Only the Cardinals Can Invent Such Victories
It was time, again, to reach into the most extreme recesses of the language to describe David Ortiz’s romance with New England. Here it was, an autumn’s night at Fenway Park, and Big Papi had hijacked the drama with yet another lead-tipping home run in the later innings of yet another World Series game. Whatever was left to say about him, you had to locate it somewhere, maybe in a thesaurus, while saving a bit of poetry for John Lackey, the rare Boston athlete who transformed from a pariah into a man of the people. A familiar October narrative was writing itself Thursday night.
Until another familiar October narrative got in the way.
The Cardinal Way.
Only the inventive birds on the bat would reclaim the lead with a piecemeal sequence of events, none of which involved crushed baseballs or eloquent verses. The Cardinals chased Lackey in the seventh inning with a single and a walk, which led the Red Sox to summon the recently unhittable Craig Breslow. He allowed a double steal — how many teams pull that Gashouse Gang-like stunt in 2013, down 2-1? — and then, after a walk to load the bases, he allowed a game-tying single to left. And who scored that run? Pete Kozma, the shortstop who dropped the first-inning relay throw in Game 1 that prompted the umpires to gather and, in an unprecedented preview of the expanded-replay era, overturn Dana DeMuth’s original call that Kozma had recorded the out. See where all this is going?
Breslow simply was doing his job when he backed up the play at the plate, retrieving the ball when Jonny Gomes’ throw got by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Jon Jay, the St. Louis baserunner, was not doing his job when he started retreating to second base, only to race for third upon seeing the baseball on the loose. Breslow wouldn’t have thrown to third if not for Jay’s slow start, but rather than gun down the runner, Breslow whipped the baseball into the stands and halfway to New Hampshire. “It just kind of sailed on me,” said Breslow, per the Associated Press. As a Yalie who majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, he usually is much brighter than that, and Jay scored to give the Cardinals the lead in what would be a 4-2 victory.
Prose gave way to pros, you might say.
This is an organization that knows how to manufacture victories, almost innately, even when Red Sox momentum and an embarrassing Game 1 performance suggested a quick exit for the Cardinals. Instead, the teams are locked in a 1-1 death struggle, with Boston facing a huge disadvantage having to sit either Ortiz or Mike Napoli during the three non-designated-hitter games in St. Louis (Napoli will sit for Game 3). “We’re human. It happens,” Saltalamacchia said of Breslow’s error, per the AP. “We saw (the Cardinals) do the same thing (in Game 1). They shook it off and came out and played well. That’s what we’re going to do.”
And to think every Red Sox out — this must be a record, Elias Sports Bureau — was recorded by a pitcher 23 or younger. The Michael Wacha Experience was interrupted by Ortiz, but, all of 22, he survived some wildness to pitch six strong innings and record the fourth postseason win in his monstrous coming-out party. Carlos Martinez, 22, entered in relief and recorded huge outs, including a two-out popup by Napoli with two runners on in the eighth. And throwing some sort of nitric acid was Trevor Rosenthal, 23, who struck out the side in the ninth.
What was more demoralizing for the rest of baseball? Seeing three babes quiet the most productive run-scoring team in the majors in Fenway, or knowing they’ll be with the Cardinals for the next several years? “The kid continues to impress,” manager Mike Matheny said of Wacha. “I don’t know what else you could ask.” If there is solace for the Red Sox, who likely will face Wacha later in the Series, they started nicking him as the game progressed.
“They battled me all night,” Wacha said. “They weren’t swinging down in the zone that I usually get swings at. They made me work, got my pitch count up a lot higher than I wanted it to be.”
Oh, there was something more impressive than the kids. Remember the night before, when Carlos Beltran was hospitalized with bruised ribs after he spectacularly robbed Ortiz of a grand slam? Remember when we wondered if he was finished before he even started his first World Series? Well, he provided the single that drove in the insurance run. “Somebody would have to kill me in order for me to get out of the lineup,” Beltran said.
Rather than kill him, a trainer shot him up with Toradol. “When I left the ballpark yesterday, I had very little hope that I was going to be in the lineup with the way I felt,” Beltran said.
“When I woke up, I woke up feeling a little better. And I came to the ballpark, talked to the trainer. I was able to get treatment and talk to the doctors, and find a way to try anything I could try just to go out and feel no pain.”
Wacha is a certified national star, even if he’s having a hard time rationalizing it all. He stopped by a St. Louis sandwich shop the other day and was shocked to see a milkshake on the menu called “The Wacha Wacha.”
“It was like vanilla,” he said. “It had some Cracker Jacks in it, added a little baseball flair to it. And then there’s some chocolate chips, I guess. It was pretty good.”
He is more than pretty good. On a night when his team needed him to restrain the Red Sox, Wacha Wacha succeeded. So much for the sweep forecasts. “I do believe it’s a momentum sport,” Matheny said.
If the Cardinals do win this thing, would they actually celebrate by spraying milkshakes in the clubhouse?