When Jon Lester takes the mound at Fenway Park against the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday night to open the 2013 World Series, the matchup and circumstances will have many thinking back to 2004.
The Red Sox and Cardinals meet in the Fall Classic for the fourth time in history, and although many things have changed in baseball over the last nine years, the storylines in Boston seem quite familiar to the franchise and its legion of fans.
May’s Boston Marathon bombing shook the city of Boston, and although an 86 year curse snapped in a clean sweep of St. Louis in their last postseason matchup seems trivial when compared to the circumstances in 2013, the Red Sox once again serve as a vessel of hope and an escape for the region.
“This team took it to heart as far as, ok, let’s give these people something to think about other than what’s going on right now,’” Lester said. “And if we can take those people’s minds off of their injuries or their suffering, then that’s our job.”
Over the course of a season in which Boston tied St. Louis for the best record in MLB with 97 victories, the fun-loving Red Sox have given opposing teams reasons to “fear the beards,” drawing comparison to the self-proclaimed “Idiots” in 2004. But despite the gaudy and grizzly fashion statement, the team is far more about substance than style. Bolstered by strong pitching that shut out the Detroit Tigers twice in the ALCS and an offensive attack spearheaded by the 2-3-4 spots in the order filled by Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz, the Red Sox know that runs will be at a premium in the series.
“We know we’re going to get a three pitch mix thrown against us,” manager John Farrell said, speaking on pitcher Adam Wainwright, who hits the hill in Game 1 for St. Louis. “When you walk only 35 guys in 240 innings, you know you’re going to get a lot of pitches across home plate. The key for us if we get pitches on the plate or in the middle of the plate, is not to miss them.”
St. Louis posted the second best ERA for a starting rotation in 2013, anchored by Wainwright. The Cardinals’ starters have shined all season, but Wainwright is the undisputed team leader on a unit comprised of young players that includes Michael Wacha and Joe Kelly, who had never started a playoff game before this month.
“He has been very, very impressive to watch—a Cy Young caliber season. There couldn’t be a better ace for a club,” second year manager Mike Matheny said. “When you start talking about all this young talent we bring into this club, they should be very grateful that they have the type of example they have in Adam Wainwright.”
The 32 year old has surrendered just four runs in 23 innings this postseason, giving up only one walk while striking out 20. Aided by a pair of efforts from Wainwright, the Cardinals allowed merely 13 Los Angeles runners to score in the six game NLCS versus the Dodgers.
In seven career starts, Wainwright has not let the postseason pressure break him down, losing only one game.
“What I found throughout my playoff career so far is that I respond really well when the adrenaline really kicks in, I love that,” Wainwright said. “The crowd gets louder, I get more fired up.”
St. Louis welcomes Allen Craig back to the lineup, penciling in the 29 year old as the designated hitter in games 1 and 2. Craig batted .315 with 13 home runs and 97 RBI this season, but has missed approximately six weeks with a foot injury.
With runs so tough to come by across the league this October, one of the keys to hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy will be capitalizing on opportunities. The well-rounded Cardinals have been fearsome with men on base this season, batting .330 with runners in scoring position.
Eight-time All Star selection and three-time Gold Glove winner Carlos Beltran has led St. Louis in the field and in the batter’s box, posting a team high 12 RBIs and a pair of home runs in the postseason.
The Cardinals are four victories away from their 12th World Series title and third in the past eight years, while the Red Sox tout home field advantage and aim for their eighth championship and third World Series crown in nine seasons.
Teams victorious in the opening game have won 20 of the past 24 World Series. The last team to drop Game 1 and go on to claim the series was the New York Yankees, who lost the first game of the 2009 World Series but defeated the Phillies in six games.
This year’s matchup is only the third since the beginning of the wild card era in 1995 that the teams with the two best records in the MLB have met in the World Series.
As the World Series gets underway between two clubs with bright futures, the storied franchises meet once again in a matchup that echoes of the past.
First pitch on Wednesday night is set for 8:07. Coverage of the game begins at 7pm on ESPN 850 WRUF.