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BOSTON – Weather permitting, the World Series is set to start Wednesday night at Fenway Park with the Boston Red Sox hosting the St. Louis Cardinals.
Both teams have come a long way since they met on a sunny Florida field in February, when Jon Lester pitched Boston to a win in spring training.
Lester and the Red Sox rebounded from an awful season and wound up tied with St. Louis for the most victories in the majors. The Cardinals put aside a flop in last year's playoffs and excelled with young talent.
Lester is ready to face Adam Wainwright in the opener, though rain is in the forecast and temperatures are supposed to be in the low 40s.
The Cardinals are trying to win their third championship in eight years. The Red Sox are aiming to take their third title in 10 seasons.
"Two historic franchises with a lot of history and a lot of success," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "We take a lot of pride in what has been able to kind of define the Cardinal way and how we go about our business."
"But realizing, too, you give credit. You give credit where it's due, and this team in Boston has done some amazing things to make this happen this year and in the past," he said.
Here are five things to watch when the Cardinals and Red Sox play ball:
FUNNY FENWAY: Baseball's oldest park opened in 1912, about a week after the Titanic sunk. It's full of quirky angles and odd dimensions, plus the 37-foot wall in left field, a.k.a. the Green Monster. To fans, it's a jewel. To the Red Sox, it's a beloved home. To visiting teams, well, it's tricky. Hits can take strange bounces at any time, and for clubs like the Cardinals, who haven't visited Boston since 2008, that could cost them the game in a hurry.
A HAIRY MATCHUP: Nasty or neat, most everyone in this Series seems to be growing a beard. The Red Sox sport the most serious ones, so much so that theirs have names — Mike Napoli's clump is called "The Siesta." The Cardinals got into the spirit later in the season and definitely trail in this department. Maybe for good reason, too. "I have a wife that doesn't enjoy it too much," outfielder Shane Robinson said.
ANOTHER LOOK: This is likely to be the last World Series where instant replay isn't available to review most every call. Next year, Major League Baseball intends to make everything except balls-and-strikes subject to review. We've already seen a couple of rulings this postseason that umpires might've reversed with another look. There are bound to be a few more close ones that get fans buzzing.
YOUNG AND YOUNGER: Both teams are getting major contributions from rookies who spent most of the season in the minors. At 22, Michael Wacha has become an October ace for the Cardinals. Listen for people to cackle "Wacha! Wacha! Wacha!" — like the old Pac-Man sound — when he pitches. Xander Bogaerts is even younger. At 21, the Boston third baseman from Aruba has blossomed into one of the game's top fresh talents.
TUNED IN: OK, are you going to watch the game tonight? Or maybe "Modern Family" or a "Law & Order" instead? What about this weekend — baseball or football? Last year's World Series drew the lowest television ratings ever when the Giants swept the Tigers. The numbers have been dropping for years. One of the few exceptions in the last decade: When David Ortiz and the Red Sox reach the Series, viewership spikes. Even if the games drag on well past midnight.