ST. LOUIS — It’s as if the Red Sox are sitting in their corner after the third round of a championship fight. Angelo Dundee, the best trainer in the history of boxing, looks squarely into the eyes of a dazed John Farrell and says, “You’re blowing it!”
The Red Sox are blowing this World Series. They are playing with mid-June urgency instead of performing with precision and humility. Their arrogance is killing them — with the best examples being Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Craig Breslow each trying to nab a runner at third base in the midst of chaos, and failing miserably.
While the discussion after Saturday night’s game involved Will Middlebrooks and his inability to move away from Allen Craig on the deciding play at third base in the ninth inning — meaning he would have had to do the “Snake” to escape colliding with the runner — the Red Sox have no one to blame but themselves for trailing two games to one.
In Game 2 at Fenway Park, they had a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning before Breslow set fire to the advantage, and then tried to make the improbable play, misfiring on a throw to third base, allowing another runner to score for a 3-2 St. Louis lead. And on Saturday, after trailing 2-0 and 4-2 and coming back twice to tie, they found another way to lose. When you have enough fortitude to make up two two-run deficits, you have to win that game.
Farrell allowed Brandon Workman to make his first major league plate appearance in the World Series, which is something the reliever will cherish, but it will be considered an inexcusable move for a long time. After the 5-4 loss in Game 3, the Red Sox clubhouse was clearing out, with most players leaving into the cool night to ponder how they can even the series Sunday.
Quietly walking out of the shower was one Mike Napoli, who registered a big DNP, his bat wasted, his opportunity to face Trevor Rosenthal as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning only a vision. The most egregious error a manager can make is inactivity or conservatism, especially when he leaves a talented player on the bench.
Napoli should have had his chance to bat instead of Workman, and there was likely a slew of major league managers, the ones who stayed awake until midnight to watch this drama, who shook their heads when Workman stepped to the plate.
“I felt like if we get into an extended situation, which that game was looking like it was going to, [I] held Nap back in the event that spot came up again,” Farrell explained Saturday night. “Like I said, in hindsight, having Workman hit against Rosenthal is a mismatch, I recognize it, but we needed more than one inning out of Workman.”
There’s nothing more distressing than a manager explaining away a poor move. But Farrell isn’t the only one to blame. The Red Sox are hitting .188 in the series and David Ortiz is the lone Sox hitting with a semblance of power. Take away Ortiz and the Red Sox are 13 for 88 (.147) in the Series. They are giving away at-bats. They aren’t working counts. They are blowing it.
And if you are going to be an automatic out such as Saltalamacchia, you have to execute on defense. Salty should have just been satisfied with tagging out Yadier Molina at home in the ninth inning on Dustin Pedroia’s throw to the plate, and trust Koji Uehara to get light-hitting Pete Kozma to send the game into extra innings.
Game 3 wasn’t Middlebrooks’s fault. The rest of the Red Sox should be left to explain their shortcomings. They got to the World Series by rarely beating themselves, playing sound defense and making the right decisions. Chucking the ball to third base to catch a baserunner in the critical moment of the game is not the right decision unless you execute.
The key to success at this high level is knowing when to take chances and when to eat your pride and arrogance. It’s knowing the significance of the situation, meaning that if that throw happens to skid past third base, you are one more step toward walking home losers in this series. So you think twice.
Middlebrooks was left to explain why umpire Jim Joyce called him for obstruction, a word that Boston toddlers might now understand. But he should have never been placed in that situation to have to dive for a poor throw after the Sox had already cleared a hurdle by nabbing a runner at the plate.
The Red Sox have to play smarter the rest of the series. They have to be more patient at the plate and take the conservative approach defensively. Farrell has to find a way to get Napoli at-bats for the next two games. There is no simple way to play your best players as an American League team in a National League park, but Farrell has to find a way.
He has to put his players in the best position to succeed and sending Workman to the plate to face Rosenthal in the ninth inning was inexcusable. Farrell was basically conceding the ninth inning, planning for extras like saving his coupons only to find out they’ve expired.
The Red Sox still have a chance to win the series. This is not about the St. Louis Cardinals, they are simply doing what the Red Sox allow them to do. The Red Sox are blowing it.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe