- Jackie MacMullan, ESPN Senior Writer
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BOSTON -- They were cruising. John Lackey was throwing strikes, David Ortiz was hitting homers, James Taylor was crooning Patriotic songs and Boston was all set to trot out their foolproof bullpen trio of Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara.
The Red Sox had the St. Louis Cardinals right where they wanted 'em. They looked as though they'd never lose again.
"In a beautiful world," responded catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "Unfortunately, it's a real world."
In the "real world" of baseball, mistakes happen. Ask the St. Louis Cardinals about that. Their team caved after a pivotal mistake changed the complexion of Game 1 of the World Series and left them on the wrong end of an 8-1 laugher.
Thursday night, miscues played a major role again, only this time it was the Red Sox who sagged under the weight of one bad play that ended up with the home team getting tagged with two errors and losing any speck of momentum they boasted in this World Series.
The gaffes transformed a 2-1 feel-good lead into a cavernous 4-2 hole from which Boston did not recover.
Thus, home-field advantage has evaporated, another stellar outing by Lackey was for naught and yet another dramatic home run by Ortiz was wasted.
So now it's Boston's turn to feel the sting of miscues that become magnified under the unwavering glare of the microscope called the World Series.
No one was feeling the heat more than reliever Craig Breslow, whose fingerprints were all over the Red Sox's collapse on Thursday.
Breslow relieved Lackey in the seventh with two on and one out and a 2-1 lead. Breslow had trouble locating the plate, and as he threw ball three to Daniel Descalso, St. Louis pulled off a double steal that didn't even draw a throw from Saltalamacchia.
"The ball popped out of my glove," the catcher explained. "He [John Jay] didn't have a good jump [to third], so I might have got big-eyed and tried to get too big too quick ... he would have been out if I could have transferred the ball and made the throw."
On the next pitch, on a full count, Breslow walked Descalso to load the bases.
The ball tailed and was off the mark to the right of the plate. Saltalamacchia attempted to grab it and sweep over to make the tag, but instead the ball squirted free.
Error No. 1.
Breslow, who was backing up the play at home, then squirted a stream of lighter fluid on the smoldering Cardinals' rally by scooping up the ball and firing it to third base. The ball sailed over Stephen Drew's head (he was covering on the play) and bounced into the stands.
Two runs, two errors and, still, a man on third with only one out.
"I think I definitely had a play there," said Breslow in the quiet of the clubhouse afterward. "Looking up, I felt like it was definitely worth making the throw, but it wasn't a good throw."
No, it wasn't. In fact, it was nearly as damning as the failed double play/error that did in the Cardinals in Game 1. It was only the third error of Breslow's eight-year career.
"I've made a throw from that distance a thousand times ..." Breslow said.
The fallout didn't end there. The next batter, Carlos Beltran, added an RBI single to right field that gave St. Louis a 4-2 lead that stuck.
Lackey, watching incredulously in the dugout, had every right to feel cheated. His masterful outing had somehow turned into a night with an L next to his name.
Asked if he felt like he was unlucky yet again at the wrong time, Lackey answered, "I guess that's kind of obvious. Yeah, unfortunately I've had it happen a few times this year, so yeah.
"But Brez has been awesome for us this year. I can't wait to see him get back out there."
Ortiz, in a quiet moment after he faced reporters in the clubhouse, admitted this night was an opportunity lost.
"Yes, that's true," he conceded, "but you've got to understand: There's a lot of pressure when you are playing in the World Series. He [Breslow] backed up the play, he tried to do the right thing. But not everything is going to go perfectly.
"It happened. There's nothing we can do about it now."
As they have done with every starting pitcher throughout the playoffs, the Red Sox forced starter Michael Wacha to throw strikes, an arduous process the 22-year-old conceded was mentally taxing. And, yet, he remained essentially untouched through five innings.
"They definitely battle,'' Wacha said. "They don't swing at bad pitches, really ... if you make a mistake, they make you pay."
Wacha's only costly miscue was when he served up a 3-2 meatball to Ortiz in the sixth, and Big Papi dutifully cranked it into the Monster Seats with Dustin Pedroia aboard.
That immediately erased a 1-0 deficit, and it felt like another Red Sox win in the making, another demoralizing loss for the Cardinals. But St. Louis didn't exhibit the hangdog body language that plagued them one night earlier. They kept after Lackey, then Breslow, and feasted on Boston's lapses.
"That's the difference between [Wednesday] and [Thursday] night," Cards manager Mike Matheny said. "You saw aggressiveness offensively. You saw guys taking charge. It was not a tentative team, which we haven't been all year.
"So it was good to see them turn the page on that."
When Wacha gave up the Ortiz home run, it was his 103rd pitch of the night. He was gone shortly thereafter. Good news for Boston? Hardly. This isn't the Detroit bullpen.
Martinez was briefly the property of the Boston Red Sox when he signed as Carlos Matias. But a subsequent investigation unveiled the pitcher's true name and called into question his age and he was suspended for a year due to "identity fraud." (What's in your wallet?)
The fireballer Martinez teamed with closer Trevor Rosenthal to strike out five of the final eight Red Sox batters they faced, relying mostly on fastballs.
So the Red Sox trudge to St. Louis tied 1-1 instead of up 2-0. They were in the same position against the Tigers in the ACLS and still managed to win in six. Although disappointed last night, they were hardly demoralized.
"Don't you worry about us," Ortiz said.
If there is such a thing as being too aggressive, then perhaps the Boston Red Sox fell into that category Thursday night. Maybe Gomes let go of his throw too soon, and if he hadn't, it would have been closer to the plate.
Maybe if Breslow had merely picked up the stray ball at home plate and held on to it, the damage would have been minimized.
Maybe if Saltalamacchia chose a different strategy on the play at the plate, like conceding the one run but containing the ball, the inning might not have been so bad.
"A lot of things could have happened," Saltalamacchia said. "I could have just let them score and caught the ball. I could have gotten around the ball and caught it and dove. There are a lot of things you could look back on and try to change.
"Turn the page. We're good at that," he added.
In a beautiful world, hindsight is valuable, productive.
In the real world, all it does is turn that microscope squarely on your team.