The St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox will meet in the World Series this year for the fourth time in their long histories. That puts this matchup in a tie with A's-Giants and Tigers-Cubs for the most common World Series pairing not featuring the Yankees. Of the seven World Series matchups that have happened four or more times, Cardinals-Red Sox is the only one to have occurred this century, having taken place in both 2004 and now 2013.
Thus far, these Boston-St. Louis matchups have been more central to the history of the Red Sox, as they have now clashed with the Cardinals after four of their last seven pennants. Those include the Sox' only two World Series appearances between 1919 and 1974 and, of course, the Fall Classic in which they finally broke their 86-year championship drought in 2004.
Here is a closer look back at the first three times these two teams met in the World Series:
1946: Cardinals 4, Red Sox 3
Led by a 27-year-old Ted Williams in his first year back from World War II, the 1946 Red Sox snapped a 27-year pennant drought that remains the longest in franchise history. The Cardinals, meanwhile, swept the Dodgers in a best-of-three tiebreaker playoff to reach the World Series for the fourth time in the last five years. The only exception was 1945, Hall of Famer Stan Musial's lone season in the service.
With Williams and Musial, the top two hitters of the era and their respective league's MVP winners that season, leading the way, Boston and St. Louis boasted the top two offenses in the majors. Despite that, the Series started out as a low-scoring affair. Trailing 2-1 and down to their last out in the top of the ninth in Game 1, the Red Sox tied the score on single by rightfielder Tom McBride, then picked up the eventual winning run on a two-out solo homer by first baseman Rudy York in the top of the 10th.
The two teams alternated shutouts the next two games, with St. Louis lefty Harry "The Cat" Brecheen doing the honors in Game 2, and Boston's Boo Ferriss returning serve in Game 3. That game is best remembered for Williams bunting for a hit against the so-called Williams Shift that the Cardinals employed to slow him down (a version of which is far more common today against lefty sluggers like Boston's current home run hero, David Ortiz). The strategy worked, as Teddy Ballgame was limited to just five hits, all singles, in the Series.
The scoring picked up from there, with the Cards breaking out for 12 runs on a then-record-tying 20 hits in Game 4 and the Sox answering with a 6-3 win in Game 5. St. Louis stayed alive behind another complete game by Brecheen in Game 6, pushing the Series to the limit.
The Red Sox took an early lead on the very first out of Game 7, a sacrifice fly by centerfielder Dom DiMaggio. The Cardinals tied it up in the bottom of the second, and the score remained knotted until the bottom of the fifth, when St. Louis broke through for two more tallies. The Cardinals were four outs from the championship in the bottom of the eighth when Brecheen, on in relief after just one day of rest following his complete game in Game 6, gave up a double to DiMaggio that plated two inherited runners, tying the score at 3-3.
The tie was short-lived. Future Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter led off the bottom of the eighth for St. Louis with a single. After two outs, one a bunt attempt that was popped up, leftfielder Harry "The Hat" Walker lined a hit into the leftfield gap. Leon Culberson, who had pinch-run for DiMaggio in the top of the inning, cut the ball off, but Slaughter was running with the pitch and came all the way around to score what would prove to be the Series-winning run. Slaughter was often credited with racing around from first from first on a single, but Walker's hit was in fact scored a double. Red Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky, who took the relay from Culberson, would subsequently be accused of hesitating on his throw home. Yet rather than blame Pesky, history should (and outside of New England largely has) credited Slaughter for forcing the action.
The Red Sox got the tying run to third base in the top of the ninth, but Brecheen got a foul-pop and a fielder's choice to close it out. Brecheen finished with a 0.45 ERA over 20 innings in the Series, a performance worthy of the World Series MVP award had it at the time. It was St. Louis' third championship in five years, to go along with its triumphs in 1942 and '44.
[mlbvideo id="19994283" width="600" height="360" /]
1967: Cardinals 4, Red Sox 3
The relative positions of the Cardinals and Red Sox entering their next World Series confrontation resembled their standing heading into their first. For Boston, this was its fist World Series since 1946. After consecutive ninth-place (or next-to-last) finishes in 1965 and 1966, a pennant-winning season seemed so unlikely that the team's 1967 campaign was dubbed "The Impossible Dream," after the song from the 1965 Broadway hit Man of La Mancha.
Under rookie manager Dick Williams, the Red Sox made that dream a reality by beating the Twins in the final two games of the regular season to emerge from a four-team scrum and win the American League pennant by one game. As in 1946, Boston boasted the majors' most potent offense led by the league's Most Valuable Player. This time it was Williams' successor in leftfield, Carl Yastrzemski, whose Triple Crown and Gold Glove-winning season stands as one of the greatest all-around performances in the game's history, albeit one masked by the extreme pitchers' era in which it took place.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, had won a championship in 1964 and cruised to the National League pennant in '67 with a 101-win season and a balanced, star-studded team built around the core of the '64 champions.
