- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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World Series history is filled with dramatic Game 6 contests -- 2011 (Cardinals-Rangers), 2002 (Angels rally), 1993 (Joe Carter), 1992 (Jays clinch in extra innings), 1991 (Kirby Puckett), 1986 (Bill Buckner), 1975 (Carlton Fisk)... just to name a few.
We didn't get a classic Game 6 this time. Instead, we saw a lot of fear of David Ortiz, we saw Michael Wacha's October run end in sadness, we saw Red Sox fans celebrating a World Series clincher at home for the first time since 1918. Which is a cool way to end the baseball season.
Hero: Shane Victorino had missed the previous two games with lower back tightness, but returned wearing patriotic cleats and delivered the big hit of the game. With the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning, he drilled a 2-1 fastball from Wacha high off the Green Monster in left-center for a bases-clearing double as Jonny Gomes just barely beat the throw home for the third run. In the fourth, he singled home another run with two outs for a 6-0 lead.
Back to that double. It was set up by a few things. In order:
1. Ortiz's first-inning plate appearance, in which he worked a nine-pitch walk, fouling off three pitches before finally taking a curveball below the knees.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury's leadoff single in the third and Dustin Pedroia's broken-bat ground out to third base that moved Ellsbury to second. Think of the little things that can turn a baseball game: What if Pedroia doesn't break his bat and instead grounds into a 5-4 force play? That means first base would have been occupied. Instead, there was a runner on second and one out.
3. The intentional walk to Ortiz. "We are going to be careful," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said before the game about pitching to the scorching hot Ortiz. "We haven't made it any big secret, and sometimes when we're doing that, it doesn't even work out how we're playing it. It's a situation where you have a hitter that we know and everybody sees, he's swinging the bat very well."
Sabermetricians are not big fans of the intentional walk, mostly because extra baserunners can lead to big innings. Matheny isn't usually a fan of the intentional walk -- the Cardinals ranked next-to-last in the National League in free passes handed out. But he decided to give the Red Sox a free baserunner; the Cardinals would pay the price.
My take: I'm not a fan of the intentional. Yes, Ortiz was hot. And I'm sure that first-inning walk influenced Matheny's decision. At that point, Ortiz had swung and missed at only three pitches the entire Series. But just because he was hitting .750 in the Series doesn't mean he's a .750 hitter. And if you walk him? Well, then he's a 1.000 on-base guy. The move is even riskier with just one out instead of two. As far as intentional walks go, it was certainly understandable as to why it was done. Don't let Ortiz beat us. But it also reminded me of Ron Washington walking Albert Pujols in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 6 of 2011 to pitch to Lance Berkman (who would knock in the game-tying run). When you intentional walk a batter in those situations you're assuming the next batter (or batters) are going to hit .000.
4. Hitting Gomes. Wacha struck out Mike Napoli with a 94-mph fastball that looked down the middle. At that point, Matheny's move looked like it would work out. Batters were 0-for-14 against Wacha in the postseason with runners in scoring position, wtih six strikeouts. He just needed to get Gomes. Instead, he hit him.
That brought up Victorino. He fell behind with a curveball inside and fastball below the knees. Victorino took a fastball on the corner but was still sitting 2-1 fastball and got one. Wacha had only thrown five changeups at that point (he got Pedroia on one) and you can certain second-guess going to another fastball there. But again: Bases loaded, can't walk somebody. Victorino cleared the bases, but the intentional walk helped set up the inning.
Goat: Cardinals offense. Look, for all the talk about whether or not to pitch to Ortiz, it wasn't Ortiz who had beat the Cardinals through the first games so much as the Boston pitching (Jon Lester in particular). But the Cardinals scored just 14 runs in six games, hitting .224. They did have nine hits in Game 6, but just one was an extra-base hit (they had just 10 in the entire Series) and Matt Holliday's two home runs (one hit while down 8-0 in Game 1) were the only two the Cardinals hit. The bats simply didn't produce with Matt Adams hitting .136, David Freese .158 and Jon Jay .167.
Big Papi redux: In the fourth inning Stephen Drew led off with a home run and Ellsbury doubled with one out. After Pedroia flew out, Matheny again elected to give Ortiz a free base. He again paid the price for not wanting Ortiz to beat his team. Down 4-0, the game and season on the line, he went to ... Game 4 starter Lance Lynn to face Napoli. Not Carlos Martinez. Not Seth Maness. Not John Axford. Certainly not Trevor Rosenthal (he's the closer!) or Shelby Miller (he was left on the runway in St. Louis). Again, I'm not sure Lynn was any worse of an option than Martinez, Maness or Axford, but it was a bit curious. Lynn faced three batters, gave up two hits and a walk and it was 6-0.
As Keith Law tweeted about yet another intentional walk, "It's almost like putting a hitter on base deliberately, refusing him the chance to make an out on his own, is a bad idea."
Lackey in control: John Lackey wasn't dominant but spaced his hits and worked out of a couple jams, most notably in the second inning when Allen Craig and Yadier Molina led off with hard singles. He retired Adams on another hard liner to deep left, got Freese to fly out to right on a 3-2 curve and then struck out Jay on another curve. Red Sox fans can look back at those two curves as the two big pitches Lackey would make. After that, he seemed to right himself, kept the ball, threw first-pitch strikes and became the first pitcher to start and win clinching games for two different teams (he started Game 7 for the Angels as a rookie in 2002).
Going out in style: Ellsbury is a free agent and with Jackie Bradley Jr. on the horizon, speculation is Ellsbury signs with another team. If it was his final game in a Red Sox uniform, what a game: He went 2-for-4 with a walk, starting both Red Sox rallies. Ellsbury was a late-season add back in 2007, hit .353 in 33 games to earn a starting spot by the postseason and then hit .438 in the World Series. He's had his ups and downs in his Boston career, but he makes the offense go from the leadoff spot and scored 14 runs in 16 postseason games.
Splitting hairs: And the final pitch: A Koji Uehara splitter that Matt Carpenter swung on and missed, the pitch diving off the plate something wicked. The single best pitch in baseball this season was the final one of the season. The guy without the beard let the beards begin the celebration.
The best team won: The best team doesn't always win. But the Red Sox were the best team in the regular season, tying for the most wins in the majors while playing in easily the toughest division. They were best team in the playoffs, beating a good Tampa Bay club, that lethal Detroit pitching staff, and a St. Louis team that was better than its 2006 and 2011 World Series winners. Congrats to the Red Sox.
4dPaul Gutierrez, ESPN.com