Admit it, you thought after the latest David Ortiz postseason home run heroics that maybe this would be just like 2004, when the Red Sox used the St. Louis Cardinals as a World Series welcome mat, wiping their cleats all over them on the way to breaking an 86-year curse.
The redoubtable and lovable 2004 Idiots didn’t allow St. Louis to lead for a single inning of that four-game sweep. It was one big victory lap. There was a lot of 2004 nostalgia with Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Trot Nixon addressing the media before Thursday night’s Game 2 and members of the team throwing out ceremonial first pitches.
After the Cardinals’ Chernobyl-level defensive meltdown in an 8-1 loss to the Sox in Game 1 and Ortiz’s sixth-inning thunderclap in Game 2, it felt like the history could be repeating itself.
It’s not. Credit the Cardinals. They showed why they won 97 games, why they’re considered a model franchise, and why 2004 is about as relevant in this series as a dial-up modem.
St. Louis could have become defeated or dispirited after Ortiz’s two-run opposite-field shot into the Monster Seats in the sixth erased its 1-0 lead. Instead, the boys from the Show Me State showed some mettle and rallied back with three runs the next half-inning. That was enough for a 4-2 win, enough to send the series back to St. Louis knotted at a game apiece.
Now, the series has a different look heading into Game 3 Saturday, especially with the concerns about Clay Buchholz’s health for Game 4 and Game 3 starter Jake Peavy’s recent effectiveness.
There had been 53 previous times that a team had taken a 2-0 lead in the World Series, 42 of them winning it all. The last nine teams to take a 2-0 lead have won it. But the Sox were not able to join that list.
“We fully expected this to be a hard-fought series,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “[It’s] not surprising that we’re in the position we are.”
Fenway was at full roar after Ortiz slugged a 3-2 changeup from Cardinals starter Michael Wacha over the Wall with Dustin Pedroia aboard — Ortiz’s second two-run homer in two nights and fifth homer of the postseason.
That snapped a 19-inning scoreless streak for the 22-year-old Wacha, who went six innings, allowing just three hits and striking out six.
But St. Louis came back in the seventh with a three-spot. If the Cardinals had bad luck in Game 1 in the field, they made their own luck on the basepaths Thursday night.
David Freese earned a one-out walk. Jon Jay lashed a single to right field. That was it for Sox starter John Lackey, who once again was asked to walk the tightrope with no run support safety net.
Lefty reliever Craig Breslow came in to face Daniel Descalso. Pete Kozma, who was at the epicenter of St. Louis’s defensive ineptitude in Game 1, had come on to pinch run for Freese.
With Descalso at the plate, Kozma executed a double steal with Jay, the runners taking third and second, respectively.
The steal appeared to catch the Red Sox by surprise. These are not the Sons of Vince Coleman. St. Louis had only 45 steals during the regular season, last in the National League. That’s hard to believe for baseball fans who remember Whitey Herzog’s racetrack Redbirds of the 1980s. St. Louis had only three stolen bases in 12 prior postseason games.
It seemed like the Cardinals saw something in Breslow they could take advantage of. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was coy after the game.
“Can’t give you all of our secrets here,” said Matheny. “We’re always working together. We had an opportunity to use our coaches, use our bench, use guys’ instincts, and we play it every way.”
After Descalso walked to load the bases, Matt Carpenter lifted a sacrifice fly to left. Now, it was time for Boston’s defense to fail.
Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia couldn’t field Jonny Gomes’s off-line throw home. Breslow, who was backing Saltalamacchia up, tried to nab Jay going to third. He threw a deep ball that Tom Brady would have been proud of, allowing Jay to score and give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.
It was 4-2 after Carlos Beltran, who took a pain killer injection just to be able to play after leaving Game 1 with a rib contusion, singled home Descalso.
Suddenly, the Fenway frenzy had turned into a stunned stillness.
The precocious Cardinal bullpen tandem of Carlos Martinez (age 22) and Trevor Rosenthal (age 23) kept things quiet. They got the final nine outs, six via strikeout.
To be a preferred member of the Cardinals’ bullpen you have to be 25 or under and throw over 95 miles per hour. Where does St. Louis find these guys?
On a cold night, the Cardinals had thrown cold water on the Red Sox positioning themselves two wins from a World Series crown.
This isn’t football. There are no neon-lit changes of momentum. But it was clear the Cardinals’ rebuttal to Ortiz’s homer changed the course of the game and maybe the series.
“I believe it is a momentum sport,” said Matheny. “I don’t think there are statistics to back it, but I do know when we’re able to turn that around what the environment is inside our clubhouse and our dugout, and those guys feed off each other . . . The guys stayed aggressive today. That’s the difference between [Game 1] and [Game 2].”
Now, the burden of proof in the series shifts to the Sox with the next three games by the banks of the Mississippi River.
Buckle up, it looks like this series could be more 1946 or 1967 than 2004.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.