It takes a lot more than a putrid, error-filled Game 1 performance to rile St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, who seems more like a college philosophy professor than a man who has put together a championship major league baseball team over the past six years.
Mozeliak was pleased after Thursday’s 4-2 win over the Red Sox in Game 2 at Fenway Park, but also rather emotionless. He stood in the cramped visitors clubhouse, having fully expected his team to bounce back. But even he acknowledged that, at the start of the season, no one in the organization expected Michael Wacha to be the central figure of any postseason victory.
And he was pleasantly surprised that less than 24 hours after having X-rays and CT scans on his injured ribs, Carlos Beltran was back in the lineup to scrape together two hits, including a critical RBI single in the seventh inning that allowed the Cardinals bullpen to pitch with more of a margin for error.
This “Cardinal Way” chatter that has been buzzing in the ears of Red Sox fans over the past few days took a beating after Game 1, but there is indeed something to it. To a man, the Cardinals were more surprised by their Game 1 performance than their Game 2 resurgence.
St. Louis players were matter-of-fact about the victory, blasé about the prospect of returning to Busch Stadium, where raucous fans will be waiting. The ringleader of this casual atmosphere was Mozeliak, who, in his best Ben Stein impression, attempted to describe what he was feeling between Games 1 and 2.
“I definitely don’t think there was panic, more like frustration and ‘get it over with,’ ” Mozeliak said. “That was very uncharacteristic to give up four or five outs. It’s not good.
“Playing back home is nice. Seeing the energy of our crowd in St. Louis will be uplifting.”
The Cardinals have made it this far by being steady, never panicking, even when they trailed, two games to one, against the Pirates in the Division Series with Game 4 at Pittsburgh. The Cardinals used the stellar pitching of Wacha and a two-run homer from Matt Holliday to tie the series, then sealed it in Game 5 at Busch Stadium.
Against the Dodgers in the NLCS, the Cardinals responded after losing Game 3 by stealing Game 4 behind another Holliday homer, and then romped, 9-0, in Game 6 behind Wacha. The Cardinals are resilient, even after their shocking performance in Game 1.
Yet there wasn’t a sense of glee in the clubhouse, despite the prospect of three straight home games and a chance to close out the series at home.
The Game 2 rally began after David Ortiz changed the momentum by tagging Wacha for a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning for a 2-1 lead. The Cardinals started their rally with a David Freese walk, a Jon Jay single, and then a critical double steal by Jay and pinch runner Pete Kozma. A sacrifice fly, two Boston errors, and a Beltran single later, the Cardinals had seized a 4-2 lead and the momentum.
And manager Mike Matheny was able to unleash his lethal bullpen.
“When you think about the approach of this club, they’re opportunistic,” Mozeliak said. “If we have opportunities to score, we try to take advantage of them the best we can. No different than any club, but at this stage, the pressure mounts, things become tougher, but these gentlemen have been able to respond.”
The Cardinals and Red Sox are very similar teams. They pride themselves on their ability to respond to adversity. While victorious clubhouses are generally filled with loud music, plenty of chatter, and constant giggling, the Cardinals were more subdued Thursday.
They accomplished what they set out to: take home-field advantage and set themselves up to take control of the series by simply playing their typical game. But they also assume nothing.
“We play well at home,” said Holliday, whose team was 54-27 at Busch Stadium this season. “[But] this is a crazy game, stuff happens. You are going to play games like [Game 1]. You don’t want to, but occasionally that stuff happens. You turn the page and you move on to the next day and try to win the next game, and that’s how we’ve handled it all season.’’
Beltran played despite bruised ribs, receiving an anti-inflammatory shot that helped reduce the pain. His general manager was grateful for his contribution in Game 2, which was indicative of Beltran’s desire to play despite an aging, 36-year-old body.
When he hits the field for Game 3, it will be on a day’s rest and with the knowledge that the Cardinals have an opportunity to seize control of the series.