Thursday, October 31, 2013
World Series Game 6: B Invincible
It isn’t exactly tempting the wrath of the Boston gods anymore, ladies and gentlemen. “Party like it’s 1918.” So said a fan’s none-too-large placard in the Fenway boxes, while Koji Uehara was at his office in the top of the ninth Wednesday night, three outs standing between himself, his Red Sox, and hysteria.
Time was that a placard with any mention of 1918 was hoisted up by the other guys’ fans. Usually but not exclusively Yankee fans, waving the long-broken actual or alleged Curse in the Red Sox’s faces, hoping the Red Sox would be hit with yet another sling or arrow of outrageous malfortune as they stood on the threshold of the Promised Land.
As Uehara went to work on Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter with two out and nobody aboard, there seemed to be no foreboding. No one in Fenway Park or anywhere else in Red Sox Nation asked themselves or the nearest available ears—as it was said a fourteen-year-old Red Sox fan in Shea Stadium asked his father in the press box—”OK, how’s it going to happen.” (If you have to ask, you’ve never known, never mind loved the Red Sox.)
Why, even the mere mention of the fact that the Red Sox hadn’t nailed a World Series at home since Babe Ruth was one of their pitchers, a still-occasional outfielders, and a late-game left field defensive replacement in the 1918 World Series, didn’t ignite an earthquake, a typhoon, a hurricane, or even a last-strike Cardinal uprising. And including Game Six, 1986 Series, as one of the often-enough shown highlights of Red Sox Games Six Past, didn’t cause nineteen nervous breakdowns per Red Sox fan, in Fenway Park or elsewhere.
All those things ignited was Uehara pulling Carpenter’s trigger for strike three with as nasty a splitter as he’s thrown all postaeason, the Red Sox’s third World Series rings in nine years, and the once-and-for-all goodbye to all that for any and every calamity, catastrophe, insult, injury, and transdimensional snakebite ever inflicted on 20th Century Red Sox teams who reached the mountaintop after 1918 only to kicked to the canyons below so cruelly.
B Strong? Try B Damn Near Invincible no matter what got in the way. Not even as tenacious a team of Cardinals as St. Louis has ever yielded forth. Not even Red Sox manager John Farrell inadvertently stirring, referencing, and resurrecting the ghosts of Red Sox disasters past, when he failed to pinch hit for rookie reliever Brandon Workman in Game Three and the gate opened to the obstruction loss.
Not even both these teams playing defense too often as though they were auditioning for the traveling company of whatever dramatisation of the 1962 Mets might be forming. Not even both these teams overall, otherwise, bringing team batting averages of .218 (the Cardinals) and .205 (the Red Sox) into Game Six.
Not even Michael Wacha, the rookie Cardinals righthander who seemed to have been designated as Superman this postseason but whose Kryptonite the Red Sox finally proved when David Ortiz, the eventual Series MVP, waited for a fourth straight changeup and launched it into the Monster seats in Game Two.
Not even Jacoby Ellsbury, their soon-to-be-free-agent centerfielder, busting up the rundown into which he got caught, eluding (in order) Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist, first baseman Matt Adams, shortstop Daniel Descalso, Carpenter, and Siegrist again, as if they were a gaggle of Wile E. Coyotes trying and failing to trap the Road Runner before he zipped into the next country with all the road behind him ripping up off the earth.
Beep-beep! And thanks for the reminder that this was a Weird Series until Game Five.
The Cardinals bailed Wacha out then with a little help from the Red Sox defense repaying the Game One generosity of the Cardinals’ defense. Nothing the Cardinals could do Wednesday night, alas, could bail the lad out after he’d pitched in and out of trouble in the first two innings but found himself with the bases loaded—thanks to a free pass to Ortiz but an unlikely plunk when his fastball ran in on Jonny Gomes’s elbow and up his forearm—and 2-1 on Shane Victorino in the bottom of the third.
Not with Wacha serving Victorino a fastball meaty enough for Victorino to blast off the Green Monster, missing a salami by about four and a half feet but still clearing the bases—with a lot of help from Gomes sliding straight on instead of by hook, meaning Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina missed sweeping a tag on his slightly raised leg across the plate—for an early 3-0 Red Sox lead.
Not with light-hitting Stephen Drew, taking an .067 Series batting average into Game Six, hitting Wacha’s first pitch of the bottom of the fourth into the Red Sox bullpen.
Not after Wacha’s evening ended in the same inning with Ellsbury whacking a one-out double off the bullpen wall and moving to third on Dustin Pedroia’s fly to right, before yet another free pass to Big Papi.
Not after Cardinals manager Mike Matheny lifted Wacha for, perhaps inexplicably, Lance Lynn, his Game Four starter and loser. And certainly not after Mike Napoli lofted a 1-1 flare to short center field, falling in for an RBI single, Gomes worked out a five-pitch walk, and Victorino flared another RBI single to left—which made him and his specially-made Stars and Stripes cleats only the third man in World Series history (Billy Rogell, Detroit, ’34 Series; Bobby Richardson, Yankees, ’60 Series, are the others) with two bases-loaded hits in a single Series game.
