Commentary

Cracks showing as Sox hit St. Louis

As deadlocked World Series shifts to Cardinals' turf, concerns creep in for Boston

Updated: October 25, 2013, 5:17 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- So David Ortiz has established, beyond any reasonable doubt, that this is indeed his bleeping city. About the same time Ortiz's ball cleared the Monster in left Thursday night for his fifth home run of this postseason, Sox CEO Larry Lucchino presumably was texting Toby Mendez, the Yaz sculptor, inviting him to submit designs for Big Papi.

But the St. Louis Cardinals soon made an equally bold statement, that this is anyone's World Series, and they're headed home, far from Ortiz's turf.

And while the Red Sox find themselves in the same position as they did in the ALCS, hitting the road after splitting the first two games at home following a 4-2 loss Thursday night, the vibe is different. When Ortiz went deep against Detroit with a grand slam in Game 2, the Sox, to a man, viewed it as a script-changer, sparing them the daunting challenge of facing Tigers ace Justin Verlander two games from elimination.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ortiz
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsDavid Ortiz hit another dramatic home run, but it wasn't enough to sink the Cardinals in Game 2.

This time, the Cardinals canceled out the cathartic effect of Ortiz's home run, which came off wunderkind Michael Wacha and gave the Red Sox a 2-1 lead in the sixth, by flipping the script on the Sox an inning later with a three-run rally of their own, fueled by a double error by the Sox battery of reliever Craig Breslow and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

The Cardinals left Fenway Park feeling as if they were leading the Series at a game apiece. The Red Sox, perhaps for the first time this October, are the ones showing small cracks ripe for exploitation, most notably by 1) the uncertainty surrounding Clay Buchholz and 2) the first blown late-inning lead of the postseason by the bullpen (the walk-off home run by Tampa Bay's Jose Lobaton off closer Koji Uehara in Game 3 of the division series came with the score tied), raising the possibility the other guys have a better pen than they do.

The Sox head into the swing game of the Series on Saturday night not with Buchholz on the mound but with Jake Peavy, who was torched by the Tigers for seven runs, five hits and three walks in three-plus innings in Game 4 of the ALCS. Peavy's gallantry is unquestioned; it's his ability to summon enough quality pitches to keep the Cardinals at bay that is in some doubt.

As for Buchholz, the Sox have no idea what they can expect from him, this close to the prize. A Game 3 start would have lined up Buchholz for a possible Game 7 encore. That's now off the boards, the Sox deciding he could not be counted upon to take the ball twice more this October. Three months off this summer apparently wasn't sufficient to cure whatever is wrong with his ailing shoulder; he was tapped out after 85 pitches in the finale of the ALCS. He acknowledged that he's dealing with tightness and fatigue, and the Sox are hoping that two extra days' rest will be enough to squeeze one more big game out of him.

Skeptics abound. One of the most biting was Curt Schilling, who did not make an appearance on the field Thursday night with some of the other members of the Sox Class of '04 who threw out ceremonial first pitches.

[+] EnlargeBoston Red Sox
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesWill Clay Buchholz have enough in the tank to come through for John Farrell and the Red Sox in Game 4?

"The one thing that I wanted my entire career was the respect of the 24 guys I suited up with," Schilling said on ESPN's Baseball Tonight. "This is the end. You do whatever you can do, however you can do it, to be on the field."

Schilling, of course, walked the talk. He had Sox doctor Bill Morgan cutting up a cadaver in 2004 while improvising a way to hold together Schilling's damaged ankle long enough to keep on pitching in the postseason, bloody sock be damned.

"I would have been begging to pitch Game 2 because that means I get another start in the series," Schilling said. "You find a way. Listen, if he's hurt, he shouldn't be on the roster. He's making it sound, to me, like he's done."

Farrell insists Buchholz is physically able to perform. We will soon learn what the limits of that performance will be.

In the meantime, much will be required of a Sox bullpen that faltered in a big way Thursday, Breslow's taking the biggest fall after a near-perfect postseason (seven scoreless appearances, .130 opponents' batting average). His inability to protect John Lackey's lead Thursday had less to do with the commission of his pitches than in a stunning breakdown in two facets of the game in which he has excelled, controlling the running game and fielding his position.

