SweetSpot: Craig Breslow


It's a play that will go down in infamy, a game that may go down in infamy if the St. Louis Cardinals go on to win this World Series. The Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox 5-4 in Game 3, but in a game that could be dissected in a thousand ways, everyone will be talking about the final play.

Hero: Allen Craig. Pinch-hitting in the ninth inning against Koji Uehara, he lined the first pitch into the left-field corner for a double that sent Yadier Molina to third base with one out. Then came the play, one of the most exciting, craziest, wildest, strangest, dumbest plays in World Series history. The Red Sox elected to pitch to Jon Jay -- with Pete Kozma and then Kolten Wong on deck -- and Jay grounded up the middle against the pulled-in infield, with Dustin Pedroia making a terrific diving stop and perfect throw to get Molina at home for the second out. That was the exciting part.

Now came the dumb part. With Craig and his injured foot running to third, Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw to third, even though Craig pretty clearly was going to beat the throw. Again: Two outs now, awful Kozma on deck. You can't risk the throw. Will Middlebrooks didn't help by not coming off the bag to catch the ball, which skidded off the tip of his glove.

Then came the crazy, wild and strange part. Craig scrambling to get up, tripping over Middlebrooks, Craig being thrown out but ruled safe due to an obstruction call on Middlebrooks. It's a judgment call, but I think it was the right call; Middlebrooks impeded Craig's progress to home plate. Third-base ump Jim Joyce made the call. Look, it's a hard call to make. Middlebrooks didn't have time to get out of the way; he's on the ground.

But how we got here: In the ninth inning, with one out, John Farrell let pitcher Brandon Workman bat. How can you concede an out in the ninth inning of a tie game? Mike Napoli was still available to pinch-hit. Afterward, Farrell said that, with the game looking like it may go extra innings, "We needed more than one inning out of Workman." No, you have to get to extra innings first. So Farrell not only gave away an out but used an inferior pitcher to start the ninth. Workman gave up the single to Molina to start the frame. So if you need an extra inning out of Workman, why go to Uehara? If you were going to use Uehara if a runner got on, why not hit for Workman? Completely inexplicable and awful decision by Farrell.

Goat: Salty and Farrell. You can't make that throw there. You have to hit for Workman and plan on two innings from Uehara if necessary. If that means using a lesser pitcher in the 11th inning, so be it.

Turning point: Well, there were three of them in the Cardinals' two-run seventh inning that initially broke a 2-2 tie.

1. Farrell brought in Craig Breslow to face the top of Cardinals' order. The top of the order for the Cardinals goes lefty (Matt Carpenter), switch-hitter (Carlos Beltran), righty (Matt Holliday) and lefty (Matt Adams), so there's really no big platoon advantage to be gained whether you go to the lefty Breslow or the righty Junichi Tazawa. You can debate whether Farrell should have pinch-hit for Felix Doubront in the top of the seventh with two outs and nobody on, considering Doubront had pitched two strong innings.

2. Carpenter reaches on a scratch infield single to shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who had just moved to third base after Stephen Drew had been hit for. Maybe Drew makes the play.

3. Beltran's elbow pad. Breslow's pitch barely grazed the pad, sending Beltran to first. New rule needed: Get hit on the pad, you don't get first base. Holliday followed with a two-run double off Tazawa.

Remember that bunt back in the first inning? The Cardinals scored twice in the first inning, getting four hard-hit singles off Jake Peavy (plus a lineout). But it potentially could have been an even bigger inning if not for Beltran's curious decision to attempt to bunt for a hit with a 3-1 count. It's not so much the bunt (which did move Carpenter to second) but the count: With a runner on and nobody out, Peavy is likely throwing a fastball there (and he did), which means Beltran was in a count to drive the pitch. There was speculation that if Beltran's sore ribs meant he couldn't swing left-handed, he shouldn't be in the lineup, but that will have to remain speculation for now. Beltran did look slow chasing after Bogaerts' triple later in the game, but seemed OK scoring from first on Holliday's double.

