(SportsNetwork.com) - Here we go again.
Those words had to cross the mind of St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny now that his club opens the 109th edition of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox Wednesday at Fenway Park.
Boston is once again standing in the way of a World Series title for Matheny, but only this time he's the skipper and not the starting catcher. The Red Sox, of course, ended the curse of the Bambino at the expense of Matheny and the Cardinals back in 2004 with a four-game sweep in the Fall Classic.
The memories of losing to the Red Sox were re-visited after the Cardinals eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS Friday to advance to the World Series for a fourth time since Matheny's championship dreams were dashed.
The picture became more clear when Boston punched its ticket Saturday.
"It sure left a sharp bite and it's something you just don't forget," Matheny said of the 2004 series. "It went from being the greatest baseball experience I've ever had in my life ... winning 105 games, and being a team that was one of the best I had ever been around -- to having our lunch handed to us in the World Series and really not playing to the caliber that we were capable of. That was one of the toughest experiences of my baseball career.
"You don't forget that. You don't forget what that feels like. You realize how special the opportunity is and not to leave anything on the table."
St. Louis, which defeated the Red Sox to win the World Series in 1946 and 1967, and Boston both finished the regular season with 97 wins to capture homefield advantage throughout the postseason. Since the American League won the All-Star Game in July, the Red Sox have the edge in the World Series. The Cardinals fended off both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to win the NL Central and it all came together by mid-August.
Strong pitching from likely and also improbable sources fueled St. Louis' drive to where the club is now and it's not about to let off the gas pedal.
"A lot of hard work was put into getting to where we are right now," staff ace Adam Wainwright said. "So we got one more series to win. We're trying to bring this thing home."
Pitching was key for the Cardinals in closing out the regular season with a 17-5 record and eliminating both the Pirates and Dodgers. If that carries on to the biggest stage in baseball, and it should, the Cardinals will be raising the Commissioner's Trophy later this month for their 12th World Series title.
Forget about Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, who was Matheny's backup in the 2004 World Series, and the return of Allen Craig (foot) because it will be all about mound presence.
Yes, the Cardinals can produce runs and are not intimidated by dominant pitching, but it starts with Wainwright, who led the Cardinals in wins (19), earned run average (2.94) and strikeouts (219) during the regular season and went 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA in three playoff appearances. The right-hander can eat up innings and gets the nod in Game 1 against Boston left-hander Jon Lester.
"We love Waino on the mound," Matheny said a few days ago. "He's our guy that we build off of in more ways than just the production when he's on the mound. He's the guy that sets the tone for our club, especially our pitching staff. It's fitting that he'll be out there."
Wainwright, a possible Game 4 or 5 starter, is the veteran of the staff and has allowed four runs and 17 hits so far in the postseason with 20 strikeouts, which is second to newcomer and youngster Michael Wacha's 22 K's. There may be a 10-year age difference between Wainwright and Wacha, but the latter has pitched like a veteran since his insertion into the rotation. In three playoff starts so far, the right-hander has a 3-0 record to go along with a microscopic 0.43 ERA and was named the MVP of the NLCS.
Wacha has lasted at least 6 2/3 frames across 21 innings with eight hits and one run, and is the likely candidate to pitch Game 2. He outdueled vaunted Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the LCS, tossing seven shutout innings, while his counterpart was roughed up for seven runs and 10 hits over just four innings against a cohesive St. Louis lineup.
Matheny can't go wrong with Game 3 options in Joe Kelly, another baby-faced hurler, or Lance Lynn. Kelly took the mound first in the NLCS and did not record a decision with six innings of two-run ball. However, he was reached for four runs in five innings of a Game 5 loss. Still, Kelly went 10-5 with a 2.69 ERA in the regular season and kept hitters off-balance much like Wacha because most of the opposing lineups have never faced them.
That theory holds true with Shelby Miller. Miller was a 15-game winner (15-9) in 31 starts in the regular season with a 3.06 ERA and was relegated to bullpen duties in the playoffs. The club likes Miller as a multiple-innings reliever and he pitched just one inning in the division series against the Pirates. The Cardinals didn't really need to go to Miller because their starters worked deep into games. Miller, whose last appearance was Oct. 4, said his arm is "fresh" and Matheny wants to keep the righty in the bullpen.
"If we've got to eat innings we have all the confidence in the world even though he hasn't been out there in a while," Matheny said. "It's not an easy job, just like it's not easy being a bench player. But you've got to figure it out (how) to make it happen because when we need you, we need you bad."
Pitching helped the Cardinals to the 2006 World Series title in five games against the Detroit Tigers and another championship in 2011 against the Texas Rangers (7 games). Lynn pitched the Cardinals to a win in Game 3 of that series and they should be in good shape if he can get back to his dominant ways. Lynn has compiled a 2-1 mark in three games (2 starts) this postseason.
The rotation does have its work cut out against Boston's top hitters in David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. Ortiz is the designated hitter, but is expected to share first-base duties with Mike Napoli when the series shifts to Busch Stadium Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
While the rotation garners much-deserved attention in this series, the bullpen will have to do its job to keep the Red Sox from getting into a groove. Miller is rested and fellow relievers Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Randy Choate, Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist have been busy from the prior series. Rosenthal has three saves during the postseason.
Los Angeles is just as intimidating as Boston, and St. Louis never backed down in eliminating the high-priced club. Money doesn't buy you velocity or a changeup or curveball. Talent does. And that's what this Cardinals' staff has.
Don't think for one moment Boston's superstitious beards will play a role because a fastball high and tight from either Wainwright, Wacha or Kelly will trim a few whiskers.
Facial hair or not, the underdog Cardinals are prepared to spin the seams and exact revenge from 2004.