By Paul Hagen / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS — World Series. Game 6. Fenway Park. That’s a combination that evokes one of the most famous home runs in Fall Classic history. In the 1975 Series, Carlton Fisk used every bit of body language he could muster to urge his long fly to left off Reds reliever Pat Darcy to stay fair in the bottom of the 12th inning. It did, keeping Boston’s hopes alive for another night, before The Big Red Machine prevailed in Game 7.
The next chapter of the Red Sox’s World Series saga will be written Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET airtime on FOX, 8:07 p.m. first pitch). The details remain to be revealed, but the stakes are simple: A Sox win gives them their third World Series championship in the last 10 years, while St. Louis needs a victory to force a decisive Game 7 on Thursday night.
“Our guys have been backed up against the wall before,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. “This isn’t something that’s foreign to them. They know what we have to do: Go out and play the game [and] try not to make too much of it.”
By losing two straight at home for the first time since Aug. 9-10, the Cards squandered the home-field advantage they had after splitting the first two games in Boston. Two years ago, they won the last two games of the World Series to take home the trophy, but they did it at home.
“We’re not out of it,” said Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who took the loss in Game 5 on Monday night after allowing three runs in seven innings. “I fully believe that our team can go into Boston and win two games. In the postseason, pitching always rules.”
The pitching matchup Wednesday night will be a reprise of Game 2, with sensational 22-year-old Redbirds rookie Michael Wacha opposing Red Sox veteran John Lackey. Wacha got the better of the first meeting of the right-handers, getting the win while allowing just two runs on three hits in six innings at Fenway.
“What more can you say about this guy?” second baseman Matt Carpenter asked rhetorically about Wacha. “He’s got his own highlight tape.”
Will Boston’s hitters be able to adjust the second time around? There’s not enough of a track record to know for sure. Yes, Wacha was just as effective against the Dodgers when he faced them a second time in the National League Championship Series. But his nine regular-season starts were against nine different teams. And there’s also this: Wacha’s splits this year were markedly better at Busch Stadium (2.15 ERA, .174 opponents’ batting average, .504 OPS) compared to on the road (4.34 ERA, .316, .814). He did, however, beat the Red Sox at Fenway in Game 2.
It’s not that Lackey pitched poorly, either. He allowed just three runs in 6 1/3 innings in Game 2, while adding a scoreless inning of relief in Game 4.
Manager John Farrell acknowledged the obvious, that the Red Sox have another World Series championship very much within their grasp.
“The fact is, we’re going home, going back to a place our guys love to play in, in front of our fans,” Farrell said.
With the return of the designated hitter, Boston will also be able to put torrid David Ortiz back at DH and start Mike Napoli at first base. And of the previous 62 times a team has taken a 3-2 lead in the World Series, it has gone on to win 66.1 percent of the time. Still, the Sox know nothing is guaranteed.
“As a team, we do a really good job of focusing on the task at hand,” said catcher David Ross, who had the go-ahead RBI in Monday night’s 3-1 win. “We’re excited, but we know there’s a lot of work left to do. That’s a really good ball team over there. They’re not giving up.”
In 2004, the Red Sox celebrated their Fall Classic title in St. Louis. In ’07, they did it in Denver. This will be the first time anyone currently with the team has had a chance to win the World Series at Fenway. Wacha admitted he expects the atmosphere to be frenzied.
“I’m just going to go out there and try to make effective pitches and try not to let the crowd control the game,” the rookie said.
World Series. Game 6. Fenway Park. This will be the fourth time that trifecta has come in. The Sox have won each of the previous three.
Wednesday night will echo 1967, when the Red Sox, down 3-2, needed to beat the Cardinals to force a deciding seventh game. St. Louis scored twice in the top of the seventh to tie the score, but Boston responded with four in the bottom of the inning to win.
The Red Sox last celebrated clinching a World Series championship on the historic parcel of land surrounded by Lansdowne, Van Ness and Ipswich Streets, and what is now known as Yawkey Way in 1918. That happened when they beat the Cubs, 2-1, in Game 6. And there are a few interesting notes that came out of that game.
Both Red Sox runs were unearned. The official attendance was 15,238. A young pitcher-outfielder named Babe Ruth came in as a defensive replacement in left field in the top of the eighth. And it was the fourth time the Sox had won it all in seven years. It would be 86 more years before they did it again.
Fast forward to the present and the Cards know what they’re up against.
“It’s going to be tough,” Carpenter said. “There’s no doubt about it. We just have to find a way to win two games in Boston.”
Right fielder Carlos Beltran said he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“Being able to win the second game shows us we can win over there,” Beltran said. “We just have to find a way to win and push it to a seventh game. We have the same confidence in [Wacha] as we have in Wainwright, so it’s a good feeling.”
World Series. Game 6. Fenway Park. Those words conjure up a lot of memories. One way or the other, more history will be made Wednesday night.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.