Inning after inning, all the Cardinals could do was stare at home plate from a distance, watching scoring opportunities pass them by.
Whether it was Allen Craig and Yadier Molina — who were stranded on first and second in both the second and fourth innings — or Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran, and Matt Holliday — who loaded the bases in the seventh only to be stuck there — the Cardinals couldn’t figure out a way to push runners across.
In swallowing the 6-1 World Series-deciding loss to the Red Sox, the Cardinals also had to accept their best skill as a team ultimately betrayed them when it mattered most.
After being the best team in baseball with runners in scoring position in the regular season, the Cardinals went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position on the night and 9 for 42 in the series.
“You’re asking guys to do some very extraordinary things when you ask them to do what they’ve been doing all season long,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “They were some frustrated guys in there, but overall you can’t ask us to go about any better than how our guys did.
“Couldn’t be any more proud of how they handled themselves, how they carried themselves and how they competed. We had a couple of games that just didn’t look real characteristic offensively. But we did have a little trouble, but overall this team was very consistent all the way through.”
The Cardinals calling card in the regular season was coming through with runners in scoring position. They led the major leagues with a .330 batting average with runners in scoring position. The only teams in sniffing distance were the Tigers (.282) and the Red Sox (.278).
But like the Tigers, who hit .271 with runners in scoring position in the ALCS, they couldn’t push runs across when the opportunities presented themselves.
Part of it was that their best bats rarely came to the plate in a position to drive in runs. Molina and Beltran each had just four at-bats with runners in scoring position all series. Holiday had five.
“We battled to get to this point and it’s just part of it,” said Beltran. “We ended up being in the losing part and we didn’t play good baseball. I just have to say that at the end of the day, that’s not the team that we know we can be.’’
Beltran a free agent
When he signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals in 2011, Carlos Beltran saw it as his best chance to reach the World Series that had eluded him in his 16-year career.
Now, after coming within two games of winning it, Beltran’s future is uncertain.
He will again embark on free agency, and when asked what his plans were, he said, “I’ve got to listen to everybody.”
Beltran hit .296 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs in 145 games this season. He wanted so badly to play in the World Series that after banging into the wall robbing David Ortiz of a home run in Game 1, he was injected with a painkiller so he could play the next day.
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said he was open to bringing the 36-year-old outfielder back.
“Clearly, he has the ability to enter the free agent market,” Mozeliak said. “For us, like I’ve always said, we’re never going to close the door on anything right now. But we obviously have to think about what next year looks like, what our depth looks like, where we think we need the most help. But when we speak specifically about Carlos, just going to keep the door open and see where that may lead.”
There will be changes in the Cardinals clubhouse next season, and Mozeliak isn’t sure how the team will look.
But one clear void will be pitcher Chris Carpenter, who will retire after spending the last nine seasons of his 15-year career in St. Louis.
Carpenter, who has dealt with injuries throughout his career, had shoulder surgery in 2012 and sat out the entire 2013 season.
“It’s going to be hard because of what he’s meant to us and just sort of his identity of being with this organization,” Mozeliak said. “Cleary, he didn’t play this year. So this team was built without him. But I do think part of what he brought to the table will be missed.”
Along with his 144 career wins and his 3.76 ERA, Carpenter, 38, brought a presence to the clubhouse.
“Carp’s obviously one of my all-time favorite teammates,” said slugger Allen Craig. “When I came up in the big leagues, he was head honcho in the clubhouse and just to get to know him over the last three or four years has been really special. I feel like I learned a lot from just his competitiveness and his drive to do well and I just think he’s the best.”
The Cardinals didn’t get into Boston until nearly 11 p.m. Tuesday because of mechanical issues with their plane, but Matheny said it had no effect on his team going into Game 6.
“I can’t tell you how impressed I was with how everybody handled it,” Matheny said before the Red Sox finished off the Cardinals. “We travel a lot, so you kind of anticipate that everything is going to go smooth, and it has all season. And you get to this time of year, and things kind of went in a different direction.
“But it was amazing how the guys handled that long of a time, especially as we had lots of family, lots of kids. Impressive, to be honest with you. I didn’t hear any complaining at all. Normally guys are, even if they’re just in jest, they’re still throwing some things out there, but we didn’t hear anything. But guys did what they do. They hung out with their families. They hung out with each other. There was a lot of fooling around going on.’’
Between checking in on Twitter, baby-sitting each other’s kids, and otherwise just killing the time, the Cardinals found ways to keep themselves entertained.
“I mean, there wasn’t really much else we could do except sit there, hang out with each other, try to play baby-sitter,” pitcher Joe Kelly said. “With all the little kids running around, everybody switched, all the younger guys.
“We messed around on Twitter, looked at tweets, #cardinalsplaneproblems was going around, which was pretty funny. We had a good time with it. We enjoyed it. We don’t want to do it all the time, but it wasn’t that bad.”
Molina gets the gold
Molina was selected as the National League’s Gold Glove catcher, becoming just the fifth catcher to win the award six times. He joins Ivan Rodriguez (13), Johnny Bench (10), Bob Boone (seven), and Jim Sundberg (six). Molina allowed the fewest stolen bases in the league (26), gunned down 43.5 percent of the runners who tested him, and posted a 3.17 catcher’s ERA.
“Yadi is special, there’s no question,” Matheny said. “And I could see it the first time I saw him. And I knew that obviously he had some pretty impressive bloodlines with what his brothers had been able to do even at that point. But he just had a drive. And what he’s done is he’s been determined and has worked hard to try and figure if there’s any part of his game that could be improved on — he’s motivated to improve on it. And he continues to do so.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.