Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 24, 2013

Sad Comedy Of Errors For Cardinals In Game One

Well that was ugly. One game does not a World Series make, or so at least fans of the St. Louis Cardinals hope. For all of the talk over the past few days about how evenly matched were the two Series contestants, with identical 97-win regular seasons, Game One was a colossal mismatch. And while all praise should go, as here in New England among the rabid Fenway faithful it quickly does, to the masterful pitching performance of Red Sox starter Jon Lester and the solid plate discipline of the Boston batters, one couldn’t help but gape at the myriad ways in which the visitors looked like they should be playing in the Arizona Fall League instead of the Fall Classic.

Lester’s dominance was apparent from the start, as he needed just 22 pitches to cruise through the first two innings, getting three of the first six outs by strike out. So too was the patience of the Red Sox hitters. Jacoby Ellsbury led off the bottom of the 1st with a 7-pitch at bat that resulted in a walk by St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright, and the first time through the order each Boston batter took Wainwright’s first offering.

But the fact that by the time Lester took the mound in the top of the 3rd he was on the long end of a 5-0 lead had more to do with Cardinal ineptitude than Red Sox skill. After the walk to Ellsbury, Wainwright retired Shane Victorino on a liner to left before Dustin Pedroia singled to center. With men on first and second and the infield shifted, the left-hand hitting David Ortiz hit a grounder toward second. Because of the shift David Carpenter had to range a bit for the ball, but he still flipped to shortstop Pete Kozma in plenty of time to force Pedroia. The Cardinals were looking at no worse than two on and two out, and given that Ortiz is scarcely known for his speed, an inning-ending double play appeared to be unfolding.

Until it wasn’t. Kozma is among the worst hitters in the major leagues. He didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, but if he had his .217 season average would have bested just two players on the list of those who did. He was batting ninth in the St. Louis order, and if manager Mike Matheny could have found a way to bat him tenth he surely would have seized the opportunity to do so. Kozma was in the starting lineup solely for his glove. His .984 fielding percentage was third among major league shortstops, and the 98 double plays he was involved in were the most in the National League. But Kozma never came close to securing the toss from Carpenter, the ball instead bouncing off his glove and onto the infield dirt.

For a moment the obvious error was overshadowed by what would have been a far larger one. Veteran umpire Dana DeMuth, working his fifth World Series, called Pedroia out, indicating that Kozma had made the catch and then lost the ball in the act of taking it out of his glove for the throw to first. It was one of the most egregiously bad calls in World Series history, in a Fall Classic that was scarcely fifteen minutes old. Boston manager John Farrell was quickly out of the dugout to protest the call, and eventually the officiating crew huddled, with all five other members unanimous in their opinion that the shortstop never had the ball.

The reversal of the blown call at second loaded the bases for Boston, and three pitches later Mike Napoli emptied them with a double into the gap in left center field. Even Ortiz was able to lumber around all the way from first, because St. Louis center fielder Shane Robinson had trouble corralling the ball and picking it up as it rolled along the base of the Green Monster. At first Robinson’s bumbling was ruled an error, though that was eventually changed.

Then in the bottom of the 2nd pitcher Wainwright joined in the pratfalls. Stephen Drew swung at a 2 and 2 cutter from Wainwright and lofted a weak popup back to the mound. While infielders are schooled to do everything possible to avoid having the pitcher make a play, Wainwright was really the only player with a chance at a catch. So he waved off his fellow Cardinals, stepped in front of the mound, and then backed off at the last second, apparently yielding to catcher Yadier Molina. The ball fell to earth, gifting Drew first base.

Catcher David Ross followed with a single to center, and one out later Victorino hit a ground ball to short. Once again, an inning-ending double play seemed at hand, and once again Kozma played the role of goat. After making just nine errors in 139 games during the regular season the 25-year old made his second in as many innings, booting the grounder and loading the bases. A single and a sacrifice fly followed to plate two more Red Sox runners, and while there were still seven innings left to play one had the feeling that the die was already cast for Game One.

That sense of foreboding for St. Louis was strengthened by that sacrifice, which came off the bat of Ortiz. For the play seemed to indicate that on Wednesday night even when things went well for the Cardinals there would be a price to pay. Ortiz lofted a 93-mile per hour fastball from Wainwright to deep right field, where Carlos Beltran robbed him of a grand slam by reaching into the bullpen for a dramatic catch. But as he did so his right side banged into the low fence in right field. The top of the 3rd ended with John Jay on deck waiting to pinch hit for Beltran, and by the time Boston was padding its lead in the later innings the veteran slugger was at a local hospital having tests to determine the severity of what was officially called a right rib contusion.

One game does not a World Series make. As this is being written Game Two is just about to start. Perhaps the young right-hander Michael Wacha, the sensational MVP of the NLCS, will shut down the Red Sox. Perhaps the Cardinals as a team will respond to the “wake-up call,” as manager Matheny chose to characterize Game One, and play like the squad that won 97 regular season contests. Perhaps this World Series will ultimately be as closely contested as predicted. After all, the Red Sox are now 9-0 in World Series games in this century, and surely that streak has to end sometime. Since five of those wins have come at the expense of St. Louis, it’s not as if the Cardinals lack incentive. But first they need to start playing like the team that proudly trumpets the Cardinal Way, rather than like a ragtag outfit that’s lost its way.

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