Note: Leverage Index is an average of the leverage of situations, with 1 being average, below 1 being low-pressure, and above 1 being high-pressure.
In 1968, Vanilla Fudge, a band known mostly for psychedelic cover songs of Motown hits and rock & roll classics, went on tour in the US. Their opening act? An English band named Led Zeppelin. I’m sure Vanilla Fudge was fine and all, but Led Zeppelin opened for them. How could anyone follow Led Zeppelin?
It’s almost just as well that the 2004 World Series was such a boring one, because how could any Series follow the 2004 ALCS? Had it been a good World Series, I still don’t think we’d have given it its due. Because the 2004 World Series was Vanilla Fudge, and there’s just no following the Battle of Evermore that went on on the East coast in prime time the week before. Dave Roberts. The bloody sock. David Ortiz. You remember the ALCS. You remember specific details of it. You know nothing about the World Series except who won. Don’t lie to me. You don’t remember it at all. Nor should you.
By now, we’re used to seeing them in World Series. When there’s no standout team in the National League, the seem to be the cream that rises to the top, and they’re never particularly interesting. They’re just a drumbeat of irritating postseason success; not enough to call dynasty, not so little that you don’t notice it or you think them chokers. But it wasn’t always the case. The 2004 St. Louis Cardinals (105-57) were the first Cardinals team since 1987 to reach the World Series, and only the 4th to win the division. Their 105 wins were the most for a Cardinals team since WWII, and they were the perfect kind of juggernaut, leading the NL in both run scoring (5.28 r/g) and run prevention (4.07 r/g). The team’s best player was 3B Scott Rolen (.314/.409/.598/ 34 HR), who provided Gold Glove defense on top of his Silver Slugger offense, en route to a 4th place MVP finish. Finishing ahead of Rolen in the vote was teammate and 2nd place finisher 1B Albert Pujols (.331/.415/.657), who hit 51 doubles and 46 homers at the age of 24. CF Jim Edmonds (.301/.418/.643) also had a superstar year with 38 doubles and 42 homers. That is as beastly a trio of hitters as the league has seen in the last quarter century. It was unfair. And they weren’t surrounded by scrubs, as players like RF Reggie Sanders (.260/.315/.482 / 22 HR / 21 SB), Tony Womack (.307/.349/.385/ 26 SB), and John Mabry (.296/.363/.504) more than held their own. Trade deadline acquisition Larry Walker (.280/.393/.560) hit 11 HR in 2 months. Like I said, juggernaut. The rotation was strong, with a durable if unspectacular 5 of Matt Morris (15-10, 4.72), Jason Marquis (15-7, 3.71), Woody Williams (11-8, 4.18), Jeff Suppan (16-9, 4.16), and Chris Carpenter (15-5, 3.46). The bullpen elevated the staff from good to great, with Cal Eldred (3.76), Julian Tavarez (2.38), Ray King (2.61), Steve Kline (1.79), and Kiko Calero (2.78) all doing a fantastic job of bridging the gap from the starters to closer Jason Isringhausen (2.87, 47 saves).
If you don’t know the story of the 2004 Boston Red Sox (98-64)… well, I don’t believe you, because you’re reading a World Series article in June. You’ve seen the movie, but you might have forgotten some of the cast members. Boston led the majors in scoring (5.86 r/g) and were above average in the AL in run prevention (4.74 r/g). Leading the way offensively was LF Manny Ramirez (.308/.397/.613), hitting 43 HR and finishing 3rd in the MVP race. Finishing 4th in the same vote was DH David Ortiz (.301/.380/.603), who hit 41 HR. Team captain C Jason Varitek (.296/.390/.482/ 18 HR), 1B Kevin Millar (.297/.383/.474/ 36 2B / 18 HR), 2B Mark Bellhorn (.264/.373/.444/ 37 2B / 17 HR), 3B Bill Mueller (.283/.365/.446), and CF Johnny Damon (.304/.380/.477/ 20 HR / 19 SB) were all better than league average as well. The lineup was stacked. The rotation had big time star power. Curt Schilling (21-7, 3.26, 203 K’s) led the way. Pedro Martinez (16-9, 3.90, 227 K’s) wasn’t his dominant self of 4 or 5 years earlier, but he was still pretty damn good. Derek Lowe (14-12, 5.42) and Tim Wakefield (12-10, 4.87) ate innings, and Bronson Arroyo (10-9, 4.03) was one of the more dependable 5th starters in the league. What made the ’04 edition different from past Sox teams was in part Keith Foulke (2.17, 32 saves), brought in to be the big time stopper the 2003 edition lacked (Byung-Hyun Kim led the ’03 Sox with 16 saves, one of 10 pitchers to notch a save that year). Foulke gave a bullpen some idea of identity, and manager Terry Francona established distinct roles within that pen. The team was more confident about late innings, no question about it.
