BOSTON -- No one spoke about it openly at the time, of course, but when Red Sox advance scouts met with the team's staff prior to the 2004 World Series against St. Louis, everybody in the room expressed absolute confidence that the Sox would make quick work of the Cardinals.
That conviction stemmed in great measure from the Sox's coming from three games to none down to beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. By comparison, everything else looked easy. And four games later, the Sox were riding duck boats through the streets of Boston.
Ten seasons later, it's Sox-Cardinals again in the 109th World Series, under much different circumstances. The Cardinals won the Series just two years ago. The Red Sox finished last in 2012. The Cardinals are the ones who got here by beating the super team, the Dodgers of Kershaw and Greinke and Puig, in the NLCS. The Red Sox advanced by beating a wounded Tigers team in the ALCS.
But in Game 1's 8-1 loss Wednesday night in Fenway Park, at least, the Cardinals looked no more capable of beating the Red Sox than their '04 forebears, suffering a collective defensive breakdown that was breathtaking in scope. And their task will not be made any easier by the loss of outfielder Carlos Beltran, who was taken to the hospital for further tests on ribs diagnosed as bruised. Beltran apparently was injured while robbing David Ortiz of a grand slam in the second inning and left the game an inning later.
It's not every day a shortstop known for his glovework muffs an easy double-play throw to second, the same shortstop muffs a ground ball in the hole, and a 30-foot popup falls in front of a pitcher who appeared to have every intention of catching the ball, until he didn't.
Come to think of it, that does happen every day, but in T-ball, not the Series. The Sox, happy for the help, pounced on those mistakes to take a 5-0 lead, the first three runs scoring on a bases-loaded double by Mike Napoli, who has some unfinished business to tend to against the Cardinals. Napoli, you may recall, was in line to be named World Series MVP for Texas in 2011 until the Cardinals' miraculous Game 6 comeback squashed that plan.
Wednesday's first-inning rally almost never materialized because of a bigger gaffe than any by the Cardinals, the one committed by second-base umpire Dana DeMuth. DeMuth was standing just a few feet away but somehow failed to see shortstop Pete Kozma never had possession of the ball after it was flipped his way by second baseman Matt Carpenter, who had just fielded a double-play ball hit by Ortiz.
The ball skidded off Kozma's glove without finding the webbing, an omission apparent to all but DeMuth, who ruled Kozma had possession and called out base-runner Dustin Pedroia at second. Red Sox manager John Farrell came out to protest, which appeared to be a futile exercise until the umpires on the perimeter huddled, soon to be joined by plate umpire and crew chief John Hirschbeck.
Hirschbeck reversed the call, which brought Cardinals manager Mike Matheny out to protest. The FOX broadcast caught this from Hirschbeck: "There's five of us [besides DeMuth] out here and all five of us say we're 100 percent sure that that was not a catch."
An unseemly controversy averted, one inning into baseball's biggest showcase.
"Basically the explanation is that's not a play I've ever seen before," Matheny said. "And I'm pretty sure there were six umpires on the field that had never seen that play before, either. It's a pretty tough time to debut that overruled call in the World Series. Now, I get that, trying to get the right call. I get that. Tough one to swallow."
The Sox added two more runs in the second, an inning that began with Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright striking a pose in front of Stephen Drew's whiffle-ball fly in front of the mound, then not moving a muscle until the ball found a safe landing spot between the pitcher and catcher Yadier Molina. David Ross followed with a bloop single, and Kozma's glove betrayed him again while attempting to field Shane Victorino's ground ball into the hole.
Pedroia followed with a base hit through the left side, and Ortiz sent a ball that appeared destined for a place in the visitors' bullpen until Beltran snatched it back with a splendid catch. Ortiz would not be denied five innings later, when he hit reliever Kevin Siegrist's first pitch over the Sox bullpen, where even celebrating cop Steve Horgan couldn't catch it.
Lockdown Lester: Red Sox starter Jon Lester, who last pitched in a World Series when he won a Game 4 clincher against the Rockies in 2007, held the Cardinals scoreless on five hits before being lifted with two outs in the eighth. Lester walked one, struck out eight and is now 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA in four postseason starts this season.
Win streak not yet 86'd: The Sox went 86 years without winning a World Series, and now they can't seem to lose a Series game. They've now won nine in a row, including sweeps of the Cardinals in '04 and Rockies in '07.
Step aside, Babe: Ortiz's home run was his 16th of the postseason, one more than Babe Ruth, who hit all of his in the World Series. Ortiz ranks eighth on the all-time list, tied with Beltran.
Quick on the draw: First-inning scoring for the Red Sox in their last nine World Series games: Sox 15, Opponents 1. It's 11-0 in five games vs. the Cards.
Dempster debut: Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster, whose big league career began with the Florida Marlins in 1998, made his first Series appearance. Dempster, who never got past the division series in 2007 and 2008 with the Cubs, gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Matt Holliday, then finished off the Cardinals in the ninth, striking out Matt Adams to end it.
First baller: Ceremonial first-pitch honors went to Carl Yastrzemski, who also did the honors in Game 1 of the '04 Series against the Cardinals.
Head count: It was a sellout in the Fens, 38,345.