- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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BOSTON -- If you don't count all the October roads that passed through the old Yankee Stadium, it's been nearly 30 years (since 1984, at majestic Tiger Stadium) since the World Series reached its dramatic conclusion at a ballpark that opened before the 1960s.
But so much for that streak. Polish up the Green Monster. Slap a coat of paint on the Pesky Pole. Scrub down that quaint hand-operated scoreboard. An entire season -- and a fantastic baseball postseason -- is about to come down to this:
Game 6, and maybe a landmark Game 7, on Wednesday (and possibly Thursday) at 101-year-old Fenway Park.
How awesome is that?
But the Fenway Factor is only one of several very cool storylines that will be swirling above this World Series when John Lackey fires the first pitch to Matt Carpenter on Wednesday evening. Here are just some of them:
How can a ballpark stand in one place, host over 8,000 games, and only four times -- in over a century -- be the scene of the World Series' final pitch?
Well, that's the true story of all these many Octobers at Fenway. More than 100 seasons. Just four championship celebrations -- by anyone. No matter how cursed you may have believed the Red Sox were for approximately 86 years, that's still almost unimaginable. But 100 percent true.
No team has won a World Series at Fenway since Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and the 1975 edition of the Big Red Machine. And in all those years, in all those seasons, the only other teams ever to win a World Series at Fenway were Bob Gibson's 1967 Cardinals, Carl Mays' 1918 Red Sox and Tris Speaker's 1912 Red Sox. Amazing.
What's even more amazing, though, is that the home team hasn't won a World Series at Fenway in 95 years. So if the Red Sox actually go ahead and win one more game over the next two days, this is where that 95-year drought will stand in the annals of baseball history:
If the Red Sox end this streak, it would nearly double the previous longest gap between World Series clinchers by the home team in one home ballpark. The current record, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is 49 years, by the Tigers, who went from 1935 to 1984 between home celebrations in Detroit at Tiger Stadium.
The next-longest streak that actually remains alive is 50 years (and counting), by the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, where they last finished off a World Series victory in 1963.
And because we know what you're thinking, let's get around to the elephant in the drought room. That, obviously, is Wrigley Field, which remains a category unto itself. Yes, it's true the Cubs have played baseball there for 98 seasons. Yes, it's true that no team has won a World Series at Wrigley for 68 years (since the 1945 Tigers). But there's no such thing as a Most Seasons Between Home World Series Wins at Wrigley category -- for one simple reason: The Cubs have never actually won, since moving there in 1916. Which means it'll be awhile before you read a sentence that goes something like: "And the Cubs have won the World Series at Wrigley Field again."
So with that history as the backdrop, the Red Sox and Cardinals will take the field on Wednesday night, in a ballpark rocking with enough energy to power every home in the state of Massachusetts. And you'll be able to feel it, right through your LED screen. Ought to be one unforgettable night -- or, if we get to a Game 7 Thursday -- possibly two unforgettable nights.
"This," said Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino, "is the reason I came here. I wanted to play in games like this in front of these fans."
The Real Survivor All-Stars
They've never done their thing in Fiji or on Redemption Island. But anyone who thinks the Cardinals are finished, just because they're one loss away from booking their first tee time of the winter, hasn't been paying attention.
This team is the official King of the Survivor Games. Over the past three postseasons, the Cardinals have played nine elimination games. And if you don't recall how that's gone, take a look:
2013 -- Already played two elimination games in the National League Division Series against the Pirates -- and won them both (2-0).
2012 -- Won the NL wild-card game, then came from six runs down to win Game 5 of the division series in Washington. Finally lost Game 7 of the National League Championship Series in San Francisco (2-1).
2011 -- Had to win Games 4 and 5 of the NLDS against the Phillies to advance, and did. Then fell behind, three games to two, in the World Series (sound familiar?) against Texas, and needed to win Games 6 and 7 -- and (again) won them both (4-0).
So if you're adding that up at home, you know this team is an outrageous 8-1 in elimination games just in the past 24 months. And as we pointed out a few weeks ago, when this scenario unfolded again in that Pirates series, not only have the Cardinals won those games, but many of them would rank really, really, really high on anyone's list of Greatest October Games of the 21st Century.
And now they're right back in this same situation. Winning two games in Fenway, under these circumstances, will be as challenging as anything they've done. But if you watched this team ignore the bedlam to take classic win-or-else games in Philadelphia, Washington and Pittsburgh, you should know this is a group that loves these moments.
"I don't really know how to explain it," said infielder Daniel Descalso. "We've been really good in those situations, where it's win or go home. I don't know if we like the pressure, or what it is. But it seems like every time we're in deep like that, somebody new steps up and gets a big hit, or makes big pitches. And it's fun to be part of."
So how rare is it for teams like this to be this good in games that could boot them off October Island? According to Elias, only one other team in history has ever pulled off a stretch of 8-1 or better over nine or more postseason elimination games. And guess who it is?
Right. The Red Sox -- who actually went 13-1 in elimination games, starting with the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees and running through Game 6 of the 2008 ALCS against Tampa Bay, with the only loss coming in the Aaron Boone Game in '03.
