The Cardinals left Fenway Park Thursday night with everything they needed. A 4-2 victory. The World Series knotted at one win apiece. The Red Sox’ fundamentals slapped with a “needs repair” sign over them.
Typically confident of bat and sure of glove this season, the American League champs turned chumps in the seventh inning after just minutes earlier taking a 2-1 lead on David Ortiz’s two-run homer in the sixth. But it all unraveled quickly in the seventh, a three-run Cardinals rally that featured bad Boston decision-making, poor execution, and the salt that makes all wounds sting — a pair of walks, one by starter John Lackey and the other by reliever Craig Breslow.
“I am aware of what’s at stake here,’’ a sullen Breslow said when the night was over.
What’s up for grabs, of course, is the chance for the Sox to land their third World Series championship in 10 seasons. If they are to do that, however, they’ll have to be far sharper than they were in the seventh when their defensive game resembled the Little League spasms that the Cardinals displayed in Game 1.
It began with Lackey, after yielding but four hits and one run through six, issuing a one-out walk to David Freese. Jon Jay then followed with a sharp single to right, which marked the end of Lackey’s evening. Enter Breslow, faced with No. 9 hitter Daniel Descalso and the pinch runner Pete Kozma in for Freese.
As the count ran deeper on Descalso, trouble grew deeper for Breslow, especially when Kozma and Jay broke from their bags for a double steal. Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia never was able to get off a throw, leaving runners at second and third. No telling if Saltalamacchia would have been able to cut either runner down, but it left the Cardinals with runners at second and third with one out.
“I was trying for a ground ball,’’ said Breslow, noting his approach toward Descalso when runners were at first and second. “Then when they got the double steal . . . ’’
With first base open, Descalso ultimately drew a walk (salt, sting, etc), loading the bases and setting up a potential force, possibly an inning-ending double play. Instead, Matt Carpenter knocked a routine fly to left, and thus began a Stooges-like parade of calamities. Mo, Larry, the cheese.
“Unfortunately the walk [to Descalso], and then the errant throw,’’ said Sox skipper John Farrell.
Actually, there were two errant throws, both relating to Carpenter’s fly ball, which had Kozma tagging at third and scurrying toward the plate in attempt to tie it up, 2-2. A precise throw would have cut him down. Instead, the peg from left fielder Jonny Gomes was well to the first base side of home. Saltalamacchia, at the very least, could have handled the throw, but it eluded him, allowing Kozma to score and — perhaps worst of all — for Jay to race toward third.
Reacting as he should, Breslow had backed up Saltalamacchia and grabbed the loose ball. Good instinct. Breslow then saw what he thought was a chance to cut down Jay at third. Bad instinct. Or at least bad execution. Breslow’s hard peg sailed by Stephen Drew, who was covering third, and Jay came in with the go-ahead run.
And there was Descalso standing at third, having advanced 180 feet on a the routine fly by Carpenter. Bad inning.
“That’s the one in looking back,’’ said Farrell, turning his attention to Breslow’s wild throw to third. “I’m sure Craig would like to have that ball back and hold it with the chance to shut the inning down right there. We gave them the run . . . uncharacteristic of the way I think we’ve been taken care of the baseball this year. And it contributed to three runs.’’
Run No. 3, good for the 4-2 winning margin, came when the sore-ribbed Carlos Beltran ripped a single to right, allowing Descalso to trot in easily from third.
“The ball kind of sailed on me,’’ said Breslow, recounting his wild toss to third. “I looked up and thought I had a play there . . . I think I definitely had a play there.’’
All in all, a familiar outcome for Lackey, who saw many stout efforts this year go for naught when the Sox couldn’t produce much in the way of offense. He may have deserved better but for the seventh-inning pratfall that followed his exit.
“Unfortunately, I’ve had it happen a few times this year,’’ said Lackey, noting his hard-luck outcomes before this season. “Hey, Brez has been awesome for us this year. I can’t wait to see him get back out there, because he’s been so good for us and you can’t go wrong with putting that guy on the mound.’’Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.