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Closing Time: Controversy abounds as Red Sox lose wild walk-off to Cardinals, 5-4; Sox trail Cards, 2-1, in World Series

10.27.13 at 12:10 am ET
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ST. LOUIS — A classic World Series game that featured shifting tides throughout the late innings was ultimately settled in a fashion that will feature the imprint of what will be a long-debated decision on the part of the umpiring crew and a controversial set of decisions by Red Sox manager John Farrell.

The Cardinals rallied for the game-winning run against Sox closer Koji Uehara in the bottom of the ninth, claiming a 5-4 walk-off victory that put St. Louis up 2-1 in the best-of-seven Fall Classic.

The final run scored in dizzying fashion: After a Yadier Molina single against Brandon Workman and a double by Allen Craig to put runners on second and third with one out, Dustin Pedroia made a diving play on a Jon Jay smash and fired home to clip Molina for the second out. Jarrod Saltalamacchia then unleashed a stray throw to third that trickled away from Will Middlebrooks, with Craig racing home.

Craig was beaten by the throw to the plate, but the third base umpire had ruled that Middlebrooks obstructed Craig when the runner got entangled with the third baseman after his diving attempt to catch the ball, thus entitling Craig to the plate for the game-winning run (when the umpiring crew determined that Craig would have scored if unimpeded).

That decisive play followed a puzzling decision by Farrell to let Workman hit for himself in the top of the ninth inning, only to turn to Uehara in the bottom of the ninth when a runner reached base.

Why didn’t Farrell pinch-hit for Workman with Mike Napoli? Why didn’t he turn to Uehara to open the ninth if he was going to be so quick to turn to him? Those riddles could haunt the Sox for some time, in a series they now trail, with a huge Game 4 looming in which the Sox must rely on Clay Buchholz to summon enough to give them an opportunity to win.

The Sox now have an uphill climb against the odds in their pursuit of a title. The team that won Game 3 in a World Series that was tied, 1-1, after two contests has gone on to claim a title 67.3 percent of the time.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

Stephen Drew‘s horrific postseason performance continued, with the shortstop going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts. He’s now 4-for-44 with 17 strikeouts and one walk this postseason, with his line now at .091/.111/.136. He was replaced in the seventh inning by pinch-hitter Middlebrooks, who popped up the first pitch he saw from left-handed reliever Kevin Siegrist.

— The complexity of the decisions that the Sox face with their infield in the top and bottom of the seventh, when the Cardinals took a short-lived 4-2 advantage. The team made the decision to have Middlebrooks pinch-hit for Drew in the seventh. Middlebrooks popped out to center on the first pitch he saw. With Drew out of the game, Middlebrooks entered at third and Xander Bogaerts was at short.

That alignment proved costly when Matt Carpenter reached on a check-swing grounder, as Bogaerts surrounded the ball and threw sidearm to first on a play where Drew typically fields the ball in position for a perfect four-seam throw to first. Bogaerts’ throw sailed wide of first base, and David Ortiz — occupying a position typically manned by a Gold Glove-caliber defender in Napoli, out of the lineup with the series in the National League, thus meaning no designated hitter spot for Ortiz — could not corral it while stretching, setting the rally in motion. Meanwhile, with Bogaerts instead of Drew manning short, Middlebrooks was pulled off the line a bit more than he might otherwise have been, opening the alley for Matt Holliday to send his double screaming down the third-base line.

— Neither Craig Breslow nor Junichi Tazawa pitched poorly, but for the second straight game, their late-innings work allowed the Cardinals to take a lead. Breslow, who entered the game for the start of the seventh, got the outcome he wanted, a check-swing grounder from Carpenter, but the dribbler resulted in an infield single. Carlos Beltran then remained stationary as an 89-mph fastball grazed his sleeve to put runners on first and second with no outs. That, in turn, led Farrell to summon Tazawa for right-hander Holliday. After the Cardinals slugger swung through a 95-mph fastball on a 1-0 count, he stayed on a good Tazawa splitter that dove down below the knees and laced it past a diving Middlebrooks and down the left-field line for a two-run double that put the Cardinals up, 4-2.

