The Boston Red Sox return to Fenway Park one win away from capturing the World Series. The St. Louis Cardinals let a golden opportunity slip away after grabbing a series lead at home but have already won two straight games in the series once.
Game 6 is going to feature a pitching rematch from Game 2, as the Cardinals send Michael Wacha to oppose Boston's John Lackey. St. Louis won the first meeting between the starters and need a repeat performance from their outstanding rookie hurler.
It should be an electric atmosphere in Boston right from the first pitch. Knowing that, let's examine the biggest keys to Wednesday night's Game 6 as the Red Sox try to close things out and the Cardinals attempt to force a deciding Game 7.
Cardinals: Stop Pitching to David Ortiz
Conventional wisdom would say Ortiz is due to cool off after posting a .733 batting average through five games. It would also say his seemingly endless run of clutch hits should come to an end. In an elimination game, the Cardinals can't afford to trust conventional wisdom.
The veteran slugger is locked in at the plate right now. If a pitch isn't located with pinpoint precision, he's going to drive it with authority. Even if a member of St. Louis' staff makes a perfect pitch, he's finding ways to foul it off or drop it in for a single.
In a series where no team has scored more than five runs since Game 1, the Cardinals can't afford to take any chances and let Ortiz beat them again. Wacha, and any relievers that follow him, should be pitching around him at every opportunity.
Quite simply, there's no reason to let Ortiz do more damage when the rest of the Red Sox lineup isn't exactly tearing the cover off the ball. Ortiz is 11-for-15 in the series. Everybody else is a combined 22-for-146 (.151) with just one home run.
If another player steps up, so be it. But the Cardinals shouldn't let Ortiz steal the spotlight again.
Red Sox: Get the Ball to Koji Uehara at All Costs
Two years ago, Uehara gave up five earned runs in 1.1 innings during the postseason as a member of the Texas Rangers. This season, the dominant reliever has allowed just 10 earned runs in 87 innings counting the regular season and the playoffs.
He's been unhittable for extended stretches, highlighted by a period from early July through the middle of September when he didn't give up a single earned run. The only run he's allowed in the playoffs came on a home run by Jose Lobaton of the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS.
In other words, if the Red Sox can get him the ball with the lead in the eighth inning, they should feel extremely good about their chances of closing it out. He should be prepared to get six outs tonight, if that's what the situation warrants.
Getting to that point is the tough part. Lackey should be on a very short leash to begin with. Two of his three postseason starts have been subpar, and Boston can't afford to fall behind. The same goes for anybody who comes out of the Red Sox bullpen. It's an all-hands-on-deck type of game.
If the Red Sox can scratch out a handful of runs and the rest of the staff rises to the occasion one more time, they can all relax and let Uehara work his magic one more time.