SERIES: World Series; Game 1.
The World Series has come full circle.
The 100th Fall Classic opens Saturday night in the city where it began in 1903 with Cy Young pitching a complete game against Pittsburgh for the Boston Pilgrims, later to be known as the Red Sox.
Beleaguered Boston, seeking to win the World Series for the first since 1918, will be playing the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that did in the Red Sox in Game 7 of both the 1946 and 1967 Fall Classics.
Fenway Park, the smallest ballpark in the big leagues and one of baseball’s historic jewels, will be hosting the series for the first time since 1986, when Boston left home with a 3-2 lead only to watch Mookie Wilson’s grounder squib through Bill Buckner’s legs in Game 6 at Shea Stadium.
The New York Mets went on to win that series in seven games, ending perhaps the best chance the Red Sox have had to break The Curse of the Bambino—until now.
After stunning the archrival New York Yankees in the AL championship series, becoming the first major league team to overcome an 0-3 deficit in the postseason, the Red Sox will try to beat a Cardinals’ team that won a major league-high 105 games and is coming off its own roller-coaster league championship series.
“I think I appreciate where we are,” Boston manager Terry Francona said Friday, referring to his team’s historic comeback against New York.
“But as far as that goes, that’s it. The task at hand is all that’s on our mind, because the task isn’t over. When it’s over, we can sit back and think about a lot of things, and I’m sure that will bring a smile to my face.”
On Wednesday, Boston went ahead early in Game 7 and beat New York 10-3. After celebrating on the hallowed grounds of Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox took Thursday off, then worked out at midday Friday in empty Fenway on a cool and cloudy day.
There figures to be a boisterous crowd Saturday night, with dry weather forecast and the temperature in the low 40s.
Before serving up Aaron Boone’s series-winning home run in Game 7 of last year’s ALCS loss to the Yankees, Wakefield was told he would start Game 1 of the World Series against Florida.
He’s just happy to have a second chance.
“It’s kind of nice that we run into the same situation again,” Wakefield said. “So I’m going to try to take full advantage of the opportunity that I have tomorrow night and try to bring this city a world championship.”
Boston is accustomed to the charm of its 92-year-old ballpark, which holds about 35,000 fans. There’s the 37-foot-high Green Monster looming beyond left field, just 310 feet from home plate at the foul line. Across the way, there’s Pesky’s Pole in right, 302 feet from home, with a tricky fence that’s only 3-to-5 feet high.
“It’s a neat environment. Fans very close to the ballfield,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “A lot of passion, a lot of knowledge of the game.”
St. Louis, which beat Houston 5-2 in Game 7 on Thursday night to return to the World Series for the first time since 1987, didn’t arrive in Boston until early evening. The Cardinals got an up-close look at Fenway, which the Red Sox claim is “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark,” according to a big sign outside the stadium.
Reggie Sanders and the other St. Louis outfielders spent a lot of time practicing how to field balls hit off the high wall. Manny Ramirez and the other Boston boppers figure to take aim in that direction.
“The way these guys are hitting in the ballpark, it’s amazing how far they hit the ball over that wall,” Williams said. “Hopefully, the balls will bounce off the wall and our guys will make a good play and keep them to a single.”
Like Boston, the Cardinals also rallied to win their LCS, coming back from a 3-2 deficit. However, the Red Sox have been installed by Las Vegas oddsmakers as slight favorites to win the World Series, something that has become an obsession throughout New England over the last 86 years.
“I want to see us win one time, because it’s been a long time coming,” said 85-year-old Johnny Pesky, a former Red Sox star and currently a special assignment instructor with the team. “I can die happy then.”
Pesky was blamed by some for Boston’s Game 7 loss to the Cardinals in ’46, with some saying he held the relay too long on Harry Walker’s double, allowing Enos Slaughter to score in his mad dash from first.
Boston didn’t make it back to the World Series until ’67, when it faced the Cardinals yet again, and Bob Gibson pitched a three-hitter on three days’ rest to beat Jim Lonborg in the decisive game.
While the Red Sox’s failures in the postseason are well documented, La Russa says St. Louis is starved for a championship as well. The Cardinals haven’t won one since 1982.
“It’s a time for both fans to be selfish and both teams to be selfish,” La Russa said. “They want to win for all of their reasons, but we have a clubhouse full of guys that have never had a World Series ring. So, you know, we’re going to try and be greedy and selfish just like they are.”