Missed opportunities: Twice the Cardinals had a runner on third with no outs and failed to score, inexcusable in any game, let alone Game 3 of the World Series. In the fourth inning, they loaded the bases with no outs against Peavy and the bottom of the order coming up. Kozma had an all-time awful at-bat, taking a called strike two and then a called strike three -- with the pitcher on deck. Look, the third strike was a perfect pitch -- a slider on the low and outside corner -- but you have to do anything to get that ball in play, even if it means grounding into a double play to score a run. Joe Kelly and Carpenter then both popped out. So credit to Peavy, but bad job by the Cardinals.

Then in the seventh, St. Louis again failed to score after Holliday reached third on his double (after an ill-advised throw home by Bogaerts) with none out. It looked like it would haunt the Cardinals ... then the play happened.
Thoughts on a Game 2 of the World Series that was a thousand times more interesting than Game 1, that ended with the Cardinals beating the Red Sox 4-2.

Hero: Cardinals rookie sensation Michael Wacha was nearly sensational once again, taking a shutout into the sixth inning. Facing David Ortiz with a runner on and one out, he threw one changeup up too many to Big Papi -- four in a row, with Ortiz depositing the 3-2 changeup just over the Green Monster in left-center. But Wacha recovered to strike out Mike Napoli and retire Jonny Gomes to get through six innings. The Red Sox ran up his pitch count -- 114 pitches -- and he walked four batters, but he gave up just three hits, got a big double play on Napoli with two on and no outs in the fourth and improved to 4-0 in the postseason when the Cardinals took the lead in the top of the seventh.

Goat: Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow replaced starter John Lackey with two runners on in the seventh. Breslow isn't exactly a lefty killer (.238 average allowed, including the postseason) but it made sense for manager John Farrell to bring him in to face lefties Daniel Descalso (.183 versus southpaws) and Matt Carpenter. But Breslow allowed a double steal and then walked Descalso on a 3-2 slider to load the bases, setting up the play of the game.

Turning point: So bases loaded, Carpenter lifts a fly ball to shallow left, setting in motion four awful plays that are basically unacceptable in any major league game, let alone a World Series game: (1) Gomes' throw was offline even though he wasn't that far beyond the infield cutoff; (2) catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia didn't catch the ball; (3) Jon Jay, on second base, for some reason headed back to second base as the throw went home, and got a late break for third; (4) which drew a throw from Breslow (at least he was backing up the throw home), which went wildly into the third-base stands, allowing Jay to score. Final tally: two runs, and when Carlos Beltran followed with an RBI single, it was 4-2.

At-bat of the night: How about the walk by David Freese to start that rally? He fouled off two pitches with two strikes, eventually taking a 3-2 cutter outside. Lackey threw 71 of 95 pitches for strikes, his season-high percentage of strikes, so terrific job by Freese to work a walk.

The Jonny Gomes Hunch: All season, John Farrell platooned Daniel Nava and Gomes in left field. Suddenly in the postseason he's gotten the itch to play Gomes against all pitchers, even though Nava had a .411 on-base percentage against right-handers. The Red Sox like Gomes' energy, and Boston had been 7-0 with Gomes starting in the postseason, but Farrell's lucky charm hurt the team in this game. Gomes went 0-for-4, had the bad throw and is 0-for-7 in the two World Series games. Unless there's something going on with Nava we don't know about, he should be out there in Game 3. Yes, Gomes may be more likely to pop one out (especially at Fenway), but Nava gets on base against righties and is a little better in the field.

Hey, it worked, but ... Eighth inning, 22-year-old rookie Carlos Martinez protecting the 4-2 lead in his second inning of work, Ortiz up with a runner on and two outs. Matheny had three options: (1) Bring in lefty killer Randy Choate (.161 against left-handers including the playoffs with no home runs allowed); (2) bring in closer Trevor Rosenthal for a four-out save; (3) leave in Martinez. Choate seemed like the obvious choice, considering Ortiz's production falls way off against lefties. The cameras panned to a nervous-looking Matheny on the dugout steps. He chose to keep Martinez in there, perhaps preferring to battle Ortiz with the 100 mph fastball instead of Choate's junk. I think Choate was the right call, but while Ortiz reached on an infield single, Martinez did get Napoli to pop out.

Revealing statistic: Rosenthal struck out the side in the ninth. Eleven pitches, all fastballs, average speed of 97.2 mph, 99 on the final pitch to Nava (pinch-hitting for Drew). And, yes, all 27 outs recorded by rookie pitchers for the Cardinals.

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