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Closing Time: Red Sox rebound as Clay Buchholz, Jonny Gomes deliver in series-tying Game 4 win over Cardinals

10.27.13 at 11:52 pm ET
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ST. LOUIS — According to popular opinion, neither of them should have been in the game.

Clay Buchholz was too injured, too lost in the notion of his own fragility to be effective. The Sox, many believed, should shut him down and give the ball for the Game 4 start to someone else — perhaps Felix Doubront, perhaps Ryan Dempster, perhaps Jon Lester on three days’ rest.

As for Jonny Gomes, he had been a good mascot, but his role as a magic charm delivering one postseason win after another had come and gone. Even with Shane Victorino injured, some wondered whether it was Gomes — hitting .152/.200/.212 in the playoffs — who should be in the lineup over the left-handed Mike Carp. At the least, inserting Gomes as the No. 5 hitter, behind David Ortiz, seemed a guarantee that the Sox’ foremost slugger would see few pitches to hit.

But both players defied the limited (or even negative) expectations for their performances, and as a result, the Red Sox — one day removed from an agonizing defeat that still rankled the team one day later — claimed a 4-2 triumph to knot the World Series, 2-2.

Buchholz gave the Red Sox virtually everything for which they could have hoped. He worked with a clearly diminished arsenal made evident by the fact that his fastball started at 86-88 mph in the first inning and, after a gradual build-up, eventually elevated to a still-pedestrian 88-90 mph. But while he lacked power and velocity, the right-hander still showed his characteristically excellent feel for pitching and ability to manipulate the baseball, staying out of the middle of the plate and doing just enough with his fastball, changeup, splitter, cutter and curve to stay off the barrel of the Cardinals’ bats. In four innings, he limited the Cardinals to three hits (two singles and a double) while allowing three walks, working around trouble (he allowed multiple base runners in the second, third and fourth innings) to limit the Cardinals to one unearned run before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth, after the Sox had rallied to tie the game, 1-1.

Buchholz both kept the St. Louis lineup in check and gave the Sox enough innings to reach a point where they could line up their bullpen for the rest of the game. In short, he did a solid job of giving his team a chance to win.

And that the Sox did, thanks to Gomes, the player who was hitless in his first nine plate appearances of the World Series. The left fielder finally broke through, to a degree, in the fifth, when he worked his way back from an 0-2 count against Cardinals starter Lance Lynn to elicit a 10-pitch walk. But that was merely the appetizer.

In the top of the sixth, the Sox amassed a two-out rally when Dustin Pedroia singled and the Cardinals pitched around Ortiz. Cards skipper Mike Matheny brought in right-hander Seth Maness for Gomes; Gomes was ready. After seeing four straight sinkers en route to a 2-2 count, Gomes sat on a hanging sinker when Maness went back to that well for a fifth straight time. This time, the offering was elevated, belt high, and Gomes launched it through the cold St. Louis air, the rocket finally descending in the Cardinals bullpen for a three-run home run that gave the Sox a 4-1 lead.

That cushion — a considerable margin in a series where runs have seemingly arrived one at a time — permitted the Sox to navigate the latter innings en route to their series-tying victory, in a game that could be seen as pivotal based on World Series precedent. Teams that win Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead have won 86 percent of the time; teams that rallied for a Game 4 win to tie the series, 2-2, have historically gone on to win the World Series 54 percent of the time.

In other words, the Sox claimed a victory in a game that represented the difference between a near certain elimination and a slightly better than 50-50 shot at a title — largely thanks to performances that few might have anticipated entering the contest.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

— The incomparable Ortiz continued to provide an offensive force like no other for the Red Sox, going 3-for-3 with a pair of singles (one of the infield variety, when his hard comebacker kicked off Cardinals starter Lance Lynn, another against hard-throwing lefty Kevin Siegrist), a double and a walk. He is enjoying an epic World Series so far, hitting .727/.750/1.364. He’s reached base in 12 of his 16 plate appearances — with one of his four outs having come when he was robbed of a grand slam by Carlos Beltran.

— Doubront delivered innings that were every bit as crucial as those of Buchholz. The left-hander entered the game in the top of the fifth and delivered two overpowering innings, blitzing through a nine-pitch fifth with two strikeouts and then recording one more punchout in a perfect 12-pitch sixth. He remained on the mound for the start of the seventh, retiring a pair of hitters before giving up a two-out double to Shane Robinson. Robinson eventually scored with reliever Craig Breslow on the mound, resulting in Doubront being charged with a run, but his relief work in Games 3 and 4 — 4 1/3 innings one run allowed, a total of 57 pitches — proved a critical bridge for a team that got back-to-back four-inning starts.

Xander Bogaerts continued to deliver impressive plate appearances, going 1-for-3 with a single and a walk. He now has seven walks this postseason, third most ever by a player who is 21 or younger. For the postseason, he’s hitting .316/.480/.579, delivering the best at-bats of any member of the Red Sox aside from Ortiz.

Stephen Drew got the Sox on the board with a sacrifice fly in the top of the fifth inning. In the process, he snapped an 11-game streak without an RBI, the second-longest such skid in a single postseason in Red Sox history (behind only Bill Mueller, who went 12 games without an RBI in 2003). And, though he went 0-for-3 to drop his postseason line to .085/.102/.128, he once again delivered strong up-the-middle defense to allow the Sox to keep the Cardinals offense under wraps.

John Lackey, in his first relief appearance since 2004, delivered a scoreless eighth inning to help the Sox navigate the middle innings en route to Koji Uehara.

— Uehara ended the game in fascinating fashion, picking off pinch-runner Kolton Wong from first base. It was the third pickoff of Uehara’s career, and his first since 2011.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

— Breslow’s World Series struggles continued. He entered in the seventh with a runner on second and two outs, and allowed Matt Carpenter to collect a run-scoring hit before walking switch-hitter Beltran. Breslow has faced seven batters in the World Series, with six reaching, including two by walks. He’s now walked 7 batters in 7 1/3 postseason innings after issuing just 18 free passes in 59 2/3 innings in the regular season.

Jacoby Ellsbury booted a one-out single to center field by Daniel Descalso in the bottom of the third inning, permitting Descalso to take second on the error. That proved significant, as Descalso was thus able to score from second on a Beltran single for an unearned run. Ellsbury now has two errors in the World Series — matching or exceeding his total from six of his seven big league seasons.

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