In Game 1 rout, Red Sox get aggressive with trademark patience
BOSTON -- The suddenly concrete-dipped glove of Pete Kozma helped. A miscommunication on an infield popup between Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina -- who have played together so long that you might assume they have by now developed, like ice dancers or feral twins, their own nuanced sign language -- helped. The rib injury sustained by Carlos Beltran two innings into his long-awaited first World Series helped.
The Cardinals went out of their way to assist the Red Sox along, generously and uncharacteristically, to their 8-1 win in Game 1 of the World Series, and the Red Sox graciously accepted and exploited everything the Cardinals gave them. But so dominating was the Red Sox's performance Wednesday night that they very likely would have won on their own merits alone.
Red Sox manager John Farrell has often this season, and especially this month, discussed the characteristic of his team that is his favorite: its relentlessness. "There's a relentless approach to play a complete game every night," he said on Tuesday. "And I know that can be [painting with] a broad brush, but we look to be relentless in every aspect of the game. And that's a mindset, an attitude, that we've worked hard at creating."
Earlier in the postseason, he had explained, "The beauty of our team is that they look at each night as an individual challenge, and how we are going to attack a given pitcher." On Wednesday, they faced a pitcher, Wainwright, who had in 16 career playoff outings pitched to an ERA of 2.10, and who had just once allowed more than two earned runs. The way they attacked him was relentless, but it was not with a relentless aggression. It was with a relentless patience.
The Cardinals came out hacking against Boston starter Jon Lester -- they swung at nine of the 13 pitches he threw to them in the top of the first inning -- but against Wainwright, the Red Sox did the opposite. Clearly they had vowed to make the Cardinals' ace work. They swung at just nine of Wainwright's 31 pitches in the first inning. They swung at 11 of his 29 in the second. The Red Sox were patient during the regular season -- they took a higher percentage of pitches than any other club, 56.9% of them -- and, Jonny Gomes would say, "I think if you've watched this team all year, that's pretty much our plan." But early on Wednesday, they far exceeded even their usual standard. Not only did each of the first nine Red Sox batters decline to swing at Wainwright's first offering to him, but each also declined to swing at the second.
By the time Wainwright had finished that second inning with his 60th pitch, the Red Sox, with their 20 swings, had all but put the game away. They led 5-0. Yes, the Cardinals' miscues helped, but even when the Red Sox sensed blood, their discipline did not waver. With one out in the bottom of the first, after Kozma failed to catch Matt Carpenter's flip to second base -- umpire Dana DeMuth originally ruled that Kozma had dropped the ball as he transferred it from his glove to his hand, a call correctly overruled by the umpiring team -- Mike Napoli, with the bases loaded, let Wainwright's first two pitches pass him by before doubling to center field. All three Red Sox runners scored; the third, David Ortiz, triumphantly landed on his posterior on home plate, likely driving it a couple of inches deeper into the earth.
In the second, after Wainwright and Molina had allowed Stephen Drew's leadoff pop-up to drop between them, and after another Kozma error had again loaded the bases with one out, Dustin Pedroia watched Wainwright's first four pitches sail by him before eventually singling to left, scoring Drew. The next batter, Ortiz, didn't swing until Wainwright's third pitch, and then hit a flyball to deep right that would have been a grand slam if not for Beltran's effort to pull it back from beyond the shallow wall. It was only a sacrifice fly, but Beltran had to head to the hospital for x-rays on his wall-bruised ribs, only adding further damage to a terribly damaging start.
The Red Sox piled on from there, behind a strong effort from Lester, who over 7 2/3 innings allowed five hits, issued one walk and struck out eight. Ortiz slugged another blast to right in the bottom of the seventh, and even had Shane Robinson, Beltran's replacement, sacrificed his own ribs, he would not have prevented it from becoming a two-run homer. Only a solo shot by Matt Holliday in the top of the ninth, off of Ryan Dempster, prevented Game 1 from being a thoroughly demoralizing shutout. It was, for the Cardinals, demoralizing enough.
"That is not the kind of team that we've been all season," Mike Matheny, St. Louis's manager, said. "They're frustrated, I'm sure, embarrassed to a point. We get an opportunity to show the kind of baseball we played all season long, and it didn't look anything like what we saw tonight."
It did not, but the Red Sox, with their relentless patience, had as much to do with the result of Game 1 as anything the Cardinals did. Boston has now won nine consecutive World Series games, and in fact hasn't lost one since 1986, but that history matters little to this collection of almost entirely different players. What matters to them is only the present, and how they will, batter by batter, attack each game. One of the Cardinals' tasks, going forward, will be to regain quickly their own long-honed approach. The more difficult task for St. Louis will be to figure out how to throw the Red Sox off of theirs.