By Robert Weintraub
Down 3-2 in the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals face an awfully tall order on Wednesday night and, if necessary, Thursday night in Boston. And unfortunately for them, there is no precise precedent in the history of either of these proud franchises from which to draw hope. However, that doesn't mean it isn't instructive to look back to find a winning path for the Redbirds, no matter how unlikely. Besides, it's fun. So let's examine some of the key times that these franchises have seen a Game 6 in the Series.
You surely remember 2011, because it wasn't that long ago. David Freese played hero, Joe Buck had a memorable call, and Ron Washington made both Mike Matheny and John Farrell look like John McGraw. The Cards won that incredible Game 6 over Texas 10-9 in 11 innings, and won the next night to take the Series. Sure, those were home games, but it can't hurt that most of the St. Louis roster has that epic comeback near the surface of its muscle memory.
The Sox, of course, are nearly synonmous with "Game 6" in baseball lore -- indeed, if you just refer to "Game 6" you have to expand a bit lest there be some confusion. Since Boston pulled one of baseball's most dramatic and memorable comebacks in 1975's Game 6, winning on Carlton Fisk's homer off the left field foul pole at Fenway, Redbird Nation will prefer to hope for something approaching the 1986 version, when... well, you know.
The main takeaway from a Cards perspective is that Boston lost both in 1975 and 1986 after those eternal ballgames. While conventional wisdom holds that there is no chance the Sox would lose a Game 7 at Fenway, that's precisely what happened in '75, when the Reds shrugged off Fisk's dinger to win the next game 4-3, coming back themselves after trailing 3-0.
Let's go back a little further, to 1967, when these two teams hooked up in a thrilling seven-game Series. That year the Cards led 3-2 as the Series headed back to the Fens. Boston took Game 6, breaking a 4-all tie with four runs in the bottom of the seventh, despite a quartet of Cards' relievers attempting to douse the rally. Boston right fielder George Thomas made a pair of outstanding defensive plays to hold the lead, and the Sox forced Game 7.
Despite the excellence of Koji Uehara, the Cards would be perfectly happy to emulate this game, only with the sides reversed, and turn it into a late battle of the bullpens. In another (inverse) parallel, Boston started a rookie pitcher that day, Gary Waslewski, who left in the sixth in line to win, though he wound up with a no-decision. The Cardinals would be happy if their rookie hurler, Michael Wacha, performed similarly. St. Louis then won Game 7 in Fenway behind Bob Gibson, the likes of whom won't be pitching for either side in a Game 7 this year, so let's move on.
One year later, St. Louis came back to Busch Stadium up on Detroit 3-2, needing only one home win to lock up the trophy. But the Tigers bombarded them 13-1 in Game 6, and Mickey Lolich bested Gibson in the decisive game. Just the precedent the Cardinals need to follow! Only, you know, winning, not losing. Alas, in the summer of 1968 Detroit was beset by race riots, and the Tigers' dramatic victory in the Series was credited with bringing together a riven city. Unless you count Monday night's endgame playcalling by the Rams, St. Louis has no similar wound to heal through victory on the diamond.
Ah, 1946. This is a sweet spot for me (buy a book, it won't kill you!), so let's spend some time here. That first post-war Series saw Boston take a 3-2 lead back to St. Louis. Like current Redbirds star Carlos Beltran, a key Cardinal, Enos "Country" Slaughter, was playing injured, having been painfully hit by a pitch on his elbow in Game 5 (in much the same fashion as Boston slugger Ted Williams had in a meaningless exhibition game played on the eve of the Series -- those were the days).
Slaughter was told by the team doctor that by playing he risked potential amputation of his injured wing, but Enos yelled "To hell with my right arm!" in the clubhouse before the game, then knocked Boston starter Mickey Harris from the box in the third inning. That's the sort of fire Beltran needs to show in order to rouse his somewhat somnambulant squad to a come-from-behind effort.
Meanwhile, St. Louis pitching star Harry "The Cat" Brecheen threw a shutout for his second win of the Series (paging Mr. Wacha, who may want to adopt a feline nickname immediately -- "The Ocelot," anyone?). More amazingly, Brecheen entered Game 7 in the eighth inning, despite having fallen terribly sick overnight. He shrugged off the shakes and won his third game of the Series when Slaughter perpetrated his fabled "Mad Dash" on Johnny Pesky and the rest of the Bostons in the last of the eighth of a tie game.
Now here's a perfect antecedent for the Cards to follow: In 1934 the Gashouse Gang of Dizzy Dean, Ducky Joe Medwick, Leo Durocher, et al, trailed the Tigers 3-2, with the Series back in the Motor City for the denouement. In Game 6, it was Dizzy's brother Paul who was the hero, winning the game on the mound and driving in Durocher with the go-ahead run in the seventh inning; Dean made it stand up, winning 4-3. St. Louis then bombed the Tigers 11-0 in the finale, a game memorable for Medwick tangling with Detroit third baseman Marv Owen after a triple and being pelted with garbage by the enraged Navin Field crowd.
Surely there's no chance of Red Sox fans doing that if matters head that far south, right?
Boston fans who claim the sort of hardcore loyalty that might precipitate such a scene might be surprised to know that the last time Boston clinched a world championship at Fenway, on Sept. 11, 1918, a mere 15,238 passed through the turnstiles to see it. Boston led the Cubs 3-2 with Game 6 at Fenway, but it is inaccurate to say they "came home" to clinch, as the teams were already in Boston. The first three games were played in Chicago, with the rest in Boston, due to wartime travel restrictions (that would be WWI). The games were played at Comiskey Park on the south side, funnily enough, as the Chisox's home had a higher seating capacity than did the two-year-old Weeghman Park (later to be renamed Wrigley Field), where the Cubs usually played.
Babe Ruth was the driving force behind the Sox, who lost several players, including key outfielder Duffy Lewis, to the service that season. So Ruth not only pitched for the Sox, but he also began playing in the outfield, clubbing 11 homers to tie for the league lead, along with 37 more extra-base hits.
While it was clear to many where the Babe's future lay, in the World Series he dominated with his left arm, winning twice to propel the Sox to the brink of the title. The Cubs took Game 5, but in Game 6, submariner Carl Mays, who two years later would kill a batter with a beanball, pitched a three-hitter, allowing just a single run.
The Sox have been great at scoring all the runs they need at once in these playoffs. That was the story of Game 6 in '18. In the third inning, a pair of walks put two on with two out. George Whiteman, an unheralded rookie who captured the hearts of the Fenway faithful with his sterling play in the Series, slapped a liner to right fielder Max Flack, who bobbled it for a two-run error. That was all Mays required, and the Sox won their third championship of the decade, one that would have to tide the franchise over for the next 86 years.
Lesson for St. Louis -- catch the damn ball.
Despite the long history of incredible moments that these franchises have given baseball, most likely it will be the more ordinary 1930 Series that most closely parallels this one. The Philadelphia A's beat the Cards in the pivotal Game 5 by two runs in a tense, well-pitched affair in St. Louis. Sound familiar? Back in Philly, the A's romped 7-1 in an anticlimactic Game 6, winning the Series 4-2. Few would be surprised if Boston emulates Connie Mack's team and captures the championship tonight in a walk.
The silver lining? The Cardinals came back the next season to beat the A's in a memorable seven games, capped by Pepper Martin's legendary game-saving catch. So whatever happens on Wednesday night, Cards fans, there's always next year.
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Robert Weintraub is the author of the books The Victory Season and The House That Ruth Built. He writes regularly for the New York Times, ESPN.com, Football Outsiders, CJR, Slate and many others. Follow him on Twitter @robwein.