DETROIT – When the Cardinals and Tigers last hooked up in the World Series, the starting pitchers in the opener were Bob Gibson and 31-game winner Denny McLain. When they get together at Comerica Park on Saturday night, Game 1 will have a pair of rookie starters for the first time, with Detroit's Justin Verlander facing off against Anthony Reyes. And the way Reyes sees it, two rooks are better for him than one.
"That's kind of good, knowing he's probably going to have the same feeling as me," he said Friday,
Reyes, 5-8 with a 5.06 ERA in 17 regular-season starts, has the fewest wins of any Game 1 starter in World Series history and is the first with a losing regular-season record since the Mets' Jon Matlack in 1973. He wasn't even on the Cardinals' roster for their first-round series against San Diego.
Verlander was 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA during the regular season. Despite Reyes' poor pedigree, Verlander doesn't think the Tigers are favored.
"I think we view ourselves as the underdogs, personally," Verlander said as the unexpected pennant winners prepared Friday on a cool, overcast day at Comerica Park. "Everybody has doubted us."
Detroit won a seven-game Series from St. Louis in 1968, and the Cardinals' Gas House Gang beat the Tigers 4-3 in 1934.
Back in 1968, the last World Series before playoffs, Gibson pitched a five-hit shutout and struck out a Series record 17 to beat the Tigers 4-0 in the opener at the old Busch Stadium. The Cardinals' Dizzy Dean pitched an eight-hitter to defeat Alvin Crowder 8-3 in 1934's first game at Detroit's Navin Field, as Tiger Stadium was then known.
The 23-year-old Verlander and 25-year-old Reyes have combined for 23 career wins — when John Smoltz opened the 1996 Series for Atlanta, he had 24 victories in that year alone.
The previous low for wins by a Game 1 starter was set by Howard Ehmke for the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He went 7-2 during the regular season, then beat the Chicago Cubs and Charley Root 3-1 in Game 1.
Coming off a draining Game 7 win at New York in the NL championship series Thursday night, the Cardinals pulled into their suburban Detroit hotel at 5 a.m. Friday. By late afternoon, they straggled onto the field at Comerica Park for a workout.
"Maybe that champagne is still stinging their eyes," Tigers reliever Jason Grilli said.
At 83-78, the Cardinals have the second-worst record of any World Series team, trailing only the 82-79 mark of the 1973 Mets. Detroit, which blew the AL Central on the final weekend of the regular season, gives the Series a wild card team for the fifth straight year.
"It's been a little bit weird," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "It's been crazy. It's been tremendous for baseball."
Detroit will be playing for the first time in a week, since completing its four-game sweep of Oakland in the AL championship series. The last six teams that began the World Series with five or more days of rest all went on to win — only twice in history have Series teams with such a long break not won, and both were led by Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.
"I think the game is so mental," La Russa said. "If you sit around and you're mentally strong, you're ready."
Reyes was selected by Detroit on the 13th round of the 2002 amateur draft but stayed at Southern California for his senior year, then was taken by St. Louis in the 15th round a year later.
He pitched just once in the playoffs, starting Game 4 of the NLCS — his first appearance since Oct. 1. He allowed runners in all four of his innings, walked four and threw 86 pitches. But he gave up his only runs on homers by Carlos Beltran and David Wright.
He found out Friday that he'll be starting.
"I'm just trying to not think about it right now, just trying to relax and just get rested up and get ready for tomorrow," he said.
La Russa could have gone with Jason Marquis, who wasn't on his NLCS roster.
"It's not an easy call. We wrestled with this," La Russa said. "Anthony took the assignment in the NLCS. I think he handled himself well. The experience will be helpful tomorrow."
St. Louis will follow with Jeff Weaver, Chris Carpenter and Jeff Suppan. Kenny Rogers will start Game 2 for Detroit, followed by Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman. Rogers pitched 15 shutout innings in the playoffs over two starts — both in Detroit.
"We wanted Kenny to pitch two games at home," Leyland said.