ST. LOUIS — We had the obituary prepared.
The Red Sox had suffered a skull-imploding loss to the Cardinals Saturday night. They trailed the World Series, two games to one, and looked certain to fall behind, 3-1. John Farrell was admitting mismanagement, the Boston Beards were hitless wonders, Shane Victorino was pulled from the starting lineup, and scarecrow starter Clay Buchholz sounded like a man ordering his last meal before walking the Green Mile. The Cardinals had won 13 of their last 14 postseason home games, and Saturday’s stunner was the first Series game to end on an error since Mookie Wilson’s grounder went through Bill Buckner’s legs in 1986.
It was a big bowl of bad, but anyone who has followed the 2013 Red Sox will tell you that they are at their best when they look ready to collapse.
And so helmet-tugging Jonny Gomes — who was playing only because Victorino was scratched — stepped to the plate in the sixth and launched a tiebreaking, three-run moonball that gave the Red Sox a 4-2 victory.
“I got the opportunity tonight and one thing you can guarantee is that I’m going to be swinging,’’ said Gomes. “I’d probably screw things up if I tried to put this into words. What’s going on in here is pretty magical.’’
“Shane wasn’t capable and it turned out his replacement was the difference,’’ said Farrell, who managed Game 4 in Belichickian “next man up” fashion.
Farrell used six pitchers, including three of his starters, to square the Series, and the game ended in hideous fashion for the Cardinals when Koji Uehara picked off pinch runner Kolten Wong with Carlos Beltran in the batter’s box.
Game 4 was played on the ninth anniversary of the Red Sox’ World Series clincher in old Busch Stadium. The Cardinals honored their 1967 world champions and summoned Bob Gibson for the ceremonial first pitch. Gibson beat the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox three times in October of 1967, including Game 7, when Sox rookie manager Dick Williams said his plan called for “Lonborg and champagne.’’ Gibson was the Bill Russell of baseball.
For all the pregame concerns about Buchholz, the fragile righthander held the Cardinals to one unearned run on three hits over four delicate innings. In 2007, Curt Schilling taught us that you can win postseason games with a high school fastball if you have sufficient smarts and location. Buchholz was barely able to break 90 on the radar gun, but he was effective for 66 pitches.
“He kept us off balance,’’ said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.
“There was so much scrutiny around his situation,’’ said Farrell. “He gave us everything he could.’’
St. Louis broke through for an unearned run in the third. Matt Carpenter hit a one-out single to center, took second when the ball clanged off the glove of Jacoby Ellsbury, and scored on a broken-bat single by Beltran. It was Ellsbury’s second error in two nights and the Sox’ sixth error of the Series. Defense cost them in Games 2, 3, and 4.
The Sox tied it with a run off Lance Lynn in the fifth. David Ortiz (on base four times, .436 career World Series batting average) led off with a double to right-center, was pushed to third on a pair of walks (great plate appearance by Gomes), and scored on a sacrifice fly by the much-maligned Stephen Drew, who was in a 2-for-38 dip.
Pitching for the second time in two nights, Felix Doubront took the ball in the fifth and blinded the top of the Cardinals’ batting order on nine pitches. He stuck around for 2⅔ innings, picked up the win, and goes down as the unheralded star of Game 4.
“He doesn’t panic,’’ said Farrell. “He stays very poised.’’
Boston’s winning rally started (naturally) with two outs and nobody aboard in the sixth. Dustin Pedroia got things going with a single to left and Lynn walked Ortiz (it might as well have been an intentional pass) on four pitches. Matheny lifted Lynn in favor of Seth Maness, and Gomes connected on Maness’s 2-2 pitch for the game-breaker.
“We wanted to give Seth a shot. It just didn’t work tonight,’’ said Matheny.
The Cardinals didn’t roll over. They pushed a run across in the seventh, but Junichi Tazawa retired Matt Holliday with two on and two out to get out of the jam.
Farrell summoned his Game 2/Game 6 starter, John Lackey, for a scoreless/hitless eighth inning.
“We knew we might have to piece it together, be creative,’’ said Farrell. “This is very consistent with the way we’ve been able to put things behind us.’’
Game 5 is Monday night at Busch Stadium, Game 6 at Fenway Wednesday, and the inevitable Game 7 will be played Thursday, on Halloween, with everyone doing the (Green) Monster Mash.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy