Saturday, October 26, 2013

Game 2: Missed Opportunities

Gomes' throw gets past Salty as Pete Kozma scores the tying run (NYTimes)
Game 2 of the World Series felt very much like one of the ALCS games, which is to say it was a pitching duel decided by a handful of key plays/mistakes. After scoring eight runs in Game 1 Boston's bats went quiet, mustering just four hits off St. Louis. They were unable to do much of anything against Michael Wacha, the Cardinals' rookie who did not look the least bit intimidated in his first World Series start. John Lackey was every bit as good, but his final stat line doesn't quite bear that out because the Red Sox bullpen, so infallible throughout Boston's postseason run, let him down.

Whereas in Game 1 Boston went up 5-0 in the blink of an eye, Game 2 saw the Cardinals strike first. Matt Holliday, whose solo homer was the extent of St. Louis's scoring in Game 1, missed another dinger by about three feet when he tripled into the Triangle to lead off the fourth. Two batters later he scored on Yadier Molina's RBI groundout, giving the Cardinals their first lead of the series.

In the bottom half of the frame it looked like Boston would answer right back after Dustin Pedroia led off with a ringing double. David Ortiz followed with a five-pitch walk, setting the stage for Mike Napoli to deliver another huge hit. Instead, Napoli bounced into a 6-4-3 double play that all but snuffed out the Red Sox rally. Pedroia advanced to third on the play but was stranded there when Jonny Gomes popped out to end the inning.

The score remained 1-to-nothing until the bottom of the sixth, when Wacha ran into trouble in his third time through the order. With one out Dustin Pedroia walked, bringing up Ortiz as the potential go-ahead run. Wacha pitched to Big Papi carefully, running the count full. But the payoff pitch was a mistake, and Ortiz blasted it over the Green Monster for his second home run of the series and 17th of his postseason career.

The lead was short-lived, however, for the seventh inning was when the Red Sox fell apart. The inning started well enough--Lackey was at 80 pitches and, after striking out Allen Craig on three pitches, still looked sharp. The slide began when David Freese battled Lackey to a full count, then took the eighth pitch of the AB for a walk. Lackey got two strikes on the next better (Jon Jay) as well, but by now he was clearly running out of steam and was once again unable to finish off the hitter. Jay roped a single into right, sending Freese to second and Lackey back into the Boston dugout. The Fenway Faithful, who for three years despised Lackey as much as any sports fans are capable of hating one of their own, rose to cheer their redeemed hurler as he departed the mound.

With three lefties due up, John Farrell summoned southpaw Craig Breslow, who had not allowed an earned run in his seven innings of postseason relief duty. Mike Matheny made a move of his own, inserting Game 1 goat Pete Kozma to run for Freese. Then the Cardinals, who stole fewer bases than every team except for the slow-footed Tigers during the regular season, pulled off a double steal. Breslow's pitch was too high for Jarrod Saltalamacchia to even attempt a throw. The hitter, Daniel Descalso, proceeded to take an incredibly close 3-2 pitch for ball four and load the bases.

That brought up Matt Carpenter, who lifted the first pitch into shallow left field, where Gomes caught it and fired home. His throw was wide and the ball got past Salty, who tried to stretch for it rather than come off the plate and gather it. Breslow fielded the ball and promptly whipped it to third, hoping to nail Jay as he tried to take the extra base. The throw was high and bounced into the stands, an error that allowed Jay to score, moved Descalso to third and gave St. Louis the lead again.

Incredibly, Farrell did not pull Breslow from the game right away. He let him stay in to face Carlos Beltran, who smacked a run-scoring single. That made it 4-2 Cardinals, and Breslow, mercifully, was done for the evening. Junichi Tazawa came in and got Holliday to ground out to end the inning, but the damage had been done.

So the Red Sox, who had nearly a 75 percent chance of winning the game after Craig's strikeout, had suffered a complete reversal of fortune. They now had a 78 percent chance of losing the game, all because they didn't use their best reliever--the best reliever in baseball this year--until the ninth inning, by which point their win probability was down to a mere 7.6 percent. Koji Uehara did his job of course, keeping the deficit at two runs by setting down the Cardinals in order. But Boston was unable to come back against Trevor Rosenthal, who struck out the side (Gomes, Salty, and pinch-hitter Daniel Nava) to seal the win for the Cards.

For Boston, the loss was disappointing for several reasons. Not only did the Red Sox waste Lackey's gem of a start, but they also missed out on a big opportunity. Had they held on to win, they would have left Boston with a commanding 2-0 lead--teams that win the first two games go on to win the Series more than 82 percent of the time. Furthermore, they could have potentially forced Matheny into making some hard decisions, like starting Adam Wainwright on short rest in Game 4 and/or using him or Wacha out of the 'pen to prolong the series. But with the guarantee of at least a fifth game, Wainwright will start on normal rest against Jon Lester.

Now, the Red Sox will have to rely on Jake Peavy to win Game 3 tonight, and I can't say I'm too optimistic about that with the memory of his train-wreck start against the Tigers still fresh in my mind. It's also hard to feel good about a guy who has a postseason ERA on the wrong side of 10, small sample size (four starts) be damned. To be fair, Peavy did pitch well against Tampa Bay in the ALDS and has flourished at Busch Stadium in the past, so there is some hope for a bounce back performance, especially since Boston's bats should show more life against Joe Kelly. But the way the Red Sox have been hitting over the past few weeks, there's no guarantee of that.

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