The aftermath of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 5-4 win over the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the World Series has been marked by dispute over the interference call that allowed the winning run to score with two outs in the ninth inning. TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage has addressed this topic in a separate post--to make a long story short, I think it was absurd to interpret the rule in that way in that situation. But there was also an extraordinary baseball game that took place leading up to that, so this post will focus on everything that happened right up to the final umpires’ decision.
THE BOSTON SIDE
When the game started and Red Sox starter Jake Peavy gave up four straight hits and two runs, it looked like Peavy was on his way to his second straight bad postseason outing. But he threw two clean innings and then delivered an enormous clutch effort in getting out of a bases-loaded no-outs jam in the fourth to keep the score 2-0. It was that point when the momentum started to shift Boston’s way.
The Red Sox had runners on first and third with one out in the fifth when manager John Farrell made the decision to bat for Peavy, sending up Mike Carp. This was the first of some debatable moves made by the manager, though it was clearly the most defensible. Boston hadn’t gotten on the board, they finally had a chance and sending Peavy up makes it very likely the opportunity passes.
Consider this though–it was still relatively early in the game and the Red Sox starter was finding a way to get the job done. Though Carp hit a weak ground ball to drive in the team’s first run, what was lost by not getting, say six more outs from Peavy and having more options later in the game?
Felix Doubront, the fifth starter in the regular season, came in and did a good job. It was here that Farrell made another decision to bat for his pitcher, and this was one of two questionable moves the manager made in this inning.
The first was when he pinch-hit for shortstop Stephen Drew, sending up Will Middlebrooks. The move would shift third baseman Xander Boegarts to short (his natural position) and put Middlebrooks at third. Drew isn’t hitting a lick, but he’s been exquisite defensively in the postseason, and Middlebrooks is on the bench because he wasn’t hitting either.
Essentially, Farrell swapped two slumping hitters for weaker defense, on the tenuous grounds that Middlebrooks’ much greater power potential would suddenly manifest itself.
Then with two outs and no one on, Farrell sent up Jonny Gomes to bat for Doubront. If the decision to bat for Peavy was debatable, and the Middlebrooks/Drew move shaky, this one was moving into outright foolishness. Doubront had tossed two shutout innings, there was no rally going and unless Gomes hit a home run, it was a move probably going to waste.
Farrell can’t be blamed for the meltdown of Craig Breslow though, who promptly put two runners on base, the runners that would give St. Louis a 4-2 lead when Matt Holliday doubled down the left field line off Junichi Tazawa (after Breslow was promptly yanked) and took third on the throw home. Tazawa then followed in Peavy’s footsteps in coming up clutch by letting Holliday die at third.
Brandon Workman was the next man out of the Boston bullpen and he got his team through the eighth inning. The Red Sox tied it 4-4 in the top of that inning. Daniel Nava had a big RBI here, and also drove in a run earlier in the game. Nava hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time in the playoffs, even though he’s a much better player in all facets of the game then Gomes. But Farrell is apparently sold on Gomes’ intangibles. I don’t deny Gomes is a tough, workmanlike, easy-to-root-for player. So is Nava though, and Nava is actually better. When he got his chance in Game 3, he delivered.
It was here that Farrell, his managerial moves getting worse as the game went on, finally hit rock bottom. He let Workman bat for himself with one out and no one on, essentially ceding the top of the ninth, even though Mike Napoli–the regular first baseman, displaced by David Ortiz in the National League park–was still available. Unlike the Gomes-for-Doubront move, this happened with one out, meaning simply getting on base offered a legitimate chance to start a rally.
This is not a move that can be defended in any case, but I would point out that Farrell’s quick hooks on both Peavy and Doubront had left him in a spot where his bullpen was now thin, and had this game gone 11-12 innings, as seemed very possible at the time, it could have come back to haunt him.
Then came the fateful final play. With runners on second and third and one out, Dustin Pedroia makes an amazing play on a hard-hit grounder by John Jay to keep it in front of him, get to his feet and throw out the runner at the plate. Jarrod Saltalamacchia then makes a terrible decision to try and catch Allen Craig who had rounded third and threw behind him, into left field. Even though Nava threw out Craig at the plate, the interference call–whatever you think of it, it didn’t cause Craig to be out by ten feet–resulted in the game being over.
Saltalamacchia’s decision-making in this case was simply terrible. For the record, as a Boston fan, I was screaming “No!,”, as soon as he came up. The Red Sox had two outs, they had light-hitting Pete Kozma coming up next and they had St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal out of the game. If Koji Uehara gets Kozma, then the top of the Red Sox order–Shane Victorino, Pedroia and Ortiz–are going to get a crack at John Axford, and Uehara can still go another inning. The edge was about to shift in Boston’s favor.
Boston got robbed on the call. But from the managerial moves to the lack of discipline from the catcher, they have reasons to look in the mirror as well.
THE ST. LOUIS SIDE
I don’t mean to give the St. Louis side short shrift in this discussion. But if you’re a Cardinal fan, that’s a good thing, because it means that your manager didn’t give me all kinds of debatable decisions that had to be sorted out. Let’s give a nod to some clutch performances though…
*Holliday had two big hits and three RBIs, and he is clearly the frontrunner for World Series MVP right now.
*Matt Carpenter had two hits, including a bullet off Peavy that started the game and set the tone for the first inning. Yadier Molina is also locked in, coming up with three hits.
*Joe Kelly delivered a quality outing. He was losing his control in the sixth and showed all the reasons why I felt this was a game the Red Sox needed to win. But he also got key outs and showed all the reasons why he’s become a regular part of the Cardinal rotation.
Kelly’s performance has put St. Louis in a great position in this series. They have Adam Wainwright set for Monday’s Game 5, they have Michael Wacha for a potential Game 6 back in Fenway and of course they have tonight’s Game 4 at home with both teams having pitching question marks (Clay Bucholz’ health for Boston and Lance Lynn’s general inconsistency for the St. Louis).
If the Cardinals simply win two of those three, they’re pouring champagne. If they win one, they at least get a Game 7. These middle games, with Peavy and Bucholz, were the Boston opportunity to get control of the Series. At minimum, that chance is gone. And now St. Louis has command.