The World Series arrives in St Louis tonight with the Cardinals banking on home field advantage and National League rules to put them back in contention with the Boston Red Sox, now within two games of their first championship in 86 years.
After four straight wins to topple the New York Yankees and capture the American League pennant, the Sox reeled off two more in the opening segment of the Series at a chilly Fenway Park over the weekend.
But now the hard part begins: three consecutive games at Busch Stadium, where Boston must play by National League rules without a designated hitter, and where the Cardinals have been invincible in the National League play-offs.
The comfort for St Louis is that the team, surely, cannot perform much more feebly than in the opening two games in Boston. In the first, the Cardinals were flattered by the 11-9 score-line, as a string of Boston defensive errors kept them close.
On Sunday, more pitching heroics by Curt Schilling and lame hitting helped the Red Sox prevail 6-2, despite four more Boston errors of which the Cardinals were unable to take advantage. The Boston ace went to the mound with blood staining his sock from the stitches that held in place a torn tendon in his right ankle. He still pitched six innings, yielding just one run. "I woke up at 7am and couldn't move. I will never use the words 'Lord' and 'unbelievable' in the same sentence again," Schilling, a devout Christian, said.
The Cardinals will not have to face Schilling until the Series moves back to Boston for Game Six - if there is one. First they have to take at least two out of three games in St Louis. To achieve that, two things are essential: better starting pitching and a return to form of the team's vaunted hitters.
In the first two games Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds - the deadliest 1-2-3 punch in baseball - combined for just four hits in 23 at-bats, and a single RBI. In the regular season they hit 122 home runs between them; in Boston they didn't come close once.
The Red Sox have been here before in their quest for a world championship. In 1986, the last time the prize was within reach, they went 2-0 up against the New York Mets, before losing 4-3 after a string of defensive errors. In that sense, too, however, things feel different for Boston fans. The team is making errors by the hatful, but in 2004 they don't seem to matter - not so far at any rate.
World Series Game 1: Boston 11 St Louis 9. Game 2: Boston 6 St Louis 2. (Boston lead best-of-seven series 2-0).
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