Red Sox groundskeeper Dave Mellor paid tribute to his service dog, Drago
This is going to be a weekend rich with history at Fenway Park.
No disrespect to the departing A’s, despite their 2022 efforts to engender disrespect (all the way to Las Vegas). They won a slopfest Thursday on their way out of town, and shared a oft-forgotten what-if with the Red Sox nearly 50 years ago this week – the 72 hours in 1976 when Hall of Famer closer Rollie Fingers was sold to the Red Sox before commissioner Bowie Kuhn nullified it in the best interests of the game.
Might’ve changed that 1978 pennant race a little bit, but I digress.
The Cardinals are in town for just the fifth time in the interleague play era, and two of those were for the World Series in 2004 and 2013. Four of Boston’s last eight American League pennants led into meetings with St. Louis, another franchise with an outsized fan base that will stuff Fenway to the gills for these three games.
Not that the present can be ignored, either. During this five-week surge from last place to the playoff conversation – four straight Cleveland wins have nosed them ahead for the third wild-card spot – Boston has made the most of a weak schedule, going 19-7 against AL West teams.
St. Louis is not that, nor are they an also ran, sitting atop the National League Central and just about Boston’s equal offensively. Paul Goldschmidt, with his .347 average and 16 home runs, is probably the National League MVP at the moment. They are dynamic as well, leading the NL in stolen bases and sixth in the majors in success rate.
“It’s not really a dare,” Harrison Bader told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month, “when you know you’re going to make it.”
That the glacial Albert Pujols has one of those stolen bases, the 117th of his 22-year career, might be the clearest statement of the confidence with which the Cardinals ooze. A surprise? Of course. Baseball’s oldest player – he’s got fellow 42-year-old Rich Hill by two months – is also its fourth-slowest according to Baseball Savant.
But there was a time it seemed like there was nothing Pujols could do on a baseball field, as he racked up a Rookie of the Year and three MVPs during his first decade in St. Louis. Louis. A largely lost decade with the Angels somewhat dimmed his star, but allow me to add to the chorus somewhat amazed this farewell reunion with the Cardinals isn’t getting near the pomp some of his contemporaries received on their way out.
“We talk about Miggy [Cabrera]. We talk about Manny [Ramirez]. We talk about all these righties, ”Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters. “But when Albert was Albert – The Machine – I mean, the base runner, the defender, the hitter? He was the best of the best. ”
Those financially lucrative years with Los Anaheim made Pujols a semi-regular at Fenway, but he needed just four at-bats here to deliver one of his 683 regular-season home runs, lining a 3-and-0 Rudy Seanez fastball into the Red Sox bullpen on June 10, 2003 – the first time the teams had faced off since the 1967 World Series.
How long ago was that? Pujols’ current manager, Oliver Marmol, was still four years away from being drafted by St. Louis out of college.
If Pujols plays on Friday night, it’ll be in support of Adam Wainwright, himself potentially wrapping up a 17-year career (not counting a 2011 lost to Tommy John surgery) all with St. Louis. Wainwright, 40, is the last Cardinals pitcher to beat the Red Sox, doing so in 2014.
But the only two World Series starts in his career came against Boston in 2013, and he lost them both. Sloppy defense helped him last just five innings in a Game 1 blowout at Fenway, and he got just a run of support in Game 5, when he made what he called “the most regrettable pitch of my career” – the one that David Ross ended up blooping for a line-hugging RBI double to snap a 1-all tie.
“I think about Game 1 and 5 a lot, actually,” he told the Post-Dispatch.
Alas, he will not be joined on Friday, or for the forseeable future, by longtime partner, catcher Yadier Molina. The 39-year-old who’s also playing his final season is expected to go on the injured list due to knee soreness, cortisone shots last weekend not enough to keep him in the lineup.
Friday will not be their 317th career start as a battery in the regular season, which would have moved them into second all-time alone. Regardless, it’s likely his presence will be notable this weekend, given Molina’s place of honor in Cora’s beloved Puerto Rican baseball community.
This weekend is about games first, of course, and results. The Red Sox are still in a hole of their own making, and winning 20 of 28 has merely pushed them back into the contention conversation, not secured their place in it.
But there will be special players visiting Fenway Park this weekend. Even if their primes are behind them, we best take a moment to enjoy.
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