lost Game 2 of the World Series but made a key relief outing in Boston's Game 4 win. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Red Sox at Cardinals
Start time: 8:07 p.m. ET
Series: Red Sox lead 3-2
Starting pitchers: Michael Wacha (4-0, 1.00 ERA) vs. John Lackey (2-1, 3.26 ERA)
The Red Sox can win their eighth world championship and third since 2004 on Wednesday night, and in the process, clinch a title at home for the first time since 1918. They are in this position in large part because they have beaten St. Louis' ace, Adam Wainwright, twice. In fact, in all three games in this Series started by the Cardinals' top two starters, Wainwright and Michael Wacha, the Cardinals were trailing when their starter threw his last pitch.
Wacha, who will oppose John Lackey in Game 6, was down 2-1 when he exited Game 2 after the bottom of the sixth. Only a three run rally in the top of the seventh by his teammates allowed him to remain a perfect 4-0 in four starts this postseason and 5-0 over his last five starts. That rally started against Lackey, but the runs scored after he left the game and during the first appearance of what has been a disastrous World Series for Boston lefty reliever Craig Breslow. He has retired just one of the seven men he has faced across three games in this series and allowed all three of his inherited runners to score, including both in Game 2, one of whom came across on Breslow's own throwing error.
Wacha got the win in Game 2 and Lackey the loss, but, in effect, they battled to a draw in a game decided by the bullpens. Both allowed seven baserunners and struck out six batters. Wacha allowed two runs in six innings. Lackey allowed one on his watch in six innings, but the two runners he bequeathed to Breslow both scored and were charged to Lackey.
Since then, Lackey worked a scoreless eighth inning in relief in Game 4 on what was his between-start throw day. That was his first relief appearance since 2004 and just the third in his major league career, so it will be interesting to see if it impacts his effectiveness in Game 6. Most likely it won't, though it did give Matt Adams, Yadier Molina, Jon Jay and David Freese an extra look at a pitcher they'd never faced before this series.
The hitter Lackey needs to be most careful with in this game is Matt Holliday, who says he loves hitting in Fenway Park because he sees the ball extremely well. He proved it by going 3-for-8 with a home run and a triple -- the latter off Lackey -- in the first two games of this Series. Holliday is a .302/.333/.628 career hitter at Fenway, having also homered there in the 2007 World Series while with Colorado, and is the Cardinals' leading hitter in this series, with four of his six hits going for extra bases including the team's only two home runs.
With the shift back to the American League park, both teams will have longer, stronger lineups. Mike Napoli, who struck out in his only at-bat in the three games in St. Louis, will be back at first base for Boston, and Allen Craig, who went 0-for-3 as the Cardinals' first baseman in Game 5, his only start in the field in this series, will go back to being the designated hitter. Adams, who hit the ball hard twice in three at-bats against Lackey in Game 2 and got that extra look in Game 4, will return to the Cardinals' lineup at first base.
As for Wacha, he really made just two mistakes in Game 2: He walked a batter with David Ortiz in the on-deck circle then elevated a changeup up to Ortiz, who hit it for a two-run homer. Ortiz has now gone 11-for-15 with two doubles, two homers, four walks and no strikeouts in this series and of the four outs he has made (he also reached on an error), one of them was a grand slam that was robbed by Carlos Beltran.
With the possibility of this being the last game of the Series, both managers can go to their bullpens at the first sign of trouble, particularly given that Tuesday was an off day. It wasn't without its headaches for the Redbirds, however. Due to mechanical problems with their plane, they spent most of Tuesday on the tarmac at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. The Cardinals finally landed in Boston at 11 pm ET Tuesday night. With first pitch of Game 6 scheduled for 8:07 pm ET, that late arrival shouldn't be a factor. Still, after three hard-fought games, with their season on the line Wednesday night, the Cardinals didn't need the additional stress.
St. Louis has performed exceptionally well when facing elimination over the last three postseasons. The Cardinals are 8-1 in the last nine games when a loss meant the end of their season, and have won three games in which they were down to their final strike. However, St. Louis faces its toughest challenge yet in this Series. As I wrote earlier this week, of the 19 major league teams that lost a tiebreaking Game 5 at home in a best-of seven series (World Series or League Championship Series), just one, the 1991 Braves
in that year's NLCS, battled back to win the series on the road. What's more, the last team to win the decisive sixth and seventh games of a World Series on the road, a feat that has only been accomplished six times in the entire history of the Fall Classic, was the 1979 Pirates
. The first two teams to do it? The 1926 and 1934 Cardinals.