This is as it should be: The rarest of World Series, with the two best teams in baseball ready to do battle.
For the first time since 1999, the two clubs with the best records in baseball -- St. Louis and Boston, each with 97 regular-season victories and seven postseason wins -- are meeting in the Fall Classic.
The NL's best against the AL's best, in a series that pits two clubs steeped in postseason tradition and lore.
"People ask all the time about this organization and some of the things that make it different," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said as the Redbirds were ousting the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series. "The fact that this organization understands the value of a Red Schoendienst and a Lou Brock and Bob Gibson and (Whitey) Herzog and (Ozzie) Smith and Bruce Sutter -- our Hall of Famers have helped define what this organization is all about.
"But they're not just hood ornaments. They stay involved, and they want to help, and they want to pass on what the expectations are, what the culture is here."
What's the culture for both clubs? Winning.
* No team in baseball has played (or won) more postseason games than the Cardinals since 2004, when their first World Series team in 18 seasons was swept by the Red Sox in four games. From the 2004 playoffs onward, the Cardinals have played 85 postseason games, and won 48 of them -- including their 10th and 11th World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.
* Second on the list of playoff games since 2004? The Red Sox, with 55 postseason games. They've won 35 of those games, along with World Series titles in 2004 and 2007.
Nothing different in 2013: The Red Sox won the AL East and two playoff series and led the majors with 853 runs scored. The Cardinals won the NL Central and two playoff series and led the NL with 783 runs scored.
The Red Sox pitching staff was sixth in the AL with a 3.79 ERA, the Cardinals' staff was fifth in the NL at 3.42.
Defense? The nod goes to the Cards by one-tenth of a percentage point, with a .988 fielding percentage, tied with Arizona for tops in the NL. The Red Sox caught and threw the ball at a .987 clip, tied for fourth in the AL.
Where else to find an edge? Well, there is this: The Red Sox have been in 10 playoff games the last three seasons, all this October, while the Cardinals have played in 42 playoff games the last three Octobers.
"This has always been an organization where they have a lot of tradition and (are) able to put good teams out there," said Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran, about to play in his first World Series after 2,109 games in the majors. "(They are) able to put players in (the lineup) that know how to play the right way. So being able to be part of this organization for these two years has been great.
"It's allowed me to understand how they do things ... and the way they handle their situation."
Matheny and his players will tell you they hold themselves to a different standard, one forged by the 18 World Series Cardinal clubs that came before this one.
Three of those teams engaged in classic Fall Classics between the Cardinals and Boston: In 1946, when the Cardinals earned the last of three titles won by Stan Musial as a Cardinal; in 1967, when Lou Brock and Bob Gibson led the Redbirds past Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonborg; and in 2004, when the Red Sox shocked the Cardinals in four straight.
This series shouldn't be any different, except for the names of the players involved: Beltran, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Yadier Molina for the Cardinals; David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino and Jarrod Saltalamacchia for the Red Sox.
Both teams are coming off stirring pennant series, the Cards with a 9-0 win over the Dodgers in Game 6 Friday, the Red Sox with a 5-2 win over Detroit in their Game 6 Saturday.
"To me when it got special was Day 1 of spring training," Victorino said after his seventh-inning grand slam Saturday gave the Red Sox the AL crown. "We came in with the mind-set that we're all going to go out and give it our best. Take one at-bat at a time, one pitch at a time, one game at a time. ...
"I knew all along this was going to be a special team."
The team that plays the cleanest should win, but that means doing all the little things right: Turning the double play, hitting the cutoff man, getting down the bunt, making the crucial pitch at the key moment.
"These guys hold themselves to high expectations," Matheny said of his club, though the comments apply to the Red Sox as well. "We've talked about that as a group: How much our team celebrates the grinding at-bats and doing the little things right.
"A guy gets a bunt down, you'd have thought he hit a home run when he hits the dugout, because all the guys know that that's a big deal. It kind of preserves the selfless attitude that we think contributes to winning baseball."
Joe Ostermeier, chairman of the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, has written about the Cardinals for the Belleville News-Democrat since their playoff run in 1985. He can be reached at (618) 239-2512, or at firstname.lastname@example.org