Monday, October 28, 2013
World Series Game 4: Shazam!
You'd think Koji Uehara had pulled the proverbial rabbit out of his glove. Or, that he nodded, winked, wrote, "Look, Ma, game over" in the mound dirt before throwing to first faster than the proverbial speeding bullet. Turning the Cardinals' swiftest pinch-running rabbit into a dead duck and securing the World Series as a two-games-each deadlock.
You'd have to hunt long and hard to come up with the last time the Red Sox nailed a postseason contest on a walk-off pick-off. It never happened before. To them or anyone else in the history of major league baseball's postseason. And considering Game 3's finish you'd have been safer betting on it to happen to the Red Sox.
"It was the first time for me to end a game like that as far as I can remember," Uehara said after the game. The way this Weird Series is going, there's an excellent chance that it might not be the last, either.
Iif you'd blinked in the bottom of the ninth Sunday night, you would have missed the throw Uehara whipped to Mike Napoli at first. Clipping Kolten Wong, pinch running for Game 3's default hero Allen Craig, with Carlos Beltran at the plate and two outs, like a legless Road Runner.
Beep! Beep! Yurass! as the 1970s bumper stickers used to say. Usually with an image of Wile E. Coyote doing the unthinkable and holding the Road Runner in a choke hold. Beep! Beep! Yurass! And, by the way, thanks for saving manager John Farrell's, while we're at it. We'll get to that in a minute.
Rookie mistakes are probably as old as the World Series itself. And Wong made a beauty in the middle of the Red Sox making one of their own, sort of. The question of the hour was why on earth they decided Napoli — in as a late replacement for David Ortiz — should hold Wong close to the pad with a two-run lead and two outs. The run that needed to be prevented most was standing at the plate with a 1-1 count.
Then Wong led and leaned a little too far, and Uehara went shazam! About the only thing missing was the big phoomph! of thick white smoke as Napoli slapped a tag on the hapless Wong. It wouldn't have been an inappropriate exclamation point during a World Series that's gone from comedy of error to tragedy of error with farce owning several stops along the way.
All Wong wanted was to set himself to reach third or even home on any Beltran hit. "I knew I was dead once I went to plant and push off and I felt nothing go," said Wong after the game, in a quiet but admirable rookie show of accountability. "My foot slipped out and I was done." All he got was bagged and gagged so fast he could do nothing but pound his batting helmet to the dirt near the base in rage and sorrow.
And you thought the script for this Weird Series read that the Red Sox would disintegrate further following Game 3's disaster.
At least Sunday night the Red Sox didn't waste Jonny Gomes's electrifying tiebreaking 3-run homer, Clay Buchholz's nervy start, Felix Doubrount's magnificent middle relief, or John Lackey's (John Lackey's?) gutsy setup. Or make Farrell look ridiculous for contradicting his pre-Series thinking yet again and refusing to hand Uehara a five- or six-out save opportunity.
Buchholz hadn't been shy about his pitching shoulder fatigue. He had even said on more than one occasion prior to Game 4 that he might have maybe one more good start in him. Which probably caused no few people to begin questioning the talented right-hander’s fortitude until he actually went to work. He gave the Red Sox four solid innings with nothing, but off-speed stuff to serve up, some of it looking deceptive and most of it looking like trash. At times, you could taste assorted Cardinal hitters thinking they were going to hit that slop through the St. Louis Arch.
But Buchholz minded his real estate maps and mixed up the looks of his actual or alleged pitches. And it proved more than enough to keep the Cardinals to a single unearned run through the four, Matt Carpenter's one-out single in the third bad-hopping Jacoby Ellsbury in center field, allowing Carpenter to take second before Beltran singled him home.
He impressed the living daylights out of his fellow Red Sox on the ninth anniversary of the Olde Towne Team's (actual or alleged) cursebusting Series sweep against the Cardinals, not to mention the second anniversary of Freese's yanking the Cardinals from one strike before death to a Game 7. "Clay, he brought everything he's got," Ortiz marveled. "I have never seen Clay throwing an 88 mph fastball."
Lackey may have been a surprise pick out of the pen after Junichi Tazawa ended the seventh by retiring Matt Holliday on a strike-one grounder to second base. But given that it was his between-starts throwing day, Lackey put on a magnificent show of pitching through one baserunner that wasn't his fault.
