Lance Lynn came off the mound cursing mad.
The Cardinals starter had just walked Red Sox slugger David Ortiz on four extremely careful pitches to make it first and second in the sixth inning, and even if the situation was a tight one, he wasn’t expecting to see his manager Mike Matheny come out of the dugout.
He stomped off the mound, barking on his way to the Cardinals dugout.
The high-fives he gave teammates were almost reluctant.
With the Cardinals’ fate in Game 4 of the World Series on the line, Lynn sat on the bench fuming.
“I’m not happy when I come out of a game ever, but that’s just part of being a competitor,” he said. “If you want out of the game, you shouldn’t be out there ever. It’s the World Series. If you don’t want to pitch in the World Series then you can go right home.”
The fact that he was leaving the mound just as Jonny Gomes was stepping into the batter’s box rubbed salt in the wound.
Just an inning earlier, Gomes had worked Lynn for a 10-pitch walk. On the surface it was a small victory for Gomes, who was 0-for-the-series at that point.
But it was the Sox’ longest at-bat of the series, and right after it Xander Bogaerts squeezed another walk out of Lynn to load the bases before Stephen Drew shot a fly ball into left field for a sacrifice fly that tied the game, 1-1.
In a way it was also a small victory for Lynn. For all his playoff experience, most of his postseason starts were short ones, but the fly ball got him out of a jam and let him live to pitch another inning.
“That was pretty big,” he said. “They didn’t take the lead there. Bases loaded with no outs and they only get one. That was pretty good.”
Lynn wanted to see Gomes again.
“That’s just part of being a competitor,” Lynn said. “He’s a great competitor. I’m a great competitor. You know, you want that opportunity again.”
He never got a chance. Instead, Matheny handed the ball over to righthander Seth Maness. It took all of six pitches for Gomes to make that decision regrettable.
Gomes hit a rocket to left field and he was so sure it wasn’t coming back he dropped his bat at home plate like a microphone. The three-run homer gave the Red Sox all the runs they would need in their 4-2 series-evening win.
When Maness let it go, he knew how badly he had missed.
On a 2-and-2 count, Maness was trying to shoot his fastball down and away.
“It wasn’t the spot I was looking for,” he said. “It missed by a lot.”
It was Gomes’s first hit of the series and it was the first hit Maness gave up.
“With Seth, he’s a guy who’s been able to help us out and do an incredible job in that situation all season long,” Matheny said. “He’s been able to come in and get the big out when we needed it and we wanted to give him a shot. It just didn’t work out.”
Lynn was relentless most of the night. He gave up just three hits and three walks and rang up five strikeouts, pumping 83 fastball toward the Sox lineup.
“I had life on the fastball tonight and we went with it,” he said. “I’m a fastball pitcher and I make you beat me with my best stuff.”
But looking at Lynn coming out of the fifth inning, Matheny wanted to be cautious.
“I thought he obviously came out and did a good job early on, [then] he got himself in trouble,” Matheny said. “We were fortunate to get out of the one inning [in the fifth] after double, walk, walk, with just a run. He worked hard there. Got into another bind in the sixth inning, which is the spot we keep our eyes wide open, and took a shot and it didn’t work.”
But to Lynn, the walk to Ortiz just seemed like the smartest play. “He’s a good hitter and he’s even better this time of year,” Lynn said. “That’s hard to do for a hitter, to be even better this time of year with all the great pitching that’s in the playoffs and in the World Series.
“But you just don’t let him try to beat you. You don’t let him try to leave the ballpark. If he doesn’t leave the ballpark, it’s a good night.
When Matheny decided to lift him, all Lynn could do was accept it.
“There was no conversation,” Lynn said. “He was set on his move and it’s just part of the game. You go out there and you do everything you can as a starter and give it everything you have. That’s a manager’s call to go to the bullpen whenever he sees fit.”
But once the night was over, he was still thinking about what might have happened if he had stayed in the game.
“As a competitor, you want to have that opportunity to pitch yourself out of that inning. But you do everything you can. You give it everything you’ve got. It just didn’t work out.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.