In winning the American League Championship Series, the Boston Red Sox overcame a slew of hitters who would make any pitcher cringe. It was not the ghosts of former New York Yankees they feared, but instead the middle of a lineup that included Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui.
In this 100th World Series, the Red Sox will face perhaps an even better offense, one that rivals their own. The St. Louis Cardinals and Red Sox play Game 1 on Saturday night at Fenway Park in a matchup that threatens to light up the scoreboard.
"We pride ourselves at having depth and no weaknesses, and that team matches up well with us," Boston outfielder Dave Roberts said. "They are the only team in the National League that puts up an American League lineup."
The similarities between the offenses are obvious. Each team led their respective league in runs scored. Each team finished in the top four in their league in the other three major offensive categories (batting average, home runs, RBI). Each has three legitimate most valuable player candidates.
"We've said all year their offense is like an American League offense," said Boston's Derek Lowe, who will start Game 4.
In this World Series, the offenses likely will lead. Boston's staff, because of a seven-game series that included two extra-inning games, may be exhausted. Their ace, Curt Schilling, is an uncertainty because of an ailing right ankle that must be stitched up prior to his start in Game 2 on Sunday. He certainly is capable of duplicating the seven-inning, one run performance in Game 6 of the ALCS. But he could also repeat the three-inning, six-run flop of Game 1. Pedro Martinez did not pitch past the sixth inning in his two starts against the Yankees and carried a 6.23 ERA in the ALCS.
The Cardinals may not have the pitching depth to stop Boston's offense. Their starting rotation is solid, but certainly lacks any big names. The most reliable starter is Woody Williams, who won only 11 games this year. Fifteen-game winner Jason Marquis lasted just five innings in his start against the Houston Astros in the NLCS. Their set-up reliever, Julian Tavarez, is pitching with a broken left hand he suffered by banging the hand on a telephone in frustration in the team's dugout in Game 5. Each time Tavarez catches the ball in his glove, he winces in pain. Matt Morris pitched through the worst season of his career.
"The pitchers might not have too much fun," Morris said.
The Cardinals have an offensive trio in the middle of the lineup with arguably the best players at each of their positions. Center fielder Jim Edmonds had 42 home runs and 111 RBI, yet did not lead his team in either category. First baseman Albert Pujols led the Cardinals with 46 home runs and added 123 RBI. In the NLCS, Pujols batted an astounding .500 (14 for 28) and was named the series MVP. Third baseman Scott Rolen had a team-high 124 RBI along with 34 home runs.
"Best all-around player in the game," Schilling said about Rolen. "I'm so proud of what he's done. I think he's going to become the greatest third baseman in the history of the game. Scott is the guy that makes the guys who don't play the game right feel guilty."
The trio's numbers dwarfed Larry Walker's presence in the lineup. With three sluggers of such magnitude, Walker -- a former MVP, three-time batting champion, five-time all-star and former home run leader -- was put in the second spot.
"When you start hitting Larry Walker second, you've got some sock in that lineup," Boston Manager Terry Francona said. "And I've seen Rolen close for four years, I know what he can do and Pujols might be the best hitter in the game. They are pretty thick like we are and they are pretty dangerous."
On Friday, Boston's Game 1 starter, Tim Wakefield, was asked if he could break down the Cardinals' lineup.
"No, unfortunately," Wakefield said with a smile. "It's pretty similar to the one we just saw in New York. You've got speed at the top, you've got dangerous guys in the middle. And it's kind of like ours, too. It's just one of those lineups that you have got to be very careful of because they can do damage quick."
Boston boasts the duo of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, who combined for 84 home runs and 269 RBI. Ortiz, whose roar at the plate is only matched by his thunderous laugh, hit .387 with three home runs and 11 RBI in the ALCS. He won Game 4 on a home run in the 12th inning and won Game 5 with a single in the 14th inning, and was named the MVP.
"When he takes his walks and pitches, big things happen," Boston hitting coach Ron Jackson said. "He's got a good eye and that's what makes him so special."
The danger for both teams would be to put all their attention on the middle part of each team's lineup. Williams said his biggest obstacle will be to keep Johnny Damon and Mark Bellhorn from reaching base, setting up the two monsters in the middle.
"The mistake we're not going to make is concentrating on Ortiz and Ramirez and forget the other seven guys," Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa said. "One of Boston's strengths is exactly what we do. We send eight or nine guys out there and any one of them can beat you. So you've got to respect every one of them."
Despite hitting into a stiff wind, the balls flew out of Fenway Park when the teams took batting practice during Friday's workouts. It likely was a preview of what is come.