WHEN JUNE FEELS LIKE FALL
This will be a disorienting week for Cardinal Nation. The most successful franchise in the history of the National League will play six games in two of the most hallowed venues in American sport, let alone the American League. But a critical element will be missing when St. Louis takes the field at Fenway Park (Tuesday-Thursday) and Yankee Stadium (Friday-Sunday). This will be, after all, the first time St. Louis has faced either of these AL counterparts without a world championship at stake.
Red Sox fans will have plenty of vitriol behind their booing of the Birds on the Bat. The Cardinals are a primary reason Boston hasnt won a World Series since 1918. In 1946, St. Louis won the last two games of a seven-game series to deny the legendary Ted Williams a championship in his only World Series appearance. Enos Slaughters mad dash from first to home on Harry Walkers double made the difference in a classic seventh game. Then in 1967, behind Bob Gibsons three wins and Lou Brocks brilliance (he hit .414 and stole seven bases), the Cards again took a seven-game series from the Bosox.
As for the Cardinals-Yankees rivalry in the Fall Classic, where to begin? Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby tagged out none other than Babe Ruth (attempting to steal second base) to end the 1926 Series, four games to three in favor of the Cards. The mighty Yanks and their Murderers Row -- Lou Gehrig hit four home runs -- swept St. Louis just two years later. Stan Musial played in the first of his four World Series in 1942, a five-game victory over Joe DiMaggio and the Bronx Bombers. New York gained its revenge only a year later with its sixth world championship in eight years.
In 1964, a fading Yankee dynasty -- built around Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford -- took on a spirited Cardinal club that seemed to personify the civil rights movement on a baseball diamond. Gibson, Brock, Bill White, and Curt Flood were dynamic winners on the field, and each exuded surpassing dignity when out of uniform. The seven-game victory by St. Louis became the kind of legend about which novels are written . . . just ask David Halberstam. Having taken three of their five series against the Yankees, St. Louis is the only club to hold such an edge on baseballs one true empire. (Well let Arizona beat New York a second time before allowing them in the club.)
The advent of interleague play in 1997 meant these kinds of regular-season meetings would be inevitable . . . in theory, a boon to the national pastimes sagging popularity. And the guess here is that the turnstiles will be flipping, TV numbers spiking as these six games unfold. If you took a U.S. map and colored in the regions that are devoted to the Cards, Yankees, and Red Sox, youd have very little white space left. Considering the list of Hall of Famers to have suited up in the seven World Series mentioned above, its fitting that a plethora of modern stars will carry the torch this week. Nomar Garciaparra, Manny
Ramirez, and Pedro Martinez (coming off the disabled list to pitch Wednesday night in Fenway). Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, and Roger Clemens (aiming for his 300th win and 4,000th strikeout Friday night at the Stadium). Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Matt Morris. The Yankees and Red Sox look to be among the top three or four clubs in the Junior Circuit. Alas, an underachieving Cardinal team -- depleted by some key injuries this season and a miserable bullpen -- will have to elevate its play for these games to be competitive.
So take your calendars off the wall this week, grab a sweatshirt, and pretend its October. Interleague play has its detractors; the format still feels like a blind-to-history marketing gimmick. But for a week in Cardinal Nation, the concept feels almost -- almost -- classic.