(SportsNetwork.com) - Here we go again.
Those words had to cross the mind of St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny
now that his club opens the 109th edition of the World Series against the
Boston Red Sox Wednesday at Fenway Park.
Boston is once again standing in the way of a World Series title for Matheny,
but only this time he's the skipper and not the starting catcher. The Red Sox,
of course, ended the curse of the Bambino at the expense of Matheny and the
Cardinals back in 2004 with a four-game sweep in the Fall Classic.
The memories of losing to the Red Sox were re-visited after the Cardinals
eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS Friday to advance to the World
Series for a fourth time since Matheny's championship dreams were dashed.
The picture became more clear when Boston punched its ticket Saturday.
"It sure left a sharp bite and it's something you just don't forget," Matheny
said of the 2004 series. "It went from being the greatest baseball experience
I've ever had in my life ... winning 105 games, and being a team that was one
of the best I had ever been around -- to having our lunch handed to us in the
World Series and really not playing to the caliber that we were capable of.
That was one of the toughest experiences of my baseball career.
"You don't forget that. You don't forget what that feels like. You realize how
special the opportunity is and not to leave anything on the table."
St. Louis, which defeated the Red Sox to win the World Series in 1946 and
1967, and Boston both finished the regular season with 97 wins to capture
homefield advantage throughout the postseason. Since the American League won
the All-Star Game in July, the Red Sox have the edge in the World Series. The
Cardinals fended off both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to win the NL Central and
it all came together by mid-August.
Strong pitching from likely and also improbable sources fueled St. Louis'
drive to where the club is now and it's not about to let off the gas pedal.
"A lot of hard work was put into getting to where we are right now," staff ace
Adam Wainwright said. "So we got one more series to win. We're trying to bring
this thing home."
Pitching was key for the Cardinals in closing out the regular season with a
17-5 record and eliminating both the Pirates and Dodgers. If that carries on
to the biggest stage in baseball, and it should, the Cardinals will be raising
the Commissioner's Trophy later this month for their 12th World Series title.
Forget about Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, who was Matheny's
backup in the 2004 World Series, and the return of Allen Craig (foot) because
it will be all about mound presence.
Yes, the Cardinals can produce runs and are not intimidated by dominant
pitching, but it starts with Wainwright, who led the Cardinals in wins (19),
earned run average (2.94) and strikeouts (219) during the regular season and
went 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA in three playoff appearances. The right-hander can
eat up innings and gets the nod in Game 1 against Boston left-hander Jon
"We love Waino on the mound," Matheny said a few days ago. "He's our guy that
we build off of in more ways than just the production when he's on the mound.
He's the guy that sets the tone for our club, especially our pitching staff.
It's fitting that he'll be out there."
Wainwright, a possible Game 4 or 5 starter, is the veteran of the staff and
has allowed four runs and 17 hits so far in the postseason with 20 strikeouts,
which is second to newcomer and youngster Michael Wacha's 22 K's. There may be
a 10-year age difference between Wainwright and Wacha, but the latter has
pitched like a veteran since his insertion into the rotation. In three playoff
starts so far, the right-hander has a 3-0 record to go along with a
microscopic 0.43 ERA and was named the MVP of the NLCS.
Wacha has lasted at least 6 2/3 frames across 21 innings with eight hits and
one run, and is the likely candidate to pitch Game 2. He outdueled vaunted
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the LCS, tossing seven shutout
innings, while his counterpart was roughed up for seven runs and 10 hits over
just four innings against a cohesive St. Louis lineup.
Matheny can't go wrong with Game 3 options in Joe Kelly, another baby-faced
hurler, or Lance Lynn. Kelly took the mound first in the NLCS and did not
record a decision with six innings of two-run ball. However, he was reached
for four runs in five innings of a Game 5 loss. Still, Kelly went 10-5 with a
2.69 ERA in the regular season and kept hitters off-balance much like Wacha
because most of the opposing lineups have never faced them.
That theory holds true with Shelby Miller. Miller was a 15-game winner (15-9)
in 31 starts in the regular season with a 3.06 ERA and was relegated to
bullpen duties in the playoffs. The club likes Miller as a multiple-innings
reliever and he pitched just one inning in the division series against the
Pirates. The Cardinals didn't really need to go to Miller because their
starters worked deep into games. Miller, whose last appearance was Oct. 4,
said his arm is "fresh" and Matheny wants to keep the righty in the bullpen.
"If we've got to eat innings we have all the confidence in the world even
though he hasn't been out there in a while," Matheny said. "It's not an easy
job, just like it's not easy being a bench player. But you've got to figure it
out (how) to make it happen because when we need you, we need you bad."
Pitching helped the Cardinals to the 2006 World Series title in five games
against the Detroit Tigers and another championship in 2011 against the Texas
Rangers (7 games). Lynn pitched the Cardinals to a win in Game 3 of that
series and they should be in good shape if he can get back to his dominant
ways. Lynn has compiled a 2-1 mark in three games (2 starts) this postseason.
The rotation does have its work cut out against Boston's top hitters in David
Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. Ortiz is the designated hitter, but
is expected to share first-base duties with Mike Napoli when the series shifts
to Busch Stadium Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
While the rotation garners much-deserved attention in this series, the bullpen
will have to do its job to keep the Red Sox from getting into a groove. Miller
is rested and fellow relievers Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Randy
Choate, Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist have been busy from the prior series.
Rosenthal has three saves during the postseason.
Los Angeles is just as intimidating as Boston, and St. Louis never backed down
in eliminating the high-priced club. Money doesn't buy you velocity or a
changeup or curveball. Talent does. And that's what this Cardinals' staff has.
Don't think for one moment Boston's superstitious beards will play a role
because a fastball high and tight from either Wainwright, Wacha or Kelly will
trim a few whiskers.
Facial hair or not, the underdog Cardinals are prepared to spin the seams and
exact revenge from 2004.
The Sports Network