While the 2002 season did not yield the Cardinals a pennant it was arguable the best managing job that LaRussa did during his time in St. Louis. Most notably LaRussa did a remarkable job of leading the Cardinals to the National League Central pennant, and a spot in the National League Championship Series against the Giants, after the passing of star pitcher Darryl Kile.
Kile's finally start actually landed the Cardinals in first place where LaRussa kept them for the rest of the season. The team ended the year with 97 wins while getting second half starts from Mike Timlin, Mike Crudale, Travis Smith, Bud Smith, Garrett Stephenson, Jamey Wright, and Josh Pearce. The Cardinals eventually traded minor league outfielder Covelli (aka Coco) Crisp to the Indians for Chuck Finley and LaRussa helped get them close to the World Series.
I put the 2000 season ahead of the 2002 season which might be the only point worth arguing on this list. For me the 2000 season was a turning point with LaRussa, the Cardinals, and St. Louis. LaRussa's first season in St. Louis at the helm of the Cardinals brought the team to within a game of the 1996 World Series. The 1997, 1998, and 1999 versions of the team resembled a beer league softball team. The line-ups featured Mark McGwire, Ron Gant, Gary Gaetti, Ray Lankford, Brian Jordan and absolutely zero pitching. LaRussa was questioned, fans were ticked, and Tony took note.
The make-up of the team started to change in 2000. The team brought in Darryl Kile from the Rockies, Jim Edmonds from the Angels, and featured young talent like Rick Ankiel and J.D. Drew. Ankiel, Matt Morris, and Kile formed the front end of a good rotation. Edmonds hit home runs, caught everything, and looked like Duke Snider playing centerfield for the Cardinals. The only thing that went wrong during the regular season was an injury to Mark McGwire. The team traded for Will Clark and he morphed into the late 80s version of himself and lead the team into the playoffs.
and then the wheels fell off in the playoffs. There was this......
and Mike Matheny could not work a knife. After the 2000 season I am not sure many people in St. Louis made mention of getting rid of LaRussa or chasing him out of town.
The 2004 team was another remake of the team. The Cardinals never really had enough pitching in 2002 or 2003 after the loss of Kile. The 2004 Cardinals had Matt Morris, Woody Williams, Jeff Suppan, Jason Marquis, and a cast off from the Blue Jays Chris Carpenter. The team was also remade around the MV3 of Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds. Tony Womack was brought in to play second and lead off. J.D. was traded away and replaced by Reggie Sanders, and later in the summer by Larry Walker.
The team steam rolled into the playoffs and made it quickly to the NLCS where they ran into their arch rivals the Houston Astros who featured Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and Roger Clemens. The Astros lead 3-2 with the series heading back to St. Louis for Game 6 where Jim Edmonds took care of the Astros.....
The next night Scott Rolen took care of Roger Clemens.....
and then they ran out of steam and the Red Sox fans have been annoying since.....
This was looking like the end of the MV3 during the regular season. Pujols was still Pujols, but Edmonds was hurt frequently and Scott Rolen's shoulder might have been held together by paper mache. The team took on outcasts like Scott Speizio, David Eckstein, Preston Wilson, and Jeff Weaver and turned it into a World Series title. The Cardinals only won 83 regular season games, but snapped into place during the Postseason. Everyone who doubts their team can win the World Series needs to watch the 2006 Cardinals World Series movie. It just goes to show that any team can win, it just depends what week it is....
Adam Wainwright as the closer too.
Adam Wainwright as the closer too.
I will let the videos do the talking on this one......
It started the last day of the regular season....
then the National League Playoffs.
Game 6 of the World Series. 9th Inning.
Game 6 of the World Series. 11th Inning.