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Cards ready for next challenge10/21/2004 10:47 PM ET
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- The Red Sox conquered the Yankees and the ghost of Babe Ruth.
On deck for the Cardinals: Enos Slaughter and Bob Gibson.
The speedy Slaughter, a Hall of Famer, famously dashed from first base to home on Harry Walker's eighth-inning hit in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, winning it for St. Louis over Boston. And the fearsome Gibson, another Hall of Famer, pitched a three-hitter in Game 7 of the 1967 World Series, again winning it for St. Louis, again over Boston.
The Cardinals and Red Sox will meet again in the 2004 Fall Classic, a rematch of two of baseball's most storied franchises.
"A whole lot of guys are going to the World Series for the first time," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, after his team beat Houston, 5-2, in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night. "That has terrific meaning, the excitement and the thrill of it."
Can anything be more thrilling than the series these teams just went through?
The Cardinals, winners of a Major League-best 105 regular-season games, won Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS at Busch Stadium only to drop all three in Houston. They returned to Busch Stadium on the brink of elimination, but twice rallied to win, on Thursday riding a three-run sixth inning to the their first World Series since 1987.
The Red Sox, who won 98 regular-season games on the way to the American League Wild Card, fell behind to the Yankees in the ALCS, three games to none. But they staged an historic comeback, winning the final four to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1986.
"Well, they showed what they can do, coming back from 3-0," said NLCS MVP Albert Pujols. "They never give up. They knew it wasn't over until they lose that fourth game."
Said Scott Rolen, whose two-run home run put the Cardinals ahead in Game 7: "I see the Red Sox as a very deserving, very competitive ballclub. We're going to go to Boston and we're going to let everything go. And, like [Pujols] said, not take anything for granted, play pitch-by-pitch and at-bat-by-at-bat. It should be a nice challenge and a great contest."
There will certainly be no shortage of storylines in the St. Louis clubhouse.
Tony Womack was with the Red Sox in Spring Training, but the team was not impressed with his 34-year-old legs. So on March 20 they traded him to St. Louis for minor league pitcher Matt Duff.
"I don't have any hard feelings for those guys," Womack said. "I was ready to play, and they didn't think I was. So I appreciated them trading me here and giving me a chance to play. I'm looking forward to the World Series."
Is it a chance for payback?
"I try to make people eat their words by playing on the field, not with more words," Womack said. "When you're going to the World Series, you don't really care who you're going against. You just want to enjoy this moment with your teammates."
Teammates like Chris Carpenter, born in Exeter, N.H., who grew up rooting for the Red Sox. The Cardinals are hopeful that Carpenter, their regular-season ace who missed the first two rounds of the postseason with a biceps injury, will be available in the World Series.
"I was a huge Roger Clemens fan," Carpenter said. "I had posters of him on my wall. I'm excited to go there and be a part of the World Series."
Teammates like Matt Morris, who came through in Game 6 of the NLCS, allowing three runs in five innings.
"I'm a free agent, and [Wednesday] could have been my last start here at Busch Stadium," Morris said. "Now, maybe I get a chance to start two more.
"You dream about starting a World Series game. You set your goals every year and this is always one of them. There's only two teams still standing, and it's great to be on one of them."
The Cardinals entered the postseason as heavy favorites to advance to the World Series, but that was not the case in Spring Training. Most experts picked St. Louis third in the NL Central behind pitching-dominant Chicago and Houston.
The team stormed to 105 wins and easily won the division, then dispatched the Dodgers in a four-game Division Series. The Cardinals took the first two games of the NLCS, then lost all three in Houston as bandwagon-jumpers leapt off.
"I bet they're back on it now, aren't they?" Womack said. "I don't care what people think. I believe in these guys and what they do and how we go about our job. I'm just happy to be with these guys."
The Cardinals have won 16 NL pennants, and are 9-6 in their previous 15 trips to the Fall Classic, which includes a 48-48 record in 96 games. Only two NL teams have played in more World Series, the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (18) and the New York/San Francisco Giants (17).
The Cardinals are 6-1 in World Series in which they hold home-field advantage, but 3-5 when they do not. The team is 6-0 at home this postseason.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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