Commentary

Red Sox accept gifts from above

After sloppy Cardinals provide opportunities, Boston cleans up in Game 1

Updated: October 24, 2013, 2:48 AM ET
By Jackie MacMullan | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- It was a night when the baseball gods not only smiled on the Boston Red Sox, they effortlessly lifted them up, twirled them around, then gently placed them on a light, fluffy cloud with a stellar view of the stunning implosion of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The scenario that unfolded Wednesday at Fenway Park in Game 1 of the 2013 World Series was unforeseen and, quite frankly, hard to fathom. This was a matchup, after all, that was billed as a tight duel between two similar, fundamentally sound teams that both liked to ratchet up the pitch count and were prepared to engage in tight, one-run battles.

[+] EnlargeJon Lester, David Ross
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsRed Sox catcher David Ross enjoyed the view as Jon Lester shut down the Cardinals.

Instead, everything went Boston's way.

And I mean everything.

Red Sox ace Jon Lester pitched 7 2/3 innings of shutdown baseball, relying on his fastball, cutter and a few changeups to shred the St. Louis lineup.

Boston slugger David Ortiz awakened from his post-American League Championship Series grand-slam slumber to reestablish himself as a deep threat each time he stepped into the batter's box.

The Red Sox benefitted from a rare, perhaps even unprecedented, reversed call by the umpires that turned this game on its ear (more on that later).

Boston was the grateful recipient of some utterly atrocious fielding from the normally redoubtable Cardinals fielders.

Hey, even Stephen Drew got a hit -- albeit the most unlikely, pathetic, fraudulent infield single you could possibly imagine (more on that, too).

As for the St. Louis baseball team, whose members patiently and cordially answered questions in the days leading up to this World Series about the "Cardinal Way," you have to wonder if they were somehow hog-tied, gagged, tossed in a closet and replaced with blundering body doubles who collectively walked onto the biggest stage in baseball and took a Jonny Gomes face plant.

At least when Gomes goes head-first, he hangs on to the ball.

Not only did the Red Sox survive and thrive in an Adam Wainwright outing, taking a lopsided 8-1 victory, they also witnessed one of St Louis' most valuable players, Carlos Beltran, leave the game and wind up at Massachusetts General Hospital after slamming into the bullpen wall in right field. X-rays were negative, but Beltran, one of the Cardinals' biggest bats, injured his ribs and is the dreaded "day to day."

The Red Sox, meanwhile, got hits from six different batters, turned a key double play in the fourth inning and pitched so well they were able to give closer Koji Uehara the night off.

What's not to like?

"Nights like this don't happen too often," acknowledged David Ross, who caught Lester on Wednesday night. "I wouldn't say everything went right because I was trying to hit a homer ... but it sure is nice to get the lead and capitalize on their mistakes.

"Once you get that lead, then that guy on the bump [Lester], it becomes fun to watch him navigate through the lineup when he's executing pitches like that.

"To work hitters back and forth, going down with his breaking ball, working on his changeup late and throwing some back-door cutters that just started in the other batter's box and came around the corner. It's fun, man. It's fun."

The Cardinals' nightmare started in the bottom of the first, when Ortiz hit a grounder with two men on that had the markings of a double-play ball. Instead, shortstop Pete Kozma, who wasn't even on the second-base bag, dropped the flip from Matt Carpenter. Second-base umpire Dana DeMuth initially called the runner out at second, but the umpires took the unusual step of converging in the infield to discuss the play, then reversed the call.

Instead of potentially being out of the inning, the bases were loaded with one out. The next batter, Mike Napoli, ripped a double that knocked in three runs.

Kozma's drop was one of three errors charged to St. Louis, and that didn't even count a Drew popup to the mound in the second that most Little Leaguers could have snagged. Wainwright initially called for it, so catcher Yadier Molina, who was charging toward the ball, stopped in his tracks.

[+] EnlargeYadier Molina
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaYadier Molina looks on as the Red Sox score three runs after a first-inning Cardinals miscue.

At that moment, Wainwright looked down at his catcher. The ball fell harmlessly in between them and, because neither touched it, Drew was awarded a hit.

By the end of the fifth, Wainright was done, having allowed five runs (only three of them earned).

Ortiz nearly went yard on Wainwright in the second, but Beltran tracked the ball and plucked it away just as it was headed for the right-field bullpen. Beltran's ribs took the brunt of the force of slamming into the wall. He finished the inning but then left the game.

Big Papi may have felt cheated on that one, but in the seventh, after Dustin Pedroia reached base on an error by third baseman David Freese, he got another shot.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny called for lefty specialist Kevin Siegrist to pitch to Ortiz.

Big Papi wasted no time, pouncing on a first-pitch fastball -- and depositing it over the wall in right-center.

"A good night for everyone," Ortiz said. "A good night to get something going."

While most expressed surprise at the Cardinals' multiple miscues, Gomes said that at this time of year, baseball teams make their own luck.

"We play this ballpark better than any team," he said. "It's a huge right field. There's funny hops coming off that Wall every night. You saw that in the Tampa series," when Rays right fielder Wil Myers inexplicably moved away from a fly ball, opening the floodgates in a Game 1 rout in the AL Division Series.

"But that doesn't happen to us. We've got it down. We've got the fans, the environment, it all speaks for itself."

Everyone in the Red Sox clubhouse agreed establishing momentum in the first game of the series is important. Historians quickly noted that in the past two World Series involving the Red Sox, in 2004 and 2007, Boston scored three runs or more in the first inning of the first game.

Both of those series wound up as sweeps.

The Red Sox know better than to jump to such lofty conclusions. It would be a colossal mistake to be so overconfident after one game, especially one at home that they were favored to win anyway.

St. Louis will respond Thursday night with Michael Wacha, the amazing wunderkind who has given up just one earned run in the postseason. If the Cardinals can win Game 2, they will instantly forget all about the horrors of Game 1. They will gladly take the split at Fenway and go from there.

"What the Cardinals did tonight, that's not them," Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "They're human. They make mistakes. It's unfortunate for them it was in Game 1 of the World Series, but we know better than to expect it to happen again.

"We know to expect their A-game tomorrow."

Still looking mildly shell-shocked from his team's underwhelming performance, Matheny declared at his postgame meeting with reporters, "We had a wake-up call. This is not the kind of team we've been all season. And they're frustrated. I'm sure embarrassed, to a point."

Embarrassed athletes tend to be more focused, a little more edgy. They tend to have redemption in mind.

The Red Sox know all about that. It has been their rallying cry all season.

"They [the Cardinals] will be back," Ross predicted.

"And we'll be ready for 'em," Gomes promised.

Jackie MacMullan

ESPNBoston.com columnist

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