ST. LOUIS — Before many days Jon Lester, winner of his second World Series contest over St. Louis in Game 5 here on Monday night, may ride in a Duck Boat parade in Boston with David Ortiz, the Biggest Papi with a .733 batting average against the Cardinals, alongside him. Other bearded Bostonians, like catcher David Ross and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who each had an RBI in this 3-1 win, will have their places of distinction.
There will be time after that extremely likely clinching Red Sox victory to enjoy all the lessons of baseball properly played and bursting camaraderie that this ballclub exemplified as it went from the disgrace of 93 losses last season to 107 total wins this year, with one more to go. But before we wrap that highly likely bow around the Bosox, lets examine one other lesson that this World Series may illustrate, though it’s hardly as cheerful:
Baseball has a problem. The history of the last third of a century of the World Series proclaims that the Red Sox probably won baseball’s world title on Sunday night, even though they still must return to Fenway Park for Game 6 on Wednesday.
The annals of the World Series since 1980 say that what already happened on Sunday — the Red Sox ensuring that they would simply get back home for a precious Game 6 on their own turf — matters more than any other single factor in becoming MLB’s champion.
In all those 33 World Series, the home team has a .846 winning percentage in Games 6 and 7. That’s insane. It’s more of an outlier than Ortiz’s preposterous batting feats. It doesn’t matter whether you come home winning three games to two or losing three games to two. You are either probably going to win in Game 7 (if you’re behind through five) or almost certainly win (probably in Game 7) if you return home ahead.
Since ’80, of 11 teams that came home trailing three games to two, eight won Games 6 and 7 to win the series.
And all six that came home leading three to two won the series. Only one of them even needed a Game 7.
Just as startling, the average run differential in all Game 6s and 7s in the last 33 years is 2.42 runs per game in favor of the home team (142-79). That is off any chart. For a full season that margin would be an advantage of more than 400 runs, something that no team has ever done. You can say, and I do say, that the data sample is small — 26 games over that 33-year period. But that’s small comfort to the 14 of 17 teams that got to a Game 6 on the road in the World Series since ’80 and went home losers.
The Cards sure look like they’re about to add to that list. The last team to win Games 6 and 7 on the road was Pittsburgh in Baltimore in ’79.
What extra factor has been introduced into the World Series in this period that could so radically transform the impact of home field, especially under the greatest pressure?
That’s easy. In ’86 baseball decided to introduce the designated hitter into the World Series — in the American League city. At that moment, home field became a double advantage. You play before your own fans and you also play by your own rules; that always puts the other team at a disadvantage. Its roster is literally built improperly.