So could that be any more perfect? Oh, and who's the only current member of the Red Sox who played in every one of those games? You're about to read all about him.
The Big Papi Show
How hot is David Ortiz right now? Let's just say you should probably apply sunscreen before watching him hit.
After a weekend in St. Louis in which he made exactly two outs in three days (comprising 12 trips to the plate), this man is now having one of the all-time hellacious World Series:
He's hitting .733 (11-for-15). His teammates are hitting .151 (22-for-146). Ponder that for a moment. Five games into this World Series, he still owns 33.3 percent of all his team's hits -- and that team happened to lead the major leagues in runs scored this year.
He has an on-base percentage of .750 -- which is what happens when you reach base 15 times in 20 trips to the plate. And we remind you that one of those five times he made an out, Carlos Beltran had to splatter himself off the bullpen fence to rob him of a grand slam.
Big Papi reached base in nine straight trips to the plate at one point, tying Billy Hatcher's 1990 record for most consecutive plate appearances reaching base in a single World Series. And he's working on a streak of four games in a row in which he's been on base three times or more. The only other players to do that in one World Series: Johnny Lindell in 1947 (four), Pete Rose in 1975 (four) and Barry Bonds in 2002 (five).
So no wonder David Ross quipped the other night: "What planet is that guy from?"
But now let's look at what Ortiz has a chance to achieve if he keeps this up:
He needs just one hit to tie the all-time record for most hits in a six-game World Series (12, shared by Billy Martin, Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor and Marquis Grissom).
If the Series goes to a seventh game, Ortiz would need just two more hits to become the fourth man to get 13 hits in a seven-game World Series -- joining Bobby Richardson, Lou Brock and Marty Barrett.
If this is a six-game Series, Big Papi would need to get on base twice Wednesday to tie Paul Molitor's record for most times reaching base (via hit, walk or hit-by-pitch) in a six-game World Series.
Since he's coming off back-to-back three-hit games, if Ortiz gets three more hits Wednesday, he'd become just the second player ever to run off three straight games of three hits or more in one World Series. (The other: Lou Brock, in 1968.)
And finally, the records for highest batting average in a World Series (.750, by Hatcher) and highest on-base percentage (.800, by Hatcher) are also within Big Papi's reach. As are the records in those categories for a Series of six games or longer (minimum 20 plate appearances): a .615 average (by Hideki Matsui in 2009) and a .700 OBP (by Barry Bonds in 2002).
But wait. There's one more supercool feat Ortiz can achieve if his team wins one of these next two games:
If it does, that would give him three World Series titles with the Red Sox -- and you don't see that much nowadays. According to Elias, he would be the first non-Yankee to win three rings with one team since Jim Palmer did it for the 1966-70-83 Orioles. Unreal.
Finally, let's just say a word about a tremendous World Series.
Two great teams ... Two rosters full of players and coaches who feel as if they're immersed in this competition at every conceivable level, every minute of every day ... Two stupendous baseball cities, where every single citizen walking the streets gives you the impression there is nothing that matters more to them than these games.
And, especially, two teams that have given us one riveting game after another.
OK, so Game 1 was a blowout (Red Sox 8, Cardinals 1). It was still one absorbing evening, featuring a pivotal umpire's call, a robbed grand slam involving two of the greatest postseason players of their era (Beltran and Ortiz) and intrigue over an alert-the-conspiracy-theorists tweet about Jon Lester's glove.
But since then, what have we gotten? Four straight games decided by two runs or fewer -- the first time that's happened in any World Series since 2005, the first time in a nonsweep since 2000 and the first time in a four-game span in which each team won twice since 1980.
Along the way, we also had three straight games decided in the seventh inning or later, for the first time since 2011.
And we saw back-to-back games end on an obstruction call and a pickoff -- two finishes in 24 hours that had never before been seen in any postseason game ever played. (Incidentally, Retrosheet founder Dave Smith tells us he went through every regular-season game in the Retrosheet database, more than 100,000 of them, and found only one other game -- Mariners/Devil Rays on Aug. 6, 2004 -- that ended on an obstruction error.)
And over these past four games -- while 310 hitters were seeing 1,106 pitches over 13 hours and 26 minutes of must-see baseball -- exactly ONE inning ended with either team holding a lead of more than two runs (when the Red Sox took a 4-1 lead in the sixth inning of Game 4).
So over all that baseball, a mere 11 hitters, TOTAL, have come to the plate with the teams separated by more than two runs -- in other words, in situations where even one hit by the trailing team would not have brought the tying or go-ahead run to the plate.
That's over four days and 13½ hours of baseball. Fabulous.
"These games have been incredible," said the Red Sox's Ryan Dempster. "There hasn't been much leeway on either side. When they've won a game or we won games, it seems like it always could be a bloop and a blast to tie a game up. Other than Game 1, where it kind of got away late, it's been a battle the whole time. And that's fun."
Fun? Heck, it's been the best reality show on earth. And the best part is, the real fun is just ahead, when Fenway Park lurches back to life on Wednesday night, with a historic finish to this World Series, for one of these two teams, hovering just over the October horizon.