WASHINGTON – The Los Angeles Dodgers are hoping to win their first World Series title in a quarter-century. To do it, they'll have to get past baseball's big roadblock.
In the past two years, the St. Louis Cardinals extended even longer droughts in Pittsburgh and Washington.
And in 2011, the Cardinals wrecked the party for the Texas Rangers, the franchise that moved from D.C. to the Lone Star State four decades ago.
Former St. Louis slugger Mark McGwire, now the Dodgers batting coach, said he wasn't surprised his old club stands in the way of a title for his new team.
"You know what? I think everybody figured you're going to have to go through St. Louis to get to the World Series," McGwire said before the start of the NL championship series. "Here we are."
And not doing too well, so far. The Cardinals led the Dodgers 2-0 in the best-of-seven matchup going into Game 3 Monday at Dodger Stadium.
To fans in other cities, it must seem unfair. While they've been waiting for generations in Kansas City, Seattle and elsewhere for that special season, the Cardinals seem to show up every October.
Making their 10th playoff appearance in 14 years, the Cardinals are in the NLCS for the third straight season. They're looking for their third World Series championship since 2006.
And along the way, they keep breaking hearts.
Meanwhile, the Pirates haven't won a World Series since 1979, when Willie Stargell and the gang grooved to the Sister Sledge disco hit "We Are Family" and defeated the Baltimore Orioles in seven games.
A victory by the Cardinals over the Pirates in the decisive Game 5 of the NL division series ensured that Pittsburgh will go at least 35 years between crowns.
Last year, the Nationals were hoping to bring a championship to Washington for the first time since the Jazz Age. But the Cardinals rallied from a 6-0 deficit to win Game 5 of the NLDS and prolong Washington's wait, which will hit 90 years next season.
Washington's first and only World Series championship came in 1924, when the old Senators defeated the New York Giants in Game 7. The winning run scored on a bad-hop grounder by Earl McNeely that bounced over third baseman Freddie Lindstrom in the bottom of the 12th inning. Walter Johnson, who had lost his first two starts, won the seventh game by pitching four scoreless innings in relief.
The nation's capital didn't have a team from 1972-2004. The Montreal Expos moved to Washington and began playing as the Nationals the next year.
In 2011, the Cardinals were down to their last strike — twice — before rallying to beat Texas in the World Series.
The Dodgers claimed their last title in 1988, when George Michael's "Faith" topped the Billboard list of most popular songs. Faith was also what Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda had in Kirk Gibson, sending his injured star to pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth inning in the opening game of the World Series.
Gibson delivered with a two-out, two-run homer off Dennis Eckersley to give Los Angeles a 5-4 victory over the Oakland Athletics, hobbling around the bases as he pumped his arm. The Dodgers went on to take the series in five games.
Earlier that year, with Magic Johnson at point guard, the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title. Now, Johnson is part of the ownership group of the Dodgers, hoping to bring his good fortune to baseball. The group also includes Stan Kasten, who helped build the Nationals team that lost to the Cardinals last year.
While the Dodgers have gone a while since winning a championship, they've been much more competitive in recent years than either Pittsburgh (which snapped a record streak of 20 straight losing seasons this year) and Washington (which hasn't hosted a World Series in 80 years).
Both the Cardinals and Dodgers were shaped by Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey.
With the Cardinals in the 1920s and '30s, Rickey established the first farm system; then with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he signed Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947.In building a contender in recent years, the Cardinals have relied on the tool Rickey pioneered nearly a century ago — a solid pipeline of talent from their farm system. The Dodgers have relied more on high-priced stars.
Which approach is better? This series could help answer that question.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frederic J. Frommer is author of a new book, "You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions" (Taylor Trade Publishing). Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ffrommer