BOSTON -- The Cardinals and Red Sox, let's face it, are not supposed to be here. The Cardinals weren't even supposed to get out of their division, remember? They were pegged for the middle of the pack, behind the Astros and Cubs.
And the Red Sox? Sure, they were good. Everybody knew that. But good enough to make it to the World Series? The Red Sox?
Saturday, the Cardinals and Red Sox will play in Game 1 of the 100th World Series, but before they do, they should take time to enjoy a hearty last laugh, because they've earned it. Two good teams, steeped in tradition, from arguably the two greatest baseball towns will meet in an old fashioned best-of-seven Fall Classic that just about nobody saw coming.
There are no relative newcomers like the Marlins, Angels or Diamondbacks crashing the party. For the first time since the 1999 Yankees-Braves matchup, we have two teams playing in the World Series that have been around longer than your average middle-aged baseball fan. Traditionalists should be jumping for joy at this one. Purists, take heart.
But these teams didn't take a traditional tack to the big show. The Red Sox, who haven't been to a World Series since 1986, are the wild cards. This marks the third straight year, and the fourth out of the past five, that at least one of the teams in the World Series did not win its division. A wild card has won the Series in each of the past two years.
The Cardinals ran away with the National League Central -- against all odds and predictions -- and dispatched the NL West champion Dodgers 3-1 in the Division Series before winning the NLCS against the Astros in seven games. St. Louis became the first team from its division to win the pennant since the 1994 realignment. It did so thanks mainly to a league-leading lineup that has two players, Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen, who will get strong MVP consideration.
"You have to find a way to win. You can't win with the long ball. You have to find a way to win, to do something, to create something, to hit and run, get a bunt, steal a base," Pujols said after the Game 7 victory Thursday. "That's what we did all year long and we carried on in the playoffs."
The Red Sox were a different story. Despite having a pitching staff headed by 21-game winner Curt Schilling and a lineup with a couple of MVP candidates, too (Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz), their season looked lost until a brawl with the hated Yankees and a slew of trade deadline deals kickstarted a late run. From Aug. 1 through the end of the season, the Sox put together a 42-18 record (.700), the best in baseball.
The Sox topped that with a sweep of the Angels in the Division Series and the most remarkable comeback in baseball history -- vanquishing the Yankees in the ALCS after being down 3-0.
"They are a thunder," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "They can put winning streaks together before you blink your eye."
The Sox haven't won a World Series since 1918 -- you'll hear that a few times in the next few days -- but the Cardinals are in the middle of a pretty long dry spell, too. They haven't been to a World Series since losing to the Twins in a seven-gamer in 1987. They haven't won since beating the Brewers in 1982.
Think about that. The Cardinals haven't hoisted the trophy since the Brewers were good. That's a long, long time.
The Cardinals and Red Sox, by the way, have some history with each other, although it's not exactly recent. They played in the World Series in both 1946 and '67. Both times, the Cards won in seven games.
It's a blast from the past, this World Series, a classical Fall Classic.
And nobody saw it coming.