BOSTON -- The thing about the 2004 World Series is that no one really remembers the Cardinals were there. The Red Sox broke their near-century-long "curse" against someone, away from home somewhere, against a team named something. Maybe a bird? Seems like it was a bird.
It's a strange thing to play supporting character to history the way the Cardinals did in 2004. That series was a non-stop party for the Red Sox in the way no World Series should ever be a non-stop party for anyone. There have been other World Series sweeps in baseball history, but there weren't many as all-encompassing as that one. The Cardinals never held a lead in that series. They were down 4-0 after the first inning in 2004, and down 7-2 after three. There was a brief cough of a comeback, but then it was done. The Red Sox just danced for the world for a few days, and then there was a parade. For the Cardinals, it felt like the series never quite got started. It went by so fast, you were surprised to see the Cardinals in all the highlight videos. That's right! They were there too!
So anyway, that series in 2004, the one that didn't have a single thing that went right? The horrific blink-and-you-missed-them fiasco? Well, Game 1 of the 2013 World Series at Fenway Park on Wednesday night started worse. In the first two innings, the Cardinals made two errors, let a pop-up on the infield drop and gave up a three-run double, totaling five runs total. There was one positive play: Right fielder Carlos Beltran, playing in his second World Series inning ever after waiting more than 2,000 games for the opportunity, took a grand slam away from David Ortiz by reaching over the wall to make the catch. Of course, in doing so, he severely bruised his ribs and spent the rest of the game in the hospital. This left Cardinals fans in the strange position of wishing the grand slam in the second inning of Game 1 of the World Series would have just been let go.
All this was missing was a tarp leaping up from the turf and attacking Yadier Molina. There is always Game 2, one supposes.
This is all to say: Game 1 was an absolute nightmare for the Cardinals. But it was a familiar one. You half expected Jeff Suppan to pinch-run.
The Cardinals team that showed up in the first two innings bore no resemblance to the team their fans watched all year. Adam Wainwright couldn't get his trademark curveball over. He and Molina let that ball drop right in front of them. In what was probably the key play of the whole sequence, Matt Carpenter was oddly passive in his flip of a potential David Ortiz double-play ball and shortstop Pete Kozma ---who does have a history of being a bit jittery in games of this magnitude -- dropped it. What should have been two outs was none, and you could sense everyone in St. Louis tighten up: Not this. Not again. Mike Napoli then cleared the bases, and for the rest of the night, Fenway Park was a giddy, collective hug. Fans occasionally looked up to make sure the game was still going, and then went back to giggling amongst themselves. This was familiar to them too. That's right, the Cardinals. That's who it was. I remember these guys now.
The final score was 8-1, but the Cardinals weren't even that close; it might as well have been 13-to-aardvark. Afterwards, manager Mike Matheny said the Cardinals were "gathering themselves" after such a performance. It had that feel. It had the feel of a bunch of players finding pieces of themselves lying all over the clubhouse, with only a few hours to frantically put them all back together. This looked like a broken team, like, immediately. The Cardinals were composed all season -- it was one of their signature attributes -- and it imploded in a second. Matheny admitted this in the postgame press conference, saying that he would do everything he could to remind his players that they're a good team. That's the sort of loss this was. The one that makes you forget you ever had any idea you knew what you were doing in the first place.
The thing about the World Series, of course, is that it's best of seven rather than best of one. It's only one game. It felt like 15 games for the Cardinals, but it wasn't: It was only one. But Cardinals fans can be forgiven if this didn't seem like the first loss in this series. It seemed like the fifth. The Cardinals won eight World Series games since 2004. They've won 41 postseason games since then. They've won two championships since then. They've put together the best comeback in World Series history. (Twice.)
But in two innings, all that confidence, all that they-just-won't-go-away vibe held over from the 2011 World Series, it all faded. There's only one Cardinal, Yadier Molina, left over from that 2004 team still playing. But this looked like the same team. This looked like the same exact thing. Maybe it's the Fenway dirty water.
The one thing the Cardinals have going for them is what might just save them: Game 2 starter and NLCS MVP Michael Wacha. When that 2004 World Series ended, Wacha was 13 years old. He has no idea. He probably didn't even watch that series. Past his bedtime.
The Cardinals need someone with no institutional memory for Game 2. They need someone who's too young to remember. So do their fans. Because they remember every Cardinals moment of that series. Even if no one else does.
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