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Allen Craig, RISP, room service ... Cardinals all set for Boston

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

McCann (USATSI)
Unlike 2004, when they couldn't find hotel rooms, the Cards are staying near Fenway Park this year. (USATSI)

ST. LOUIS – Next Cardinals World Series task for Game 1 Wednesday night: Seek out a couple of room-service fastballs from probable Boston starter Jon Lester.

The rest of the room service already should be taken care of, and don't laugh at such a seemingly simple thing.

Last time the Cardinals opened a World Series in Boston, in 2004, they couldn't get a hotel anywhere near city limits. So they stayed in suburban Quincy, battled traffic, had trouble finding late-night food on the eve of the World Series and, generally, never got the Fall Classic vibe at all.

As then-manager Tony La Russa said at the time, it sure didn't feel like the Cardinals were in a World Series.

By the time the Red Sox finished sweeping them, it never seemed to anybody else like the Cards were in a World Series, either.

“There were no rooms for us,” starter Chris Carpenter, out all season with a shoulder injury, remembered Sunday as the Cardinals worked out. “There was no food, no room service at the hotel. Nothing for us to do. We were stranded in the middle of nowhere.

“Typically, you go back to hang out and enjoy your time with your family and teammates.”

Instead, the Cardinals went back and steamed about what a bush (not Busch) league operation that World Series was.

Carpenter emphasized that it had nothing to do with the St. Louis getting waxed.

You will find none of this in the official 2004 Cardinals World Series highlights video, which was devoid of both room-service French dip sandwiches and victories.

The Cardinals are planning for things to be vastly different this year, and that starts with already having reservations booked at a downtown hotel not far from Fenway Park.

Then, used a hotel banquet room for temporary dining quarters and found a caterer to at least bring in pizza and chicken.

Now, the Cardinals logistics are improving by the day.

Allen Craig, one of their top run producers, is expected to rejoin the lineup for the first time since Sept. 4 and serve as designated hitter.

Having dusted the Dodgers in six games, the Cards are flying into their fourth World Series in 10 years organized and rested. They will have four days between games, and their pitching is lined up perfectly.

Manager Mike Matheny confirmed the obvious Sunday, that ace Adam Wainwright will start Game 1. He would not name his Game 2 starter. Likely, it will be rookie sensation Michael Wacha, but St. Louis could push him back to Game 3, which then would put him in line to start Game 7 if needed.

“We love Waino on the mound,” Matheny said. “He's the guy who sets the tone for our club. It's fitting he will be out there.”

It's also fitting that the Cardinals and Red Sox both are here. This is the first time since 1999 that the two clubs with the best records in their leagues have advanced to the World Series. Both Boston and St. Louis finished 97-65.

“We've been watching these guys all season,” Matheny said of the Red Sox. “Obviously, they've had a very, very good season. Seeing what they did compared to a year ago, you respect that fire.

“They're about doing the little things right. About family, about considering each other and thinking about the team. Those are the sorts of things that ring real true with us.”

No question, there are more similarities than differences between these two teams, and that will be the biggest fascination in this World Series. The managers, Matheny and Boston's John Farrell, are still very early in their careers. Both the Red Sox and the Cardinals are extraordinarily close teams that probably have produced a sum greater than the individual parts.

Both are proud, traditional franchises with more than a century's worth of history. Both play exceptionally well at home: Boston's 53-28 mark in Fenway Park was the best home record in the AL, the Cardinals' 54-27 mark in Busch Stadium was the second-best home record in the NL. The Red Sox (+197) and Cardinals (+187) had the two best run differentials in the majors.

Each club has a strong rotation and good bullpen. Each is athletic and very strong fundamentally. Each has pop – David Ortiz and Mike Napoli in Boston, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Allen Craig for the Cardinals.

Heck, each has a key player from Texarkana, Texas: Wacha and Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

“The town knows they're going to get a World Series ring one way or another,” Wacha said. “Hopefully, it's a Cardinals ring.”

The Red Sox have more team speed (third in the AL in steals, St. Louis ranked 15th in the NL) and the more flamboyant beards of the bunch.

“I might have to shave mine so I don't get embarrassed,” Wacha quipped.

“Obviously, they've got a good team,” Cards catcher Yadier Molina says. “They have good players, and veteran guys who know how to play the game the right way.

“And we've got some good guys here who play the game the right way and know how to win.”

Don't expect to see Mickey Mouse ears pop up in this series. Odds are higher you'll see Neil Diamond paddle boarding down the Charles River.

The Cardinals know the Red Sox are famous for grinding out at-bats and working feverishly to raise pitch counts and run the opposing starting pitcher to the showers by the fifth or sixth inning. But they do not expect to do anything dramatic with Wainwright, Wacha, Joe Kelly or Lance Lynn to combat that.

“We've got all kinds of media data sheets coming through,” Matheny said. “Guys are in there watching film.

“One of the things you can get in trouble with is trying to reinvent the wheel. We'll go first with what we do best, and then make adjustments from there.”

The Cardinals were especially proficient with runners in scoring position this summer, their .330 batting average ranking as the highest of any major-league team since 1974. In those situations, they also batted .305 with runners in scoring position and two out, and .370 with the bases loaded (with four grand slams).

Though Dodgers pitching stymied them for much of the NLCS, the Cardinals sure seemed to regain their swagger in their shocking Game 6 dispatch of Clayton Kershaw.

“This game is hard,” Matheny said. “Hitting comes and goes. There are times you feel right, and there are other times when you can't quite get a finger on what's happening.”

Matheny thinks maybe what happened against Kershaw on Friday night will reignite the offense.

“You can wait for a mistake and not get it,” he said. “We try to stay consistent, grind and fight.”

Mostly, the Cardinals intend to keep doing things their way.

“When you get to this point in the season, it's not about matchups,” Carpenter said. “It's about going out and executing and playing baseball and doing the things that you need to do to win, and hopefully getting a break here and there to take advantage of.”

Maybe that will come in the form of a room-service fastball, ripe for depositing over the Green Monster. This time in Boston, the Cardinals have a head start. The room-service menu is covered.

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