“I just made too many mistakes tonight,” Wacha said after the game. “You’ve gotta make pitches whenever it matters and I didn’t do that tonight. I was on six days’ rest tonight. Arm felt great, body felt great, I just didn’t make pitches.” The rook’s reserve had dissipated at last. His catcher Molina embraced him before he departed, a big brother saying, more or less, “You’ve got a long and excellent road to go in this game, and you gave us more than asked for. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.”
John Lackey, the hard-luck Red Sox starter in Game Two, pitched in and out of Game Six trouble like the veteran he is, doing just what he needed to do to escape, never dominant but never penetrable, never letting any Cardinal threat prove too big for him or his mates to handle until the seventh. With his heart still beating like a double bass drum kit but his tank running below empty at last.
He managed to talk (or was that bark?) Farrell into letting him stay on board after two inning-opening outs turned into second and third by way of Descalso’s single and Carpenter’s double into the left field corner, then what proved the lone Cardinal run on Carlos Beltran’s single to left. After Lackey wild pitched Beltran to second and walked Matt Holliday, even Lackey wasn’t going to say no when Farrell reached for the pen.
And it would be Junichi Tazawa keeping the Cardinals’ damage to that lone, almost excuse-us run by getting Allen Craig—whose compromised left foot probably did as much as anything else to leave the Cardinals prone to the possibility of this disappointment after their magnificent regular season and earlier postseason plunge—to ground out to Napoli at first tossing to Tazawa for the side.
It would be Workman working a spotless, nine-pitch eighth good for a lineout and two ground outs. And it would be Uehara getting back-to-back flies out to Gomes in left, from Jon Jay and Descalso, before he swished Carpenter—the National League’s regular-season hits leader—to tell Boston it was time to party like it was any damn year they pleased. Especially 2013, when the Red Sox shook off a nightmare 2012 and put a city wracked with grief over the Marathon bombings onto its back.
And it would be, ultimately, whom among the Red Sox’s and the Cardinals’ hitters would make his few hits count the biggest. If you didn’t count Ortiz, who would finish the Series 11-for-16 (he managed a strikeout somehow Wednesday night, when he wasn’t being walked four times, three intentionally) and got so far into the Cardinals’ heads that pitching around him proved a liability in the long run. Free pass in the third? Three-run double before the inning was over. Free pass in the fourth? Two RBI singles before that inning was over. No wonder Ortiz was named the Series MVP, even if you could make a case for Jon Lester. They were two of the most powerful intentional walks of all time.
Certainly a lot more powerful than anything the Cardinals’ bats could produce. The Red Sox pitching staff kept them to fourteen Series runs and a final .224 batting average (the Red Sox themselves hit a collective .211), and in Game Six clamped down even harder. Sure the Cardinals whacked nine hits in Game Six. Only one went for extra bases in the game. Only ten of their entire Series hits went for extra bases. And Holliday hit the only two bombs the Cardinals would hit, one of which was that pardon-et-moi belt in Game One—when the Red Sox already owned an 8-0 lead and Lester could have dared them to swing away.
Two years ago, David Freese was the man of the hour and possibly the century for the Cardinals with what he did in Game Six. Against the Red Sox he went 3-for-19 with one extra base hit, no runs batted in, and five strikeouts. His 2011 partner in dramatic crime, Craig, did manage to hit .333 in this Series, when he could be in the lineup, but he scored only one run and drove in none. Beltran, whose pre-Series mayhem was just about half the talk of baseball when Wacha’s pre-Series marksmanship wasn’t, hit .308 in the Series with no extra base hits, period, never mind nothing leaving the yard.
About the least thought on anyone’s mind was that winning this Series makes the Red Sox and the Cardinals historically even in World Series meetings. Each has won two against the other since they first tangled in 1946. Somehow, these Red Sox seem respectful of their history without letting it take as big a space in their folds as it had up to and including 2004. Surely they were aware, still, that the while 2004 busted 86 years of Twilight Zone-staged futilities, there was still one more drought to cure.
“We’re gonna have some fun here tonight,” said Lackey, once one of the most troubled Red Sox, gaining new perspectives without losing his pitching heart while waiting out a year recovering from Tommy John surgery. “It was an awesome atmosphere here tonight.” When he was lifted in the seventh, a Fenway audience once accustomed to booing him unaware he tried to pitch through ferocious pain roared love upon him as he tipped his cap approaching the dugout.
“This is for you, Boston,” Ortiz called over a PA-tied Fox Sports mike to the Fenway throng that lingered for the postgame hardware handouts, hiosting his Series MVP trophy toward them. “You guys deserve it. We’ve been through a lot this year, and this is for all of you, and all the families who struggled through that moment early this year. This is for all of you.”
Maybe the Red Sox playing for something bigger than themselves did as much to drive them to Wednesday night’s triumph, and through the Cardinals’ tenacities, as anything Farrell did to shepherd the team back to clubhouse cohesion and camaraderie after 2012 blew it to shards. A team planning only to pick up and dust off and get respectable again in baseball’s toughest division got a lot more than they or Boston bargained for as a result.
“Our goal from Day One was to be the best team that we could possibly be,” Victorino told Fox’s Ken Rosenthal. “We didn’t know we’d end up here.”
They turned out to be the best team in baseball, winning a World Series against a team that was the next-best team in baseball by a hair. And, a three-run double. And, perhaps, the most inadvertent destiny in 21st Century baseball.