Starting Wednesday on FOX, St. Louis and Boston meet in their fourth World Series. In 1946, Enos Slaughter, Stan Musial and the Cards beat Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky and the Sox in seven games. In '67, Series MVP Bob Gibson won Games 1, 4 and 7 — all caught by current FOX broadcaster Tim McCarver — as St. Louis, led by Lou Brock and Roger Maris on offense, topped Boston and Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski. But in 2004, the Sox avenged their two defeats with a 4-0 sweep, led by Series MVP Manny Ramirez, who hit .412 against a Cardinals team which featured Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and then-catcher/current manager Mike Matheny. David Ortiz is the only current Red Sox player from that championship club — he was on Boston's 2007 title team as well. Here are the top five storylines for the 2013 Fall Classic:
While Boston and St. Louis led their respective leagues with 97 regular-season wins, the Red Sox were a majors-best 53-28 at home. During two rounds of the playoffs, they went 4-1 at Fenway Park (pictured) — 2-0 vs. Tampa Bay and 2-1 vs. Detroit — leading Rays manager to say after a Game 2 loss, 'I think we got out Fenway-ed. The ballpark itself, the quirks that they're used to, we were not used to enough to play them properly. I'm not complaining. I'm just saying that's what happened.' Meanwhile, the Cardinals, were second in the NL with a 54-27 home mark, and went 5-1 at Busch Stadium III during the playoffs — 2-1 vs. Pittsburgh and 3-0 vs. the LA Dodgers. So do the Red Sox have the edge because the AL has home-field advantage? We'll soon find out.
Cards' clutch hitting
No team was better at the plate with two outs and runners in scoring position than the Cardinals, batting a phenomenal .305 in the regular season — the next best team, Detroit, was .047 points back at .258. St. Louis first baseman Allen Craig (left), who returns after missing the last seven weeks with a foot injury, leads the clutch Cards with an unbelievable .448 average in such situations. Also dangerous with two outs and runners on are Matt Holliday (right), who hit .426, followed by Carlos Beltran (.375) and Matt Carpenter (.368). The Cardinals did slip to .290 in the playoffs, but they were facing better pitching. In the same category, the Red Sox hit .249 in the regular season and .239 in their 10 playoff games.
Red Sox relievers yielded just three runs in 32 playoff innings for a 0.84 ERA. In the ALCS, the Sox 'pen allowed just one run in 21 innings to the Tigers. Closer Koji Uehara (facing center) was untouchable vs. Detroit, saving three games in six scoreless innings on his way to the ALCS MVP. While Uehara did surrender a run to Tampa Bay in the ALDS, four Red Sox relievers — Craig Breslow (7 IP), Brandon Workman (5 1/3 IP), Felix Doubront (2 1/3 IP) and Ryan Dempster (2 IP) — are unscored upon in the playoffs. Manager John Farrell can count on Junichi Tazawa (1 ER, 5 IP) and Franklin Morales (1 ER, 1 1/3 IP), too. But the Sox offense will be facing a better bullpen in St. Louis than it did vs. Detroit in the ALCS. (See next pane)
St. Louis' young arms
NLCS MVP Michael Wacha (left), just 22, was magnificent against the LA Dodgers, tossing 13 2/3 scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts and beating NL Cy Young favorite Clayton Kershaw twice. In Wacha’s one NLDS start vs. Pittsburgh, the right-hander didn’t allow a hit until the eighth inning. Wacha, who debuted on May 30, is 3-0 in the playoffs with a 0.43 ERA (1 ER, 21 IP). The Cards also start Lance Lynn, 26, who was 2-1 in the playoffs, and Joe Kelly, 25, who was 0-1 in three starts. But it’s the young 'pen that should cause the most problems for Boston's offense. New closer Trevor Rosenthal (right), 23, who tossed seven scoreless playoff innings, is joined by Carlos Martinez (center), 21, lefty Kevin Siegrist, 23, Seth Maness, 24, and converted starter Shelby Miller, 22 — and they all bring the heat.
The next Mr. October?
Certain guys just seem to step it up a notch when it's playoff time. Who will it be this year? David Ortiz (left) has never lost a WS game, going 8-0 with Boston sweeps in '04 and '07. Big Papi owns a .321 WS batting average with one HR and eight RBI. He is ninth on the all-time playoff HR list with 15 and fifth on the all-time RBI list with 54. From his ALCS Game 2 grand slam to two walk-off playoff HRs in '04, Ortiz has proven he is a dangerous postseason bat. Shane Victorino (right) already has a ring, one he won with Philadelphia in '08. He only hit .250 with two RBI that Series, but a win's a win. He struggled in his return trip, hitting .182 when the Phillies lost in six to the Yankees in '09. In 56 playoff games, the Flyin’ Hawaiian has seven HRs and 38 RBI, including the memorable grand slam in Boston's ALCS clincher this year.
The next Mr. October II?
On the Cardinals side, there's Carlos Beltran (left). After losing three NLCS Game 7s, Beltran is finally in the WS. In 45 playoff games, Beltran has hit .337 with 16 HRs (eighth on the all-time list) and 37 RBI. He's often remembered for taking Strike 3 as a New York Met in Game 7 of the '06 NLCS from current teammate Adam Wainwright. Now, Beltran has a chance to shake that memory and win a ring as a Cardinal. When St. Louis won it all in 2011, David Freese (right) was the NLCS and World Series MVP. He hit .545 with three HRs and nine RBI in the NLCS, a six-game victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. In the World Series, he hit .348 with a HR and seven RBI. He might only be batting .175 in these playoffs, but don't count out his bat when it's in the spotlight.