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Forget the ‘one great player’ structure for this World Series

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BOSTON — There seems to be quite a bit of talk about continuity going into this year’s World Series. Well, hey, it’s the Cardinals and the Red Sox again. Fourth time. That was the matchup in ’46, with Stan Musial and Ted Williams, Enos Slaughter and Johnny Pesky, Red Schoendienst and Bobby Doerr and that whole cast of characters.

That was the matchup again in ’67, the Impossible Dream Red Sox and the awesome Cardinals. Nobody could get out Lou Brock. Nobody could get out Carl Yastrzemski. Jim Lonborg proved almost unhittable. It was a last hurrah for Roger Maris. In the end, an indomitable Bob Gibson decided who was better.

And then, one more time, 2004, the Cardinals won 105 games, most for the franchise since the end of World War II. They were a dominant team. But the Red Sox had 86 years to make up for, and they had just vanquished the Yankees in the greatest postseason comeback in baseball history, and they rolled to a four-game World Series sweep.

Yes, there’s a lot of talk about the history — Red Sox and Cardinals all over again.

Except, if you think about it in a different way, this series is more about how much baseball changes than how much it stays the same. Think about the last time we saw these two teams in the World Series. For the Red Sox, that was 2007 when they swept the Rockies. For the Cardinals, that was 2011 when they beat the Rangers in a stirring and disjointed series.

If you asked at the time, who would have been the key player on each team?

For the Cardinals, clearly, it was first baseman Albert Pujols. He was still widely regarded as the best player in baseball.

For the Red Sox I think, it was general manager Theo Epstein, who had found a way to marry Moneyball tactics with big market resources to build what many thought would be the baseball superpower of the 21st Century.

If you had told fans at the time that, soon after, Pujols and Epstein would leave — people could see it coming with Pujols — they would have panicked. They would have expected a great fall. After all, both men seemed utterly irreplaceable. Who could do what Pujols did? They called him The Machine because year after year after year he hit .330, and he walked 90 or 100 times, and he scored 120 runs and he hit 40 doubles and he hit 40 home runs and he played great defense. He was the heart of the team, he was the soul of the team, he was the engine of the team.

And two years after he left, the Cardinals are back in the World Series.

Theo’s excellence was more subtle, but nobody missed it. Epstein built an organization around advanced thinking (with one of baseball’s great revolutionaries, Bill James, working for the team) AND around their advantages as one of baseball’s richest teams. One of the 2007 team’s best players was a little second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, who the Red Sox had taken in the second round of the 2004 amateur draft because they didn’t fall for the conventional wisdom that he was too small. Their best hitter, David Ortiz, had been discarded by the Minnesota Twins — they had not seen him clearly. Meanwhile, they were also spending a fortune on established superstars like Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling. All together, it seemed like Epstein and the Red Sox had beaten the system — they were smarter AND they were richer.

And two years after he left, the Red Sox are in the World Series.

In baseball, more than any other sport, teams win championships. Not individuals, I don’t mean that baseball is more about teamwork than football or basketball or hockey or soccer— that isn’t true. Those sports rely more on teamwork than baseball does. Football in many ways is the ultimate team sport because everybody plays a different role.

No, I’m saying that in football one player — especially if he’s a quarterback — can define a team. A team with a great quarterback will win more games than a team with a lousy quarterback no matter how good the rest of the team might be. Obviously that’s true in other sports. LeBron James or Sidney Crosby or Messi, almost single-handedly, can turn a a bad team into a good one and a good team into a great one.

But in baseball, it really doesn’t work that way. The game’s structure prevents any one person from being too important. The world’s best hitter will still only come up one out of nine times. The world’s best starting pitcher will only pitch one out of every five days. The world’s best closer will (likely) pitch in the ninth inning. The manager cannot really design plays. The general manager cannot just go out and sign a couple of big free agents and win championships the way the Miami Heat did. The Angels tried that when they signed Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in back-to-back years. They went from 86 wins in 2011 to 78 wins in 2013.

