In the baseball preseason this year, the so-called "experts" were making their picks for how the baseball season would progress. More often than not, the much-vaunted (or hated) New York Yankees were pitted against one of two very strong-looking National League Central teams: the Cubs -- with the assumed invincible Sammy Sosa and a solid pitching rotation shored up by the addition of Greg Maddux -- or the Houston Astros, with solid pitching additions in the form of Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens. It only made sense; the Cubs added to their NL Central-winning squad, the Astros made some good off-season signings, and the Yankees were the defending AL champs, who added Gary Sheffield and the monster (both in ability and payroll) Alex Rodriguez.Discuss.
What they didn't see in the National League was that the Cubs would lose both Kerry Wood and Mark Prior at different points to injury and that the Cubs would eventually self-destruct when it mattered most. They didn't see that Pettite would hardly pitch due to injury. They certainly didn't see that a storm was brewing in St. Louis. After a dismal first six weeks of the season, the St. Louis Cardinals went on a tear of monster proportions to come back from being fifth in the division to leading it, and winning it by an incredible 13 games as baseball's most prolific offense was accompanied by baseball's most surprising pitching staff. The Astros hung tough, and managed to come from being down and counted out to win the NL Wild Card. They beat the Braves in a tough five-game set. After beating the Dodgers three games to one, the Cardinals hosted Houston in a wild, competitive, and very tough NLCS full of walk-off homers and spark from young guns Carlos Beltran and Albert Pujols. The home crowds played a huge role as well, and the home team won all four games to send St. Louis to the World Series.
The American League was almost not surprising, except for the fact that the Red Sox were still in it, after most of a season of Keystone Cops-inspired defense. Through brute force and a couple of good defensive acquisitions, they managed to outscore their opponents more often than not, and wrapped up the season with the AL's Wild Card slot. After sweeping Anaheim, Boston went to the Bronx in a rematch of last year's dramatic ALCS. It came down to a Red Sox team trailing in the AL Championship Series three games to none. Even in Game 7, it was thought that the Red Sox would throw it away by pulling Derek Lowe after six innings in favor of Pedro Martinez, who instantly gave up a pair of runs to let the Yankees think they had a chance. That Red Sox team didn't lose heart, however, and completed something that no other major league team has done before: won all four of the next games to win the series 4-3, in dramatic fashion.
It could be a World Series of great proportions. Can the Red Sox finally put that "curse" to rest? Or will the Cardinals inflict much pain through the wooden baseball bat?