Here are the two most recent World Series participants as seen in their cards for the 2006 collection.
The picture shows the 2005 Astros, the team that won the first pennant in team history, and the 2005 Dodgers, a team in the middle of one of the strangest post season runs of all time.
The Astros were wearing their awful faux traditional uniforms, right around the time the team was trying to shed anything futuristic about the team. The pinstripes, the cursive letters and the red highlights felt nothing like the franchise I knew as a kid. BUT the ‘Stros from my youth couldn’t make it to the World Series and the 2005 squad did.
With manager Phil Garner still at the helm, fresh off of bringing the Astros to Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS, Houston stumbled out of the gate. They had a 7 game losing streak in May and sunk to a 16-31 record on May 27th.
Things looked brighter in June but they were still a sub .500 team on July 8th. They were 12 1/2 games in back of the Cardinals for the NL Central and trailed the Braves, Marlins and Mets for the Wild Card.
But the team led by Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte in the rotation and the bats of Morgan Ensberg and Lance Berkman went on a rampage. They finished the season with 89 wins, 1 win ahead of Philadelphia for the Wild Card. Then took the Division Series from the Braves on an 18th inning walk off series clincher by Chris Burke.
They finally won their elusive pennant in the NLCS over the Cardinals, but all anyone remembers about that series was Albert Pujols’ homer off of Brad Lidge. They played the White Sox hard in all 4 games of the World Series but were swept away.
The 2006 squad did not get the great Clemens season, who looked like he was going to retire… again. Morgan Ensberg’s numbers dropped and 2006 looked like a poor defense of their pennant. But in September, the Cardinals went on a losing streak and the Astros tried to capitalize on it.
On September 18th, with just 13 games left, the Astros trailed by 8 1/2 games. They took 2 of 3 from Cincinnati and then faced the Cardinals for a critical 4 game set. They won all 4. Houston scored 2 in the bottom of the 9th to take the second game. The next day, Tyler Johnson launched a walk off shit in the bottom of the 9th to take the it.
On September 27th, the Astros won a 15 inning game in Pittsburgh and Oswalt won the next day, 3-0. With that victory, the Astros pulled to within 1/2 a game of the Cardinals with 3 to play.
Alas, the Braves took 2 of 3 from Houston and the Cardinals limped into the playoffs. To the horror of Astros fans, the hobbled and slumping Cardinals team they almost caught woke up in October and upset the Padres, Mets and Tigers to win the World Series. It was a classic “What could have been” for a franchise that had to wait for this fall to taste the series again.
Meanwhile, the 2005 Dodgers were the defending NL West champs. But the club that felt like a slapped together squad from other franchises, slumped to a 91 loss season in 2005 and manager Jim Tracy was out of a job.
Grady Little was brought in. Yes. THAT Grady Little. Very little (sorry for the pun) seemed the same between the 2004 NL West champs and the 2006 squad, who would eventually go on to play in the post season. Along with the change of manager, General Manager Paul DePodesta was fired and replaced by Ned Colletti.
The starting rotation was a patchwork of players from other clubs. Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Aaron Sele all wore Dodger blue. So did future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. A few home grown names popped up in the staff as well, like Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton, both whom would play parts in later Division Winners.
Along with Lowe, Red Sox fans saw familiar faces like Bill Mueller and Nomar Garciaparra on the team. Cleveland fans could say hello to old friends Kenny Lofton and Sandy Alomar Jr.
But young Dodgers like Russell Martin, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier all played a part of the team. J. D. Drew, with an opt out in his contract looming, stayed healthy and had a solid year.
LA got off to a slow start in 2006 but luckily for them they played in the NL West. The Padres had won the Division the year before with only 82 wins. So the when the Dodgers were 12-17 on May 4th, they were only 4 games out of first place. They finished May 18-6 and looked like contenders.
Oh wait! They had a losing June and a dreadful 9-17 July. They lost 13 out of 14 games in a stretch in July. They were 8 games under .500 on July 26th and in dead last place after being swept by the first place Padres.
At the trade deadline, only the Nationals, Cubs and Pirates were worse in the NL than LA. After that day, the Dodgers were the best team in baseball.
They won 41 of their final 60 games including their final 7 games, sweeping the Rockies and the Giants. They finished the season tied with San Diego, 88-74. But both teams were 3 games ahead of Philadelphia, so one would be the NL West Champ and one would be the Wild Card. (Remember, this was Pre Wild Card Game.)
San Diego was 13-5 head to head with LA so they had the edge and were Division Champs but the Dodgers were still a playoff team. They had gone from nearly the worst team in the NL in late July to being tied for the second best record in the NL by the end.
The Mets made quick work of the Dodgers in the Division Series, but the redemption of Grady Little looked possible with him piloting a playoff caliber team filled with veterans and young players.
The honeymoon was brief. The 2007 Dodgers fell apart down the stretch and Little’s inability to manage the clubhouse with young and old players was looked upon as a big culprit why.
Joe Torre came in to manage in 2008 and they went to the NLCS that year and in 2009. But what made the Dodgers run so bizarre in the mid to late 2000’s was how the teams seemed so disconnected.
The Dodgers made the post season in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009. They had 3 different managers during that stretch. And not one player on the 2004 post season roster was on the 2006 post season roster. The turnover of players was so intense that truly Dodger fans were rooting for the laundry.
When these cards were printed, nobody could have predicted that they would meet up in such an intense and wildly entertaining World Series as we had this past October. No seriously, it would have been impossible to predict because the Astros were still in the National League.
It still seems strange to me that Houston is an American League city now. They always felt like such a solid NL place. But hey, they never won as an NL Team. Hell, they never won a World Series GAME in the National League. So I guess Houston fans are happy with the change.
Meanwhile the Dodgers have once again gone on an unusual post season run recently, with the 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 teams all winning the NL West but players and managers and management all have turned over along the way.
One constant? Andre Ethier played in the 2006 Division Series and the 2017 World Series. At least something has been consistent for the Dodgers.