The Cardinals are in the World Series because they combined some good veterans (Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday) with some excellent homegrown hitters (Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams) and built the best offense in the National League. Their rehab program with starter Adam Wainwright obviously worked wonders; he missed all of 2011 and two years later was again one of the two or three best starters in the National League. Their spectacular minor league system helped them build a spectacular bullpen with pitcher after pitcher throwing 100 mph darts. And the emergence of 21-year-old pitcher Michael Wacha, the Cardinals first round pick in last year’s draft, certainly has helped this postseason.

The Red Sox are in the World Series because a few of their mainstays — Pedroia, Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz — all had fantastic seasons. They made some very shrewd free-agent signings, picking up outfielder Shane Victorino and first baseman Mike Napoli and reliever Koji Uehara. All three of them had huge seasons. A big-money free agent who had looked like an all-time bust, John Lackey, finally got healthy and pitched well. A guy they plucked out of the Independent League a few years ago, Daniel Nava, had a superb year as did the well-traveled Jonny Gomes.

Which team will win? It’s so close. And it’s only seven games. It could come down to the Cardinals amazing bullpen, especially with the colder weather likely to dampen offense. It could come down to Fenway Park, where the Red had a .654 winning percentage during the season and have won three out of four in the postseason. It could come down to how well the Cardinals starters deal with a Red Sox lineup that, all the way through, works and frustrates and spoils pitches.

And it could come down to something entirely unforseen. That’s actually a pretty good bet. Both the Red Sox and Cardinals just dispatched teams with higher profile stars. The Red Sox beat the Tigers who will probably have this year’s American League MVP (Miguel Cabrera) and Cy Young winner (Max Scherzer) not to mention superstars Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder. The Cardinals sent home the absurdly-talented Dodgers with baseball’s best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, and a cavalcade of stars like Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and so on.

People will say that this is a great feat, beating the team that is “more talented,” but I think the return of the Cardinals and Red Sox to the World Series tells a larger story: A talented baseball team is not a team that has a few talented players. It is the team that has talent everywhere, even in places you do not see. It’s the team with talented scouts, talented coaches, talented medical people, talented analysts, talented management, talented players top to bottom.

You will often hear that the Miguel Cabrera has to be the league MVP because the Tigers would not have made the playoffs without him. But I wonder if that’s true. Miguel Cabrera is to Detroit what Albert Pujols was to St. Louis. One player, no matter how great, can only do so much. That, to me, is what this World Series is about.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 23: Rob Segedin #25 of the Los Angeles Dodgers crosses the plate after a solo home run in the second inning of the game against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on August 23, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Orioles 8, Nationals 1: Kevin Gausman tossed six shutout innings and, even though the O’s had a seven-run lead, Vance Worley got a save because the save rule is kind of dumb. Adam Jones went 4-for-5 and Chris Davis hit his 30th home run. After these past two games in Baltimore they now play two games in Washington. I wonder if they fly into National Airport or Dulles.

Pirates 7, Astros 1: Ivan Nova took a shutout into the ninth inning and, despite allowing one run in the final frame, finished with a six-hitter that took only 98 pitches to complete. Gregory Polanco hit two home runs and the Pirates had a 4-0 lead before making their first out of the game. This, hopefully, freed up fans watching at home to switch over to their Roku players to catch up on “Mr. Robot,” which everyone should be watching. The Christian Slatersainnce is happening, people.

Blue Jays 7, Angels 2: R.A. Dickey allowed two runs on six hits and got a good bit of run support for once, thanks in part to Russell Martin‘s three hits and two driven in. Tyler Skaggs of the Angels walked five dudes including issuing a free pass to Martin with the bases loaded. That’s no way to go through life, son.

Reds 3, Rangers 0: Dan Straily and three relievers combined to shut out the Rangers. Joey Votto singled in one and knocked another in via a sac fly. Billy Hamilton didn’t hit but boy did he field:

Just look at the amount of ground he covered with that catch. He was shading way to right field as it was and still made it over there. It wasn’t just his wheels that helped him there, though obviously most guys don’t catch up to that ball, but his jump and his route was great too. Man.

Royals 1, Marlins 0: Yordano Ventura and three relievers combined to shut out the Marlins. Joey Votto and Billy Hamilton didn’t do anything to help here as they were over 1,100 miles away playing in a different game. The Royals have won nine in a row and their bullpen, for all of its injuries, has tossed 32 consecutive scoreless innings, which is a franchise record. The Royals are still seven and a half back in the division and four back in the Wild Card with a bunch of teams in front of them, but they’re . . . interesting.

