The Red Sox are in the World Series because they’re one of the two best teams in baseball. They got that good because they don’t beat themselves with silly blunders like so many other teams do.
Which is why it was shocking to see them come apart with mistakes and a faulty bullpen performance in a 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 Thursday night.
The Red Sox, to a man, know they should be up, 2-0, heading to Busch Stadium for Saturday’s Game 3. They gave themselves a collective kick in the behind after squandering a game they should have had in their back pocket.
They had momentum 100 percent in their favor and then handed it back to the Cardinals, who now face the very beatable Jake Peavy in Game 3 and a still-undetermined pitcher in Game 4, either the tired-armed Clay Buchholz or Felix Doubront.
The Red Sox Way has been to wait for the opponent to shoot themselves in the foot and then rub it in their faces, just as they did against the Cardinals in Game 1.
It was bad enough there were two walks in the disastrous seventh, and the bases were loaded with one out. John Lackey, who again pitched honorably, was relieved by Craig Breslow with one out. After seven straight scoreless appearances this postseason, maybe he was due for a stinker at some point because no reliever can pitch that well for that long.
Breslow not only pitched poorly, he fielded poorly.
On Matt Carpenter’s sacrifice fly to left that tied the game at 2, Jonny Gomes made a poor throw to the plate. Jarrod Saltalamacchia was charged with an error for allowing the ball to get by him, and then Breslow, backing up the play, tried to nail the runner at third but threw a fastball on one hop into the stands.
Two runs had scored and the next batter, Carlos Beltran, singled in another. Before you knew it, it was 4-2 Cardinals.
Let’s back up even more: The Cardinals successfully pulled off a double steal against Breslow without a throw from Saltalamacchia, who couldn’t get a grip on the ball.
What on earth happened?
“In my mind, I thought they were going to run,” Sox shortstop Stephen Drew said. “I didn’t think they got the greatest jump. If [Saltalamacchia] gets a grip, it’s a different situation.”
Manager Mike Matheny hinted the Cardinals exploited something in Breslow’s delivery.
“Can’t give you all of our secrets here,” the manager said. “We’ve always worked together. We had an opportunity to use our coaches, use our bench, use the guys’ instincts, and we play it every way.”
The Red Sox were the Cardinals of Game 1, a bunch of bumbling Bad News Bears. The Cardinals appeared so stiff and nervous Wednesday, and that’s the feeling you got watching the Red Sox in the seventh inning of Game 2.
You just don’t see that from this team. That’s why they never lost more than three straight games all season. That’s why they won 97 games and pulled away from the pack after they took two of three from the Dodgers in August.
“Uncharacteristic of the way I think we’ve taken care of the baseball this year,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “And it contributed to three runs.”
It was a major accomplishment to get ahead of rookie Michael Wacha, which the Sox did with David Ortiz’s home run just over the Green Monster in the sixth inning to make it 2-1.
Once you give up that lead, it’s hard to come back on the Cardinals because their bullpen is not a pushover like the Tigers’ with Joaquin Benoit, or even the Rays’ with Fernando Rodney. You have to deal with Trevor Rosenthal, who struck out the side in the ninth with unhittable heat in the high 90s.
Red Sox players were lamenting that they gave this one away. In reality, both teams have given the other a win.
“They got some guys on and there was a play at the plate that didn’t go our way,” Dustin Pedroia said. “The throw [by Gomes] was barely off and Bres just fired it and it took off. It’s just part of the game. It happens. Credit them with putting pressure on us. They had some speed on the bases and that’s tough.
“In the first game, we put pressure on them and it went our way. They did it to us today.”
Yet the mistakes for a team so sound?
“Yeah, fundamentally we’re a great team,” Pedroia said. “It was a quick instance where it got out of hand. That’s baseball. You want to limit the opportunities to the other team. In Game 3, we’ll try to do that.”
Drew, who has made some nice plays in the field despite hitting woes, spoke of the manner in which the Sox have been able to shake off bad performances this postseason. That’s the hope here.
“We’re not gonna dwell on it,” he said. “We wish we could have got Lack a win. It’s a little frustrating. But it’s postseason. They capitalized on the mistakes we made. It’s one game — we’re going to move past it and look forward to the next game. It’s gonna be a battle. These two teams are great. It’s going to boil down to timely hitting and good defense.”
Gomes felt the mistakes were not mental. Mental mistakes are the ones which seem to keep a team down after a game like this.
“I don’t think there were too many problems,” Gomes said. “The ball skipped away from Salty. If we eat that ball . . . it might be different. Both my throw and Breslow’s were tough. There weren’t mental errors or unfundamental baseball. It was just the game going fast. We haven’t had mental errors. We’re comfortable and playing loose. That’s a tough team over there. It comes down to making a play. And we didn’t.”
It was a loss and we knew the Red Sox probably were going to lose games in this series, but not this way. Not by a team that is so fundamentally elite quickly turning into something it is not.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.