Technically, both were taken off the hook when the Sox rallied for two runs in the top of the eighth to tie the game. Still, a pair of middle relievers who had been a source of tremendous strength for the Sox in advancing to the World Series — combining to allow one run in 12 innings in the first two rounds of the playoff — has seen a reversal of fortune to start this round, having seen five runs cross the plate on their watch in the last two games.

— Farrell made a puzzling decision to leave Workman in to hit for himself in the top of the ninth against Trevor Rosenthal. Workman, in his first plate appearance as a pro, struck out on three pitches, at a time when the Sox had Napoli on the bench as an available pinch-hitter.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

— Bogaerts, who opened the World Series by going 0-for-7 with a sac fly and four strikeouts in his first eight plate appearances, put a charge into a 1-0 fastball leading off the top of the fifth, lining a triple to right-center and eventually scoring the first Sox run. Then, with two outs in the top of the eighth and the Sox trailing, 4-3, he bounced a 99-mph fastball from closer Rosenthal up the middle for a game-tying single.

Bogaerts now has four extra-base hits this postseason, tied for the second most ever by a player at age 21 or younger — behind only Miguel Cabrera (6 as a 20-year-old in 2003), tied with Mickey Mantle (who had four as a 20-year-old in 1952) and Andruw Jones (who had four as a 19-year-old in 1996).

— The Red Sox appeared to be courting disaster in the first inning, when Jake Peavy gave up hits (all singles) to four of the first five hitters he faced, with the Cardinals plating two runs before a second out was recorded. However, he settled to record a pair of outs to escape the first, then got back on track by facing the minimum in the second and third innings.

Peavy then arrived at a crisis point in the game in the fourth, when a pair of singles sandwiched around a walk loaded the bases with no outs. (Of note: Third-base coach Jose Oquendo held Yadier Molina at third base rather than sending him from second on a single to center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.) A single hit could have buried the Sox at that point. Indeed, with the Sox having mustered virtually nothing against Cardinals starter Joe Kelly to that point, a run-scoring out could have done in Boston.

The moment seemed ominous. In the regular season from 2008-13, Peavy had been awful in bases-loaded situations, with opponents hammering him at a .426/.444/.780 clip. But the right-hander Houdini’d his way out of the situation, punching out Pete Kozma looking at a slider, induced an infield pop-up from Kelly and concluded his escape act by getting Carpenter to pop up to second. An outing that could have been a total disaster ended up being one in which Peavy — who got pulled after four innings — at least gave his team a chance.

— Farrell won a stare-off with Cardinals manager Mike Matheny in the top of the sixth inning. With runners on the corners and one out and left-handed specialist Randy Choate on the mound, Farrell elected to keep switch-hitter Daniel Nava in the game, sending him up to bat right-handed against Choate rather than pinch-hitting with Jonny Gomes. Even with Nava batting from his weaker side, Matheny elected to replace the left-handed Choate with right-handed reliever Seth Maness in hopes of garnering a double play from Nava. The move, however, blew up in Matheny’s face when Nava laced a first-pitch fastball to left for an RBI single that tied the game.

The credit for the hit, of course, goes to Nava (who also hustled to beat out a potential double play and drive in a run in the eighth), who is now 5-for-14 in sporadic postseason playing time. Still, Farrell also won a favorable matchup. It’s worth noting that right-handers had a .275/.310/.325 line against Choate this year, while left-handed hitters had a .274/.329/.397 line. Perhaps more significantly, Nava hit .322/.411/.484 against righties and .252/.311/.336 against lefties.

Felix Doubront contributed a pair of scoreless innings out of the bullpen as the Sox mounted their first game-tying rally.

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