With one out Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina hit a smash up the third base on which rookie third baseman Xander Bogaerts pounced like a seasoned veteran, saving at least a possible two-base hit. Bogaerts popped up from the dirt like a jack in the box, but couldn't throw on line to first, and Molina took second on the error. After a first pitch slider escaped catcher David Ross but was called a wild pitch regardless, Lackey simply got Jon Jay to pop out to shortstop and David Freese, continuing his overall postseason futilities, to ground out to the same position.
While we're at it, we should be saying, too, that the Red Sox didn't waste Shane Victorino's gift in the breach. Victorino turned up with a bad back and Farrell had a choice to make. Should he start Gomes over Mike Carp, knowing Lynn isn't half as sharp against left-handed hitters than against right-handed swingers like Gomes?
He picked Gomes, which might have sent a few shudders considering his occasional defensive liabilities and his futilities at the plate this Series thus far. And Gomes rewarded the skipper twofold.
First, he wrung a 10-pitch walk out of Lynn in the fifth following Ortiz's leadoff double and preceding another walk, to Xander Bogaerts, before Stephen Drew's sacrifice fly tied the game at one. Then, in the sixth, with Dustin Pedroia aboard on a two-out single to left center and Lynn out of the game after a pitch-around walk to Ortiz, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny decided Lynn had had enough and brought in sinkerball specialist Sean Maness.
Maness fed Gomes a ball low, a strike on the floor of the zone, another ball low, and a fourth sinker that Gomes fouled off the dirt to the left side. Then Maness threw the sinker that didn't sink, and Gomes sank it into the Red Sox bullpen.
In between the epic walk and the three-run bomb, Ortiz decided his mates needed a little dugout pep talk. "Let's loosen up and let's try to play baseball the way we normally do," Big Papi said he told them in the fifth. "I know we are a better team than what we had shown. Sometimes you get to this stage and you try to overdo things, and it doesn't work that way."
"It was like 24 kindergartners looking up at their teacher," Gomes would call it. "He got everyone's attention, and we looked him right in the eyes. That message was pretty powerful." Almost as powerful as the apple Gomes hit for teacher.
Unfortunately, Wong's unexpected walk-off pick-off was the worm in the Cardinals' apple. It wasted a solid start from Lance Lynn and Matheny's somewhat courageous decision not to hit for Lynn in the fourth with two on and two out while his man was on cruise control still. You could just hear Jack and Jill Fan bellowing for Craig right then and there.
But Jack and Jill Fan probably forgot Lynn had faced the minimum through four and would have only one hit to show for his first fifty pitches; Carlos Martinez probably wasn't available; and, former closer Edward Mujica — who'd be seen warming up on and off later in the game — isn't exactly tops on Matheny's go-to list these days when the situations get dicey enough. Not to mention Shelby Miller, yet another of the Cardinals' kindergarten corps, hasn't pitched in a month and he's probably the guy you go to when hell is about to freeze over.
Let's not forget, too, that Matheny is smart enough not to ask his half-compromised bullpen for five innings that will get him only slightly less revolt than pulling his starter in the fourth inning when all pistons still purr.
Farrell had no such issue in front of him when he decided to pull his gallant Buchholz and bring in Doubront. And Doubront pitched like a virtuoso until the bottom of the seventh, when he fell behind light-hitting Cardinals shortstop Daniel Descalso 3-0 with one out before he finally got Descalso out on a high pop, but served pinch hitter Shane Robinson (for reliever Randy Choate, who'd retired Ellsbury to end the top of the inning) a first pitch liner to left that bounded off the sliding Gomes's glove for a double.
Doubront yielded to Craig Breslow, whose earlier postseason invincibility has dissipated in the Series to a considerable extent. And Carpenter lined an RBI single sharply to right to make it 4-2.
Kindergarten corpsman Kevin Siegrist and veteran John Axford, another of the Cardinals' Closers Emeritus (he'd once done that job for the Brewers) ducked trouble in the eighth, the only blemishes Ortiz singling off Siegrist, his pinch runner Quinton Berry stealing off Axford, and Gomes working out another walk, before Axford threw Bogaerts one of the evening's filthiest curve balls for strike three on the inside wall and for the side.
Then came Uehara. With one out, then came Craig at last, batting for Axford. He might have driven one to the track in right, bounding off the fence, but his compromised foot meant nothing more than a single and the pinch running assignment to Wong.
Beep! Beep! Yurass!
At the rate this Weird Series is going, who's to say Game 5 won't end with a bullpen pitcher throwing out the would-be winning run at the plate?