with the Florida Marlins, and La Russa won the 1989 World Series with the Oakland Athletics. Overall, it was the first World Series since 1999 to have two previous Series-winning managers facing each other.
NL St. Louis Cardinals (4) vs. AL Detroit Tigers (1)
†: Game 4 was postponed due to rain on October 25, forcing Game 5 to be subsequently pushed back a day as well.
Two rookies faced off in Game 1 for the first time in history: Anthony Reyes for St. Louis and Justin Verlander for Detroit. It looked like the Tigers were going to get to Reyes early in the bottom of the first, when Craig Monroe doubled and Magglio Ordóñez walked. Carlos Guillén singled Monroe in, giving the Tigers a 1–0 lead. However, in the top of the second, Scott Rolen hit a long home run to left field, tying the score at 1–1. Rolen was 0-for-15 in his career in the World Series before hitting the home run. The previous mark had been 0-for-13, set by Benny Kauff of the New York Giants in the 1917 World Series. In the third inning the Cards broke through, first when Chris Duncan's RBI double scored Yadier Molina to give the Cardinals the lead. On Verlander's next pitch, 2005 National League MVP Albert Pujols banged a two-run home run, punishing the rookie who elected to pitch to the dangerous Pujols, rather than walk him with first base open and two outs and pitch to Jim Edmonds.
Meanwhile, Anthony Reyes was the story. The pitcher who had the fewest regular season wins of a Game 1 World Series starter (5) at one point retired seventeen in a row from the first inning to the sixth inning, a World Series record for a rookie. The previous record was thirteen (John Stuper, STL, 1982, and Dickey Kerr, CHW, 1919). Reyes' final line was eight-plus innings, four hits, two runs, and four strikeouts. The Cards took advantage of Detroit's mistakes again in the sixth, when Brandon Inge made two errors in one play. With runners on second and third, Inge threw to home wild to score a run and then obstructed Scott Rolen, who was running home, to score another run. Craig Monroe hit a solo home run off Reyes in the bottom of the ninth, which led to Reyes being pulled from the game, as Braden Looper came in to finish the game. The final score was 7–2 Cardinals, marking the first time since 2003 that the National League had won a World Series game, and the first World Series game won by St. Louis since Game 5 of the 1987 World Series.
With a starting temperature of 44 °F (7 °C), controversy surrounded the start of Game 2 when Tigers starting pitcher Kenny Rogers was found to have a substance on a patch of the palm of his pitching hand during the first inning. Although Cardinals hitters claimed that the ball was doing "weird things" in the first inning, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa did not request an inspection of Rogers' hand to determine what the substance was. Rogers claimed it was a combination of dirt and rosin (both legal), but complied with a request from the umpires to wash his hands before the second inning.
Unfazed, Rogers would go on to pitch eight shutout innings while surrendering only two hits, running his postseason streak to 23 straight shutout innings. Craig Monroe hit his second home run in the series, and Carlos Guillén, who was a home run away from the cycle, and Sean Casey each drove in runs to give the Tigers a 3–0 lead going into the ninth. Todd Jones then came into the game to close it out but got into a heavy jam, with Scott Rolen being driven in by Jim Edmonds before a force-out at second with the bases loaded won the game for the Tigers. Craig Monroe became the fifth player to hit a home run in each of his first two World Series games. The others were Barry Bonds for the Giants in 2002, Ted Simmons for the Brewers in 1982, Dusty Rhodes for the New York Giants in 1954, and Jimmie Foxx for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1929.
After the Cardinals were shut out by Detroit pitcher Kenny Rogers for eight innings in Game 2, St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter answered with eight shutout innings of his own in a 5–0 Cardinals victory in Game 3. Carpenter, making his World Series debut (he missed the entire 2004 World Series due to injury) gave up only three hits, struck out six and did not issue a walk, while throwing only 82 pitches. Only one Tiger reached second base.
St. Louis began the scoring in the fourth inning on a bases-loaded two-run double by center fielder Jim Edmonds off of Nate Robertson. Two more runs would score in the bottom of the seventh on an error by Detroit pitcher Joel Zumaya, who overthrew third baseman Brandon Inge on what should have been a routine force out. St. Louis would add another run in the eighth on a wild pitch.
