ST. LOUIS — It is spectacularly unfair to judge the worthiness of a trade based on one game. But Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night will determine whether the Red Sox did the right thing when they obtained righthander Jake Peavy in July.
This is the exact kind of game general manager Ben Cherington had in mind when he gave up gifted young shortstop Jose Iglesias as part of a three-team deal to get Peavy.
The Red Sox are tied, 1-1, with the St. Louis Cardinals and need to regain the momentum lost when they were unable to hold a lead late in Game 2.
“We thought we had a chance to get in the postseason but we didn’t want to give up a player like Iglesias unless we were confident the pitcher could help us in the postseason,” Cherington said on Friday while watching his team work out at Busch Stadium.
“Jake made a lot of sense to us at the time and he still does. We have a lot of confidence in him.”
Cherington had no idea what the exact circumstances would be, only that a pitcher of Peavy’s talent and experience could be the difference between winning or losing on a cold October night.
“I try not to think about it as validating the trade, but this is obviously a big game and he knows that,” Cherington said. “It’s 1-1 in the World Series and the game is important.”
That Peavy is signed through 2014 was a factor for the Red Sox. But at the time, one of the main reasons they traded for Peavy was the uncertainty surrounding Clay Buchholz, who was on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. Buchholz returned in September and Peavy was dropped down in the rotation.
Buchholz is again questionable because of injury and was pushed back to Game 4 to get some extra time off to rest a sore shoulder. Now the Red Sox need Peavy more than ever given the uncertainty surrounding Game 4.
Peavy was 4-1 with a 4.04 earned run average in 10 regular-season starts for the Red Sox, about what was expected. But his two postseason starts were different as can be.
Peavy allowed one run over 5⅔ innings against Tampa Bay in Game 4 of the Division Series. Farrell pulled him after only 74 pitches in a game the Sox were trailing, 1-0, at the time and came back to win, 3-1.
Game 4 of the American League Championship Series was a disaster as Peavy allowed seven runs on five hits and three walks over three innings. All five runs came in the second inning against Detroit.
Now Peavy, at age 32, will pitch the biggest game of his career. He has a Cy Young Award on his résumé, three All-Star Games, and a Gold Glove. But this game will define his career like none before it.
“Let’s not sugarcoat anything: this is the biggest game up until this point in time that I’ve ever pitched. We’d be silly to sit here and say otherwise,” he said.
“This is why I play the game. This is why we all, I would like to think, play the game, is to be a world champion, is to be the best in the world at what you do at the highest level. And so to go out in a World Series game and have a chance to sway the odds in your direction, on the road, with a team that’s got some momentum with a big win at our place, of course I think this is the biggest start in my career.”
Peavy is not letting the occasion overwhelm him. He brought his two oldest sons, 12-year-old Jacob and 9-year-old Wyatt, with him to the interview room Friday. Other family members have been around, too. A pitcher known for his competitive fire is taking the time to enjoy the moment.
“Obviously I’m an emotional guy. But at the same time I’m 13 years into this,” he said. “I’m excited as I ever will be for a start to go out there tomorrow but there’s not going to be a situation that I get overwhelmed in and get too emotional and let the emotions of the moment beat me up.
“I just feel like I’ve been in enough situations over the years that there’s nothing tomorrow night that’s going to rattle me or get in my head.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell is confident that Peavy will channel his considerable competitiveness the right way.
“The one thing I think he’s done a very good job at the last probably three or four starts is creating an energy level in his delivery that doesn’t take away from locating pitches,” Farrell said. “Inning No. 2 in Detroit, I thought he started to pitch a little too fine and maybe didn’t trust his stuff enough, as was the case in the first inning.”
The Cardinals should be a comfortable opponent for Peavy. He has a 2.97 ERA in nine starts against St. Louis and a 2.25 ERA in three starts at Busch Stadium.
Peavy is familiar with St. Louis stars Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday from his time in the National League with the San Diego Padres. No situation is perfect but Peavy is set up to succeed.
“This is what I’ve lived for my whole baseball career [for], to have this opportunity to go out there on the biggest stage and have a chance to help your team win a World Series game and a World Series title.
“I’m as prepared as I’ll ever be, physically, mentally, and we’ll go out there tomorrow night and see if we can execute pitch by pitch, and find a way to win.”Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.