So it is that the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals will meet again in the World Series, squaring off for a fourth time in history and the second time in the span of a decade. They'll share the field at Fenway Park for Game 1 on Wednesday, with an airtime of 7:30 p.m. ET and a first pitch time of 8:07 p.m. on FOX, each having earned a spot in the game's pinnacle event.
The Red Sox earned their berth in the Fall Classic with a 5-2 victory on Saturday in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the Tigers, who won the AL pennant last year but could not overcome a remarkable turnaround season from Boston.
The Road to the World Series has reached its destination, spinning a tale with twists and turns right to the very end, and the Red Sox and Cardinals find themselves together again, Boston seeking its eighth title and St. Louis aiming for No. 12. They last met in the World Series in 2004, when the Red Sox swept the Cards to finish off a quest 86 years in the making.
One night after the Cardinals secured their trip to baseball nirvana with a Game 6 runaway against the Dodgers before their home crowd, the Red Sox had the home folks fretting until Shane Victorino -- part of the influx of veteran gamers the club acquired last winter -- delivered the shot heard 'round Red Sox Nation.
When the breaking ball from Jose Veras struck his bat, Victorino didn't know exactly what to think, but he started running all the way home with a grand slam over the Green Monster.
"The first thought was, 'Get enough air to tie the game,'" Victorino said. "And then I thought this could get up over the wall. All the emotions went through my mind."
With that drive setting the stage for a celebration, the Red Sox continued a remarkable turnaround from their 2012 struggles, gaining 28 games in the standings and going from worst in the AL East to the World Series the following year. And they continued to do it in a way that fits the Boston Strong mentality that has been so prevalent within the ballclub representing a city that needed to embody it so poignantly this year.
"We have guys that love to play and do the little things; everyone loves having fun together and winning together," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia, one of the holdovers who welcomed the new additions.
It certainly wasn't easy, thanks to Motown's finest. Much like the series itself, Game 6 featured spectacular swings of momentum, and often in a matter of moments.
There was, for instance, the tense third inning, which saw Tigers starter Max Scherzer make a sliding catch of Victorino's popped bunt, then give up a towering shot to deep left field to Pedroia with two runners aboard -- and foul it went, by an inch or two. Four pitches later, a double play kept the game scoreless.
There was the fifth inning with Xander Bogaerts scoring the game's first run and then Jacoby Ellsbury being caught stealing for the fifth time all season moments later, and there was the Tigers striking right back to take a 2-1 lead their next time up. And, of course, it wouldn't be the 2013 postseason if Scherzer didn't pull a Scherzer, getting himself into and out of a jam to hold that lead in the sixth.
Ah, but there's no bigger momentum swing than a grand slam, and for the second time in the ALCS, one of those postseason pearls pushed the Red Sox to greater heights.
When it came to the final inning, the Red Sox made sure there would be no more momentum swings, with Koji Uehara earning the ALCS Most Valuable Player Award with his third save to go along with a win, having struck out nine batters in six scoreless innings.
For six games, this was a two-team battle for AL supremacy, and the Tigers were fierce in defending last year's pennant, battling hard with stellar starting pitching and several gutty performances.
"As disappointing as the loss is, we can't be upset on how we played, how hard we played," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. "They're a great team over there; they played their tails off, too. I think fans got everything they could ask for in this series."
Said Red Sox manager John Farrell: "You couldn't have asked for a better series. It tested everything we had."
For the Tigers, it was Scherzer putting everything into every single one of his pitches, and it was Avila knocked to one knee again and again by vicious foul balls. It was Torii Hunter dropping down bunts and generally willing the Tigers to win -- but then being left on the on-deck circle at game's end, leaving him second among active players with 2,090 regular-season games played without a World Series appearance, behind only Miguel Tejada (2,171).
But in the end, it was Boston being too strong, and the Red Sox making their way to another piece of history, another trip to the World Series.
* * *
As the Road to the World Series turns the page to the main event, two league champions have emerged from another remarkable postseason tournament. It began with 10 hopefuls, and now there are just two teams with seven wins in October, both seeking the four more that would bring home a title.
The way things have been going, expect a tightly contested Fall Classic.
This has been a postseason marked by close calls -- with 11 one-run games and 22 decided by three runs or fewer among the 32 contests played thus far. In recent years, that stacks up well with 2011's 38-game festival, which included 13 one-run games and 22 at three or fewer.
