Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers Team Pictures 2006 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for December 20, 2017

IMG_0944Here 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.

Jose Contreras 2008 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for March 6, 2017


Two countries and two mega budget franchises coveted Jose Contreras. There was tension between nations and fan bases for his services. And it turned out he had a moment of glory for the second team of the second city and emerged a champion.

Jose Ariel Contreras Camejo was born in Las Martinas, Pinar del Río, Cuba. He was a dynamic right handed pitcher and became a national hero. The problem was his nation was Cuba.

At some point, a baseball player from Cuba would be able to come to America as easily as if they were from Mexico, the Dominican Republic or Venezuela. But when Contreras was pitching Pinar del Rio Vegueros in the Cuban League and for the National Team in the Olympics and Pan American Games, his ability to offer his services to MLB would require defection.

Three times he was named the Cuban Athlete of the Year and wowed scouts when he pitched at Camden Yards in an exhibition game in 1999. Around that time, Cuban pitchers Livan Hernandez and his half brother Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez had become post season stars.

The idea of finding another Cuban star shining in the post season piqued the imagination of American teams. And Contreras knew this, knowing that leaving Cuba would lead him to being a multimillionaire playing at the highest level.

While playing in a series in Mexico in October of 2002, Contreras defected and made his services available to Major League teams. The Red Sox, who were victimized by El Duque in the 1999 ALCS, made a push to sign Contreras to be a 1-2-3 punch with Pedro Martinez and Cy Young contender Derek Lowe.

But in December, the Yankees swooped in and signed him to a multi million dollar four year deal right after Christmas. Smarting from losing out of Contreras’ services, new Red Sox vice president Larry Lucchino dubbed the Yankees the “Evil Empire” publicly. Lucchino looked petty to other lower budget teams but the Yankees and their fans embraced the label.

Contreras joined an insanely deep rotation. Roger Clemens, David Wells, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte and Jeff Weaver were already on the team.

His 2003 was a mixed bag. He began the year as a long reliever and was bombed badly. The Red Sox blasted him for 5 runs in 1 1/3 innings during a 10-7 slugfest in Fenway Park. In June, he made a fine 7 inning start against the Reds but found himself on the disabled list shortly after that.

Contreras returned to the Yankees at the end of August. He made a good start on August 24th against Baltimore but was clobbered by the Red Sox again on August 29th.

Dubbed a bust by Yankee fans in the same category as Hideki Irabu, he finished September with 4 quality starts and quietly gave the team some hope.

In the postseason, the Red Sox victimized him again, tallying 4 runs over 3 innings in Game 6 of the ALCS, setting up the Aaron Boone game. He also lost Game 5 where he had to come into the game early for an injured David Wells.

In 2004, pressure was on Contreras. Roger Clemens, David Wells and Andy Pettitte were gone. Jeff Weaver was flipped for Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez was added to the rotation as well. Contreras needed to come through as the tensions between the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East was strengthening.

He was hit hard early and often, once again by the Red Sox on April 23rd. He was optioned to the minor leagues but little seemed to be working.

Somehow, Steinbrenner and company got his wife and daughters from Cuba to witness him pitch a great game against the Mets in June. But that strong outing looked like a fluke.

At the trade deadline of July 31, the Yankees decided to cut bait. They swapped Contreras with White Sox pitcher Esteban Loaiza. Away from the Yankee glare, he had good days and bad days in Chicago, finishing the season with 3 wins in his final 4 starts.

When the White Sox began the 2005 season, Contreras was part of a talented but somewhat anonymous squad. All eyes in baseball remained on the fight between the Red Sox and Yankees (who would finish 2005 with identical records.) In Chicago, the Cubs still reigned. The White Sox were safely tucked away from the spotlight.

Contreras pitched well if not like an All Star as the season began. The White Sox jumped out to a fast start under manager Ozzie Guillen. Another figure on that White Sox team seemed to play an influence on him: fellow Cuban defector Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez.

El Duque was in the Montreal organization during Contreras’ first year with the Yankees. But they were teammates in the Bronx briefly in 2004. In 2005, El Duque was on the White Sox and urged Contreras to drop his arm angle in his delivery.

He threw 7 shutout innings against the contending Indians after the All Star break. In the second half of 2005, he pitched like the ace the Yankees and Red Sox coveted. He went 11-2 with an ERA of 2.96 ERA for the second half, striking out 82 and walking only 27 in 103 1/3 innings.

The White Sox won the Division and looked to end their long (but compared to the Cubs and Red Sox underplayed) championship drought. The hard hitting defending World Champion Red Sox came to Chicago for Game 1 of the Division Series. Contreras got the start and Red Sox fans (including me) had memories of Boston pounding him throughout 2003 and 2004.

But Contreras got the last laugh. He pitched into the 8th, allowing 2 runs over 7 2/3 innings as the White Sox clobbered Boston in a 14-2 blowout. The White Sox swept Boston and went into the ALCS against the Angels.

Contreras pitched Game 1 into the 9th, but took a hardluck 3-2 loss. But the White Sox went back to their winning ways. Each Chicago pitcher threw a complete game victory for Games 2, 3 and 4. Contreras took the hill for Game 5 in Anaheim. The White Sox were on the verge of the World Series.

Now keep in mind at that time, the city of Chicago had not seen a World Series since 1959 when the White Sox fell to the Dodgers. The White Sox of 2005 were about to give the Second City a World Series for the first time since expansion happened, Division Play was started and Free Agency earned for players.

Contreras was solid but allowed the Angels to take a 3-2 lead into the 7th. Joe Crede tied the game in the 7th with a solo homer and Crede drove home the go ahead run in the 8th.

Meanwhile Contreras did not allow a base runner in the 6th, 7th and 8th. In the 9th, the White Sox expanded the lead to 6-3. Contreras took the mound for the 9th. After retiring Darin Erstad and Bengie Molina, the White Sox were now just an out from the World Series.

Contreras got Casey Kotchman to ground out sharply to first baseman Paul Konerko who stepped on the bag and hugged Contreras. The White Sox won the pennant. Contreras would have his moment of glory but not do so for Boston, New York or Cuba but rather for the city of Chicago.

He won Game 1 of the World Series in a solid start against the Astros. He would not get another start as the White Sox made quick work of Houston in a 4 game sweep. Chicago had a World Champion for the first time since the 1917 World Series and Contreras was the ace of the team.

While never the Cy Young candidate he was forecasted as, Contreras has put together a nice career and has become a baseball lifer. He has played in the post season with the 2009 Colorado Rockies and the 2010 Philadelphia Phillies. He made a cameo with the Pirates and even pitched a few games in the Red Sox organization (finally.)

He has played the last few years (in his mid 40’s) in the Mexican League, all the while looking for his next big league chance.


Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – October 25, 2016


Photograph: Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Taking a very late night drive, I stay awake by talking about the World Series and the Hall of Fame legacies of some of the players and specifically the managers.

It is stay awake while driving episode of The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast

For the up to date standings of Who Owns October, click MLB Reports.

What is “Who Owns October”? Click HERE for an explanation.

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