Red Sox capitalize on Cardinals’ blunders in Game 1

39 Comments

BOSTON — You ever had one of those days when nothing goes right? I’m not talking about big and tragic things going wrong, no, just little things. Little stupid things. You wake up a half hour late because a blackout knocked out your alarm clock. Because of the blackout, the water in the shower is ice. You can’t find your keys. Your car is almost out of gas, so you have to stop at a gas station. You quickly realize you left your wallet at home. You scrounge enough change out of your ashtray to pay for .9 gallons worth. Your boss is waiting when you show up late. The “E” key on your computer is stuck and you can’t fix it. Nobody is around in the tech department. You want a snack but you left your wallet at home. You miss the call back from the tech department. Your boss wants the report, but you have to tell her your computer broke. She angrily suggests you call the tech department. You go out to lunch with borrowed money and get pulled over for a busted tailpipe — and you don’t have your driver’s license because you left your wallet at home. And on. And on. And on.

This was World Series Game 1 for the St. Louis Cardinals.

The final score was 8-1 Boston, the final box score showed the Cardinals committing three errors, throwing one wild pitch, hitting into one devastating double player and striking out five times looking. But those numbers don’t capture the St. Louis feeling. It was embarrassing. It was humiliating. It was so utterly frustrating. There they were in Fenway Park at the World Series, the childhood dream, and then stuff started going wrong, and more stuff started going wrong, and the Boston players fed on their clumsiness, and more stuff went wrong, and the Boston crowd roared happily, like they could not even believe their good fortune. And more stuff went wrong.

The horror probably began with the blown call. That was the first inning, Boston had runners on first and second with one out when David Ortiz hit a ground ball to second that seemed a likely double play. St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter fielded it cleanly and threw to shortstop Pete Kozma. The ball grazed off Kozma’s glove. It was a dreadful defensive play by Kozma, a lost-in-the-fog moment, but umpire Dana DeMuth one-upped him. He called the runner out at second. He apparently thought Kozma had caught the ball and it had popped out when he was making the exchange from glove to hand.

I’m not sure how DeMuth could have thought that. Replays showed two thing clearly — 1) they showed that Kozma did not come close to catch the ball and 2) they showed DeMuth looking RIGHT AT THE PLAY. But he missed the call, the runner was sent off, it was first and third with two outs for Boston.

Only then Red Sox manager John Farrell came out and, I like to think, told DeMuth he had just made the worst World Series call in a quarter century and that he might be remembered for it forever. Maybe Farrell didn’t say that. Whatever he did say, the next thing you knew there were six umpires huddled together to talk about the play. They talked for roughly nine hours. And then, finally, they overruled DeMuth and called the runner safe. It was now bases loaded and one out for Boston.

That put Cardinals manager Mike Matheny in a dreadful spot. On the one hand, he had to go out and argue vociferously — umpires almost NEVER overturn calls. It was so out of character that even Farrell would later admit, “Typically they’re probably going to stand pat.” On the other hand, though, Matheny KNEW the original call was not just wrong but dreadfully, horribly wrong. It wasn’t just a missed judgment call. It was a colossal blunder. The umpires awkwardly had gotten the call right. But they had gotten it right by doing things they almost never do.

“I get trying to get the right call,” Matheny said after the game. “I get that.”

The way Matheny said it, no, you didn’t think he got it at all. That odd overturn was the kick start, it was like waking up a half hour late. It knocked the Cardinals off-balance and they never did regain their balance. They never quite caught up. The next batter, Mike Napoli, cracked a three-run double to left-center. Cardinals’ centerfielder Shane Robinson kicked the ball around a bit in the outfield, which probably allowed that third run to score. Originally that was called an error. Later, the official scorer took the error away. I can only assume it was mercy.

Next inning, Boston’s Stephen Drew hit a pop-up almost straight up. It was a play every Little League team featuring players 10-and-over would make. This time, the ball dropped one foot in front of St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright, who has won a Gold Glove and is one of the better fielding pitchers in the game. That was NOT called an error because … well, because the error is a dumb statistic. But three batters later, Shane Victorino hit a ground ball that shortstop Kozma booted and that WAS called an error. Two more runs scored. It would have been more if Carlos Beltran had not made an amazing and shockingly-graceful, over-the-wall catch on Ortiz’s would-be grand slam.

Beltran had to come out of the game after that because of the way he hit the wall.

All night it was like that. Even good things turned bad. Bad things turned worse. Cardinals hitters who had started off the game very aggressive (“No surprise, we were expecting that,” Red Sox starter Jon Lester would say) suddenly went timid. They watched strike after strike go by.

In the fourth, with a chance to get back into the game, St. Louis’ David Freese hit into a double play with the bases loaded. In the seventh, Freese made a throwing error to allow Dustin Pedroia to reach base. Matheny decided to bring in lefty Kevin Siegrist to face Ortiz. Lefties hit .118 against Siegrist this year and none had hit a home run off him. Until Ortiz. What a player. What a force. He launched the first pitch over the wall and into the stands in right-center. He trotted around the bases at Big Papi speed. He came out of the dugout to acknowledge the cheers.

The Cardinals just looked utterly lost. People will try to assign reasons because that’s what we do at big sporting events. We try to find logical explanations for sometimes illogical things. We will say the intense pressure of the World Series crushed the Cardinals. We will say the Boston crowd simply imposed their will. We will say it was the Fenway ghosts. Maybe it was those things. Maybe not. Maybe it was just one of those rotten days.

“We had a wakeup call,” Matheny would say afterward. “That is not the kind of team we’ve been all season. I think we’re frustrated. Embarrassed to a point. We had an opportunity to show the kind of baseball we played all year long, and it didn’t look anything like we showed today.”

The numbers are not promising for the Cardinals or any other team that loses the first game of the World Series. Those teams lose almost two-thirds of the time. In the last quarter century only the 1996 and 2009 Yankees, the 2002 Angels and the 1992 Blue Jays have lost the first game and come back to win the World Series.

But the Cardinals are a good baseball team. And it was just one bad day. In baseball, you find, there are people who believe in momentum carrying over and people who do not. As you might imagine, the Cardinals are now firmly in the camp of people who do not.

“These days,” Matheny said with a shrug, “you just have to let go of them.”

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

Getty Images
8 Comments

A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.