Sox shrug off long odds (yes, again)
Shorthanded band of brothers scrap way to World Series-tying Game 4 victory
ST. LOUIS -- The analytics, the compromised starting pitcher, the hangover from a perceived "obstruction" of justice, the Ivy League reliever who suddenly had the yips, a lineup that couldn't hit, those fancy charts that show what happens when you lose Game 3 of a World Series after a 1-1 split in the first two (hint: it's a significant downward trend), all of it suggested the Boston Red Sox were in trouble.
Oh, and did we mention Shane Victorino was a late scratch with back trouble, prompting manager John Farrell to insert the ever-optimistic (and severely slumping) Jonny (0-for-World Series) Gomes into the lineup?
For some baseball franchises, those litany of issues would be difficult to navigate.
Not these guys.
While the overriding "R" word has been Redemption for these 2013 Red Sox, the buzzword "Resilient" has been a close second.
Regardless of the circumstances, Boston's nine seems to have the uncanny knack of shrugging off any perceived (or real) slights, any potentially damaging residue from a poor performance or a strange and horribly disappointing ending to a baseball game.
"We've got a bunch of old pros,'' explained pitcher John Lackey, "who don't let one day affect the next.''
They also seem to avoid letting one play affect the next, which becomes a crucial advantage in these pressure-packed World Series games between two evenly matched teams.
Thus, less than 24 hours after they lost the first postseason game in history on an obstruction call in the bottom of the ninth, Boston rebounded with a 4-2 victory, the final out coming when pinch runner Kolten Wong was picked off first base as the St. Louis Cardinals' most dangerous hitter, Carlos Beltran, looked on in dismay from the batter's box.
"Wild, right?" said catcher David Ross. "That was kind of like [Saturday] night. I'm sure [St. Louis] was dumbfounded, like, 'What just happened?'''
Here's what happened: The Red Sox have knotted this Word Series 2-2 even though Clay Buchholz had to battle through four innings with admittedly diminished velocity and only "average" command. Yet when he left the game, he had relinquished only one run -- and it was unearned.
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Boston won in spite of yet another clunker relief appearance by lefty Craig Breslow, who, for the second time in as many nights, left the game having retired nobody. This time, the damage included an RBI single by Matt Carpenter and a four-pitch walk to Beltran.
Gomes? He was 0-for-9 with a walk in this World Series when he stepped up to the plate with two on in the sixth inning after Cardinals manager Mike Matheny tabbed reliever Seth Maness to pitch specifically to him.
Gomes worked the count to 2-2 (that's what he does), then tattooed the next pitch over the left-field wall.
"I'm sure there's all kind of reports on me, or whatever,'' Gomes said afterward. "But if I'm fortunate enough to get a mistake, the bat's going to come through the zone hot.''
Gomes was brought here to provide some pop in his bat and some synergy in the clubhouse. He won his teammates over, symbolizing their never-say-die mentality.
"Jonny shows up every day trying to do something to help us -- even when he's not in the lineup,'' Dustin Pedroia said. "He's just a winner. There's a reason why every team he's on goes to the playoffs and does well.'' Gomes said he garnered some of his resolve Sunday night from slugger David Ortiz, who gathered his teammates in the dugout after the Red Sox tied it in the fifth and reminded them what was at stake. His impassioned words resonated with his teammates because rally speeches from Big Papi are a rare occurrence.
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Ortis was 3-for-3 with a walk, and you have to wonder if St Louis will ever let him hit again in a meaningful situation in this World Series. He has been that dominant.
His teammates are used to him coming up with key hits in money situations, but this was the first time this year, they said, he'd addressed them as a group.
"That's why we call him Cooperstown,'' Ross said. "Because he does it every night. It's unbelievable. The guy got us going. His energy, the way he rises to the occasion … just being a part of it, having him on my team, I'm just amazed on a daily basis.''
"I couldn't understand a thing he said,'' cracked Pedroia.
With Buccholz ailing, Felix Doubront, who gave Boston two quality innings in the Game 3 loss, followed up with another 2 2/3 inning that helped bridge the gap to the bullpen. His impressive performances over the past two days make him a leading candidate for some key innings should there be a Game 7.
In those situations, it tends to be all hands on deck. Farrell used that philosophy Sunday night, to a lesser degree, when he called upon Lackey, his designated Game 6 starter, to pitch the eighth.
Lackey took the mound after warming, then sitting, then warming again. Things got interesting -- it tends to go that way with this group -- when Xander Bogaerts' erred on his throw to first on Yadier Molina's ground ball. That enabled the Cards' catcher to advance to second.
Then Lackey threw a wild pitch to Jon Jay, and Molina motored to third. Suddenly, the complexion of the game changed, and the Busch Stadium crowd roared to life.
Yet the "old pro" on the mound was unfazed by the noise or the activity on the base paths. He got Jay to pop harmlessly to short, then closed out the inning by inducing David Freese into a harmless ground ball. Koji Uehara came on to pitch the ninth, and picked off the rookie, Wong, to end it.
"This was huge,'' declared Buchholz, "especially coming off last night. To be down [1-0] early, and not have our bats working, and to still come away with this? It's big.''
There are still issues that dog Boston as this series continues, among them careless errors in the field (two again Sunday night), some holes in the starting rotation (a compromised Buchholz, an ineffective Jake Peavy), the What-do-we-do-with-Breslow-now quandary, and an anemic bottom of the lineup. Last night, the seventh through ninth hitters were a combined 0-for-11 with five strikeouts. (To be fair, Stephen Drew hit a sacrifice fly in the fifth to drive in the first Boston run.)
In spite of their galvanized veterans, they are no lock to win the whole thing, and they know it.
There's also the matter of the fancy chart, which says that whoever wins Game 3 of the World Series after a 1-1 split goes on to win the Fall Classic 16 out of 18 times.
St. Louis won Game 3.
The Red Sox could care less. They don't care about fancy charts. They don't care about ailing pitchers or obscure rules or a shortstop that has become an easier out than the pitchers.
"All we care about is winning,'' Pedroia said. "And none of us care how we do it as long as it happens.''