It's time to put the streak, albeit a very short one, on the line. The last two years the prognostication here was that the World Series would be swift and lopsided, won by Baltimore in '83 and Detroit in '84.
In a sense it's unfortunate those picks came true. Both times baseball's classic turned out to be a five-game snore, provided you weren't passionate about the team that won.
If those Series were dramatic disappointments, then this season's finale may be downright depressing.
St. Louis is going to win easily in another five-game semi-bore. What a shame.
Any right thinker wants the Kansas City Royals to win the Show Me Showdown, or at least force it to a seventh game. The St. Louis Cardinals are likable, but, face it, the Royals are lovable.
The Cardinals, as they like to point out, haven't gotten their full due. But the Royals haven't gotten any credit.
Ever since the Royals outlasted the substantially more gifted California Angels in the last week of 1984 -- with a half-dozen Onix Concepcions and Greg Pryors in the lineup -- they've replaced the Miracle Mets of '69 as the underdog reference point for this generation.
Those '84 Royals probably were the worst division champions ever. These '85 Royals could be . . .
No, don't even think it. That would be too much fun. That would be too fair. Just because George Brett, Hal McRae and Frank White have been trying to win a World Series for 10 years -- yes, they were Royals back in 1976 when this postseason project began, and Willie Wilson was breaking in as one -- doesn't mean they'll get it.
The normal sentimental fan may think that the motif of the '80s is for old thwarted teams to vindicate their past failures. The Phillies won their first world title in 97 years in 1980. The Dodgers who lost the Series in '77 and '78 finally won in '81. The Orioles who'd been bitterly denied in '79, '80 and '82 won it all in '83.
So, Mr. and Mrs. Heart-On-Your-Sleeve, you think it'll happen again? You think Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee and Tommy Herr got their rings in 1982, so they oughta share the wealth?
Don't bet on it. Not a dime.
Yes, any short series can produce an upset; ask Toronto. You can't prove panic or document disintegration. True, you can argue that a Blue Jays team with 21 extra-base hits and about 90 base runners shouldn't lose to a Kansas City team that hits .225, gets a 5.56 ERA from its two best starters and watches its only fireman get torched twice. But that's not proof.
No, you just had to watch the Blue Jays' faces for the last three games -- like the Orioles in the final three games of the 1979 Series -- and say, "They're good guys, but the riptide's got 'em and they're probably gonna drown."
For the Royals, who won 91 games in a weak division, to beat the Cardinals, who won 101 in a tough race, St. Louis would have to be weak under pressure. Au contraire. The Cardinals bucked up when the Mets gave them a last-week scare. And they stared down the Dodgers after trailing by two games.
When you've beaten one team that has Dwight Gooden and another that sends Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser at you, are you going to lose to one that hopes its injured ace (Bret Saberhagen, 21) will be able to grip a ball without crying by Game 3?
Several factors make this Series close to a mortal lock for the Cardinals.
The man who built the Royals built the Cardinals: Whitey Herzog. But he constructed the Cardinals better. The Royals were just the rough-draft scale model.
Everybody knows the Cardinals are ideally suited to Busch Stadium. But guess which park in baseball most perfectly resembles the Cardinals' home? That's right -- Royals Stadium. Kansas City will feel at home throughout this Series. But the Cardinals will think they're in heaven.
Everything the Royals do, the Cardinals do better. Much better.
Kansas City has a .300 hitter with 50 steals in Wilson. But the Cardinals have a .350 hitter with 50 steals in McGee.
Kansas City has another 30-base thief in Lonnie Smith. But the Cardinals have two thieves of that caliber -- Herr and Smith. Did we forget somebody? Only Vince Coleman with 110 steals.
With McRae sidelined by the no-DH rule in odd-numbered years, the Royals have only one blue-chip hitter: Brett. The Cardinals have three: McGee, Herr and Jack Clark.
The Blue Jays pitched to Brett. The Cardinals won't. Herzog ordered Pedro Guerrero intentionally walked five times. You think he won't wave Brett to first base 10 times if it's necessary? Herzog managed Brett. You think he's going to let Brett beat him?
Forget Brett. He'll need a stepladder and a quarterstaff to get wood on a pitch in a game situation. Sure, we all hope the bases are loaded every time George steps up. But what are the odds on that?
The Royals were a bunch of Judys even before having to go much of the stretch run without McRae, who had 70 RBI in 320 at bats. The only other bat with sting is White's and his hand hurts. Steve Balboni hit .120 in the playoffs.
While the Royals' pitching is in about half a shambles, the Cardinals have John Tudor, sharp and rested with 21 wins in his last 23 decisions, all set to work Games 1, 4 and 7.
Look where you will -- there's no rational reason to see a Kansas City upset. The Royals can play some defense; but they'd need a rule letting them use Concepcion and Buddy Biancalana at shortstop simultaneously to equal Ozzie Smith.
Yes, the Royals have a strong arm in catcher Jim Sundberg. But who steals on the catcher? The Cardinals, who stole 314 bases, ran on Gary Carter and Tony Pena; they've seen better than Sundberg and didn't blink.
With Dan Quisenberry, the Royals have a great reliever who makes you hit ground balls. So what? The Cardinals want to hit ground balls. Coleman might beat out the first chop double to the mound.
The Royals have only one hope. If Danny Cox's elbow gets sore again and Joaquin Andujar continues to have problems, the Cardinals could suffer from starting pitching so poor that even the Royals (13th in the AL in hitting) could score a few runs. If Kansas City got a few early leads, their fine young pitchers might get the ball to Quisenberry in time.
Talk about grasping at straws.
If the Royals win this Series, I'll do handsprings to make the Wizard of Oz jealous. Ever since the free agent era arrived, baseball has, each season, seemed to be a sport where motivation and guts can defeat talent to a preposterous degree.
But not to this degree.
Instead of miracles, let's settle for meaning. These Cardinals have brought the best of dead-ball excitement and strategy back to life. They're given daring and defense a good name.
In St. Louis, the outfield signs say, "Speed Kills." In this World Series, it shouldn't take long.