Tim O’Sullivan: No clean sweep for messy Sox this time
St. Louis Cardinals' Pete Kozma is safe at home as Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia can't handle the throw during the seventh inning of Game 2 of baseball's World Series Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, in Boston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
St. Louis Cardinals' Pete Kozma scores on a sacrifice fly as Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia can't handle the throw during the seventh inning of Game 2 of baseball's World Series Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, in Boston. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Put the World Series brooms back in the closet. The Red Sox won’t be needing them this time around, unless they can use them to clean up their defense.
After the Cardinals embarrassed themselves in the field in Game 1, Boston put on the Bad News Bears costumes last night. The Sox wasted a typically dramatic home run from David Ortiz with a string of untimely errors that allowed St. Louis to come from behind, snatch a 4-2 win and even the series at 1-1.
Most expected this to be a back-and-forth affair between the two teams that had the most wins in the regular season (97), and that’s just what it’s become. But after Wednesday’s 8-1 Boston win, many in Red Sox Nation began to
wonder if maybe the Cardinals were over-hyped and over-matched.
That kind of thinking was understandable. Not only had St. Louis gifted the Sox Game 1 with bumbling defense and porous pitching from its supposed ace, Adam Wainwright, but Boston had swept away its last two World Series foes – the Colorado Rockies in 2007 and the Cardinals in 2004, a four-game shellacking where the Sox never trailed St. Louis, not even for an inning.
But that ’04 series is nothing but memories now, and so was the St. Louis team that looked so lost on Wednesday. The Cardinals corrected their mistakes and came as advertised for Game 2 with stellar starting pitching, a powerhouse bullpen, timely hitting, aggressive base running and just enough defense to hold it together.
The corrections began with starter Michael Wacha, the rookie phenom who did what veteran ace Wainwright couldn’t do in Game 1 – hold Boston down long enough for St. Louis to get a lead.
After throwing 13 2∕3 scoreless innings against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, Wacha kept it up for the first 5 1∕3 innings against the Red Sox. The 6-foot-6, 22-year-old right-hander baffled Boston hitters with his changeup and broke their bats with his fastball. He retired nine of the first 11 men he faced, and during that time St. Louis took a 1-0 lead when Matt Holliday tripled in the fourth and scored on a ground ball RBI.
Considering how Wacha was throwing, and the arsenal of arms waiting in the Cardinals bullpen, it seemed like that one run might be enough. Until Ortiz added to his postseason legacy and Hall of Fame resume with a two-run home run in the sixth off Wacha that sent Fenway into delirium and Boston to a 2-1 lead.
But the lead didn’t last, and despite what the crowd was singing, every little thing was not all right. In fact, it was the little things that went wrong for the Sox.
After getting the first out of the seventh, Boston starter John Lackey gave up a walk and a single and was lifted in favor of Craig Breslow. The Cardinals promptly executed a double steal where Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia couldn’t get the ball out of his glove to even attempt a throw to third. And things just got worse after that.
Breslow walked a batter to load the bases and then gave up a fly ball to left that led to a parade of blunders. The throw from left fielder Jonny Gomes was late and off line, which allowed Pete Kozma to score the tying run. Saltalamacchia didn’t get in front of the errant throw, so the ball ended up behind him and in the hands of Breslow as Jon Jay was headed to third. Breslow’s throw to third wound up in the stands, Jay wound up at home with the game-winning run, and Daniel Descalso wound up at third, which allowed him to score on a single from the next batter, Carlos Beltran.
Boston’s defensive gaffes weren’t quite as ugly as the ones St. Louis committed in Game 1, but they had the same effect – they cost a team a World Series game.
The role reversal was cemented in the bottom of the seventh when Kozma, the normally sure-handed shortstop who accounted for two of the Cardinals errors on Wednesday, made two assists in the inning, one on a pretty bare-handed play. The flame-throwing St. Louis relievers took over from there as Carlos Martinez and closer Trevor Rosenthal struck out five of the final six Boston batters.
Now the scene shifts to St. Louis for Game 3 tomorrow, Game 4 on Sunday and Game 5, definitely necessary, on Monday. Forget the sweep, this is a series, and first one to play clean defense wins.
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)