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Archive for Saturday, October 23, 2004

Red Sox happy Fall Classic returning to Fenway

October 23, 2004

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— The World Series logo was back on the field at Fenway Park, just like last year.

Only this time, it's for real.

That's right, the 100th World Series opens tonight in the city where the Fall Classic began in 1903 with Cy Young pitching a complete game against Pittsburgh for the Boston Pilgrims, predecessor to the Red Sox.

Beleaguered Boston, seeking to win the World Series for the first since 1918, will be playing the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that did in the Red Sox in Game 7 in 1946, then again in 1967.

Fenway Park, the smallest ballpark in the big leagues and one of baseball's jewels, will be playing host to the Series for the first time since 1986, when Boston left home with a 3-2 lead only to watch Mookie Wilson's grounder squib through Bill Buckner's legs in Game 6. With it went perhaps the best chance for the Red Sox to break Babe Ruth's Curse.

Now that they've pulverized those pinstriped Yankees, becoming the first major-league team to win four in a row in the postseason after losing the first three games, the Red Sox will try to roll over a Cardinals team that won 105 games, the most in the major leagues.

"I think I appreciate where we are," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "But as far as that goes, that's it. The task at hand is all that's on our mind, because the task isn't over. When it's over, we can sit back and think about a lot of things, and I'm sure that will bring a smile to my face."

Last year, the Red Sox grounds crew painted the Series logo on the field before the seventh game of the AL championship series in New York, only to have the Yankees rally from a four-run deficit to win on Aaron Boone's 11th-inning homer off Tim Wakefield.

"No premature logos, I can assure you," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said earlier this week.

On Wednesday, Boston went ahead early in Game 7 and beat New York, 10-3. After celebrating in front of Yankee Stadium's monuments Wednesday night, the Red Sox took Thursday off, then worked out at midday Friday in empty Fenway on a cool and cloudy day.

There figures to be a boisterous crowd tonight, with dry weather forecast and the temperature in the low 40s.

Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield will start the opener for the Red Sox against Woody Williams.

"This is all bonus time," said Kevin Millar, who will play first base for the Red Sox in Boston but make way for ALCS MVP David Ortiz when the designated hitter comes out of the lineup at Busch Stadium.

Boston is used to the charm of its own 92-year-old ballpark, which holds about 35,000 fans. There's the 37-foot-high Green Monster looming beyond left field, just 310 feet from home plate at the foul line. Across the way, there's Pesky's Pole in right, 302 feet from home, with a tricky fence that's only 3-to-5 feet high.

"It's a neat environment. Fans very close to the ballfield," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "A lot of passion, a lot of knowledge of the game."

St. Louis, which beat Houston, 5-2, in Game 7 Thursday night to return to the World Series for the first time since 1987, didn't arrive until early evening. With the sky turning dark, the Cardinals got an up-close look at Fenway, which the Red Sox claim is "America's Most Beloved Ballpark," according to a big sign outside the stadium.

Reggie Sanders and the other St. Louis outfielders spent a lot of time practicing how to field balls hit off the high wall. Manny Ramirez and the other Boston boppers figure to take aim in that direction.

"The way these guys are hitting in the ballpark, it's amazing how far they hit the ball over that wall," Williams said. "Hopefully, the balls will bounce off the wall and our guys will make a good play and keep them to a single."

Outside the park, fans dressed in Boston hats and jerseys walked around, looking for a way to get in for the games.

How prized are tickets for this weekend's games?

On eBay, $5,100 was bid for four bleacher seats for the opener. Want a better view? Someone bid $7,700 for four box seats.

"I want to see us win one time, because it's been a long time coming," said 85-year-old Johnny Pesky, a former Red Sox standout who now is a special-assignment instructor with the team. "I can die happy then."

Pesky was blamed by some for Boston's Game 7 loss to the Cardinals in '46, with some saying he held the relay too long on Harry Walker's double, allowing Enos Slaughter to score in a mad dash from first.

Boston didn't make it back to the World Series until 1967, when it faced the Cardinals yet again, and Bob Gibson pitched a three-hitter on three days' rest to beat Jim Lonborg.

St. Louis, which last won the Series in 1982, features with a powerful lineup that includes NLCS MVP Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen. The Cardinals' bashers, whose .278 batting average led the National League, will have to deal with Wakefield's often-baffling floater before Curt Schilling, his ailing ankle held together by sutures, throws harder stuff at them in Game 2.

St. Louis isn't ready to pick its Game 2 starter.

"Woody tomorrow, TBD, TBA," La Russa said. "We still have some decisions to make."

Last year, the Cardinals played a regular-season interleague series against Boston for the first time, taking two of three at Fenway.

"It's a little something," La Russa said.

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