Weaver ready for first postseason gig
Young right-hander wants his own ring to match older brother
ANAHEIM -- Jered Weaver will be making his first career postseason start in the Majors on Sunday, as the American League Division Series shifts to Anaheim for Game 3 with his Angels needing a win to stave off a sweep.
It won't be his first up-close exposure to the intensity of pitching in the playoffs, though. While his older brother, Jeff, was playing a starring -- and largely surprising -- role in the underdog Cardinals' out-of-nowhere march to the 2006 World Series title, Jered was with him nearly every step of the way.
Jered saw all but one of St. Louis' postseason games, cheering on Jeff, whose trade from the Angels earlier in the season was made to make room for Jered in the starting rotation, while wearing his big brother's cold-weather clothes -- including a Cardinals jacket and hat -- to stave off the October chill.
"I've gone through a couple of playoff times with Jeff," Jered said Saturday during a press conference at Angel Stadium. "And with last year, going through what he went through and being able to do what he did in the playoffs was something special. For me to be able to experience that and go through that ... going into the season, I was kind of excited and kind of fed off of what happened out there.
"Hopefully I can take that experience and kind of stay composed."
The younger Weaver went 13-7 with a 3.91 ERA during the 2007 regular season, and he might be making the final start of the Angels' season. Manny Ramirez hit a walk-off homer with two out in the ninth inning Friday at Fenway Park, giving Boston a 6-3 victory and a 2-0 series lead.
But in addition to having the second-hand experience afforded him by being along for Jeff's wild ride, Jered, a 6-foot-7 righty who turned 25 on Thursday, has some first-hand experience pitching under intense pressure at the highest levels of amateur baseball.
As a sophomore at Long Beach State in 2003, he was named co-Most Outstanding Player of an NCAA Regional and finished the year 14-4 with a 1.96 ERA, striking out a school-record-tying 144 while walking just 20.
That summer, while playing for Team USA, he set a U.S. National Team record with 45 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings on the way to a 0.39 ERA for the season, a silver medal in the Pan American Games and USA Baseball's Player of the Summer Award.
And for his pre-professional encore, Weaver went 15-1 with a 1.62 ERA and 213 strikeouts during his junior (and final) season at Long Beach State, leading the nation in wins and strikeouts. His dominance was recognized in the form of the 2004 Golden Spikes Award, amateur baseball's most prestigious honor.
"You can't put anything on this level, being the MLB playoffs," Weaver said. "[But] pitching in the gold-medal game with the USA team was pretty intense, with 40,000 fans screaming and yelling and bands going.
"I think that experience will help me out a little bit to stay focused and feed off of the home crowd."
"Jered's a lot like John," Angles manager Mike Scioscia said, comparing Weaver with ultra-competitive Angels ace John Lackey. "You put Jered Weaver in one of our intrasquad games early in the spring, and he's as intense as in any game during the season or in the playoffs."
Most experts felt Weaver would have been one of the top three overall picks in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft had he not been represented by uber-agent Scott Boras, who has a reputation for demanding -- and often getting -- top dollar for his clients, even if it means holding out. And Weaver, who slipped to No. 12 overall before the Angels tabbed him, did indeed hold out for nearly a year before signing in May 2005; his deal included a $4 million signing bonus.
After a truncated first season of pro ball, Weaver opened the 2006 season at Triple-A Salt Lake, quickly made it clear that he had nothing left to prove in the Minors and made his big league debut on May 27. He beat the Orioles that day and went on to tie Whitey Ford's AL record by winning his first nine decisions as a rookie, also becoming the third rookie in 100 years to go unbeaten in his first 12 starts on the way to an 11-2 record and 2.56 ERA in 19 starts.
While recovering from right biceps tendinitis, Weaver didn't appear in any Cactus League games this spring; he opened the season on the 15-day disabled list. But after going 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA in two rehab starts with Class A Rancho Cucamonga, he was activated on April 17, and gave up three runs over six innings in a loss to Oakland. It was the first of his 21 starts (out of 28) during the regular season in which he didn't allow more than three earned runs.
One of those starts came during Interleague Play at St. Louis, where Weaver was presented with his brother's World Series ring. Jeff had signed with the Mariners in the offseason, and Seattle wasn't scheduled to play the Cardinals in 2007, so Jered was entrusted with keeping the ring safe until the brothers next crossed paths.
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Now, Jered wants a ring of his own, but he'll have to get past the powerful Red Sox to help the Angels extend their season. Scioscia, for one, thinks the little brother is up to the challenge.
"I don't think he has to change his approach much," said the skipper. "He's always mentally prepared and focused and ready to challenge hitters. That's important when you're gonna be in this situation."
Added Weaver: "Obviously you feel pressure every time you go out there. But once you get out on the mound, the jitters and bugs kind of go away. So just gotta get out there and treat it as much as a regular-season game as possible."
That's what virtually every pitcher says in October. But Weaver seems to understand that this one will be different. After all, his Boston counterpart will be Curt Schilling, who cemented his legacy as a big-game pitcher in the 2004 AL Championship Series.
"Yeah, it's going to be a fun matchup," Weaver conceded. "It's always fun going up against big-name guys. The guy's obviously made a great name for himself. He's one of the best pitchers in the game right now, and it's going to be fun battling against a big-name guy.
"Hopefully we can take him down."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.