Opponents stole one base in four attempts against Breslow this season; they doubled that total Thursday night when pinch runner Pete Kozma and Jon Jay executed a double steal, even though Kozma all but telegraphed their intentions a couple of pitches earlier. They were helped when Saltalamacchia didn't grab the ball cleanly from behind the plate.

Call it a triumph of advance scouting, the Cardinals apparently detecting something that suggested success if they tried running on Breslow.

"Can't give you all of our secrets here," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We're always working together. We had an opportunity to use our coaches, use our bench, use the guys' instincts, and we play it every way."

SportsNation

What are you most worried about as a Sox fan?

  •  
    35%
  •  
    20%
  •  
    16%
  •  
    22%
  •  
    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 16,468)

The double steal changed Breslow's entire approach. He had entered looking for a ground ball from Daniel Descalso. Now he needed a strikeout. He ended up walking Descalso to load the bases. Matt Carpenter followed with a tying sacrifice fly, and when Jonny Gomes' throw to the plate got away from Saltalamacchia, Breslow picked up the ball and threw to third, hoping to nail Jay trying to advance.

Instead, Breslow's throw sailed to the box seats down the line, and the Cardinals had another run. It was Breslow's first error since 2011. It was only the second throwing error of his career, the first coming with the Padres in 2005, his first season in the big leagues.

"I've made a throw from that distance thousands of times," he said afterward.

None, regrettably for him, with such negative consequences.

"Bres has been awesome for us this year," Lackey said afterward. "I can't wait to see him get back out there, because he's been so good for us, and you can't go wrong with putting that guy on the mound."

Except when you can, which was the case Thursday night.

The Cardinals' kiddie bullpen, meanwhile, lived up to its advance notices. Carlos Martinez, the 22-year-old rookie right-hander from the Dominican Republic, did not blink in the eighth inning, when an error by second baseman Carpenter put him in the position of facing Ortiz as the potential tying run. Matheny stayed with the kid, who gave up a ground-ball single to Ortiz, but then induced Mike Napoli to pop out to short to end the inning.

Matheny then turned to 24-year-old rookie Trevor Rosenthal, a Missouri native (Lee's Summit) who lifted hometown spirits immensely when he blew through the Sox in the bottom of the ninth, striking out Gomes, Saltalamacchia and pinch hitter Daniel Nava on pitches that were clocked at 98, 99 and 99 mph, respectively.

Ortiz had clobbered the only pitch he saw from left-hander Kevin Siegrist, the third rookie member of the Cardinals' relief corps, for a home run in Game 1, but Thursday's display by Martinez and Rosenthal sent the message that the Cardinals can clearly compete with Koji Time.

The Sox have relied all season on wearing down opposing starters to get to the soft underbelly of opposing bullpens. With the Cardinals, they are discovering abs of steel.

"We knew this would be a tough series," said Napoli, who will be heading for the bench in Game 3 as DH Ortiz will grab a glove to play first base for what quite probably will be two of the next three games, idling one of Boston's more productive bats. "Didn't think it was going to be easy."

The Sox had been 7-0 in the postseason when Gomes started, but he's 1 for his last 15 and also headed to the bench, with Farrell turning to Nava to play the bigger garden of Busch. Farrell may also be faced with a hard decision regarding shortstop Stephen Drew, who played splendid defense Thursday night but has been awful offensively in the playoffs -- 4-for-42, 15 strikeouts.

Gomes insisted the Sox were in good position.

"I like where we're at," he said. "We're going to go to St. Louis and this will be a crazy three games. Come back here and hopefully rock and roll in front of these fans."

But the cracks are showing.

ESPNBoston.com intern Kyle Brasseur contributed to this story.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.


EDITORS' PICKS

  • The QB vs. The Coach
    Who is more responsible for the Patriots' wild run of success: Tom Brady or Bill Belichick?

ALSO SEE

MORE MLB HEADLINES