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Despite long odds, surprise ending possible at Fenway

Cards trying to become third team since '68 to win last two World Series games on road

Not so fast.

As tempting as it must be for Red Sox fans to try to plan their week around a World Series parade, word to the wise -- do not make your trip to the party store just yet. It's easier to get to the threshold of celebration than to get the clinching victory that pops the corks, and there's little in baseball more disappointing than champagne left on ice.

Just ask Dusty Baker. He's the 16th-winningest manager all-time with 1,671 regular-season victories, yet his teams have shown how difficult it can be to close the deal at every tier of the playoffs.

The 2002 Giants had a 5-0 lead in Game 6 of the World Series, leading the Angels three games to two, when the rug was yanked under them. Then the '03 Cubs came home to Wrigley Field for Game 6 of the National League Championship Series leading the Marlins, 3-2, only to see Mark Prior and Kyle Farnsworth give up eight runs in an eighth inning that included a ground ball through shortstop Alex Gonzalez's legs as well as Moises Alou losing a battle with a fan over a foul ball. And in 2012, Baker's Reds lost from ahead against the Giants in the NL Division Series.

Baseball can be as cruel as joyful, as Boston fans will remember. Nothing is guaranteed in October, even when everything seems tilted your way.

That's why Cardinals manager Mike Matheny says his team just needs to put its head down and get to work in Game 6 on Wednesday night (air time at 7:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. CT on FOX; first pitch at 8:07 p.m./7:07 p.m.) at Fenway Park.

"They have to lock arms, trust each other and play the game the right way,'' Matheny said. "Most of it is going to be the mentality of not buying into any kind of stats, any kind of predictions, any kind of odds. [Just] go out and play the game.''

A win by Michael Wacha, who has led St. Louis to victory in all four of his postseason starts, would send the World Series to one of its most dramatic finishes -- Game 7 at Fenway. History says to expect the unexpected.

From 2002 through this October, 22 best-of-seven series (including the Championship Series) stood 3-2 entering the final leg. The team that trailed has won seven -- almost one out of every three -- with the most recent example being the 2012 Giants, who rallied from 3-2 down to beat the Cards in the NLCS.

This marks the 26th time in the last 45 years that the World Series has been 3-2 entering the final leg. The team that faced elimination in Game 6 has rallied to win a championship almost as many times (11) as those when the team with the 3-2 lead took care of business (14). The qualifier here is that only the 1968 Tigers (in St. Louis) and '79 Pirates (in Baltimore) pulled off this trick on the road, which is the challenge that faces Matheny's Cardinals.

Searching for six-cess
The Cardinals are 6-7 in Game 6 of a World Series
Year Opponent Game 6 Series result
2011 Rangers 10-9 W Cardinals in 7
1987 Twins 11-5 L Twins in 7
1985 Royals 2-1 L Royals in 7
1982 Brewers 13-1 W Cardinals in 7
1968 Tigers 13-1 L Tigers in 7
1967 Red Sox 8-4 L Cardinals in 7
1964 Yankees 8-3 L Cardinals in 7
1946 Red Sox 4-1 W Cardinals in 7
1944 Browns 3-1 W Cardinals in 6
1934 Tigers 4-3 W Cardinals in 7
1931 Athletics 8-1 L Cardinals in 7
1930 Athletics 7-1 L Athletics in 6
1926 Yankees 10-2 W Cardinals in 7

Adam Wainwright, the losing pitcher in Game 5 on Monday night, says his teammates have a chance to do something "legendary'' by stunning the Red Sox at Fenway. He's right. If the Cards can manage this feat, it will be talked about forever -- overshadowing even the epic comeback they pulled off against the Rangers in the 2011 Series at Busch Stadium, when they were twice down to their last strike in Game 6.

Here's a look at the World Series reversals of the last 45 years, beginning with one that still seems hard to fathom:

• Tigers over Cardinals in St. Louis, 1968 -- Bob Gibson was such a force that season (1.12 ERA) that Major League Baseball would lower the mound to give hitters a better chance, but once the Tigers forced Game 7, he was beaten by Detroit's No. 2 starter, Mickey Lolich, who was pitching on two days' rest.

• Athletics over Mets in Oakland, 1973 -- Catfish Hunter beat Tom Seaver to force the seventh game, and Ken Holtzman, who had been part of the Cubs' collapse in 1969, won the deciding game over Jon Matlack to get some personal revenge, which did nothing for Chicago's bleacher bums.

• Pirates over Orioles in Baltimore, 1979 -- Earl Weaver's lineup, led by Ken Singleton and Eddie Murray, was shut down by John Candelaria and Grant Jackson as the "We Are Family" Bucs won 4-0 and 4-1 in the last World Series played without a designated hitter. The O's DH that season was Lee May, who had only two plate appearances in the World Series.

• Cards over Brewers in St. Louis, 1982 -- Sixth in the American League in staff ERA during the season, Milwaukee's pitchers were pounded 13-1 and 6-3. Commissioner Bud Selig, then owner of the Brew Crew, is haunted by the Keith Hernandez and George Hendrick singles off Bob McClure that erased the Brewers' 3-1 lead in the sixth inning of Game 7.

• Royals over Cardinals in Kansas City, 1985 -- Umpire Don Denkinger's missed call was the focus of Game 6, and the NL champs still seemed unsettled when Game 7 began. The Royals rolled to an 11-0 win by pounding John Tudor and Joaquin Andujar.

Tough task to tackle
Only two teams since 1968 have rallied from a 3-2 World Series deficit by winning Games 6 and 7 on the road
Year After Game 5 Game 6 Game 7
1979 Orioles 3, Pirates 2 Pit, 4, Bal. 0 Pit. 4, Bal. 1
1968 Cardinals 3, Tigers 2 Det. 13, Stl. 1 Det. 4, Stl. 1

• Mets over Red Sox in New York, 1986 -- As painful as the Bill Buckner game was for everyone on the Boston side (especially Buckner), it would not have been as impactful had the Red Sox not followed the 10-inning loss in Game 6 by blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 7.

• Twins over Cards in Minneapolis, 1987 -- St. Louis could have clinched with Tudor starting against Les Straker in Game 6, but Minnesota won, 11-5, and Frank Viola and Jeff Reardon pitched the Twins to a 4-2 victory in the deciding game, with the noise at the Metrodome beyond jet-engine levels.

• Twins over Braves in Minneapolis, 1991 -- As in '87, the home team would win every game in this Series, including Game 6 on an 11th-inning homer from Kirby Puckett and Jack Morris' classic 1-0, 10-inning victory in Game 7, which ranks as one of the best games ever played.

• D-backs over Yankees in Phoenix, 2001 -- Arizona had Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling lined up for Games 6 and 7, and the D-backs rallied to beat Mariano Rivera in the deciding game.

• Angels over Giants in San Francisco, 2002 -- Baker's closer, Robb Nen, wasn't right and that proved costly as Anaheim rallied to win Game 6, 6-5, with Scott Spiezio's three-run homer a key, and won, 4-1, in Game 7.

• Cardinals over Rangers in St. Louis, 2011 -- The Rangers couldn't hold a 7-5 lead in the ninth inning nor a 9-7 lead in the 10th inning of Game 6, with Nelson Cruz's inability to catch a drive by David Freese the signature moment in the Cards' 10-9 win in 11 innings. Chris Carpenter won Game 7, denying Texas its first championship.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for
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