La Russa sticks with Weaver in Game 1
Cardinals right-hander feeling confident after NLDS victory
NEW YORK -- If one looks at his track record during the postseason, Cardinals right-hander Jeff Weaver would seem the least likely candidate to pitch Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Mets at Shea Stadium on Thursday night.
During his undistinguished time with the Yankees, Weaver gave up three runs in 3 2/3 postseason innings. One of those runs came in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series. In the 12th inning of that game, Weaver gave up the game-winning home run to Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
Though he re-established himself during the regular season as a member of the Dodgers in 2004, Weaver still had problems in October, giving up six runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Cardinals in the NLDS.
But those performances were forgotten last week when he pitched five shutout innings against San Diego to help St. Louis win Game 2 of the NLDS, 2-0, and give the Cards a commanding 2-0 lead. Weaver said the game against the Padres was a huge boost to his self-esteem in the postseason.
"It was a huge confidence builder. It's my first postseason win," Weaver said. "When you get that one out of the way, it kind of lifts that pressure to have to do it. Not only that, it's also a confidence [for the team]. It lets them know that they have a chance to win."
Game 1 of the NLCS between the Mets and Cardinals was postponed because of rain on Wednesday. But St. Louis manager Tony La Russa is going with Weaver over possible Game 2 starter Jeff Suppan on Thursday.
"I think [Suppan] could do it, too, but [Weaver is] a guy with movement, so you'd think it helps him more than it helps [Suppan]," La Russa said.
Weaver will face a Mets team that has one of the toughest lineups in baseball. They have three players -- Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and David Wright -- who each drove in more than 100 runs in 2006.
But Weaver said the key is stopping leadoff hitter Jose Reyes, who led the Mets in runs and also notched a career-high 81 RBIs.
"Obviously, a huge key is trying to keep Reyes off the bases," Weaver said. "That guy is a run producer. He's always getting on base and scoring runs. And then the middle of the lineup is as potent as any in baseball.
"Obviously, you've got to be aggressive. You've got to get ahead of these guys and hopefully get them to swing at and try to hit pitches that you want them to, instead of falling into a place where you have to kind of give into them and have an opportunity for them to hurt you."
There was a time during the '06 season that it seemed unlikely that Weaver would be on any postseason roster. He started the year with the Angels and was unspectacular, going 3-10 with a 6.29 ERA. He struggled so much that the Angels designated him for assignment and recalled his brother, Jered, who enjoyed a solid rookie campaign.
The Angels ended up trading Weaver to the Cardinals on July 5 for Minor League outfielder Terry Evans. After a few rough outings, things started to click for Weaver. In his last 10 starts during the regular season, Weaver was 3-2 with a 2.92 ERA. Weaver said that Cards pitching coach Dave Duncan told him to go back to what made him successful during his days with the Tigers and Dodgers.
"We just sat down and talked about who I was as a pitcher, not being so mechanical and stop worrying about what other teams wanted me to do," Weaver said. "They just wanted me to be myself. They didn't want me to come over here and change because it's a new catcher and a new system. They didn't ask me to change a thing. When you hear that, it makes it that much easier to get back to that point."
Asked who he is as a pitcher, Weaver said, "I'm just a guy who's aggressive and not as mechanical as he needs to be. I change my arm angle. I give hitters different looks. I just try to keep them off balance with deception more than just hitting spots."
Duncan pointed out that Weaver wasn't doing anything wrong on the mound before he found the success. Weaver just found himself in some bad-luck situations.
"He was still making quality pitches," Duncan said. "He was just the victim of every jam shot that seem to fall over the infield. Every ball that was hit at the end of the bat seemed to find a hole. He was really snake-bit. He couldn't let those misfortunes affect his confidence. He had to look at what he was doing and know it would turn around for him."
For now, Weaver's postseason misfortunes are a thing of the past and he is now confident that the Cardinals can beat the Mets and advance to the World Series.
But he also realizes there's going to be some runs scored.
"There's no doubt about that," Weaver said. "But we've just got to, as a staff, stay away from the big innings that they are capable of. If we can do that with the guys we have, we're going to put up some runs and hopefully just a few more than them."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.