If Game 1 was any indication (spoiler: it wasn’t), this would be a great Series. With Woody Williams taking on Tim Wakefield, both offenses enjoyed themselves. In the 1st, Ortiz hit a 3 run HR and Bill Mueller drove in another run for a 4-0 Boston lead. In the 2nd, future Cardinals manager Mike Matheny made it 4-1 with a sac-fly. An inning later, Walker cut it to 4-2 with a solo homer. In the bottom frame, however, Boston strung together 3 walks, 3 singles, and a ball in play to add 3 runs for a 7-2 lead. In the 4th, a second Matheny sac-fly made it 7-3, and a Millar throwing error on the relay let in a 2nd run. A productive out from So Taguchi made it 7-5, and we had a game again. In the 6th, reliever Arroyo allowed a single and then back to back doubles to SS Edgar Renteria and Walker, tying the game at 7-7. In the bottom of the 7th, a RBI single from Manny Ramirez broke the tie, and Ortiz followed with a RBI single of his own to give Boston a 9-7 lead. In the top of the 8th, St. Louis answered again, this time with a RBI single from Renteria and an error from Ramirez, tying it back at 9-9. Finally, in the bottom of the 8th, Mark Bellhorn’s 2 run homer ended the scoring for good. Foulke would close out the 9th for a wild 11-9 Game 1 win. It was rather easily the best game of the Series.
Average leverage: 1.28
Curt Schilling managed to keep the hitters in check while sporting yet another bloody sock, giving up one run in 6 innings. Opposing starter Matt Morris was better than Game 1’s Williams, but that’s about it. Varitek had a triple with 2 on in the 1st and Bellhorn had a 2 run double in the 4th. In the 6th, Boston’s already good odds were cemented with a 2 run single from SS Orlando Cabrera, making it 6-1. Boston would go on to win 6-2.
Average leverage: 0.695
Pedro Martinez looked like vintage Pedro, allowing just 5 baserunners and no runs through 7 impressive innings. All came in scary situations in the 1st and 3rd, but Martinez got out of both jams. The other 5 innings were perfect. He also threw every pitch with a lead, as Ramirez homered in the top of the 1st. By the 5th, the Sox had built a 4-0 lead. Foulke stumbled a bit in the 9th, giving up a solo HR to Walker, but held on for the 4-1 win.
Average leverage: 0.685
Like Pedro Martinez the night before, Red Sox starter Derek Lowe never took the mound with even a tie score. Echoing Rickey Henderson in 1989, Jonny Damon led off the game with a HR. In the 3rd, a bases loaded double from Trot Nixon made it 3-0. From this point on, the Cardinals never even got the tying run to the plate, as Lowe, Arroyo, Embree, and Foulke combined for the Game 4 and Series-clinching shutout, finally ending the legendary Curse of the Bambino.
Average leverage: 0.84
It was magical to see Boston win a World Series. It seemed inevitable, and the moment they won is a moment I will always remember – and I’m no Boston fan. It was iconic. I remember Tom Petty’s “The Waiting” playing on the first segment after the final out. These are memories that last. If I were ranking World Series by what they mean, or how historic they were, or how emotionally compelling they were, this one would be much higher.
But this list is just about the baseball, and the baseball was ‘meh’ at best. Game 1 was great, but the rest weren’t particularly close. Not once did St. Louis have the lead, and they only sent 15 batters to the plate in a tie game, and 11 of those were in Game 1. The other 4 were in the top of the 1st in Game 2. St. Louis was playing from behind nearly the entire Series. That is not the recipe for a great World Series. It’s the recipe for a forgettable one.
Manny Ramirez was named MVP, reaching base 10 times and hitting a homer. For St. Louis, Pujols, Renteria, and Walker combined to go 15 for 44 (.341) with 7 doubles, 2 HR, and 5 walks. No other Cardinal had even 3 hits. Everyone else disappeared, with conspicuously bad Series from Edmonds (1 for 15 with 6 K’s) and Rolen (0 for 15… ouch).
Average leverage: 0.875