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Castoff Weaver finally wins the big one with Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- So many people said Jeff Weaver couldn't win
the big one.

He didn't have the stomach for it. He was too flaky. He was too
soft.

Well, all those people were wrong about Jeff Weaver.

Cast off by one team this summer, Weaver pitched the
St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series title Friday night against the
Detroit Tigers -- one of his former clubs -- with a performance worthy of any
October ace.

Dropping down at a tough angle to baffle right-handed hitters,
Weaver struck out nine in a dominant outing. He allowed only two
runs (one earned) and four hits in eight splendid innings for a 4-2
victory.

"He was our biggest hero," manager Tony La Russa said.

Most unlikely, too.

Weaver went 3-10 with a 6.29 ERA for the Los Angeles Angels this
season before they traded him to St. Louis on July 5 for minor
league outfielder Terry Evans. In fact, the Angels had designated
Weaver for assignment specifically to make roster room for his
little brother, Jered.

But under the guidance of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan,
Weaver started to come around.

"I've had struggles before and found it again," he said.
"When you come to a team that believes in you from the get-go, it
just builds your confidence."

Filling a hole in an injury-depleted rotation, the 30-year-old
right-hander pitched well down the stretch and earned a playoff
start.

Surely, though, that's when he would fall apart.

After all, the last time everyone saw Weaver in the postseason
he was walking off the mound in Florida, eyes glazed over, after
allowing a homer to light-hitting Alex Gonzalez that gave the
Marlins a victory over the New York Yankees in 2003.

Turn on the bright lights and Weaver will hide in the corner,
people said.

Not this time.

"I was hoping to do it in Anaheim, but that didn't work," said
Weaver, a bottle of champagne in front of him at the postgame
podium. "When you have all that support you can go out there and
not be looking over your shoulder and figure some things out, and I
was just very fortunate to get hot when it counted. It's a dream
come true. It's unbelievable."

Weaver first shut down San Diego for a 2-0 win during the first
round, then pitched well in the NL championship series against the
New York Mets, beating Tom Glavine in a crucial Game 5.

"He wanted a piece of it," Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter said.
"You could see it in his eyes every single time."

Weaver, who broke into the majors with the Tigers in 1999 and
pitched for them until 2002, lost 3-1 to Kenny Rogers in Game 2 of
the World Series. But La Russa went right back to Weaver on Friday
after Wednesday night's rainout put him on full rest for Game 5.

Boy, did he deliver.

"It's funny how things work," Weaver said. "You couldn't ask
for a better scenario. Just kind of full circle."

And not a bad pressure performance to put on the resume for a
guy who can become a free agent.

But first, champagne.