ST. LOUIS -- One win away. That's where they find themselves.
One win away from a moment in time that would be unlike any baseball championship, maybe any baseball spectacle, we've witnessed in our days walking around Planet Earth.
The Boston Red Sox are now one win away from winning the World Series. But that has happened before.
Here, though, is what hasn't happened before -- at least not in the lifetimes of these men in uniform. Or the lifetimes of their parents. Or, very possibly, the lifetimes of their grandparents:
Their 2004 title was won in St. Louis. Their 2007 title was won in Denver. But this would be different. This would be epic. This would be life-altering, literally, for millions of people.
This would be the final act of curse-busting for a no-longer-star-crossed franchise. This one would shoot off fireworks in the park where Babe Ruth once pitched, where Ted Williams once hit .406, where Jimmie Foxx once won an MVP award. Where Mel Parnell, Sad Sam Jones, Luis Tiant and Lefty Grove all won 20.
This one would be for Fenway ...
For the first time since the Woodrow Wilson administration. For the first time in 95 years. Think about that.
"Since 1918," said that historically astute Jonny Gomes late Monday night, after his team had put itself in this position with another pulsating 3-1 win over the Cardinals. "Nineteen-eighteen.
"There are some people who have been waiting a lifetime for what possibly could happen," he added, stroking a beard that would have fit right into popular grooming trends in 1918. "And you can't say that about a lot of cities."
No, you can't. So he and his teammates found themselves trying to envision what Wednesday night at Fenway will feel like and sound like when this World Series resumes. It almost defies their vivid imaginations.
"I can only imagine," said Shane Victorino, five years removed from a drought-busting title in Philadelphia. "I've been in that position, and had that luxury. And I've been on the other side. I've been to the World Series where we've lost. But I can only imagine what Fenway's going to be like, what the city's going to be like, how much excitement there is."
As he began to talk about Wednesday night and all that has led up to it, you could hear his voice rise. You could almost hear his heart pound. And then he shook his head, as a wave of chills washed over him.
"I'm excited right now," Victorino said, as his teammates headed for a joyous plane ride back east. "I just want to get back. I want to play tomorrow, just thinking about that."
Well, they'll have to wait until Wednesday night. The rules are pretty clear on that. And, tough as that will be, when they get to Wednesday night, the job will even get tougher -- because they haven't won anything yet.
They still have to beat the best team in the National League. A team that has won 106 games this year. A team that won a World Series just two years ago after trailing, three games to two, heading into Game 6. A team, in fact, that has a history of spoiling many an October victory party.
Six times in Cardinals franchise history, they've trailed in a World Series, three games to two. Five of those six times, they've won Game 6 and won Game 7 and won those World Series. So no one has to explain to the St. Louis Cardinals that this can be done.
"You know, our guys have been backed up against the wall before," said their manager, Mike Matheny. "And this is something that isn't foreign to them. They know what we have to do."
When they did this two years ago, however, they won Games 6 and 7 at home. Just as they did in 1982 and 1946. And now they have to do it on the road, where it's very rarely done.
The history books tell us that 26 teams in World Series history have found themselves in the Cardinals' position -- down three games to two, and having to win Games 6 and 7 on the road. Only six of those 26 pulled that off. No team has done it since the 1979 Pirates did that in Baltimore. No Cardinals team has done it since 1934 (in Detroit).
But the Cardinals, Matheny said, will start with "the mentality of not buying into any kind of stats, any kind of predictions, any kind of odds, and go out and play the game."
And that's an excellent idea -- but not just for them. The team with a chance to make history knows it isn't time to pop any corks yet, too, no matter how loud the party gets Wednesday night.
On Monday night in St. Louis, these Red Sox won another incredible October baseball game, with another spectacular postseason start by Jon Lester (4-1, 1.56 ERA this October), with another dramatic rally in the late innings, manufacturing two gigantic seventh-inning runs off Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright on a night when Wainwright became the first Cardinals starter since Bob Gibson to rack up a double-digit strikeout game.
But afterward, "there was not much of a celebration, to tell you the truth," Gomes said. "There was just, like, straight business, eye on the prize, we're going home. Obviously, this win was huge. But it wasn't celebrated like winning the next one would be."
And how would winning the next one be celebrated, anyway? Like 2004? Like Mardi Gras? Like both of them rolled into one?
We'll begin to get a taste of that Wednesday night, when the gates of Fenway open and 38,000 people start filtering in to begin savoring an experience they won't truly be able to process until -- uh, better make that if -- it happens.
Only two other times since that 1918 World Series has any Red Sox team -- or any Red Sox fan base -- headed for Fenway, knowing that the night could end like Wednesday night could end.
One was Game 7 of the fabled 1975 World Series, the day after Carlton Fisk's homer, when a ninth-inning Joe Morgan single broke their hearts.
The other was Game 7 of the 1967 Series, when Bob Gibson crushed those beautiful New England dreams with nine innings of three-hit, 10-strikeout, Gibson-esque brilliance.
And that's been it -- over a period that's now, incredibly, five years short of a full century. But on Wednesday, this team gets one more chance to awaken the ghosts of Fenway and do what all those other Red Sox teams could never find a way to do.
"It's going be an unbelievable atmosphere," Gomes said. "It truly is. For the players, too. I think everyone knows the stage that's going to be held for us. We're going to ride on it."
Secondary-market ticket website Ticketsnow.com was listing seats for this game as high as $8,550 apiece. At StubHub, dugout-box seats could be found for a mere $11,552 apiece.
So there's going to be a little interest, apparently -- because there also could be a little history.
"Those fans will be rock 'n' rolling," Gomes said. "We know they'll be pumping us up."
For six months, a special connection has been building between these men and the people who will fill that park Wednesday. It began on a tragic Monday afternoon in April, when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and 25 baseball players rose up to aid in the healing. And it's only gotten stronger every day since.
So if this team was to be the one to end the Fenway drought, the joy would be felt a little deeper. The music would play a little louder. And the celebration would be the ultimate shared experience, because the bond between this team and this fan base is about as two-way as any you'll ever see in sports.
"I'm excited," said catcher David Ross, the man whose one-out, seventh-inning ground-rule double off Wainwright drove in the winning run in this game. "You know, we've got a lot of work to do. So I haven't thought a lot about the crowd or the environment. It's one of those things where you're trying to stay on the task at hand.
"But I think the association with the town is something special. I think the town has learned to love us as much as we love playing there. You know what I mean? I think it's mutual, a two-way street. They see how much fun we have. And I think we've made baseball fun for them again. And in return, they bring that energy to us. And they like the characters we are. And that's a warming feeling."
So on Wednesday, they'll file back into their century-old ballpark one more time. John Lackey will try again to outduel Cardinals phenom Michael Wacha. And the Boston Red Sox will get ready to do what Williams and Yaz, Lynn and Rice, Clemens and Buckner never did get to do:
Raise the World Series trophy inside Fenway Park.
And after 95 years, that scene is just one win away.