Last week, I got a good chuckle reading an online article about the World Series matchup between the Boston Red Sox and and St. Louis Cardinals. The premise was that this particular series matchup was the most annoying possible to the majority of baseball fans (not pulling for the Sawks or Cards, naturally), complete with a formula for just why that must be so. I laughed, but I agreed -- I did find this particular matchup of two baseball blue bloods tended to get under my skin.
The Red Sox, for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, particularly rankle me. First the obvious, to those snugly outside the confines of Red Sox Nation -- and by the way, what's with all the "Nation" fan bases over the past few years? The Oakland Raiders fans coined that phrase years ago if memory serves right, but now every team down to the middle school level seems to have their own "Nation" of followers. Zero for originality points. The Red Sox are a not-so-poor rival to the New York Yankees, the franchise most dreaded/hated by the majority of fans for any other American League team. Boston led the "Evil Empire" chants for years, but won two World Series using precisely the same spending frenzy formula.
Well, not precisely, because the Red Sox are the master thieves of baseball when it comes to innovation. Remember the "Moneyball" days of the early 2000s, when the cash-strapped Oakland Athletics (my favorite team, by the way) exploited MLB's "market inefficiency" by targeting on-base percentage and parlayed that into a string of successful seasons? The Red Sox caught on, and soon helped drive the price sky-high for those types of hitters. Last year, the A's re-emerged with an amazing run to the AL West title. That team relied on platoons to maximize player potential, and fielded the typical youthful, fun-loving roster with a few veterans sprinkled in for leadership.
The Red Sox, reverting to their bloated spending ways last year, were just dreadful in an AL East cellar-dwelling season. They might still be, too, if the free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers hadn't bailed them out with a roster-changing trade in the off-season that allowed Boston to shed the big-money contracts of Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. That freed up money for the Red Sox to remake themselves this year by signing "high-character guys," guys like outfielder Jonny Gomes. That's the same Jonny Gomes, by the way, who was the clubhouse leader of the A's last season. So they got Gomes, and the A's starting shortstop Stephen Drew for good measure, through free agency. Heck, they even stole my team's facial-hair fetish. Thieves with money, that's the Red Sox.
As for the Cardinals? Eh, I just get tired of the whole "best fans in baseball" spiel you hear on virtually every Cardinals broadcast. It's grating, is all. That's about all the vitriol I have for the Redbirds.
I'm feeling a bit different about this World Series now, after watching five (well, four) truly memorable games.
The opener was a rout, of course, as the Red Sox rolled to an 8-1 win in Game 1 at Fenway Park. The Cardinals were bumbling -- witness the endless loop of Cards starter Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina numbly watching Drew's infield pop-up fall between them. Earlier, the umpiring crew actually corrected the jaw-dropping missed call by one of their own on a David Ortiz ground ball in the first inning. Cards shortstop Pete Kozma dropped the relay for a sure force out at second, but umpire Dana DeMuth initially called Dustin Pedroia out. A huddle of umps ensued, and the call was reversed to keep what became a decisive rally going for Boston.
Game 2, with the Cards already deemed in serious trouble -- it is a seven-game series, right? -- flipped that script as rookie starting pitcher Michael Wacha was rock-solid through six innings, allowing St. Louis to start rolling out its ridiculously-loaded power-pitching bullpen to close it out. Carlos Beltran, hurt saving a surefire Ortiz grand slam in Game 1, delivered a big hit and this time the Red Sox were the bunglers when relief pitcher Craig Breslow fired an errant throw to third into the stands to allow the go-ahead run to score in the Cards' eventual 4-2 win.
Now it was Boston's turn to be on the brink, right? Game 3 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis offered up more zany memories, as the game ended with a wild finish with the Cards' Allen Craig scored the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth -- on an obstruction call against Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks. Few outside of Boston would argue the call was blown, but it was certainly a gut-wrenching way for the Red Sox to drop a 5-4 decision.
Never saw that before, but the following night offered another World Series first when Cardinals pinch runner Kolten Wong was picked off first base by reliever Koji Uehara to end the game with Beltran at the plate. Gomes, naturally, came up with the big hit for Boston in the 4-2 win with a three-run homer in the sixth. He wasn't even on the lineup card an hour before the game, before scheduled starter Shane Victorino's back stiffened up to necessitate the late change.
So much craziness, it almost made Monday night's Game 5 pedestrian by comparison. Boston won 3-1 to go up 3-2 with the Series heading back to Fenway. Red Sox starter John Lester was dominant, again, and Boston slugger David Ortiz (hitting an otherworldly .733 so far in this World Series) came up with another run-scoring hit against Wainwright. The momentum has swung back to Boston, but the way this Series has gone it might not stay with the Red Sox.
I may not care for the matchup, but I can't help it -- I'll be watching the rest of the way.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>