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Closing Time: Jon Lester, Red Sox lineup crush Cardinals, take Game 1 of World Series

10.23.13 at 11:26 pm ET
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Just like that, the World Series arrived at its first pivotal moment.

With runners on first and second and one out, David Ortiz tapped a ground ball to second. Off the bat, with the ball heading straight to Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter, one presumes that shortstop Pete Kozma had the same curiosity. Instead of receiving the throw and either holding the ball or ensuring a safe transfer, Kozma rushed to the point that the Carpenter’s flip clanged off his already closed glove. Yet Dustin Pedroia, running from first to second on the play, was ruled out by second base umpire Dana DeMuth, who thought that Kozma fumbled the ball only after catching it while trying to transfer it to his throwing hand.

The difference between a safe and out call was considerable. A safe ruling would mean the bases loaded and one out with Mike Napoli — possessor of a .458/.480/1.000 line with 31 RBI in 25 regular season plate appearances with the bases loaded — at the plate. The out call offered a runners-on-the-corners, two-out path to potential escape (though a situation in which Napoli had still been an on-base machine, having hit .286/.444/.457 in such moments in the regular season).

Red Sox manager John Farrell ran out to DeMuth with a simple request: Just discuss the play. He asked DeMuth to get the feedback of the rest of his umpiring crew, to see if they saw Kozma secure the ball or slap it away. The crew did just that, and DeMuth’s call was overruled. Pedroia was ruled safe and summoned from the dugout back to second. Napoli dug in, and after taking two pitches for balls, knowing that Wainwright needed to come at him with a strike, he demolished a 2-0 cutter, sending a rocket into left-center for a three-run double.

The plot line was familiar. Throughout the playoffs, the Sox have taken sledgehammers to any cracks created by defensive lapses. Game 1 of the World Series represented more of the same. That was true both with Kozma’s first-inning miscue, and again in the Sox’ two-run second, when starter Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina watched helplessly as a Stephen Drew pop-up dropped between them and when, with runners on first and second and one out, Kozma kicked a grounder into the hole to his left for another error to load the bases. The Sox again took advantage, with Pedroia bouncing an RBI single to left and David Ortiz nearly clubbing a grand slam but instead settling for a sac fly when Carlos Beltran made a spectacular catch, reaching over the wall of the visitor’s bullpen, a play on which one of the top postseason players of the last decade incurred a contusion of the ribs that forced him from the game.

Two innings into the World Series, the Red Sox, for all intents and purposes, had secured a Game 1 victory. The Sox breezed to an eventual 8-1 victory, behind both the early offensive eruption and an absolutely overpowering performance from their starter, Jon Lester.

The winner of Game 1 of the World Series has gone on to win a title in 67 of the 108 prior World Series (62 percent). The teams will resume the series at Fenway Park on Thursday, with John Lackey looking to give the Sox a 2-0 advantage and Cardinals starter Michael Wacha trying to even the series.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Jon Lester was in total, dominant command from the outset, in a performance that may force some consideration of his place as one of the better October pitchers in playoff history. He carried a 92-94 mph fastball throughout the entirety of his outing, a pitch that he located well and complemented with a nasty cutter that alternately sawed bats or got swings and misses and a big breaking curveball that he proved capable of using to steal strikes.

The result was one of the best outings of Lester’s postseason career: 7 2/3 shutout innings in which the left-hander allowed just five hits and one walk while punching out eight, matching his postseason career-high. The effectiveness of his stuff in eliciting bad contact was best underscored by his three infield pop-ups and eight groundball outs, none more significant than the two he secured on a 1-2-3 inning-ending comebacker-turned-double play by David Freese with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the fourth inning to stifle the Cardinals’ lone rally against him.

In combination with his 5 2/3 scoreless innings in the 2007 World Series, Lester now has worked 13 1/3 shutout innings in the World Series. The outing marked his 10th career playoff start, making him one of 60 pitchers to reach that plateau. Of those, he now ranks third with a 2.07 career ERA in the postseason, trailing only Christy Mathewson (0.97) and Waite Hoyt (1.85) while ranking just ahead of Curt Schilling (2.23).

— Napoli continued his standout postseason and his World Series dominance against the Cardinals. His three-run double represented his sixth extra-base hit this postseason, tied for the most of anyone in the playoffs this year. That key blow (Napoli’s only hit in four plate appearances) no doubt inspired flashbacks for the Cardinals, who Napoli assaulted for a .350/.464/.700 line with two homers and 10 RBI in the 2011 World Series.

David Ortiz had a dazzling night, nearly clubbing a grand slam that was brought back into the park by Beltran (with the launch instead going for a sac fly) and then later jumping on a first-pitch, 96 mph fastball from reliever Kevin Siegrist and sending it into the Red Sox bullpen for his fourth homer of the 2013 postseason, his second highest total of any single playoff run. The homer was the first ever given up by Siegrist to a left-handed hitter.

— The Sox drove up Wainwright’s pitch count in startling fashion. The right-hander, who hadn’t required more than 26 pitches in any single inning in his first three starts of the postseason, needed 31 pitches to navigate the first inning and another 29 for the second. The five runs that Boston secured against him in just two innings represented a somewhat shocking turn of events, as it marked just the second time in eight career postseason starts that the Cardinals ace had permitted more than two runs.

Dustin Pedroia collected a first-inning hit for the fourth straight game. He went 2-for-4 with a pair of runs and an RBI.

Daniel Nava, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter for the Red Sox in the bottom of the eighth, drove a 95 mph fastball to the opposite field for a double into the right field corner.

Xander Bogaerts drove in Nava with a hard liner to left for a sac fly, becoming the second youngest American League player ever (at 21 years old) with an RBI in the World Series, trailing only Mickey Mantle, ranking just ahead of Babe Ruth.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

The Red Sox starting outfield of Jacoby Ellsbury (0-for-3, walk), Jonny Gomes (0-for-3) and Shane Victorino (0-for-4) were a combined 0-for-10. It should be noted, however, that Ellsbury helped set the Sox’ first-inning rally in motion with his seven-pitch walk to open the bottom of the first.

Ryan Dempster gave up a solo homer to Matt Holliday in the ninth inning, thus preventing the Sox from claiming the 12th postseason shutout (and ninth World Series shutout) in franchise history.

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