BOSTON -- Just before he took the mound for Game 1 of the World Series, the first time in his life that he would pitch in Fenway Park after 264 major-league games, 6-foot-7-inch Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright banged his head against the concrete dugout roof of the nearly 102-year-old ballpark. His night was about to get much worse.
"Stung me pretty good," Wainwright said. "But it had nothing to do with the way I pitched."
You expect first-time visiting pitchers at Fenway to get spooked by the proximity of the Green Monster in left field, to be taken aback by passionate fans who seem to be so close to the field you can nearly smell the beer on their breath, or to grow frustrated about what should be foul-ball outs falling into the stands instead of a fielder's glove. You just don't expect ole Fenway to smack down a pitcher so literally.
It was clear something was amiss when Wainwright walked the first batter he faced, something he had done only once in 37 starts this year and only 14 times in his career. And by the time he obtained his fifth out, the Boston Red Sox had hung five runs on him.
"I set the tone," Wainwright said. "The entire game should be put on my shoulders."
He was not alone in Cardinal sins in what became an 8-1 Boston victory, the worst kind of game to begin a World Series because there was no need to watch after the second inning, none of the tension that has kept fans tethered to these taut postseason games for three weeks. The culpability for the rout, however, spread throughout the team.
There has been far too much talk lately about "The Cardinal Way," as if the Cardinals are playing a brand of baseball out of reach of other organizations. What they have is the best player development system in baseball that has brought a wave of young players, particularly power pitchers, to the big leagues within a small window of time. But the overlooked story of "The Cardinal Way" is that this is a poor defensive team. After the debacle of Game 1, that flaw is painfully obvious.
St. Louis ranked 16th in fielding efficiency, 16th in total fielding runs above average and 22nd in defensive runs saved above average -- a shaky defense any way you crunch the numbers. The Cardinals lost Game 1 because Wainwright, by his own admission, was terrible, but they also lost because they committed six misplays within the first 11 batters of the game. The dirty laundry list:
1. Wainwright walked the first batter he faced, Jacoby Ellsbury, with the last pitch being a nothing hook that presaged, to borrow from Clint Eastwood, the righthander's trouble with the curve. Wainwright obtained only two swings and misses from 33 curveballs all night.
2. With runners at first and second, second baseman Matt Carpenter fielded a bouncer by David Ortiz, but had trouble gripping the ball in his glove, then made a backhand flip to second base that was too long and too slow.
3. Shortstop Pete Kozma dropped the flip. Second base umpire Dana DeMuth somehow initially ruled Kozma controlled the ball long enough to record an out, but on the insistence of Boston manager John Farrell, the umpires huddled and correctly reversed DeMuth's boneheaded call.
4. Mike Napoli followed by hitting a ball that bounced to the Green Monster in left field. St. Louis centerfielder Shane Robinson took a poor angle to play the carom and compounded his mistake by dropping the ball after trying to pick it up. All three runners scored, including Ortiz from first base. Yes, you read that correctly: Ortiz scored from first base on a double off the left-field wall at Fenway. Here is the number of occasions in the entire year that Ortiz scored from first on a double anywhere: Zero.
5. In the second inning, Stephen Drew hit a very short pop-up in front of the mound. Wainwright spread his arms out as if to call for it, but suddenly decided to stop tracking it. It dropped at his feet. It was Little League stuff, beyond embarrassing for a big league player.
"You're taught to yield on the ball to other fielders," Wainwright said, alluding to the stupid, archaic notion that pitchers should not catch pop-ups. "But not when it's right to you. That's on me."
6. Three batters later, Kozma dropped a bouncer in the hole at shortstop -- a tough error.
The Cardinals added a third error later in the game, and even when they made a rare superb play, it came with negative complications. Rightfielder Carlos Beltran robbed Ortiz of a grand slam in the second by reaching beyond the visitor's bullpen wall in right and pulling back the baseball. It saved three runs -- one scored on the sacrifice fly -- but Beltran smashed his right side against the wall and had to leave the game and be taken to a local hospital.
X-rays were negative, but when your rightfielder has to come out of a World Series game early -- a World Series he waited for his entire 16-year career -- and has to go to the hospital, you can expect him to be compromised even if nothing is broken.
The bad news continued for St. Louis when manager Mike Matheny brought in lefty Kevin Siegrist to face Ortiz -- one of those key matchups you see coming before a series begins because you know Ortiz is the Boston hitter you must control in the late innings. Ortiz very carefully watched Siegrist warm up. He stood in the on-deck circle in his batting stance as if he was at the plate. And every time he saw Siegrist's arm come around to throw a pitch, Ortiz put his front foot down and loaded his hands. He did not swing. He simply was timing Siegrist's pitches.
Then he took his place in the batter's box. Siegrist's arm came around and out came a 96-mph fastball. Ortiz connected with perfect timing. It was the first pitch of the first time Ortiz faced Siegrist, and yet he hit it as if facing a familiar pitching machine. His master craftsman work had been done in the on-deck circle. The veteran figured out the kid that quickly.
The baseball flew so far -- to the roof of the home team bullpen -- that there was no chance for a Boston policeman to gain any viral fame this time. Siegrist was damaged. Now Matheny will have to re-think whether he wants Siegrist or veteran Randy Choate on Ortiz in a big spot later in the Series.
It all went so wrong for St. Louis, which played like skittish cats in the close confines of Fenway. Watching their ace struggle so badly seemed to send the Cardinals astray. Wainwright could not throw his fastball downhill. He could not throw curveballs tempting enough for the Red Sox to chase. (The first time around the lineup, every Boston starter took not only the first pitch but the second pitch, too.)
"My delivery was so bad tonight," Wainwright said. "I never could get it right. That's very unusual. I take great pride in being able to make the right adjustments on the fly, but I just never did. The only positive I can take from this is that I didn't show them anything. I didn't do anything of what I wanted to do."
The Cardinals don't play superior defense. They don't steal bases. Only one player other than Matt Holliday has homered since the Division Series. Their ace has been battered and their best hitter is hurt.
On Thursday night, though, all of it can be quickly forgotten if Michael Wacha continues what has been the greatest pitching run in postseason history by such an inexperienced rookie. Wacha, after only nine regular season starts, is 3-0 in the postseason, including 2-0 following a St. Louis loss. Including his last regular-season start, in his past four starts he has flirted with a no-hitter twice and allowed only one run on nine hits in 29 2/3 innings. It has been mind-boggling stuff.
Now all Wacha has to do is rescue a wounded team by beating the majors' highest-scoring offense in their bandbox of a ballpark. Sure, no problem, kid. Just one piece of advice: watch your head.