David Freese launched a high drive to deep left-center field, watching the whole way until the ball loudly thwacked off the Green Monster.
”That’s my Wall ball!” he hooted to St. Louis teammate Matt Holliday.
Freese enjoyed his first look at the century-old ballpark, exploring its many quirks Tuesday. Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn and a couple more Cardinals squeezed through a door leading to the cramped space behind the famed wall.
”Like a bunch of kids,” manager Mike Matheny said.
No kidding come Wednesday night, when the Cardinals play the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the World Series.
From Stan the Man vs. the Splendid Splinter, to Gibby vs. Yaz, to Pedro vs. Pujols, the Redbirds and Red Sox are set to renew their fall rivalry. They’ll meet for the fourth time in ”that Octobery kind of air,” as Cardinals Game 1 starter Adam Wainwright described it.
”The historical nature of both teams doesn’t go unnoticed,” Freese said.
Jon Lester will pitch the opener for Boston, facing a lineup that got a late boost. Allen Craig, who hit a major league-leading .454 with runners in scoring position but hasn’t played since Sept. 4 because of sprained left foot, is ready to return.
”I feel like I’m in a good spot,” said the cleanup man, who will be the Cardinals’ designated hitter.
Weather could be a factor. Temperatures are supposed to dip into the low 40s and rain is in the forecast.
Boston was listed as a slim favorite in the matchup between teams that tied for the big league lead in wins. The clubs haven’t met in the regular season since 2008, and Red Sox speedster Jacoby Ellsbury was looking forward to this pairing that some are billing as the Beards vs. the Birds.
”It will be exciting to see some unfamiliar faces,” he said.
Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and many of their scraggly Boston teammates figure to get a good look at the Cardinals’ crop of young arms, led by Wacha and relievers Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and Kevin Siegrist.
David Ortiz is the link to the Red Sox team that swept St. Louis in the 2004 Series – Boston never trailed at any point – and ended an 86-year championship drought.
”Obviously I’m aware of the history of the two teams,” Ellsbury said. ”Once the first pitch happens, all that goes out the window.”
The Red Sox are trying to win their third crown in 10 years. St. Louis is aiming to take its second title in three years and third in eight seasons.
”Some of us have some pretty bad memories of being here in 2004, and we’re looking to kind of right that ship,” Matheny said.
Matheny was the Cardinals’ catcher that year, backed up by rookie Yadier Molina. Now Molina is considered the best defensive catcher in baseball, charged with trying to stop Ellsbury and a Red Sox team that’s run a lot in the postseason.
”It’s fun to be part of this history, to be here in Fenway Park, to be part of this Series against Boston,” Molina said.
”It’s different to play here overall. Playing defense, offense, pitching. It’s different, but at the same time it’s fun,” he said.
Freese grew up in St. Louis and became MVP of the 2011 Series. He heard about Stan Musial and Ted Williams in 1946, knew about Bob Gibson facing Carl Yastrzemski in `67 and recalled watching on TV when Red Sox reliever Keith Foulke fielded Edgar Renteria’s tapper to finish off 2004.
”I remember the comebacker that ended it. The sweep. You don’t expect a World Series to end in four games,” the 30-year-old third baseman said.
Freese said he’d always hoped to get a chance to play at Fenway, and he got his first swings at the workout.
An inviting target for a hitter, an imposing background for a pitcher. Especially a 22-year-old rookie, even one who’s gone 3-0 this postseason.
”A ballgame can change with one swing of the bat in this ballpark,” Wacha said. ”It’s pretty crazy. Crazy dimensions, that’s for sure.”