ST. LOUIS -- They stood in front of their lockers, on opposite sides of the clubhouse. They faced the cameras. They answered the questions.
There was Seth Maness, the 25-year-old rookie reliever, answering questions about the series-altering home run he served up to Jonny Gomes. "Just went back and looked at the video," said Maness, who entered the game in the fateful sixth to face Gomes. "I just missed my spot—by a lot."
And there was Kolten Wong, the 23-year-old rookie second baseman, answering questions about being picked off first to end the game with Carlos Beltran at the plate. "I slipped, and I knew I was done," said Wong, who entered the game in the ninth as a pinch runner. Tears began welling in his eyes. "It's been a roller coaster," he said. And then he collapsed into his chair, and buried his head in his hands.
The story of the Cardinals postseason has been the rookies. And for St. Louis, the story of Game 4 of the World Series was about two rookies and their mistakes. On Sunday night Maness and Wong learned just how cruel October could be: one day you're the hero, the next you're the goat.
"It was another great game," David Freese said in his corner of the Cardinals clubhouse. "What can you say? No one thought this was going to be a sweep. It's been a great series."
We thought this series could be epic. We thought that maybe, just maybe, this battle between the best two teams in baseball could be a World Series for the ages. While it hasn't been the most well-played series you'll ever see and though single games can feel longer than a BBC miniseries, this series has been everything we hoped for, and more. There's a messy beauty to this year's World Series. It's shaping up to be a classic, and the country seems to be paying attention: viewership through three games of the World Series was up 15 percent over last year. Game 3, a record tying 13th one-run game in the postseason playoffs, attracted 13.7 million viewers—it was the highest rated Game 3 since 2009. And now, with the Cardinals and Red Sox locked in a 2-2 tie, the series is about to get even better.
A day after one of the strangest and most memorable World Series games in recent memory, the Cardinals and Red Sox played a game that wasn't an instant classic like Game 3 but was thrilling and strange in its own right, with Clay Buchholz battling through four innings, Gomes launching his three-run home run off Maness, and the pickoff of Wong to end the game. It was the first time a World Series game ended on a pickoff.
A night after the two teams combined for 12 pitchers—tied for a World Series record—the two teams combined for 11 pitchers. After John Farrell came under fire for his management of Game 3, Matheny was the skipper under scrutiny after his decision to keep Lance Lynn to face David Ortiz in the top of the sixth with two outs, a runner on first, and lefty Randy Choate available in the bullpen. Lynn walked Ortiz on four pitches, and Matheny then took Lynn out for Maness to face Jonny Gomes in the game's fateful at-bat. "He was ready," said Matheny of Choate, "we just weren't going there."
It was the two mistakes of the rookies that will define the loss for St. Louis. Maness' pitch was a sinkerball on a 2-2 count that didn't sink. "I left a pitch up and I don't have the velocity to beat a guy like Gomes up in the strike zone," he said.
In the ninth, Matheny had Wong pinch run for Allen Craig after the injured pinch hitter hit a one-out single trailing by two runs. Matt Carpenter popped up for the second out, and on a 1-1 count facing Beltran, Koji Uehara made a snap throw to first base. Mike Napoli applied the tag on Wong, and the game, just like that, was over.
It was an inexcusable rookie mistake. "We had meetings early on, we go over all these [Boston pitchers]," Matheny said after the game. "We talk very clearly about who has a very good pickoff move. He was reminded once he got on base and also reminded the run didn't mean much, be careful, shorten up. He got a little extra [lead], then he slipped and the slip cost him."
And now it's anyone's series. Game 5 feels like a bigger game for the Cardinals than the Red Sox—St. Louis doesn't want to go to Boston having to win two straight games at Fenway. Monday will be a rematch of the Game 1 matchup between Adam Wainwright and Jon Lester. The Red Sox ace outpitched his Cardinals counterpart, who gave up five runs (three earned) over five innings in the game, but Wainwright is pitching in his home park, where he posted a 2.53 ERA in 17 starts. "I learned that they hit mistakes," said Wainwright of his Game 1 start against the Red Sox hitters. "And I learned that if I make mistakes in the middle of the plate up in the zone, they're going to hit them."
The ace added, "I honestly don't know why my mechanics were as bad as they were --- my delivery was off as much as it was. But I feel like I've put a lot of good reps in in front of the mirror, and watching film and feeling my delivery again, learning the basics all over again. I feel like I've made a lot of good adjustments to be ready for this next game to throw some quality pitches. I threw maybe four or five quality pitches the whole time I was pitching."
Wainwright has pitched in so many big October games in the past, but this will be the biggest start of his career. The series going forward will also be about the Cardinals rookies. It will be about Michael Wacha, who is guaranteed another start in the series, and it'll be about the rookie relievers, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez—and yes, Maness, who will likely be called upon again in a high-leverage situation. Wong, too, may have another chance to make his mark on his series; in Game 3 he showed how he could be a game-changer when he came in as a pinch hitter in the eighth, singled, and stole a base.
"You just... you just have to keep going," Wong said late Sunday night.
For the two rookies, the two goats of Game 4, tomorrow is also another day—a chance, they hope, at redemption.