Reliever Braden Looper would pitch a perfect ninth to close out the game and give St. Louis a two-games-to-one advantage in the Series.
The Cardinals became the first team since the Cincinnati Reds in 1970 to host a World Series game in their first season in a new ballpark.
Game 4 was pushed back a day because of rain, the first time a rainout had occurred in the World Series since Game 1 in 1996. The fans from the game were to attend Game 5. (Thus, fans who had tickets for Game 5 went to Game 4 instead.) The Cardinals won, taking a 3–1 series lead. The Tigers took a 3–0 lead into the top of the third, after Sean Casey had two RBIs, including a home run. The other RBI came from Detroit's Iván Rodríguez, who singled in Carlos Guillén. Rodriguez, who had been hitless in the previous three games, also went 3-for-4. In the bottom of the third, the Cardinals struck back with a run-scoring double by David Eckstein, scoring Aaron Miles who had the first stolen base of the series by either team. Yadier Molina doubled in Scott Rolen in the fourth to cut the Tiger lead to 3–2. The score remained that way, until the bottom of the seventh, when Eckstein led off with a double over the head of Curtis Granderson, who had slipped on the wet Busch Stadium outfield. Eckstein then scored on a sacrifice bunt by So Taguchi that was thrown over the head of Plácido Polanco covering first by Fernando Rodney, and that tied the score at three. Later that same inning, Preston Wilson hit a single to left with two outs that scored Taguchi from third. The Tigers tied the game in the top of the eighth on a Brandon Inge double that scored Iván Rodríguez. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Cardinals would regain and keep the lead when Miles scored on a double by Eckstein just off the glove of outfielder Craig Monroe, who had been playing shallow and dove for a ball just out of his reach.
On a day in which it rained much of the day but stopped early enough to not delay the game, the Cardinals won to clinch the championship four games to one, making this the first five-game series since the Yankees–Mets Series in 2000.
Justin Verlander pitched a sloppy first inning for Detroit, walking three and tying a World Series record for a single inning by throwing two wild pitches. He avoided allowing any runs, however, thanks to a good play by shortstop Carlos Guillén to get the third out on what was almost an infield hit.
The Cardinals took the lead in the second inning on a lead-off single by Yadier Molina followed by two advancing groundouts, and then an infield single by David Eckstein. Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge made a good play to stop the ball off Eckstein's bat, but then made a poor throw to first which got by the first baseman and allowed Eckstein to advance to second. The throwing error was the seventh error of the series by the Tigers, also giving them at least one error in every game to that point.
Cardinals pitcher Jeff Weaver (an ex-Tiger) was cruising into the fourth inning, and he appeared to be nowhere near trouble with a lead-off groundout, followed by a routine popup by Magglio Ordóñez. This popup turned out to be much more troublesome than it first appeared: right fielder Chris Duncan dropped the ball, apparently distracted by center fielder Jim Edmonds who was also going after the ball. With Ordóñez on via the error, the very next pitch of the game was hit by Sean Casey into the right-field seats just inside the foul pole for a two-run homer that gave Detroit the lead, 2–1. The Cardinals would threaten immediately in the bottom of the inning, however, with Yadier Molina and So Taguchi each singling to put runners at first and second with one out. Pitcher Jeff Weaver then came up and attempted to bunt the runners over to second and third. The bunt was fielded cleanly by the pitcher Justin Verlander, but he attempted to force out the lead runner at third and threw the ball into the left-field foul area. This allowed Molina to score to tie it up, with Taguchi and Weaver arriving safely at third and second. Later, Verlander said "I picked it up and said, Don't throw it away, instead of just throwing it. I got tentative." The throwing error by Verlander was the fifth error by Detroit pitchers in the World Series, having committed one per game, setting a new World Series record. (A placard held by a Cardinals fan in the stands read "HIT IT TO THE PITCHER"). The next batter, David Eckstein, grounded out to score the runner from third, and St. Louis secured their lead, 3–2.
