It was a big deal then, but now it seems same old, same old.
They made a movie out of it in 2004, when the Boston Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series and end the 86-year Curse of the Bambino.
Loosely based on Nick Hornby’s soccer-focused Fever Pitch, as part of the filming, actors Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon were rushed past reporters so they could be filmed taking part in the on-field celebration – and since then no other team in professional sports gets the product placement of the Red Sox.
The Wahlberg brothers? Ben Affleck? Matt Damon? Need a location for a shootout? Let’s go to Fenway Park! Bring along the Dropkick Murphys, too. Popular culture is … well, it’s polluted with Red Sox stuff. They are the team of the literati.
And so when the Red Sox and Cardinals begin the World Series on Wednesday at Fenway Park, they will no longer be two grand, old, historical franchises meeting in a quaint best-of-seven series.
The Cardinals have been to the postseason six times since and have won two World Series of their own, the last in 2011, while losing two National League Championship Series. They are boring in their efficiency. They are the Swiss of baseball, less a work of narrative brilliance and texture than a textbook.
The Red Sox have been to the postseason five times since 2004, winning the 2007 World Series and losing the 2006 American League Championship Series. They aren’t as goofy as the 2004 team; but they get their uniforms just as dirty. Their fans are still stereotyped as boozy, reprehensible fraternity brats – “Mass-holes” is now a part of the lexicon, while Cardinals fans are a different smug: they are a “my lawn’s bigger than yours” smug.
Cardinals fans are corn-fed Midwesterners; Red Sox fans prefer corn liquor.
But there is reason to celebrate these two franchises – which are meeting in the World Series for a fourth time – because, by and large, they have done it the right way.
Consider the Cardinals, who in the intervening years since 2004 have lost a Hall of Fame manager (Tony La Russa), one of the greatest hitters of a generation (Albert Pujols) and one of the most celebrated pitching coaches of all time (Dave Duncan). Injuries, meanwhile, have turned perennial Cy Young Award candidate Chris Carpenter into a cheerleader.
Yet here they are, with their assembly line rotation of BB throwers, impervious relievers and interchangeable guys named Allan and Peter and David; managed by Mike Matheny, who was in the twilight of his career in the 2004 World Series – a four-game sweep that marked the handover of the Cards catcher job from Matheny to Yadier Molina, one of the most irreplaceable players in the majors.
“It left a sharp bite,” Matheny told reporters as the Cardinals prepared for Wednesday’s opener. “It went from being the greatest baseball experience I’ve had in my life to having our lunch handed to us and really not playing to the calibre we were capable of playing.”
The Red Sox are even less lovable than they were in 2004, but truth is, you’re guilty of nothing more than giving the devil his due if you send kudos in their direction for carving out a worst-to-first story.
David Ortiz is the only player who is a holdover from former manager Terry Francona’s Curse Busters, and there is a subtlety to the way this team plays that belies the traditional view of the Red Sox as a bunch of beer-league crushers.
General manager Ben Cherington has, in the span of a year, dumped some of the worst contracts in the game (Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez) and mostly eschewed giving out silly long-term contracts. Even Dustin Pedroia’s deal amounted to a hometown discount.
Like the Cardinals, there is nothing cuddly about the Red Sox. Also like the Cardinals, there is every sense this won’t be the last time they’re in our faces come late October.
Welcome or not, the Cardinals and Red Sox have joined our regular list of fall houseguests. Best leave a light on for them.
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