Cards' roller-coaster year ends in title

Cardinals' roller-coaster year ends in title

It's amazing what a happy ending can obscure. By late October, a turbulent regular season for the Cardinals was long forgotten, as the team brought home its first World Series championship in 24 years.

Still, nine months of preparation and lead-in did in fact precipitate the run to October glory. An 83-win regular season was often frustrating, though it delivered a third straight division title. Individual accomplishments were plentiful, and though the record wasn't always great, the Redbirds sat atop the division virtually all year once again.

It was a remarkable and memorable first year for new Busch Stadium, and it's hard to imagine how 2007 will provide more lasting memories than '06 did.

January
The year got off to an auspicious start. The last man to get the final out of a Cardinals World Series championship, Bruce Sutter, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Cardinals put a bow on the 2005 season with the annual St. Louis Baseball Writers' Dinner. In a particularly special edition of the event, Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter were presented with the MVP and Cy Young trophies, respectively.

February
The quest for the ring got started in earnest on Feb. 16, when pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training in Jupiter, Fla.

As workouts got rolling, Scott Rolen received some excellent news. He was cleared by Dr. Tim Kremchek to get to work on rebounding from his frustrating and injury-shortened 2005 season.

It looked like a small move at the time, but the signing of Scott Spiezio to a Minor League contract turned out to be one of the shrewdest additions of the year.

March
The news remained encouraging for Rolen in March. The third baseman made his first appearance in a game since July, and came out feeling just fine.

Pujols cranked a two-run double in his first game back from the World Baseball Classic, setting the tone for another big year from the perennial MVP candidate.

Sidney Ponson beat out Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright to win the fifth starter job coming out of Spring Training. Wainwright may have pitched the best of the three, keeping him in the hunt for a bullpen job -- which he of course eventually secured.

launch the 2006 year in review

April
Pujols went deep twice on Opening Day as the Redbirds started the season with a 13-5 thumping of the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

The Cardinals inaugurated new Busch Stadium with a 6-4 win over the Brewers. Mark Mulder pitched eight-plus innings and hit a home run.

Pujols remained an unstoppable force throughout April. He hit three homers, including a walk-off shot, in an 8-7 win over Cincinnati. Two weeks later, he set a Major League record for April homers with No. 14 on the month.

May
Mulder racked up career win No. 100 in a 7-6 victory over the Marlins in Miami.

Carpenter was scratched from a scheduled start in San Francisco due to an inflamed bursa sac near his shoulder. He eventually went on the disabled list and missed 2 1/2 weeks.

Pujols continued to dominate the headlines when he became the quickest to reach 20 home runs in Major League history -- getting to that mark in 42 games.

June
The season took a turn for the worse in early June when Pujols sustained a strained oblique muscle. The injury sent him to the disabled list for the first time in his career.

An often frustrating season for Jason Isringhausen certainly had some high points. One big one came when he set the franchise's career saves record with 161, passing Lee Smith.

The Redbirds' entire June trip to Chicago and Detroit was probably the worst week of the season, but perhaps the single most damaging night of the year came in game 2 at U.S. Cellular Field. Not only was Jason Marquis drilled in a 13-5 loss to the White Sox, but Jim Edmonds sustained the concussion that later led to such extensive difficulties.

Pujols came off the disabled list before the Cardinals left Chicago, but it was a mixed day at best, because Mulder went on the DL to make room for him.

July
Pujols, Rolen and Carpenter were all named to the All-Star team, and David Eckstein was added at the last moment.

Hoping simply to add a serviceable arm to their rotation, the Cardinals acquired someone who would later be a postseason hero when they traded for Jeff Weaver. Ponson was later released to make room for Weaver.

In what was likely the game of the year, the Cardinals won an absolute thriller over the Astros at Minute Maid Park as Pujols went deep off Roy Oswalt in the 10th inning.

A freak, frightening storm hit Busch Stadium and the St. Louis area prior to a game against Atlanta. Many residents were without power for a week or more.

St. Louis added Ronnie Belliard at the trade deadline, sending Hector Luna to the Indians.

August
Edmonds returned to action following his concussion, but in mid-August, he left a game with dizziness. That was later revealed to be the start of post-concussion syndrome, a condition that bothered the center fielder for the remainder of the season.

St. Louis lost another regular to injury in August when Eckstein suffered a strained oblique muscle that eventually forced him to the disabled list.

Preston Wilson signed on after being let go by the Astros, and went on to contribute several times down the stretch.

Mulder's attempt to come back from shoulder troubles ended soon after it started. He had to have surgery, sidelining him for the remainder of 2006.

It wasn't all bad news in August. Gary Bennett was a huge hero in a weekend series against the Cubs, capping off his turn in the spotlight with a walk-off grand slam.

September
Isringhausen was finally shut down for the season as a result of the hip pain that bothered him for much of the year.

A seven-game losing streak, the Cards' third skid of at least that many games, put the team's playoff hopes in doubt. But Pujols -- who else? -- hit a critical eighth-inning home run to deliver a desperately needed win over San Diego and snap the slump. The contest also featured Wainwright's first save as the team's new closer.

If Pujols' homer wasn't the biggest hit of the regular season, then Spiezio's three-run triple a few days later surely was. The three-bagger delivered a win that narrowed St. Louis' magic number to one.

October
The season's most critical month began with a strange day. The Cardinals celebrated despite a loss, as they clinched the National League Central thanks to Houston's loss to the Braves.

The Cards kicked off the postseason with a 5-1 win in San Diego that was simply a complete game. Carpenter pitched brilliantly, the club played outstanding defense -- highlighted by Belliard's spectacular play -- and Pujols hit a home run.

Carpenter recovered from a bit of a slow start to deliver the clincher in the Division Series, 6-2, as St. Louis advanced to its third straight NLCS.

So Taguchi sent the Cardinals to victory in Game 2 of the NLCS, going deep off New York's Billy Wagner and signaling it might be a long series. Weaver's big game in Game 5 at Busch Stadium put the Cardinals on the cusp of the pennant. And after a Game 6 disappointment, Yadier Molina's homer sent the Redbirds to victory in a magnificent Game 7 at Shea Stadium.

Facing a daunting task, Reyes did not blink. The rookie right-hander pitched the Cards to victory in Game 1 of the World Series in Detroit. Kenny Rogers was the story in Game 2, the only Redbirds loss in the Fall Classic. Carpenter channeled Bob Gibson to win Game 3, and World Series MVP Eckstein rapped four hits to help the Game 4 victory. Weaver was the hero in Game 5, going eight strong to secure the championship.

November
Rolen and Pujols were Gold Glove winners, Rolen for the seventh time and Pujols winning his first.

Edmonds re-upped for two more years, making it very likely he will retire a Cardinal.

Pujols and Carpenter each came close, but each fell short of repeat performances as National League MVP and Cy Young winner, respectively.

The first new additions to the 2007 team came in the form of second baseman Adam Kennedy and right-handed pitcher Kip Wells.

December
The Winter Meetings were quiet for the Cardinals, but the club did lock up Carpenter with a contract extension that will keep him wearing the "Birds on the Bat" through 2011.

Longtime St. Louis Post-Dispatch scribe Rick "Commish" Hummel received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award and will be honored in the writers' wing of the Hall of Fame for his career of Cardinals coverage.

The Redbirds signed familiar face Russ Springer to a one-year deal to pitch in the bullpen.

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