In 2004, the Boston Red Sox completed the greatest postseason comeback in Major League Baseball history when they overcame a 3-0 deficit against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, on their way to a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
Then, in 2007, the Red Sox proceeded to overcome a 3-1 deficit against the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS, on the way to another four-game sweep — this time of the Colorado Rockies, a team that had won 21 of its previous 22 games — in the World Series.
The 2013 Boston squad offers nothing so grandiose on its ledger this October, but history will show that twice in the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers, the Red Sox overcame late-inning deficits at home to win games on their way back to the World Series for the first time in six years.
The Red Sox beat the Tigers, 5-2, in Game Six of the ALCS on Saturday night, when Boston outfielder Shane Victorino hit a seventh-inning grand slam off Detroit reliever Jose Veras to overcome a one-run deficit.
Only time will tell if these comeback-driven Red Sox will win another championship, of course, but let the National League champion Cardinals and baseball fans everywhere be warned: it’s never over until it’s over in Boston.
And so 2013 now also represents the first time since 1999 that the teams with the best regular-season records in each respective league have advanced to the World Series together. Both the Cardinals and the Red Sox won 97 games this year, just ahead of the 96 wins posted by perennial playoff teams from Atlanta (NL) and Oakland (AL), respectively.
Why has it been 14 seasons since the two best teams over 162 games have managed to negotiate the dangerous postseason backwaters to make the Series together?
Because the baseball postseason is usually full of crazy surprises, upsets and momentum shifts that have little to do with team talent or quality. But both the Red Sox and the Cardinals were able to overcome such hazards this October, and now MLB gets its first World Series “rematch” of the new century.
There are only a few key figures remaining from that 2004 Series: Boston’s designated hitter David Ortiz, of course, played a key role in the Red Sox first title in 86 years back then, and for St. Louis, catcher Yadier Molina was a young pup of 21 on that Cardinals team — backing up his current manager, Mike Matheny. In addition, currently-injured starting pitcher Chris Carpenter was on the 2004 roster for St. Louis.
But this World Series is more of an organizational battle for MLB supremacy as these two highly-successful teams — the Cards with their ten postseasons since 2000 and the BoSox with seven playoff appearances in the last 11 seasons — square off to see which franchise can win its third World Series championship this century.
And in addition to having the best records, the two squads are evenly matched: each team was the highest-scoring team in its respective league in the regular season.
Yet everyone knows that pitching rules the roost in October: always has, always will.
In that category, St. Louis has posted a 2.34 ERA in its 11 postseason games this fall, five against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Division Series and six against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS — holding opponents to just a .207 batting average.
Boston’s staff has been very good (3.05 ERA, .242 opponents’ average) as well, and as the entire ALCS demonstrated, the Red Sox can win without getting a lot of hits: the Tigers actually outhit the Red Sox, 50-39, in the six-game series.
Detroit’s bullpen had a 4.01 ERA this year, and Boston exploited that to score 12 of their 19 runs in the ALCS in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. The Red Sox probably shouldn’t count on that kind of edge against St. Louis in the World Series.
Then again, you never know in baseball, which is why they play the games — and it could be an outstanding Fall Classic this time around.
Stay tuned, baseball fans.