Cardinals are here to play, prevail

Cardinals are here to play, prevail

DETROIT -- Can't get anything past the Cardinals' Albert Pujols. We're not talking about the ill-advised Justin Verlander strike that Pujols muscled into the right-field seats for a two-run homer in the third inning of the 7-2 victory over the Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series on Saturday night.

After the game, it was suggested to Pujols that by winning the opener, the Cards escaped being reminded that the Red Sox swept them in 2004 and, hey, they're underdogs anyhow. No doubt they also won back some honor for the National League, which had lost eight straight Fall Classic matchups.

But Pujols took the notion that the Cards had anything to celebrate and swatted it out of the park.

"It's the World Series," Pujols said. "It's not a short three-game series. It's four out of seven. You want to get your first win, then you want to get the second win and win four games as soon as you can. I understand where you're coming from, but we don't think like that."

See, Pujols and the Cardinals know how this World Series drill works. But possibly due to the last bitter late-October disappointment, they know how to work the Series, which is totally different.

Experts peg the Cards as underdogs. But after turning the tables in Game 1, thanks to Anthony Reyes' eight-plus innings of four-hit ball and homers by Scott Rolen and Pujols, the visiting clubhouse was refreshingly free of the tired retorts about not being respected.

There was nothing tired about the Cardinals, even though they were playing two nights after beating the Mets in the seventh game of the NL Championship Series and the Tigers had rested a week since sweeping the Athletics in the ALCS.

You might say they let their hair down -- literally, in the case of second baseman Ronnie Belliard. For the past 3 1/2 years, Belliard played most of his games in lengthy braids. He was coifed that way for every game since the Cards acquired him from the Indians on July 30. He wore braids beneath a red skull cap during batting practice Saturday.

So what in the name of Oscar Gamble was he doing sporting a foot-long afro during player introductions?

"I made a promise to a couple of people in St. Louis," Belliard explained. "They asked me, 'How long is your hair?' I said, 'I don't know.'

"I said, 'If we make it to the World Series, the first game I'm going to wear my hair out.'"

Belliard nearly kept his braids, but teammates, particularly Pujols, told him he had to follow through.

It didn't prevent Belliard from going 0-for-4 in his World Series debut, but it did illustrate the attitude that manager Tony La Russa wanted to foster.

"That's the first thing that Tony La Russa said -- have fun with it," Belliard said. "Play hard and play smart, but baseball is a game you have to have fun with. If you don't have fun, you're going to be in trouble."

If a team could look past losing streaks -- the franchise had lost six straight in the Series going back to 1987, and La Russa's teams had also dropped eight in a row going back to his days with the Athletics -- and enjoy itself, it certainly wasn't going to let the "yeah buts" get in the way after taking the opener.

Shortstop David Eckstein said he didn't agree with the theory that the Cards are sharp because they played two nights ago while the Tigers have been idle.


Streaks Snapped
Game 1 of the 2006 World Series saw several streaks fall by the wayside.
Who
Snapped streak
Cardinals Six-game World Series losing streak; first win since Game 5 in 1987, vs. Minnesota
Cardinals Eight-game World Series road losing streak; first away win since Game 2 in 1985, at Kansas City
Tony La Russa Eight-game World Series losing streak; first win at the helm since Game 4 for Oakland in 1989, vs. San Francisco
Tigers Seven-game winning streak in this postseason; first defeat since Game 1 of the ALDS vs. the Yankees
American League Eight-game World Series win streak; first defeat since Florida beat the Yankees in Game 6 in 2003

"I came from a team [the 2002 champion Angels] that had five days off [before the World Series]," Eckstein said. "So it's hard to tell. We have a lot of guys that are kind of banged up, so the rest might have helped us out.

"They came out ready and scored in the first."

Preston Wilson, who struck out in a pinch-hit at-bat, said, "I think momentum sometimes can be overplayed. Momentum sometimes is told after the game, because it depends on who won.

"It's just that Reyes pitched a great game, we got some hits out of the middle of our lineup, and we've got to come back and play a game tomorrow."

The 2004 World Series was a first for many of the Cards, but on Saturday they started five players who also participated back then -- Pujols, Rolen, center fielder Jim Edmonds, catcher Yadier Molina and left fielder So Taguchi. So did Game 3 projected starter Jeff Suppan.

Another Game 1 lineup figure, Eckstein, and reserve infielder Scott Spiezio were teammates on the '02 Angels, and starting left fielder Juan Encarnacion and reliever Braden Looper, who pitched Saturday's ninth inning, were teammates for the 2003 champion Marlins.

"In the beginning, or when you're a rookie, you might have a little of that nervousness," said Encarnacion, who went 0-for-3 with an RBI for the Cards on Saturday. "But not now."

The Cardinals knew all along that they have to win four games. Now they're out to prove they know how.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.