Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On The Precipice

Baseball's funny. At the beginning of the season, I predicted the Boston Red Sox would go 76-86 and finish last in the American League East.

The Red Sox now stand one win away from a World Series Championship.

That's not to hand it to them now, because that one win is often tough to get. Red Sox History is dotted with moments when they were one win away and never got it. Recent History shows the St. Louis Cardinals being outs away from losing a World Series before storming back.

But for whatever reason, I don't see a Cardinal Miracle happening this time. Not the way this series has played out. Yet on Sunday morning, I couldn't have been blamed for feeling differently. After Saturday night's sloppy affair that saw the Red Sox come up with a game-saving miracle and a game-losing mistake on the same play, the Cardinals looked every bit like they were going to stop the Sox and their beards dead in their tracks, win all 3 games at home and finish off a quick Series. That seemed to be the Cardinal Mojo, the one I thought belonged to the Dodgers but was really the Cardinals' all along. Think about it. The Red Sox wipe the floor with the Cardinals in the 1st game, but pluck and grit and guile rule the day in Games 2 and 3, with guys you never heard of like Michael Wacha and Matt Carpenter and Carlos Martinez and Kolten Wong and it just boggles the mind.

Early in Game 4 Sunday night, it appeared that the same pattern was occurring. Carlos Beltran drove in an early run and Lance Lynn was shutting the Sox down again. John Farrell had to have been sweating; his hook of Clay Buchholz after 4 innings reeked of panic as much as anything else. It didn't work—Mike Carp pinch hit and grounded out—but maybe it did light a fire under the team because one inning later, Jonny Gomes' 3-run Home Run turned the game in their favor and, if the Sox do wrap it up tomorrow night, may stand as the biggest hit in the series. Ultimately, the Sox had to have felt that they stole Game 4. Their bullpen did an outstanding job in finishing out the game; the group of Felix Doubront, Junichi Tazawa, John Lackey (whom Farrell was able to squeeze an inning out of in the 8th) and Koji Uehara (who's clearly emerged as the breakout star of this Postseason), and punctuated it with a bizarre finish of their own when Uehara picked Kolten Wong off 1st Base to finish the game and leave Carlos Beltran standing at home plate.

No theft was involved last night, just the outstanding pitching of Jon Lester and some timely hitting from David Ortiz and David Ross. Lester, who seems to get lost amid the characters dotting the Red Sox roster, came through with his second strong outing in the series, standing toe to toe with Adam Wainwright until Wainwright faltered in the 7th. Lester also gave his bullpen a break, pitching into the 8th and bridging straight to Uehara, who picked up a drama-free 4-out Save.

Even after Boston came back to win the 4th game, conventional logic would have dictated the Cardinals would win Game 5. The Cardinals played exceptionally well at home this season and, of course, it was the last game of the year at home. You'd be hard-pressed to think the Cardinals, who didn't lose a home game in the NLCS, would drop 2 at home in the World Series, but that's what happened. Though before you think it's a demoralizing loss, remember that this is the St. Louis Cardinals we're dealing with and you need to smash them several times in order to kill them.

That being said, having to win two games on the road in front of a Fenway Park crowd that's guaranteed to be whipped into a complete frenzy—particularly given the going rate for tickets to the game—is no easy task. Particularly considering what the Red Sox accomplished just to get to this point.

No comments: