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Teams Take A Step Closer To World Series


You know, this week there's been no shutdown of sports.


SIMON: The pennants are falling into place. The St. Louis Cardinals going back to the World Series after beating the Los Angeles Dodgers last night by a score of, I don't know, I had to go to sleep. It looked like about 50 to nothing. And tonight, in the American League, the Detroit Tigers roar back into Fenway Park. But would you bet against the Red Sox to win a game there? They lead the series three games to two. A bunch of reds could be in the World Series. For more we go to Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He's at the studios of New England Public Radio. Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. It wasn't that bad. It wasn't 50 to nothing. It was 9 to nothing, but it felt like 50 to nothing.

SIMON: This is the fourth World Series the Cardinals will be going to in ten years. Now of course, as you realize, for a Cub fan, this is hard to say, b-b-b-b-b-but year in and year out the Cardinals are one of the great franchises, not only of all time, but of all now. How do they do it?

BRYANT: It's a fantastic thing. When you start looking at the Cardinals, I always refer to Major League Baseball as there are four legs to the table in terms of the four franchises that have been historically and successfully the most popular teams, is the Cardinals, the Red Sox, the Dodgers and the Yankees. And those teams stand above the rest every year for some reason, whether it's the Red Sox - even when the Red Sox underachieve, they were somehow the team that people wrote about and talked about and they were always, they had so much influence in Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals are the Midwest team. In a year where Stan Musial, the greatest Cardinal, passed away, they win the pennant. They've won 19 pennants, 22 pennants overall since 1883; they've won nine since 1996. And they do it the old-fashioned way, in a lot of different ways. They still go out and they get free agent players, but they have a lot of homegrown players.

They don't overspend, and gee, the kid, Michael Wacha - this kid has played - he's pitched nine starts in his career and he is the difference-maker right now. And how did they get Michael Wacha? By not giving Albert Pujols the $250 million and letting him go, and now this young homegrown talent pitched them into the World Series last night, giving up only two hits.

SIMON: Yeah. Let's go to the American League. As we mentioned, Boston is ahead three to two. So Detroit's not down by much, but did that second game put the series into a kind of groove?

BRYANT: Second game changed everything. You've got back-to-back guys throwing no-hitters. You've got a 1-nothing lead on the road, you're up 5 to nothing, and then 5 to one with two outs in the eighth inning, so you're about to go home for three games, up two games to none, with your best pitcher on the mound.

David Ortiz hits a grand slam, you lose the game in the next inning. And all of a sudden everything turns around. Then they beat Verlander at home, you know, in Detroit, and so now instead of having a chance to go up three games to none, the Tigers are facing elimination. And the good news for the Tigers is that they've got their two best pitchers.

You've got Max Scherzer going tonight, who's probably going to win the Cy Young Award next month, and you've got Verlander if they win tonight, going to a game 7 and you don't want to face Verlander in a game 7. So on the one hand, the Red Sox are a game away from going to the World Series, but if you're the Tigers, you are the defending American League Champions. You went to the World Series last year, and you've got your two best pitchers going the next two games if it gets that far.

SIMON: Got to ask you quickly about Prince Fielder. I saw him slide into second base this week. It was like dredging the Panama Canal. He hasn't had a successful playoff series in a long time.

BRYANT: No, and it's tough. You look at all the stat guys and the Bill James people that I completely disagree with so many times when they talk about how there's no such thing as clutch hitting and there's a small sample size in the postseason. And I disagree with that. I think that what you do in the postseason, it's pressure. It's not comparing you to the regular season. It's what you do in this moment when everybody's watching.

If you look at Carlos Beltran last night...

SIMON: Oh, what a catch. Yeah.

BRYANT: What a catch. He got them going and he wins game 1 for them. He's an amazing, amazing offensive player and defensive player, and then you look at Prince Fielder who's had a terrible postseason. He needs to break out or people are going to wonder if he's a pressure player - at $214 million over nine years.

SIMON: Yeah. We actually have 20 seconds left. We're building into the clock. I got a tweet last night as you and I were watching the game I want to run by you. Thomas Alma writes: Sorry I don't share your love of the game. Professional sports are corrupt, child-like and pathetic. Howard, he's talking about us.

BRYANT: He really is. And he's not wrong, but we love them anyway.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.