The teams that play the game the most crisply and efficiently. The teams that excel in payroll management, roster construction and player development above all others.
Yes, the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals will give the World Series something that it has not had since 1999 — a showdown between the clubs with the top regular-season records in each league.
The Series, which begins Wednesday night at Fenway Park, will be a fan’s delight, not to mention an instructional video for all of those other players and teams watching at home on FOX.
We will see:
• The Cardinals’ Carlos Beltran playing in his first World Series, and the Red Sox’s David Ortiz trying to win his third.
• The game’s best defensive catcher, the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina vs. the Red Sox’s master base stealer, Jacoby Ellsbury.
• The sport’s newest young stars, Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha and Red Sox third baseman Xander Bogaerts.
• Second basemen Matt Carpenter and Dustin Pedroia, closers Koji Uehara and Trevor Rosenthal, the Cardinals’ fuzzy-faced young relievers and the Red Sox’s cavalcade of flowing beards.
Oh, and let’s not forget the creator of “rejubilation,” the Red Sox’s Shane Victorino, whose grand slam Saturday night made him 4 for 6 with two grand slams and 16 RBI with the bases loaded in his postseason career.
The Red Sox joined the Cardinals in the Series with a stunning 5-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Saturday night in Game 6 of the Championship Series.
The team with the best starting pitching generally prevails in the postseason. Not this time. The Tigers’ starters combined for a 2.06 ERA in the ALCS, with 55 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings. The Red Sox’s starters combined for a 4.78 ERA, with 26 strikeouts in 32 innings.
And the Red Sox won, four games to two.
The Sox won because their bullpen was far superior, allowing one earned run in 21 innings, or six fewer than the Tigers’ ‘pen allowed in 12 2/3 innings.
The Sox also won because they played better defense, ran the bases better, did everything else better, really. One play, in particular, symbolized this tale of two teams, and it happened in the sixth inning Saturday night.
With first and third, none out and the Tigers leading 2-1, Pedroia executed a brilliant double play, tagging Victor Martinez between first and second, then taking advantage of Prince Fielder’s hesitancy trying to score by nailing him in a rundown.
Tigers fans will remember Prince’s belly flop going back to third. Red Sox fans will remember any number of savvy base-running plays from the rest of the series. Mike Napoli advancing from second to third on a tapper back to the mound and Will Middlebrooks going first to third on a sacrifice bunt in Game 5. Victorino and Pedroia advancing to second and third on a wild pitch that bounced only a few feet in front of Tigers catcher Alex Avila in Game 6.
Some of the Red Sox’s aggressive base-running helped create runs. Some of it didn’t. But the Sox create constant pressure — in the batter’s box, on the bases and in the field with their defensive prowess. For the lumbering, beaten-up Tigers, it was all just too much.
Would this Series have been different if the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera had not been suffering from a groin problem? I asked manager Jim Leyland that in our postgame interview, and he chose to deflect the question, preferring to praise the Red Sox instead. But before the game, Leyland said it broke his heart that Cabrera was less than 100 percent, and that it was a shame that fans could not see him at his best.
You know what? The Tigers easily could have won, anyway. Heck, the Tigers looked like they were heading for a possible sweep when they were four outs away from taking the first two games at Fenway, leading Game 2, 5-1. But Leyland got jittery with his bullpen — understandably so — and Ortiz’s dramatic slam off righty Joaquin Benoit changed everything.
Yet, even after that, the Tigers had many moments when they appeared in command, or close to it. The Red Sox didn’t get a hit until the ninth inning of Game 1, the sixth inning of Game 2 and the fifth inning of Game 3. After leading the majors in scoring during the regular season, they batted just .202 in the ALCS with a .609 OPS and 73 strikeouts and 193 at-bats.
The Tigers seemed to regain control when they won Game 4 to tie the series, with right-handers Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander lined up for Games 5 through 7. But the Red Sox, in a stunning accomplishment, wound up beating all three dominant Tigers starters.
The World Series will be different. The starting pitching is perhaps even. The Cardinals probably have a deeper bullpen. The offenses are comparable, but the Red Sox’s might be a touch better, particularly if Napoli stays hot and Bogaerts continues to show grace under pressure — not to mention immense offensive skill — at age 21.
This will sound bold, but as good as the ALCS was, the World Series might even be better. Both teams are a joy to watch. Both teams play the game the way it should be played.
For once, the Series will be a meeting of the most deserving postseason qualifiers rather than the culmination of a crapshoot.