Two proud franchises will take the field at Fenway Park tonight, when the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals meet in the 100th World Series. But forget all the history for a moment. Forget the Curse of the Bambino. Forget the 22-year drought since the Cardinals' ninth and last world championship.
This is about the way the Red Sox and Cardinals match up in 2004. Here's a closer look:
When the Cardinals are batting
Red Sox players think they're being complimentary when they say the Cardinals have an American League lineup. St. Louis hit 11 homers in the NLCS, but beyond being potent - with a Murderers' Row of Larry Walker, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds - the Cardinals also do the little things well, like bunt and steal bases.
Edgar Renteria had two textbook sacrifice bunts in the Cardinals' Game 7 victory over Houston. The Red Sox looked feeble every time they tried to bunt in the ALCS.
When right, Boston's starting pitching is good enough to keep the Cardinals in check. The Red Sox already handled a pair of good lineups, sweeping the Angels and winning four straight in Games 4 through 7 against the Yankees.
But Curt Schilling remains a major question mark. How much can his right ankle take? He was brilliant for seven innings in Game 6 against New York, with his tendons stitched together, and Boston's medical staff says he can have the same procedure done two more times.
The Yankees didn't bunt against Schilling, but the few times he had to cover first, he finished the play with a noticeable limp. Look for the Cardinals to exploit this weakness. Then again, if Schilling is OK, the Red Sox will be awfully tough if the Series goes long, with Schilling in Game 6 and Pedro Martinez in Game 7.
When the Red Sox are batting
Boston had the best offense in baseball this season, scoring 949 runs, compared with 855 for the Cardinals. But the World Series format weakens the Red Sox significantly with the NL rules in St. Louis for Games 3, 4 and 5.
With no designated hitter, David Ortiz will get thrust into first base duty, and Kevin Millar will be on the bench. This weakens the Red Sox both offensively and defensively.
Ortiz was sensational in the ALCS, but some of his teammates disappeared offensively. Johnny Damon was hitting .103 in the series until he hit two homers and drove in six runs in Game 7. Manny Ramirez didn't have an RBI in the series. Mark Bellhorn also struggled before waking up with home runs in Games 6 and 7.
The Cardinals have several solid starting pitchers but no one dominant force. Chris Carpenter, their ace this season, is out with nerve damage in his right biceps. Matt Morris is nowhere near the dominant pitcher he was two years ago. But Yankees pitchers Mike Mussina and Jon Lieber proved the Boston lineup can be stopped, and Woody Williams, Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis are just as capable.
Edge: Red Sox.
With both teams coming off seven-game marathons, neither bullpen is fresh, though the Red Sox benefit from having the extra day of rest. Both closers are solid if not spectacular.
Red Sox closer Keith Foulke has yet to give up a run in nine innings this postseason, but he's not overpowering. Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen gave up a three-run, walk-off homer to Jeff Kent to end Game 5.
The Cardinals have a more dependable bridge from starter to closer with Kiko Calero, left-hander Ray King and Julian Tavarez. Boston will look to Bronson Arroyo to help get the ball to Mike Timlin and Foulke.
One thing the Red Sox do well in the late innings is play defense, with Pokey Reese, Doug Mientkiewicz and Gabe Kapler available off the bench.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona took some heat in the ALCS for using Curtis Leskanic with a tie score in Game 3, and pulling Derek Lowe a tad early in Game 4. But by the end of the series, Francona looked like a genius, which is a word often used to describe his Cardinals counterpart, Tony La Russa.
Few doubt La Russa will press the right buttons in this series, but Francona won't be overmatched. He managed the Philadelphia Phillies for four years, so the NL rules won't feel foreign at all.
Different shades of red
It would be tough to find two better baseball cities than Boston and St. Louis.
Both sets of fans have enormous passion, though it borders on obsession in Red Sox Nation because the team hasn't won the World Series since 1918. If anything, that could work against the Boston players.
Failure, as Bill Buckner can attest, brings unspeakable torment.
This has the makings of another classic. Both teams have exceptional lineups, but with Boston's pitching weakened, the Cardinals look like the more complete team.
Look for St. Louis to win in seven games.
Today, 8 p.m.
St. Louis (Williams 11-8) at Boston (Wakefield 12-10)
Tomorrow, 8:10 p.m.
St. Louis (Marquis 15-7) at Boston (Schilling 21-6)
Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.
Boston (Martinez 16-9) at St. Louis
Wednesday, 8:25 p.m.
Boston (Lowe 14-12) at St. Louis
Thursday, 8:25 p.m.
Boston at St. Louis
Next Saturday, 7:55 p.m.
St. Louis at Boston
Oct. 31, 7:55 p.m.
St. Louis vs. Boston
All games on chs. 45, 5