ST. LOUIS -- Now it gets good.
Not that there's been anything wrong with the first four games of the World Series, with the Red Sox and Cardinals feeling each other out for two games at Fenway Park and playing to a confusing finish here in Game 3. But Boston's 4-2 victory on Sunday night sets the stage for one of those Octobers suitable for a Ken Burns documentary.
After 13 hours and 50 minutes of high-wire baseball over four games in five nights -- in cities where Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Stan Musial and Bob Gibson are high on the list of civic icons, at ballparks that epitomize the old and the new architecturally, with David Ortiz becoming The Unretirable Man and both Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig thriving under physical duress -- we're down to closing acts.
It's two out of three to see whether the Cards win their third World Series in the last eight seasons or the Red Sox throw their third parade in 10 years.
The winner will be the team of this young century -- and if you are confident that you know which team that will be at this point, you are probably also capable of bending silverware with your mind.
After Jarrod Saltalamacchia's unwise throw led to the obstruction call that decided Game 3, St. Louis seemed set to seize control in Game 4. Boston was starting a running-on-fumes Clay Buchholz, yet the Red Sox still got the victory they badly needed, with Koji Uehara's pickoff of pinch-runner Kolten Wong sealing the deal.
The hero, naturally, was Jonny Gomes, who didn't know he was in the starting lineup until he was halfway through his round of batting practice.
Buchholz did his part to keep the game tied when he was in, and Gomes -- who got his chance because Shane Victorino was scratched with back problems -- blasted a three-run homer off Seth Maness, whose forte is getting ground balls. That's how these teams roll.
"Both teams are truly trying to win every single game," Gomes said. "You don't have much room to give a game and just kind of say, 'OK, that wasn't a good game.' It's a heavyweight fight. You have to win as many rounds as you can."
The starting rotations reset for Game 5, with Jon Lester facing Adam Wainwright on Monday night in a rematch of the Red Sox's 8-1 victory in the opener. The competitiveness of the pitchers will be off the charts, and when Cardinals fans head out of Busch Stadium, they'll probably either feel like they've got it in the bag or that all is lost.
Neither will be the truth, and that's good news for drama addicts.
The World Series is tied 2-2, and the likelihood is we're headed to a Game 7 at Fenway Park on Thursday night. There will be a chance of a celebration on Wednesday, sure, but history says we're going the distance, and why not?
Since the Major Leagues went to divisional play in 1969, teams have been tied 2-2 in 17 series. Eleven of the previous 16 have gone to a seventh game, including ones that produced storybook finishes in 1975, '86, '91 (Sunday was the 22nd anniversary of Jack Morris' 1-0 win over the Braves), '97, 2001 and '11.
And here's a twist you might not expect: The team that has won Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead has not had the huge advantage that you'd expect. Surprisingly, the team that has lost the fifth game has bounced back to win Games 6 and 7 as often as the team that won it got the last victory it needed to nail down a championship.
Who has the advantage at this point?
If you were only looking at pitching matchups, you'd probably say the Cards, in large part because of rookie right-hander Michael Wacha (4-0, 1.00 ERA in the postseason). Mike Matheny has his rotation lined up with Wacha and Joe Kelly behind Wainwright, and that looks better than the Red Sox's situation. John Farrell has John Lackey (who threw an inning of relief Sunday) and Jake Peavy for the games that remain, with Ryan Dempster in the wings.
But to this point, the Sox have been a tick more impressive in the postseason. They have outscored the Rays, Tigers and Cardinals, 63-42, while St. Louis has a run differential of only plus-8 -- not that those things really matter.
Many of these Cardinals were on the 2011 team, which overcame a 3-2 deficit to beat the Rangers in the World Series, and all of them were in Pittsburgh earlier this month. A game away from elimination, St. Louis grinded out a 2-1 win behind Wacha in Game 4 at PNC Park and rolled at Busch Stadium in Game 5.
The one constant throughout October has been the respect pitchers have paid the Cards' Beltran and the Red Sox's Ortiz, and how those two have punished the pitches that wandered into the strike zone. The Sox get the edge in this matchup too, as Ortiz's 3-for-3 night on Sunday means he's been on base 12 times in 15 plate appearances in the World Series, with two home runs and an OPS of 2.114.
Farrell calls Ortiz "a tremendous hitter at any point in time in the year," and it helps that he's a leader, too. Ortiz gathered his teammates in the dugout before Gomes' homer -- a hit that turned the evening's outcome, but probably not the series.
The really big moments, the ones that will produce relics to be placed on display in Cooperstown, are coming in the next two or three games.
"We've got a lot of guys who try to find a way to win," said the Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia. "They have a great team. This is going to be a fight to the end. We know that. They know that."
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less