2013 World Series: St. Louis Bumbles About In Game 1

Jon Lester was brilliant, Mike Napoli was clutch and David Ortiz was locked in at the plate. These three heroes led the way in the Boston Red Sox’ 8-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the 2013 World Series, but the enduring image of the Series opener are the uncharacteristic mistakes made in the field by St. Louis.

St. Louis’ missed opportunities really started at the plate in the first couple innings. While Lester was magnificent in going 7.2 IP and leaving with a shutout intact, there were at least three occasions in the first inning where Cardinal hitters took good cuts at pitches up in the strike zone and fouled them straight back, a sign they were maybe a fraction of an inch from depositing the baseball somewhere into the outdoor seating at the Cask-N-Flagon behind the Green Monster.

That’s just baseball and it happens in any game, but what took place in the field for St. Louis was more alarming. Here’s the laundry list of mistakes…

*The play everyone is talking about today, where shortstop Pete Kozma mishandled a force out at second base in the first inning. It looked like a blown umpire’s call was going to let Kozma off the hook, but the umps conferred, got the call right and the bases were loaded with one out. Napoli promptly crushed a double to left center to clear the bases.

*The second inning was even worse. Boston scored two more runs with nary a hard hit ball to be found. Adam Wainwright watched a short pop up back to the mound fall in front of him, his signals crossed as to whether he should take the ball (he should have). Kozma made another error, which combined with a bloop hit from Red Sox catcher David Ross to again load the bases.

Dustin Pedroia then singled in a run through the left side. Perhaps I’m picking nits here and not appreciating how hard the third base position is to play, but it seemed to me that David Freese should have had a play on this ball coming to his left and at least a force out at second base or play at first.

It proved not to matter, because the runner was going to score from third in either case, and the runner on second would have taken third. David Ortiz then hit a loud sac fly that Carlos Beltran officially robbed from being a home run.

I say “officially”, because yes, technically, if Beltran doesn’t put his glove in the way, the ball lands in the Sox bullpen. Realistically, you could see Beltran had a play on the ball the entire way and only the short right-centerfield fence created the “robbing of a home run scenario.”

What’s perhaps underappreciated is how hard it was for Beltran’s upper body and glove hand to swing into the bullpen by the force of his momentum and for him to hang on to the ball. As it was, he injured his chest, left the game and his status for tonight and the rest of the Series is up in the air.

St. Louis seemed to settle down defensively. They nearly turned a sharp double play out of the infield shift later in the game and Shane Robinson made a fantastic running catch of a line drive by Dustin Pedroia to right. Matt Adams speared a liner at first.

Just when you were ready to say “the real Cardinals are back” and at least sharp for Game 2, Freese then threw a ball in the dirt on a routine grounder to third that kept the seventh inning alive. Ortiz then homered. Prior to the error, the score was still 5-0, the Cards had six outs to work with and while a comeback wasn’t likely, it was in the realm of the possible. Freese’s error and Papi’s blast ended that.

By contrast, Boston executed extremely well in the field and I would take you back to one play in the fourth inning as an example. St. Louis had the bases loaded and one out, with Freese at the plate. They were ready to get back in the game. Freese hit a tapper back to Lester. The pitcher very calmly flipped the ball to the plate. Then, rather than rush the throw to first, Ross gathered himself, took a step to give himself a clear throwing lane and completed the double play.

This 1-2-3 double play was not spectacular, but it was the calmness with which the Red Sox players executed everything that stood in such sharp contrast to the Cardinal defense throughout the night.

St. Louis’ only run came on a solo home run by Matt Holliday in the ninth off mop-up man Ryan Dempster. Holliday did get consistently good swings and he looks primed for a good Series.

The question we’re going to have going into tonight is whether the problems the Cardinals had with the fundamentals are going to go away now that they’re settled into the Fall Classic. The one thing that seemed certain coming into the World Series was that neither team would give anything away. St. Louis showed us the hazards that come with making predictions.

Boston would have won this game without the St. Louis circus routine, but it would have been more of the 3-0 variety than 8-1. This is potentially significant. Close games tend to even each other out–i.e., if these teams play six razor-tight games, the odds are each would win three. You need to win the battle of blowouts, or at least hold even.

It’s possible St. Louis could answer back tonight or at some point over the weekend in their home park with a blowout of their own. Or they win one of those games where every break goes against them. Or maybe they win almost all the close games. Over the course of the regular season that’s not sustainable, but in a best-of-seven series it is. These are all reasonable scenarios, but at least for the time being, Boston getting an easy victory makes the 1-0 Series lead look a little bit bigger.

Both teams have their closers well rested coming into Game 2 tonight. While the starters will be Michael Wacha for St. Louis and John Lackey for Boston, I’m sure each manager will go to his pen early. Mike Matheny doesn’t have a lot of choice for the Cards if Wacha gets into trouble. John Farrell knows his key relievers have gas in the tank and a travel day tomorrow, so he needs to get 10-plus outs from the pen, including up to six from closer and ALCS MVP Koji Uehara, that’s an option that can be on the table.

Game time is again 8 PM ET on Fox. TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage will rehash Game 2 tomorrow.