BOSTON (CBS) – Everything was going right for the Red Sox … until it wasn’t.
David Ortiz’s two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth ignited the home crowd and gave the Sox a 2-1 lead, finally able to crack rookie starter Michael Wacha. With John Lackey cruising, it wasn’t hard to imagine the Sox’ starter getting through the seventh and handing it over to the stellar bullpen.
And when Lackey started the top of the seventh by striking out the leadoff man, the plan remained intact.
But then it fell off the rails.
Lackey lost an eight-pitch battle to David Freese, just missing with a 3-2 pitch to put the former World Series MVP on base with one out. Jon Jay, who was hitting .184 in the postseason, hit a clean single to right field to end Lackey’s night.
On came Craig Breslow, who walked Daniel Descalso after a double steal put two Cardinals in scoring position with one out. Breslow then got Matt Carpenter to hit a shallow fly ball to left field. Jonny Gomes caught the ball on the run and fired home, but he was unable to get pinch runner Pete Kozma, the throw getting in just wide of the plate.
A 2-2 score wouldn’t have been disastrous for Boston, yet the ball got away from Jarrod Saltalamacchia, allowing the runners to move up a base. Still, the situation would have been manageable for Breslow and the Sox, who now had two outs.
Yet Breslow made a critical mistake, deciding to fire a late throw to third base. If the throw had been on target, it would have been late, but as it was, it sailed over Stephen Drew’s head and into the seats along the left field line, allowing one more run to score.
“It’s baseball, man. It happens,” said Drew, who stood helplessly while covering third base on the play. “Everybody’s human here. You wish you didn’t make mistakes, but it happens.”
Breslow couldn’t retire Carlos Beltran, who singled to right in the following at-bat to drive home the Cardinals’ fourth run of the game.
And just like that, it was all but over for the Red Sox, who would get just two more batters on base in their final three innings.
It was a rather sudden and drastic change of course, and not just for the 38,000 stunned fans in attendance.
“Definitely, especially after Papi hit that home run, I thought for a second we had it,” Xander Bogaerts admitted. “But I think there were nine outs [left], and you gotta play the game until there’s 27 outs.”
In Wednesday’s Game 1, it was the Cardinals’ defensive miscues that helped aid a Boston blowout, and on Thursday, the Sox repaid the favor. Both Saltalamacchia and Breslow were charged with errors on the play, which in a flash changed the landscape of Game 2 and sucked the life out of the ballpark.
What was most surprising in that seventh inning may not have been the errors at all, but rather Lackey running out of gas. Aside from the leadoff triple he allowed to Matt Holliday in the fourth, he hadn’t been in any jams all night until the walk and single in the seventh.
At that point, manager John Farrell went to his bullpen, which had been solid all postseason long.
“The leadoff walk starts to get things going for them,” Farrell said. “After the base hit to Jay, I felt like we were in a pretty good situation for a matchup. And then, unfortunately, the walk and the errant throw. … Uncharacteristic of the way I think we’ve taken care of the baseball this year, and it contributed to the three runs.
The events which led to that critical Boston breakdown supplied evidence for how thin the line between winning can be in the World Series. Freese’s ball four may have missed by an inch. Kozma nearly got himself picked off at second. Saltalamacchia likely would have thrown out Kozma on the steal attempt, but he was unable to get a grip on the ball. And had Gomes’ throw been two more inches toward the plate, it’s a whole new ballgame.
But those are the breaks, and when it comes to his decision to try to play for the out, rather than take the safe route, Saltalamacchia didn’t express any regrets.
“It was one of those plays that you’re kind of do-or-die,” the catcher said. “Obviously, I probably could have held on to the ball, but at the time, we’re trying to get the out, we’re trying to play a hard game.”
Heading into Game 2, there was no guarantee that the series would be returning to Boston for Game 6. Now, however, the Cardinals have given themselves the opportunity to be the ones to finish this series in five games.
While that’s undeniably a possibility, it’s the farthest thing from the Red Sox’ minds, even after the loss.
“I think we’re OK,” said Gomes. “There’s not a zero in the win column for us. Unless there’s a clean sweep of three games, we got an opportunity to come back here and make history in this ballpark.”
If the series does indeed return to Fenway Park, the team that plays the cleanest defense just may be the team holding a 3-2 lead with the chance to win it all in Game 6.
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