Red Sox 2, Rays 1: Clay Buchholz pitched one-run ball into the seventh inning and struck out nine. That’s the second strong start in a row for Buchholz and the third at least decent one since being put back in the rotation. The Clay Buchholziannce?

White Sox 9, Phillies 1: Carlos Rodon continued his good pitching since coming off the DL, allowing only three hits in six and two-thirds. Jose Abreu homered for the third straight game and singled in a run as well. Justin Morneau hit a solo homer.

Brewers 6, Rockies 4: Hernan Perez hit a two-run triple in the Brewers’ three-run seventh inning to help key a comeback win. Brent Suter got his first career win and Corey Knebel got his first career save, and then things got . . . weird:

. . . their teammates doused them in whatever they could find after the game.

“They are going to share the (game) ball, mail it back and forth to each other in the offseason, maybe, to kind of caress and live that moment again,” Milwaukee starter Chase Anderson joked. “But they enjoyed the shower together. I can tell you I did see that — a little mustard, ketchup, all of the above. It was great.”

Baseball After Dark.

Tigers 8, Twins 3: Cameron Maybin walked twice — once with the bases loaded — and singled in two more runs in the sixth, putting the Tigers up for good. Erick Aybar singled in a run and homered. He’s hitting .292/.320/.500 since coming over from the Braves because life makes no sense.

Mets 7, Cardinals 4: Jon Niese got knocked out with an injury in the first inning but Johnny Wholestaff, led by Robert Gsellman, who pitched three and two-thirds shutout innings in his unexpected major league debut, came on and got the job done. Despite never being in the bigs before, he has his cliche game down already, saying after the game that he just tried to “make some pitches.” In all the Mets ran out six relievers to take care of things while Wilmer Flores hit a three-run homer and four other Mets drove in a run a piece for a weird victory.

Braves 7, Diamondbacks 4: With the Braves down one, Matt Kemp hit a bases-loaded double in the eighth. Two of the runs were driven in, a third scored on the play when the outfielder bobbled the ball. After the game Braves manager Brian Snitker said “He’s been there, done that. You know, he’s an RBI guy.”

Yankees 5, Mariners 1: CC Sabathia, who I’ve mentally written off a whole bunch of times, allowed one run over seven innings and struck out seven. So he lives. Jacoby Ellsbury hit a two-run homer, so he lives too.

Athletics 9, Indians 1: Khris Davis, atoning for his bad-looking strikeout to end the game the night before, hit a three-run homer in the first and the A’s never looked back.  Sean Manaea was sharp for seven innings and Oakland had no trouble knocking Danny Salazar around.

Dodgers 9, Giants 5: Remember back when the story was that Madison Bumgarner owned the Dodgers? Yeah, not really operative anymore. He’s dropped quite a few to his team’s biggest rival lately and took a beating last night, allowing five runs on nine hits in five innings. Adrian Gonzalez hit a sac fly and drove in two more with a single. Rookie outfielder Rob Segedin hit a homer off of Bumgarner early and then, in the eighth inning, was switched out of the game because his wife went into labor. Big night for Segedin. His kid is, unfortunately, gonna have to hear the story of the night he/she was born for the rest of his/her life, though.

Cubs 5, Padres 3: Jake Arrieta threw eight scoreless innings of two-hit ball for his 16th win. It’s been an up and down season for Arrieta but he’s back up again. Kris Bryant and Addison Russell homered. Yawn.

Jon Niese leaves start with knee pain

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 17:  Jonathon Niese #49 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 17, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Mets starter Jon Niese left his start Tuesday night against the Cardinals due to left knee pain.

Niese walked two and gave up an RBI single before leaving with a trainer with one out in the bottom of the first inning. He was eventually charged with three earned runs. Robert Gsellman, just up from Las Vegas, took over, making his major league debut under unexpected circumstances.

Niese, who has not pitched well at all since coming over in a trade with the Pirates, is likely to be placed on the disabled list after the game or before tomorrow’s game.