St. Louis, which has won nine of 15 trips to the World Series overall, features a powerful lineup that includes NLCS MVP Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen. The Cardinals’ bashers, whose .278 batting average led the National League, will have to deal with Wakefield’s often-baffling floater before Curt Schilling, his ailing ankle held together by sutures, throws harder stuff at them in Game 2 on Sunday.
”(The Cardinals’) lineup is similar to the one we just saw in New York,” Wakefield said. “You’ve got speed at the top, you’ve got dangerous guys in the middle. And it’s kind of like ours, too. It’s just one of those lineups that you have got to be very careful of because they can do a lot of damage quick.”
The Red Sox had the majors’ best offense during the regular season, scoring 949 runs while hitting .282. The Cardinals will be hard-pressed to slow down ALCS MVP David Ortiz, who is hitting .429 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in the postseason.
“For two years now, he’s really been in clutch form,” La Russa said of Ortiz. “You know, you take your hat off because he’s such a tough out and looks like guys rally around him.”
La Russa said he was considering using 15-game winner Matt Morris on three days’ rest in Game 2 on Sunday because Morris has coped with the postseason better than the other alternative, Jason Marquis.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Cardinals - NL Central champions; beat Los Angeles Dodgers 3-1, division series. Red Sox - Wild-card winner; beat Anaheim Angels 3-0, division series; beat New York Yankees 4-3, AL championship series.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Cardinals - 2B Tony Womack (.307 avg., 5 HRs, 38 RBIs, 26 SBs), RF Larry Walker (.298, 17, 47 in 258 at-bats with Colorado and St. Louis), 1B Pujols (.331, 46, 123, 51 2Bs, 133 runs), 3B Rolen (.314, 34, 124), CF Jim Edmonds (.301, 42, 111, 38 2Bs), 2B Edgar Renteria (.287, 10, 72, 17 SBs), LF Reggie Sanders (.260, 22, 67, 21 SBs), C Mike Matheny (.247, 5, 50), DH John Mabry (.296, 13, 40). Red Sox - CF Johnny Damon (.304, 20 HRs, 94 RBIs, 123 runs, 19 SBs), 2B Mark Bellhorn (.264, 17, 82, 177 Ks), LF Ramirez (.308, 43, 130), DH Ortiz (.301, 41, 139), 1B Kevin Millar (.297, 18, 74), RF Trot Nixon (.315, 6, 23), C Jason Varitek (.296, 18, 73), SS Orlando Cabrera (.294, 6, 31), 3B Bill Mueller (.283, 12, 57).
CARDINALS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Williams (2-0, 2.84 ERA). Williams has 11 strikeouts and four walks in 19 innings over three starts this postseason. He allowed just one hit in seven innings and didn’t allow a baserunner past second base in Game 5 of the NLCS despite straining a calf muscle running to first base while batting in the top of the third inning. The 38-year-old right-hander is 3-4 with a 4.61 ERA in 17 career appearances, including eight starts, against the Red Sox. He is 2-2 with a 4.62 ERA in 10 games and four starts at Fenway Park.
RED SOX PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Wakefield (1-0, 8.59 ERA). Though his ERA is inflated, Wakefield played a huge role in the Red Sox’s comeback in the ALCS. After getting knocked around in his previous two appearances against New York, the 38-year-old right-hander tossed three shutout innings in Game 5, enabling the Red Sox to win 5-4 in 14 innings. Wakefield almost made it to the World Series in 1992 with Pittsburgh, but the Pirates were beaten in Game 7 of the NLCS by Atlanta. He is 1-1 with a 5.06 ERA in five career appearances, including four starts, against the Cardinals.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cardinals - La Russa said he’ll likely follow RHP Morris with RHP Jeff Suppan and RHP Marquis in Games 3 and 4, respectively. … CF Edmonds is a career .459 hitter (17-for-37) with one homer and four RBIs against RHP Wakefield. … Last year, the Cardinals played an interleague series against Boston for the first time, taking two of three at Fenway. Red Sox - Francona said Wakefield and RHP Schilling would be followed in the rotation by RHP Pedro Martinez and RHP Derek Lowe. RHP Bronson Arroyo, the Game 3 starter in the ALCS, will work out of the bullpen. … Francona also said DH Ortiz probably would play first base in the NL city, where the DH won’t be used. … LF Ramirez is hitting .130 (3-for-23) with two homers, four RBIs and eight strikeouts in his career against RHP Williams.
POSTSEASON ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cardinals - 1-4 on the road. Red Sox - 3-1 at home.