Because Boston's ace and that year's American League Cy Young award winner, Jim Lonborg, had pitched a complete game on the final day of the season to deliver the pennant, the Red Sox were unable to start him against Cardinals ace Bob Gibson in Game 1. The staggering of the two aces meant that each team got its first win behind its best pitcher, both of whom went the distance while allowing a total of one run between them. That lone run came off of Gibson in Game 1 via a home run by opposing pitcher Jose Santiago. In Game 2, Lonborg didn't allow a baserunner until the seventh inning or a hit until there were two outs in the eighth. He finished with the fourth and still-most-recent one-hitter in World Series history.
After St. Louis won Game 3 behind 23-year-old Nelson Briles, Gibson and Lonborg resumed their dominance. First, Gibson pitched a shutout in Game 4 and then Lonborg answered with another complete game win in Game 5, this time allowing just a single run, to send the series back to Boston. Game 6 was a see-saw affair at Fenway Park in which neither starting pitcher made it past the sixth inning. That Red Sox ultimately won thanks to a four-run seventh inning that once again forced a decisive seventh game.
With Lonborg having allowed just one run (on a Roger Maris solo homer) and four hits in the Series, Williams was unable to resist the urge to start his ace on two days of rest against Gibson. But in a sad end to a great season, Lonborg wasn't up to the challenge. Gibson pitched his third complete game of the Series, adding a fifth-inning solo homer off Lonborg for good measure, while Williams let Lonborg give up seven runs over six innings before turning to his bullpen. Yastrzemski hit .400/.500/.840 in the series with three home runs, but the Red Sox were no match for Gibson. He won the Series MVP for completing and winning all three of his starts while allowing just three runs. It was St. Louis' second title in four years.
[mlbvideo id="19994279" width="600" height="360" /]
2004: Red Sox 4, Cardinals 0
By the time the Red Sox and Cardinals met again in 2004, the two franchises were on more equal footing, with one major exception. Heading into that season, Boston hadn't been to a World Series since losing to the Mets in seven games in 1986, while St. Louis hadn't won a pennant since falling to the Twins in seven games in '87. Both teams, however, were perennial playoff entrants, each appearing in their fifth postseason of the Wild-Card Era.
The key difference was that the Red Sox still hadn't won a World Series since 1918 -- when their pitching staff was led by a young lefty named Babe Ruth -- while the Cardinals had nine titles over the course of Boston's 86-year drought, two of them coming at the Sox' expense, and the most recent occurring in 1982.
The signal that this year might be different came when the Red Sox battled back from a 3-games-to-0 deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS, becoming the first major league team ever to win a best-of-seven series that they had trailed 3-0.
Boston kept momentum on its side by immediately jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning of Game 1, an outburst keyed by a three-run home run from ALCS hero David Ortiz, the fourth Boston hitter to come to the plate in the Series. The Sox added three more runs in the third, driving St. Louis starter Woody Williams from the game.
The two teams had, once again, led their respective leagues in scoring in scoring during the regular season, and the opener at Fenway Park, quickly turned into a slugfest. With Larry Walker, a former NL MVP who had been acquired in an August trade, contributing a third-inning home run off BoSox starter Tim Wakefield and a game-tying double off reliever Bronson Arroyo, the Cardinals battled back to tie the score at 7-7 in the top of the sixth. The Red Sox went ahead again with two runs in the bottom of the seventh but St. Louis tied it once more in the top of the eighth. Boston delivered the final blow in the bottom half on a two-run home run by second baseman Mark Bellhorn and Keith Foulke slammed the door in the ninth to give the Sox an 11-9 win.
That was the only time St. Louis would come close to winning a game in the Series. Red Sox starters Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe combined to allow just one unearned run in 20 innings over the Series' final three games, handing the Boston bullpen a trio of leads it did not relinquish. When Cardinals shortstop Edgar Renteria tapped back to Foulke for the final out of Game 4, the Red Sox had swept the final eight games of the 2004 postseason, finally putting to bed 86 years of frustration, alleged curses, mismanagement and lousy luck.
[mlbvideo id="19983103" width="600" height="360" /]
Both teams have won championships since, doing so consecutively in 2006 (Cardinals) and 2007 (Red Sox), thus combining for three World Series wins in four years. With the two facing each other in this World Series, they will have combined to win five of the last 10 championships (adding St. Louis's dramatic win in 2011).
By almost every measure, they have been the two best teams of the 21st century thus far, and they enter the 2013 World Series having tied for the best record in baseball during the regular season. Chances are this won't be the last time we see these two teams face off in the Fall Classic.