Think the San Antonio Spurs or New England Patriots or Detroit Red Wings -- perennial contenders and multiple-time champions in the past decade or so, teams that have come to represent greatness in their respective sport despite player turnover and the ever-changing economic landscape.
The St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox are baseball's current representatives on that list. They fit right into that elite category.
To put into context just how competitive these two franchises have been over the past 10 seasons, consider this. The Cardinals are playing in their fourth Fall Classic in the past 10 years, the Red Sox in their third.
There are 13 franchises (nearly half of Major League Baseball) that have not appeared in more than two World Series in their entire histories The Blue Jays, Royals, Rangers, Marlins and Padres have made two Fall Classic appearances each, the Rays, Angels, Astros, Brewers, D-Backs and Rockies have gone to one World Series each, and the Mariners and Nationals have yet to make it to the final dance.
It was 11 years ago when the Angels appeared in their first -- and thus far only -- Fall Classic in an epic series against the San Francisco Giants that went the distance. The starting and winning pitcher for the Halos in the deciding Game 7 was John Lackey, a 24-year-old right-hander from Abilene, Texas. As a rookie, Lackey reached the top of the baseball world. In short order, he earned a reputation as a "gamer" with a chip on his shoulder.
Eleven years later, Lackey is back on the grand stage, pitching as a 35-year-old veteran for a different team, a different fan base and with a whole new perspective. Before his Game 2 start against the Cardinals (airing on FOX beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET, first pitch at 8:07 p.m.), Lackey reflected on the 2002 World Series and admitted there is not much he learned then that he can use now. But Lackey did say the "main thing is you realize how hard it is to get here.
"Been chasing it a while, and you probably appreciate it more now this time than you do as a rookie, that sort of thing."
Coincidentally, Lackey will be opposing a rookie this evening in 22-year-old Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha -- a young man who taken the baseball world by storm with his performance and poise on the big stage.
Pressed on the major difference between pitching in a game of this magnitude as a youngster versus as a veteran, Lackey pointed out that he was a two-pitch pitcher back in 2002. Now, he has more options, more ways to get hitters out.
Recently, the 6-foot-6 Lackey has been pitching his best baseball since arriving in Boston in 2010, a stint that's included injury and frustration -- two topics Lackey was not willing to delve into as he prepared for Thursday's game. But he's heading into his first career matchup against the Cardinals with the confidence that comes from having outdueled Justin Verlander in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series by throwing 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball in a 1-0 victory.
So, given his history, how does Lackey feel about being labeled a "big-game pitcher?"
"I guess it's better that they say that than not, "said Lackey. "You know it's a big game. There's no running from that, and it's something you've got to embrace. It's something you've got to enjoy and just really focus on executing pitches. Because once you get between the lines, it's all about throwing the ball where you want to throw it [just like] in the other 162 [regular-season] games."
If Lackey does his job Thursday at Fenway, his Red Sox could win their 10th consecutive World Series game. The Yankees are the only franchise to accomplish that feat. They've done it on three different occasions, most recently rattling off 14 in a row between from 1996-2000.
Former pitcher, catcher match wits in Series
The managerial matchup in this World Series is quite unusual. It's been a half-century since we've seen a former Major League catcher match wits with a former Major League pitcher in the World Series.
On a hunch, and with the help of the MLB Network research staff, we came up with this: It last happened in 1961, when Fred Hutchinson, the skipper of the Reds, faced off against Ralph Houk's Yankees.
Houk's entire big league career, spanning just 89 games over eight seasons, was as a catcher. Hutchinson went 95-71 in his 10-year career with the Tigers, posting a 3.73 ERA.
Houk's Yankees defeated Hutchinson's Reds, four games to one, in the 1961 Fall Classic.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less