"The comment that was heard most often," said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, "is that, 'We're just close.'"
In St. Louis, close doesn't always lead to a cigar. Cardinals fans, marked by history, are probably more sensitive to that than Cardinals players: Only six of the prior 3-1 World Series leads have been blown, and the Redbirds did it twice: in 1985, to the Royals, and in 1968, to the Tigers.
The '06 Tigers' assurance was reflected in manager Jim Leyland's decision to stick with scheduled Game 5 starter Justin Verlander, although he had Kenny Rogers available on his regular rest of four days.
Leyland counts on his rookie sensation to get the Series back to Detroit for a Game 6. Or Rogers, who has yet to allow a run in 23 postseason innings, won't get the ball again.
La Russa is doing what Leyland wouldn't even consider -- taking advantage of Wednesday night's rainout to move up his Game 2 starter, Jeff Weaver, ahead of Anthony Reyes, who will stand by in the bullpen, available to help out.
"We've got to win three in a row," Leyland said. "Are we in a good position? Absolutely not. Are we capable of doing that? Absolutely."
Detroit came very close to turning a corner Thursday night -- and then center fielder Curtis Granderson turned and collapsed under a fly ball. It was the latest in a series of bad breaks and bad plays that doomed the Tigers on a night their offense awoke.
Granderson and Ivan Rodriguez, two of their three hitless starters through the first three games, got off the schneid before there was an out in the third inning. Granderson wound up 1-for-5 and Pudge 3-for-4, although Placido Polanco (0-for-14) remained hitless.
The Tigers' fate comes down to them doing the little things well. Like their relief pitchers not walking leadoff men or throwing away balls. In Game 4, they got an arguably better effort out of their starter (Jeremy Bonderman) than the Cardinals (Jeff Suppan), outhit St. Louis (10-9), and still lost.
The Redbirds approach Game 5 with steady pulses, refusing to look ahead.
"We're euphoric now," reliever Braden Looper said. "We'll try to enjoy it, then forget it. We need to come back [Friday] and stay focused."
"We can't think about [a ring] yet," closer Adam Wainwright said.
Well, except for one reason, as raised by Aaron Miles.
"To win before the best fans in baseball would be special," Miles said. "They were unbelievable, as pumped up as we were. I thought the fans were unbelievable for [NLCS] Game 7 in Shea Stadium, and [Thursday], these fans were as wild and crazy.
"Every guy who went up to the plate felt the crowd, and got an adrenaline rush from them. It'd be great to be able to give [an in-house celebration] to these fans."
DET: RHP Justin Verlander (1-1, 7.47 in postseason)
Verlander has emerged as one of the best young power pitchers in the game. His fastball has been clocked as high as 99 mph, and he gets it to the plate following an abbreviated delivery. Verlander has an above-average curveball and a decent changeup. When all three pitches are working, Verlander is practically unhittable. He took the loss in Game 1.
STL: RHP Jeff Weaver (2-2, 2.90 in postseason)
The Cardinals announced prior to Thursday's Game 4 that Weaver will make the start in Game 5. With Wednesday's contest pushed back due to rain and the scheduled off-day eliminated, Weaver will make the start on his regular four days' rest. Weaver has alternated wins and losses in his four postseason starts, lasting at least five innings while allowing three earned runs or less in each outing. The right-hander took the loss in Game 2 in Detroit, allowing three earned runs on nine hits over five innings while walking one and striking out five.
Tiger to watch: Magglio Ordonez
Card to watch: Albert Pujols
It hasn't been a particularly fruitful World Series for the BMIC (Big Men in Classic). Ordonez is 2-for-15. But both of those hits came in Game 2 off Weaver, whom he has always hit well. This time, he will also hit him far.
St. Louis' BMIC also only has two hits (in 12 at-bats). The fact his only big blow was the Game 1 two-run homer off Verlander is coincidental. He is simply due to go off again. We foresee an early lead for the Tigers, which would embolden Verlander to challenge him, with explosive results.
On the Internet
Official game notes
Saturday (if necessary): Cardinals (TBD) at Tigers (Kenny Rogers, 3-0, 0.00), 7:30 p.m. ET
Sunday (if necessary): Cardinals (Chris Carpenter, 3-1, 2.78) at Tigers (Nate Robertson, 1-2, 5.17), 7:30 p.m. ET