By: Bob George/BosSports.net
October 25, 2013

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ST. LOUIS -- In 2004, not only did the St. Louis Cardinals never win, they never even led at any time in the World Series.

The Red Sox put down their time-honored curse, but the 105-win Cardinals made it way too easy. The Sox made four errors in each of the first two games and won both. Jeff Suppan, who did two tours of duty with the Red Sox, made Luis Aparicio proud with his base running gaffe at third base in Game 3. Scott Rolen went 0 for the entire series. The Red Sox were fortunate to miss Chris Carpenter, who was injured at the time.

It all added up to an easy four game sweep of the Redbirds, an insane celebration in the northeast, and people in these parts treating it like everything from penance to absolution to exorcism to fulfillment. The Red Sox won the World Series. It happened. We saw it. Now we can die.

Nine years later, it's the Sox and the Cardinals again. The series is headed to Busch Stadium.

Tied.

The Sox made it nine straight World Series wins on Wednesday night with an 8-1 win over the bumbling Redbirds. David Ortiz went deep once and almost went deep twice. Mike Napoli blasted a three-run double. The normally defensively airtight Cardinals made three errors, two by shortstop Pete Kozma. Ho hum. Business as usual. Why did it used to be so hard to beat these National League champs in years past?

Then came Thursday night. And everything has changed.

Flash back to 2007, Game 2. Colorado takes early 1-0 lead. Red Sox rally for a 2-1 win. Veteran John Lackey had World Series successes early in his career, like Curt Schilling. Game 2 in 2013 was following this exact script. The hero was Big Papi, with a two-run bomb off of wunderkind rookie Michael Wacha to give the home town team the 2-1 lead.

The problem is that in 2013, the 2-1 lead did not hold up. Two walks, a double steal, two errors on one play and an RBI single added up to a 4-2 Cardinals win and a 1-1 tie in the World Series as the teams head to the Gateway of the Midwest. Instead of the Red Sox enjoying still another 2-0 series lead heading out on the road, it's tied and a whole new look and feel to this World Series.

Busch Stadium is no longer the cookie cutter stadium we saw in 2004 and 1967. The old place was torn down and a new Busch Stadium took its place. Since its 2006 opening, the Redbirds have already won two World Series (2006 and 2011). This is actually the third place to be named Busch Stadium; old Sportsmans Park (where the Red Sox played the 1946 series) was named Busch Stadium for the final 13 years of its existence. This new place is in keeping with the Camden Yards style of retro ball parks that are wonderful to look at and very fan friendly.

The Red Sox come into this stadium facing a Cardinals team which has a different makeup from the 2004 team. They no longer have Albert Pujols, but he has been a shell of his old self in Anaheim. They have a lineup that grinds out runs, but a lineup that can be pitched to. The Cardinals have two shutdown pitchers versus none (that were healthy) in 2004. And the Cardinals have a bullpen that can trot out one 99 mph pitcher after another.

The Red Sox have a team that knows it can face and defeat top line pitching. In the ALCS versus the Tigers, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer totaled zero wins against the Sox. Annibal Sanchez no-hit the Sox in Game 1 but lost the Game 5 rematch. The Sox have already beat Adam Wainwright in this series and will have to face him again in Game 5. If they can somehow avoid the back end of the Cardinals' bullpen, they have a good chance to win one or two games in St. Louis.

But make no mistake. This Cardinals team is scary, it is very good, and very capable of winning the whole thing.

If there is one thing that both teams are good at, it is finding ways to win. Both teams led their leagues with 97 wins. Both teams dominated their prior playoff series, even though Pittsburgh took the Cardinals to the five-game limit. These are two teams that exchanged bad games at Fenway this week, and now look to settle in and knock heads with each other to see who is better than the other at grinding out wins.

What this series will come down to is pitching. Whichever team pitches better will win. That's pretty much it.

The next two games will be pivotal. The Sox will send Jake Peavy and most likely Clay Buchholz against Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn. These are not the titanic matchups of the first two games by any stretch of the imagination. Peavy pitched well in Game 4 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay but got knocked around by Detroit in Game 4 of the ALCS. Buchholz has not shown the stamina to be the 10-0 All-Star starter candidate he was earlier in the season before being shelved with an injury; by all rights, Buchholz should have been the Game 2 starter and Lackey getting Game 3 like the ALCS. But John Farrell cannot trust Buchholz like he would like to.

The Red Sox need to take at least one of these winnable games before they have to deal with Wainwright and Wacha again. Jon Lester can pitch another great game and still lose 1-0 like he did against Sanchez in the ALCS. The last thing the Sox want is to be down 3-1 and needing to beat Wainwright to get the Series back to Boston.

Catching will also be an issue. Farrell might want to use David Ross over Jarrod Saltalamacchia for most of the rest of the Series because of his handling of the pitchers. Saltalamacchia and Ross are both strikeout liabilities at the plate, so you don't lose a ton of offense with Ross. Ross has been hailed with how well he has handled the staff while in there and is better at throwing out runners. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny might not try any more double steals, but with Ross behind the plate, perhaps Matheny will think twice even on single steals.

Hold on to your hats, folks. This is going to be a great World Series. We already know that there will be no sweep. The nine-game winning streak for the Red Sox in World Series games is now history. The Redbirds are in this for the long haul. So are the Red Sox.

Look on the bright side. Barring either team taking all three at Busch Stadium, the World Series, unlike the 2004 and 2007 wins, will conclude at Fenway Park. The Sox haven't won a World Series at home since 1918. The Sox had a chance to win at home in 1975 but lost Game 7 to the Reds. Ditto in 1967, but they were no match for Bob Gibson.

You might squirm in your seat a bit this time. But this will be a terrific next few days. And your team can still win this thing.


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