David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
BOSTON - History suggests the Red Sox are a virtual lock to win Wednesday night's Game 6 and clinch a World Series title at Fenway Park for the first time in 95 years.
Ask any New Englander, and they're probably scared to death of those numbers.
That's because in this corner of the country, when something feels too good to be true, it can go horribly, irreversibly wrong. And while it's true Boston has enjoyed a remarkable run of success with all of its pro sports teams during the past decade, the region was denied one of the shiniest crown jewels, the one that seemed like a layup, back in 2008.
Need we explain 18-1?
Oh, those insecurities still exist, maybe buried a little deeper than the days when Bill Buckner patrolled first base rather than Mike Napoli. When Fenway Park hosted its last coronation in 1918, Babe Ruth was still on the team, and the mere mention of the immortal Yankee brings to mind the Curse of the Bambino.
The Red Sox lifted that 86-year hex back in 2004 with a World Series sweep of the Cardinals, and drove another stake through it three years later by clobbering the Rockies in four straight. Believe it or not, as monumental as those wins were, they seem easy in comparison to what the Red Sox have endured during this Fall Classic.
As David Ortiz said late Tuesday night, this is the "tough spot" -- needing that one last victory to close out the Cardinals. So close, and yet it feels so far. Boston has held a 3-2 lead in the World Series on four previous occasions, and won Game 6 just once, in 1918.
"If it's any harder than what we've come through -- both teams -- we're in for a hell of a two days here," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "These have been, every pitch, every play, is a significant moment in the game, all the way through. So you walk away pretty exhausted. I don't know if it can be any harder."
Let's apply some pressure then. Since 1980, the home team for Games 6 and 7 of a World Series has a record of 23-3. All of the six clubs that returned home with a 3-2 lead won the title, and just one of them needed a seventh game to do so (1997 Marlins). Even the teams that came back trailing still rallied to win eight of those 11 times.
As for the Cardinals, they have to look to the '79 Pirates for inspiration. Pittsburgh was the last club to win Games 6 and 7 on the road, beating the Orioles that year. So with such overwhelming odds in their favor, the Red Sox have to be feeling fairly solid about their chances, right?
"We're definitely confident," said John Lackey, Boston's Game 6 starter. "We played here pretty good this season. And the place, the atmosphere is going to be great. The fans are going to be crazy. But you've still got to focus on the task at hand and executing. And just still playing baseball. We're still one win away."
The Red Sox shook off a devastating obstruction call in Game 3 to take the next two, and that type of resilience is usually rewarded with a championship. Beating Adam Wainwright twice has been more evidence that these worst-to-first Sox may indeed be a Team of Destiny -- again.
Unless, of course, it's the other team's turn to shock the world. After Wainwright couldn't will them to a victory in Game 5, he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the Cardinals are still planning to make some history of their own.
"This will be legendary," he said, "when we go into Boston and win two games."
Legendary would be one word for it. From the Boston perspective, however, a more appropriate choice might be infamous. Or heartbreaking. Or, dare we say it, based on the statistical precedents, a choke job. After cruising in their last two World Series trips, the Red Sox haven't faced this kind of heat in a Fall Classic since 1986.
And as we know, strange things can happen. We've seen plenty of them already in this World Series. Should Michael Wacha stay unhittable Wednesday night, we could be in for one spooky Halloween at Fenway Park.