Chris Duncan misplayed another ball in the top of the sixth for a Sean Casey two-out double, but this time the runner would be stranded as Iván Rodríguez then struck out to end the inning. A David Eckstein single followed by a Preston Wilson walk in the bottom of the seventh put runners at first and second with none out for the heart of the Cardinals order: Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen. Pujols popped out and Edmonds flied out, so it appeared Detroit might hold the Cardinals to a one-run lead. Instead, Scott Rolen singled and scored Eckstein, doubling the Cardinals lead to 4–2.
Jeff Weaver retired the side in order, and the Cardinals went to the ninth, three outs away from their first World Series title in 24 years. The man called on to get those three outs would be Adam Wainwright, who had won the job of closer after the star free agent brought to St. Louis in 2002, Jason Isringhausen, had season-ending surgery. Detroit's clean-up hitter, Magglio Ordóñez, led off the inning. He proceeded to work a full count but then grounded out. The second batter, Sean Casey, worked a full count and then doubled to bring the tying run to the plate. The third batter, Iván Rodríguez, got ahead in the count 2–0 but grounded back to Wainwright on the next pitch, putting the Cardinals one out away. The fourth batter, Plácido Polanco, fell behind 1–2, but then worked a walk to put the tying run on. The fifth batter, Brandon Inge, fell behind 0–2, again putting the Cardinals one strike from a World Series championship. He did not extend the drama any longer, as he swung and missed at the next pitch (making it the first World Series to end on a strikeout since the 1988 World Series), giving the World Series title to the Cardinals. The final play of the 2006 season was made at 10:26pm Central Standard time. After the game, Wainwright, who threw a curveball for strike three to win the pennant and a slider to Inge to win the Series, said "I'll probably never throw another curve or slider again without thinking of those two pitches."
2006 World Series (4–1): St. Louis Cardinals (N.L.) over Detroit Tigers (A.L.)
The World Series was televised in the United States by Fox, with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver as the booth announcers. The starting time for each television broadcast was 8:00 pm EDT/6:00 pm MDT.
On radio, the Series was broadcast nationally by ESPN Radio, with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan announcing. Locally, Dan Dickerson and Jim Price called the Series for the Tigers on WXYT-AM in Detroit (with retired longtime Tiger announcer Ernie Harwell calling an inning of Game 1), while Mike Shannon and John Rooney called it for the Cardinals on KTRS-AM in St. Louis. Per contractual obligation, the non-flagship stations on the teams' radio networks carried the ESPN Radio broadcasts.
John Rooney had broadcast the 2005 World Series for the Chicago White Sox, and thus became the first announcer to call back-to-back World Series championships as an employee of different teams.
The ratings for the 2006 World Series were considered alarmingly poor at the time. The ratings for games 1, 3 and 4 were the lowest rated games 1, 3, and 4 in World Series history. Game 1, at 8.0, particularly set the record for lowest rated World-Series game of all-time (the 9.4 rating in Game 1 of the 2002 World Series was the prior lowest). The series overall averaged 10.1, sinking below the 11.1 of the 2005 World Series to become the lowest-rated World Series of all-time.
However, those numbers look differently today, considering the performances of each World Series following 2006. The 10.1 overall rating is now the 6th lowest rated World Series (behind 2012, 2010, 2008, 2011, and 2013), and game 1's 8.0 is now the 8th lowest rated game all-time. Since 2007, only one series (2009 World Series) has outdone the 2006 World Series' ratings.
Neither team made the playoffs the next season. The Tigers finished with 88 wins, eight behind the division champion Cleveland Indians in the AL Central, while the Cardinals finished with 78 wins, seven behind the division champion Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. The 2007 Cardinals were the last defending World Series champion to finish with a losing record and miss the playoffs the next season until the San Francisco Giants followed up their 2012 championship season with a 76-86 record in 2013.
The Tigers would not make the playoffs again until 2011, when they won the AL Central title for the first time with their last division title being the 1987 AL East crown. The Tigers would win the AL Central in 2012 again and would return to the World Series in 2012 after winning the 2012 American League pennant where they would be swept by the San Francisco Giants in four games. The Cardinals' would later make the playoffs in 2009, when the NL Central champions were swept by the NL West champions Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2009 NLDS. The Cardinals also made it to the playoffs as the Wildcard entry in 2011, winning the 2011 National League pennant and going on to beat Texas Rangers in the 2011 World Series, but failing to defend that title in the 2012 NLCS losing to the Giants in seven games.