On their way to the championship, the Cardinals edged out the Astros to win the NL Central division title, the Padres in the NLDS, the Mets in the NLCS and the Tigers in the Fall Classic.
To Mets fans, their heartbreaking loss in Game 7 to St. Louis is all they remember from the 2006 postseason. It signified the beginning of the end of what was supposed to be an extended run of excellence for the Mets, after ending the Braves' streak of 14 consecutive division titles and cruising to the best regular season record in the National League.
After losing to the Cardinals in 2006, the Mets followed it up with two late-season collapses in 2007 and 2008. The opening of Citi Field in 2009 was the only highlight of an otherwise horrible season in which the Mets finished 70-92. The current 2010 season hasn't been much better, with the Mets virtually eliminated from playoff contention with a month of baseball still remaining.
But what about the other teams the Cardinals had to knock out on their way to the promised land? Mets fans might think they were the only team to be pooped on by the Redbirds in 2006, but they are not alone. In fact, every team the Cardinals eliminated that year has failed to return to the heights they once had since that fateful season.
The Cardinals finished the 2006 regular season with a mediocre 83-78 record. They edged out the second-place Houston Astros by a game and a half in the NL Central, eliminating them on the next-to-last day of the season. The previous year, the Astros had defeated the Cardinals in the NLCS to reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history.
Since the Cardinals knocked out the Astros in the 2006 division race, Houston hasn't sniffed the top of the NL Central, finishing 12 games behind the Cubs in 2007, 11 1/2 games behind the Cubs in 2008 and 17 games behind the Cardinals in 2009. This season, the Astros have a 64-72 record and stand 15 games behind the first-place Cincinnati Reds.
The Cardinals' division series opponent in 2006 was the San Diego Padres. After winning the NL West division title in 2005, the Padres repeated as division champions in 2006. However, the Cardinals took out the favored Padres in four games in the NLDS. What happened to the Padres after the 2006 NLDS should look familiar to the Mets and their fans.
The 2007 Padres were one strike away from winning the National League Wild Card berth, when on the next-to-last day of the season, Tony Gwynn, Jr. (son of Padres legend Tony Gwynn) hit an RBI triple to send the game into extra innings, a game the Padres eventually lost. The Padres lost the last game of the regular season as well, forcing a one-game playoff with the Colorado Rockies to decide the NL Wild Card winner. When Matt Holliday scored the winning run in the bottom of the 13th inning, the Rockies went to the playoffs and the Padres were the victim of a late-season collapse.
After defeating the Padres in the NLDS, the Cardinals played the heavily favored Mets in the NLCS. Let's just skip over that series on move on to the World Series.
In the 2006 World Series, the Cardinals played the American League champion Detroit Tigers. The last time those two teams met each other in the Fall Classic was in 1968, when the Tigers defeated the Cardinals in seven games. This time around, the results were different, with the Cardinals splitting the first two games in Detroit, then taking all three games at Busch Stadium, winning the World Series in five games.
Since falling to the Cardinals in 2006, the Tigers have been one of the biggest disappointments in baseball. After winning 95 games in 2006, the Tigers dropped to 88 wins in 2007, finishing second in the NL Central to the Cleveland Indians. They also finished six games behind the New York Yankees for the American League Wild Card berth. The Tigers then felt they needed to upgrade their offense for the 2008 season, putting together a team that baseball experts predicted would score 1,000 runs. Even ESPN's Buster Olney chimed in, saying:
"Justin Verlander might win 20 games with the staggering run support he is likely to receive, because there are days when he may allow six runs in five innings and still win by a touchdown; the Tigers may be the latest team to take a run at scoring 1,000 runs."
Well, the Tigers began the 2008 season by losing their first seven games. After 13 starts, Justin Verlander was 2-9, with a 5.05 ERA. The Tigers' vaunted offense failed to come anywhere near 1,000 runs, scoring only 821 times. The end result was a 74-88 record, good enough for last place in the NL Central.
The 2009 Tigers appeared to be on the verge of ending the "curse" imposed on the teams that were defeated by the Cardinals in 2006. The Tigers had been in first place for 146 days of the 2009 season. But after holding a three-game division lead over the Minnesota Twins with four games to play, the Tigers became the first team to blow such a lead when they lost the tiebreaker game to Minnesota at the Metrodome. Just like the Padres had lost their one-game playoff to the Rockies in 2007 in the bottom of the 13th inning, the Tigers also lost in the unlucky 13th, when Alexi Casilla's game-winning hit brought home ex-Met Carlos Gomez.
The 2010 season may have yet another collapse. The San Diego Padres, who owned the best record in the National League for most of the season, have now lost 10 consecutive games. Their chokehold on the NL West has loosened and the Giants and Rockies are now closing in on them in the standings, with the Giants standing one game out of first and the Rockies looming 4 1/2 games out, waiting to make their latest September run at the postseason.
So Mets fans, you're not alone in going through collapses and disappointing seasons since the end of the 2006 season. Astros fans have had no September games to be interested in since losing the division title to the Cardinals in 2006. Padres fans suffered through a collapse in 2007 and might be about to experience a similar collapse in 2010. The Tigers underachieved like no other team in 2008 and followed that up with a monumental collapse in 2009.
Since the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006, they have remained one of the best teams in the National League. They are the defending NL Central champions and are in the hunt this year for a postseason spot. But those who fell to them in 2006 haven't had similar success. The Curious Conundrum that is the Curse of the Cardinals is alive and well. The Mets and their fans have been infected by the Red Plague for years, but at least they can take solace in the fact that they're not alone.