ST. LOUIS -- The world of the 2004 Red Sox has officially spun inside out since Oct. 17, the day they showed up at Fenway Park trailing the Yankees, 3-0, in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series. In case you missed it, the Sox haven't lost since and are a mere 27 outs away from becoming one of the greatest stories in sports history.
This, after they rode a brilliant performance by Pedro Martinez and silenced the Cardinals, 4-1, in Game 3 of the World Series on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.
Now, the Sox are the team with the 3-0 lead, giving them four chances to wrap up their first World Series championship since 1918.
"Our focus is pitch to pitch right now, and that's the way need to keep focusing," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "We're going to focus pitch to pitch, period. We're going to grind this thing out."
Despite their even-keeled approach, these are heady times for the Sox. They've won their last seven in a row and are 10-3 in this postseason.
Only by matching the dubiously historic feat of the Yankees last week will the Sox be able to avoid ending that long-chronicled drought. Twenty-five out of 26 teams in Major League Baseball have been on the winning end after leading a best-of-seven series 3-0.
Derek Lowe, who helped put away the Yankees with six innings of one-hit ball in Game 7 of the ALCS, has an opportunity to pitch another clincher on Wednesday night. This one would end the 2004 baseball season.
The Red Sox have won seven straight games, and a victory in Game 4 would not only capture the title for Boston, but it would set the record for the most consecutive postseason wins to close out a championship.
ALCS Game 4
Won, 6-4 (12)
ALCS Game 5
Won, 5-4 (14)
ALCS Game 6
ALCS Game 7
WS Game 1
WS Game 2
WS Game 3
The 1998 Yankees beat the Indians in Games 4, 5 and 6 of the ALCS before sweeping all four World Series games against the Padres for seven straight postseason wins to close out a championship, tying the 1976 Reds, who swept the Phillies in a three-game NLCS before sweeping the Yankees in the World Series. The 1995 Braves are the only other club to win seven straight in a postseason.
"The whole team is going to be the same way we've been while winning these seven in a row," said Lowe. "Guys come here loose and ready to play. Guys are going to be excited to get here [Wednesday]."
For those who wondered how Martinez would handle the first World Series start of his career, the three-time Cy Young Award winner responded with his most dominant performance in this postseason. The day after his 33rd birthday, he thoroughly stifled the usually prolific offense of the Cardinals, holding them to three hits over his seven shutout innings, striking out six and retiring the last 14 batters he faced.
"I just used my experience and threw strikes and got them swinging," said Martinez, who is eligible for free agency in November, meaning there was at least a chance this was his final outing in a Boston uniform.
"I hope it's not the last one," said Martinez. "But if it is, I just want the fans and everybody to understand that I did whatever possible to represent the city well, the team, and that my heart will always be with them, and that I did whatever possible for the team and for the city."
On this night, he represented the Sox by having near perfect location on his fastball and tantalizing control of both his curveball and changeup.
"He used both sides of the plate," said Varitek. "He used his cutter. He had a great changeup. He was able to keep guys off balanced. Pedro did a great job."
The Sox came two outs shy of notching their first World Series shutout since Bruce Hurst and Calvin Schiraldi combined in Game 1 against the Mets in 1986. But Wednesday night, on the 18th anniversary of their Game 7 loss to the Mets, the Sox can win it all.
Manny Ramirez / LF
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"It is big," said Sox slugger Manny Ramirez. "But we learned our lesson [from] the Yankees. We lost the first three games, and especially against the Cardinals, they've got such a great team that anything can happen out there."
The offense, clutch throughout this series, came through when it needed to. Ramirez belted a solo homer, setting the tone in the top of the first. The other big hits came from Trot Nixon (RBI single), Ramirez (RBI single) and Bill Mueller (RBI double).
As they've done in every game in this World Series, the Sox jumped in front in the first inning. This time, the lead came with just one swing, as Ramirez clocked a two-out, solo shot to left off Jeff Suppan. It was Ramirez's 18th career home run in the postseason, tying him with Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson for second on the all-time list.
"I'm just trying to relax at the plate, just trying to get a good pitch to hit and I got it and I just went deep," said Ramirez.
The Cardinals had something going against Martinez in the bottom of the first, loading the bases with one out. But on a shallow flyout to left by Jim Edmonds, Larry Walker surprisingly tried to score. He was tagged out by Varitek, who easily handled Ramirez's accurate one-hopper.
In the third, the Cardinals had another golden opportunity against Martinez. Suppan got things going with a single down the third-base line. Edgar Renteria laced a double to right. Then, the Cardinals stung themselves again with shoddy baserunning.
A grounder to second by Walker undoubtedly should have scored Suppan. Mark Bellhorn methodically fielded the ball and eased the throw to first, essentially giving away the run for the sure out. But Suppan got hung up on the third-base line. First baseman David Ortiz -- playing defense for just the second time since July 22 -- alertly fired to third baseman Mueller, who tagged Suppan out.
"Of course, that's the run that we have to give," said Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera. "And Larry Walker, as a veteran, all he wanted to do was hit a grounder to second so he could move both runners. Fortunately for us, it was a pitcher running on third and he got confused. We got a double play."
Meanwhile, the Boston bats kept coming. Mueller ignited yet another two-out rally by the Sox in the fourth, lacing a double to left-center. Nixon smashed a single off the wall in right to score Mueller and give the Sox a 2-0 edge.
Suppan didn't hang around much longer. Johnny Damon led off the fifth with a double to right, moved to third on Cabrera's single and scored on Ramirez's single to left. With two outs, Mueller came through again, smacking an RBI single to right to make it 4-0. That was all for Suppan, who was replaced by Al Reyes. No Cardinals starting pitcher has made it out of the fifth inning in this series.
"Our team is a very good team," said Damon. "One thing we know we can do well is hit. It doesn't matter if it's a starter or reliever, we've done well hitting the ball all year."
They can also pitch. Martinez, after looking hittable early, got nasty.
He gave way to Mike Timlin, who tamed the Cardinals in the eighth. Sox closer Keith Foulke, despite giving up a solo homer to Walker, finished it off in the ninth, putting the Sox on the cusp of their most glorious accomplishment in 86 years.
"We had the biggest comeback in the history of sports last week, and 3-0 means that we're in a good position," said Damon. "We're not done yet. We're going to definitely try and get it [Wednesday] night."
Generations of Red Sox players and fans will be watching.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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