ST. LOUIS — A start from a broken pitcher that went way better than anyone might have guessed. A three-run homer from the most unlikely of men. On a night when the smart money was lining up against the Boston Red Sox, the storylines didn’t go the way they were supposed to go, resulting in a 4-2 Red Sox win and a series that is now tied at two games a piece.
About those pesky storylines:
- Clay Buchholz’s arm was supposed to be 87% Nutella and jelly swirl — and maybe it was given his decreased velocity — but he somehow made it through four innings allowing only a single unearned run. The over/under on columns describing his performance as “gutsy” tomorrow morning is approximately six gabillion. And I’m taking the over.
- The ground ball specialist Seth Maness was called in to bail out Lance Lynn with two out and runners on in the sixth inning, on a night when home plate umpire Paul Emmel was calling low, low strikes. He’s supposed to induce a worm burner but he left a sinker high. Oops.
- That high sinker was delivered to The Totally Ineffective Jonny Gomes, who was supposed to be pumping one of the handles on the two-man handcar bound for oblivion with Jarrod Saltalamacchia as Game 4 commenced. But thanks to back tightness Shane Victorino was pulled, forcing Gomes into the game. Naturally, he hit a three-run homer.
But more than anything, The Red Sox, who walked off the field with their heads hanging low after Saturday night’s crazy loss, were supposed to be demoralized and broken. So much for that storyline too. And make that strike 937 against the idea that momentum is a thing in baseball.
What is a thing? David Ortiz knocking three hits and a walk, putting him at 8 for 11 this World Series and at .430+ in World Series play over his career. He didn’t knock in any runs tonight but he scored two and, Jonny Gomes’ heroics notwithstanding, is carrying this Red Sox team offensively.
Also a thing: John Farrell learning from his mistakes from Saturday night and not sticking with guys too long. Pulling Buchholz when he did. Pinch running for Ortiz when he got on base for the fourth time and using Mike Napoli as his defensive replacement. Not that he went fully conventional. He brought John Lackey in to pitch relief in the eighth. It was his first work from the pen in nine years. The performance was a bit shaky thanks to some bad defense behind him, but it ended up not killing him.
Those were just details, though. The important thing is that, on a night when a loss would have likely killed the Sox’ hope at winning this World Series, they gathered themselves together in businesslike fashion and delivered the sort of win that teams who aren’t upset, rattled or demoralized deliver. “We haven’t lost four games in a row all year,” their actions seemed to say tonight, “so we certainly weren’t going to lose four straight in the World Series.” A World Series that is now tied 2-2. And that is now guaranteed to head back to Fenway Park for a Game 6 on Wednesday night.
But first a Game 5 in St. Louis on Monday. In a series that refuses to follow a script.
John Lackey flirted with a no-hitter but settled for 7 1/3 terrific, shutout innings to beat the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday. The right-hander held the opposition to two hits and a walk while striking out five. Lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist struck out two to finish the eighth without issue. Closer Trevor Rosenthal worked around a one-out walk and a two-out single in the ninth to seal the 4-0 win, recording all three outs on called strike threes.
Lackey brought a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but lost it quickly when Addison Russell hit a ground ball single up the middle to lead off the frame. Russell would steal second base but was stranded.
Opposing starter Jon Lester wasn’t too shabby himself, relenting three runs on five hits while walking one and striking out nine in 7 1/3 innings. The first run came around in the first inning on Matt Holliday‘s RBI single, which followed a one-out double by Stephen Piscotty. Tommy Pham pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot in the eighth inning and launched a solo home run off of Lester to double the Cardinals’ lead. Lester walked Matt Carpenter before exiting. Pedro Strop came in and promptly served up a two-run home run to Stephen Piscotty.
The closest the Cubs came to scoring was when Dexter Fowler sent a deep fly ball to right field with a man on base and two outs in the sixth inning, but Randal Grichuk caught it with a foot or two to spare in front of the fence on the warning track.
The two clubs will play Game 2 of the NLDS on Saturday at 5:30 PM EDT. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and oppose Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia.
Scott Kazmir went winless with a 6.52 ERA in six September starts. He allowed 41 hits, eight of them homers, in 29 innings, posting an 18/11 K/BB ratio. When the Astros got five innings of two-run ball from him Friday against the Royals, they should have thanked their good fortune and moved right along to the pen.
And they knew this. They must have. Josh Fields got up in the pen after Kazmir issued a one-out walk in the fifth. The left-hander got out of the frame, making himself eligible for the victory in what was then a 4-2 game, but it was still very surprising to see him come back out for the sixth, particularly with the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist (.926 OPS against lefties) and right-handed Lorenzo Cain due up.
Kazmir retired Zobrist, but he gave up a double to Cain. He was then pulled, even with the left-handed Eric Hosmer coming up. Manager A.J. Hinch had committed my biggest baseball pet peeve: he sent his starter back to the mound with the idea of pulling him after his first mistake.
It worked out terribly. Oliver Perez gave up a pair of soft hits to Hosmer and Kendrys Morales before walking Mike Moustakas. Fields then entered and walked the unwalkable Salvador Perez to tie the game at 4. The Astros gave up another run in the seventh and lost the game 5-4.
Maybe that’s the way it would have worked out anyway. Kazmir did give up just the one baserunner. It might not have even harmed the Astros if Perez had better luck.
Still, the thinking that went into the decision was disturbing. It’s always better to bring that reliever in with no one on base when you can. That’s especially the case with this Astros pen, which lacks a double-play specialist, much less a Wade Davis. But anyone in that pen would have been a better choice than sending Kazmir out to face Zobrist and Cain for a third time. Hinch needs to be more aggressive going forward.
The Cardinals have won so many division titles, it’s tough to keep track of them all. At least, it would be tough if it weren’t for Baseball Reference.
40,000 rally towels were given away to fans at Busch Stadium ahead of Friday’s NLDS Game 1 against the Cubs. The towel listed all of the years the Cardinals won the NL Central… and 2001. That year, they tied with the Astros for the best record in the National League at 93-69. However, because the Astros won the season series 9-7, they were awarded first place and the Cardinals took the Wild Card.