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Closing Time: Cardinals young arms prove too much for faltering Sox as World Series tied, 1-1

10.24.13 at 11:16 pm ET
By
Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha

An atmosphere of celebration began to permeate the park. After the Red Sox spent the first five innings unable to break through against the Cardinals and Michael Wacha, yet another signature moment by David Ortiz inspired a Fenway frenzy, the slugger’s two-run homer transforming a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 advantage in the sixth inning. But a pair of Red Sox postseason strengths faltered in one half-inning, setting in motion a 4-2 Cardinals victory that transformed a potential 2-0 lead in the World Series into a 1-1 tie as the teams head to St. Louis.

The Sox had enjoyed dominance from their bullpen throughout the postseason, while also minimizing their mistakes in all aspects of the game and instead doing a tremendous job of taking advantage of those of their opponents. On Thursday, however, the team experienced dramatic reversals on both fronts in the same half-inning that changed dramatically the complexion of the series.

With one out, John Lackey permitted a walk and a single, thus leading John Farrell to turn to Craig Breslow in relief. But the left-hander, who had logged seven shutout innings this postseason prior to Thursday, fanned the flames rather than extinguishing them. He permitted a double steal with Daniel Descalso at the plate, then issued a walk to the light-hitting shortstop who struggles against lefties (.183/.246/.283) to load the bases. He then got a medium depth pop-up to left from Matt Carpenter, with the game hanging in the balance of what would happen once Jonny Gomes caught the ball.

Pete Kozma charged home from third, and while Gomes’ throw to the plate was close and had a shot to beat the pinch-runner, it was also wide. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried to stretch for a throw that was up the first-base line so that he could sweep back with a tag; instead, the ball kicked off his mitt as Kozma scored the game-tying run, and trickled far enough away to permit Jon Jay to advance from second to third. But instead of pocketing the ball, Breslow (after fielding the ball) made an over-aggressive play to try to catch Jay at third. He sailed his throw, permitting Jay to score the go-ahead run and allowing Descalso to advance to third, from where he scored on a Carlos Beltran single to right.

It was a slow-motion disaster in which a combination of bullpen vulnerability and ill-fated decisions undid strong performances from Lackey and Ortiz while permitting the Cardinals to reassert themselves in the World Series.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– Too much of the dazzling young Cardinals arms. Wacha was mostly outstanding in his six innings of work, navigating through five scoreless innings before Ortiz got him for a two-run homer in the sixth. He yielded just three hits. He was followed to the mound by Carlos Martinez, the rocket-armed reliever who initially signed with the Sox in 2009 only to have the deal voided by Major League Baseball thus putting him back on the market for the Cardinals to sign for $1.5 million the following year. Martinez delivered two shutout innings before giving way to Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, who brought his high-90s smoke to finish out the St. Louis victory by striking out the side.

– Though Breslow has held lefties hitless in 11 plate appearances against him, he’s issued three walks to southpaws and hit one more.

Stephen Drew continues to play excellent defense, but he’s becoming an offensive black hole. He went 0-for-3, and is now hitting just .095 for the postseason. Among the 115 players in Red Sox history with 20 or more plate appearances in the postseason, Drew ranks 114th in both average (.095) and OBP (.111), ahead of only the .056/.056 marks by Everett Scott in 20 plate appearances in 1915.

Mike Napoli, a run-producing force for the Red Sox since the middle of the ALCS, instead went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout while stranding four runners. With two on and none out in the fourth, and Cardinals sensation Wacha appearing to be on the ropes, Napoli grounded into a 6-4-3 double play that not only wiped out the threat but also allowed the St. Louis starter to keep his pitch count under control. Then, with two on and two out in the eighth, Napoli — who represented the go-ahead run — popped up against fireballer Martinez to end the Sox’ last threat.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– Ortiz nearly reclaimed his familiar role of postseason hero, with his two-run homer turning a 1-0 Sox deficit into a 2-1 advantage in the bottom of the sixth. The slugger stayed on a Wacha changeup and drilled it over the Wall in left-center for an impressive two-run blast that represented his fifth longball of this postseason, tied for the most by a Red Sox in a single playoff run (matching the mark set by Todd Walker in 2003 and matched by Ortiz in 2004). Ortiz is now the third player in playoff history with five or more homers in two separate postseasons, joining Albert Pujols (2004, 2011) and Nelson Cruz (2010, 2011) in accomplishing the feat.

John Lackey had overpowering stuff early, punching out four through three shutout innings before getting touched up for a single run in the fourth when Matt Holliday battered a leadoff triple and scored on a one-out grounder. Still, though he was charged with the loss, when he walked off the mound, the Sox were still in possession of a 2-1 lead, as Lackey allowed just five hits (a triple and four singles) and two walks while punching out six.

Dustin Pedroia continued his postseason surge, slamming a double off the Wall and then walking in front of Ortiz’s homer in the bottom of the sixth inning. He’s now hit in five straight games.

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