While no other teams besides these has appeared in more than two in that span, this is the fourth World Series appearance since 2004 for the Cardinals, who have claimed two titles ('06 and '11). It's the third in a decade for the Red Sox, who also have bagged two of those shiny trophies with the pennants ringing around it.
Only one will get a third in the span of 10 years.
This Series marks the first matchup of teams with their leagues' best record since 1999, when the Yankees and Braves squared off, although the Rockies and Red Sox both tied for the most wins in their respective leagues in 2007 -- the last year Boston appeared in the Fall Classic, taking home the title.
The Cardinals are hoping to match the 2010 and '12 Giants with two World Series rings in three years -- but even that wouldn't match the best run in history by a National League team. The Cardinals won three titles in a span of five years from 1942-46.
If the Red Sox win, it'd be three titles in 10 years, which, given the wait they endured between World Series victories, would be historic -- but not a franchise best. Before that 86-year drought began, the Sox won four titles in seven years from 1912-18.
But all that's getting a little ahead of ourselves, isn't it? After all, you can't win what you haven't played, and Game 1 is still a few days away.
"We're probably going to take 12 or 24 hours to let this one sink in," Farrell said just moments after Game 6. "But watching them last night, they've got a fantastic team and a lot of young power arms that will walk to that mound. By the time Wednesday rolls around, we'll be prepared, but not right now."
2013 MLB POSTSEASON
Wild Card: Rays 4, Indians 0
Division Series: Red Sox beat Rays, 3-1 | Tigers beat A's, 3-2
Championship Series: Red Sox beat Tigers, 4-2
Wild Card: Pirates 6, Reds 2
Division Series: Cardinals beat Pirates, 3-2 | Dodgers beat Braves, 3-1
Championship Series: Cardinals beat Dodgers, 4-2
2013 postseason schedule
NL Division Series
Game 1: Cardinals 9, Pirates 1
Game 2: Pirates 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Pirates 5, Cardinals 3
Game 4: Cardinals 2, Pirates 1
Game 5: Cardinals 6, Pirates 1, Cardinals win series, 3-2
Game 1: Dodgers 6, Braves 1
Game 2: Braves 4, Dodgers 3
Game 3: Dodgers 13, Braves 6
Game 4: Dodgers 4, Braves 3, Dodgers win series, 3-1
AL Division Series
Game 1: Red Sox 12, Rays 2
Game 2: Red Sox 7, Rays 4
Game 3: Rays 5, Red Sox 4
Game 4: Red Sox 3, Rays 1, Red Sox win series, 3-1
Game 1: Tigers 3, A's 2
Game 2: A's 1, Tigers 0
Game 3: A's 6, Tigers 3
Game 4: Tigers 8, A's 6
Game 5: Tigers 3, A's 0, Tigers win series, 3-2
NL Championship Series
Game 1: Cardinals 3, Dodgers 2 (13 innings)
Game 2: Cardinals 1, Dodgers 0
Game 3: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 0
Game 4: Cardinals 4, Dodgers 2
Game 5: Dodgers 6, Cardinals 4
Game 6: Cardinals 9, Dodgers 0, St. Louis wins series, 4-2
AL Championship Series (All games on FOX)
Game 1: Tigers 1, Red Sox 0
Game 2: Red Sox 6, Tigers 5
Game 3: Red Sox 1, Tigers 0
Game 4: Tigers 7, Red Sox 3
Game 5: Red Sox 4, Tigers 3
Game 6: Red Sox 5, Tigers 2, Boston wins series, 4-2
Game 1: Cardinals at Red Sox, Wednesday, airtime 7:30 p.m. ET, game 8:07, FOX
Game 2: Cardinals at Red Sox, Thursday, airtime 7:30 p.m. ET, game 8:07, FOX
Game 3: Red Sox at Cardinals, Oct. 26, airtime 7:30 p.m. ET, game 8:07, FOX
Game 4: Red Sox at Cardinals, Oct. 27, airtime 8 p.m. ET, game 8:15, FOX
*Game 5: Red Sox at Cardinals, Oct. 28, airtime 7:30 p.m. ET, game 8:07, FOX
*Game 6: Cardinals at Red Sox, Oct. 30, airtime 7:30 p.m. ET, game 8:07, FOX
*Game 7: Cardinals at Red Sox, Oct. 31, airtime 7:30 p.m. ET, game 8:07, FOX
* - if necessary