Were these two teams really the best in baseball? With both sides trying desperately to give the game to the other, it was finally the Red Sox who seized the moment and went up 1-0 in the World Series. A few observations:
- I said yesterday that I’m not thrilled that this series will invariably be told from Boston’s point of view, but overall I’m glad the Cardinals are playing the Sox. St. Louis’ last three appearances in the Fall Classic were against Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Minnesota, and at times they seemed like mere regional affairs. This one feels more national, a bigger stage. The stakes seem higher.
- But I have to say, the crowd seemed oddly subdued all night long. I don’t know why — perhaps they were expecting the worst, perhaps they were doused by Steven Tyler’s National Anthem — but it wasn’t what I expected from Fenway. During the pre-game introductions they treated the Cards like novel curiosities, not a sound in the house. And even during the biggest moments of the game they were withdrawn. I would think after a win under their belt they’ll come back tonight in full force.
- As for lineup selection, I thought Francona made a good choice selecting Mirabelli as his starting catcher. Harold Reynolds advised against this on ESPN (something about it disrupting clubhouse morale, of course), but with the way Wakefield’s ball was fluttering last night, Varitek would have had about four passed balls had he started. No way Varitek would have made up for that with four bases at the plate, especially since Mirabelli hit one off the Monster and can handle the stick pretty well himself.
- On the other hand, I didn’t like La Russa’s decision to start Taguchi in place of John Mabry. My guess is that TLR considers Taguchi a better bat handler than Mabry, and hence he’d do better against Wakefield’s knuckler. But while Taguchi is a better contact hitter than Mabes and his BB/K ratio is better, Mabry still gets on base more and is a much bigger power threat. I think that’s too much to give up just to get So’s bat-handling skills.
- As it turns out, though, Tim Wakefield wasn’t the secret weapon that Francona had hoped. I looked at Wakefield’s record in interleague play the last three years, figuring that would tell me as well as anything how he’d done against teams unfamiliar with his knuckleball. And sure enough, he had a 7.27 ERA against NL teams compared to 3.76 vs. the Junior Circuit. So unfamiliarity doesn’t necessarily breed success. Last night Wakefield wasn’t much better, leaving before he finished the fourth inning. And only a boatload of runs kept him from taking the L.
- A lot of those runs came off the weak arm of Woody Williams, who was even worse than Wakefield. Less than one week ago Woody handcuffed the Astros on a one-hitter, with a great inside heater and an outside breaking pitch he was getting over for strikes. Last night he had nothing, and it was clear from the get-go. He couldn’t establish anything inside or outside — it seemed like he was flinging the ball willy-nilly. Just an awful performance. On the night he ended up with 12 baserunners and only seven outs.
- Why was Tony Womack bunting in the second inning? The Cards got their first two hitters on, Wakefield was looking shaky, and T-Dub was in a hitter’s count at 2-1. So what was La Russa’s call? Bring on the sac bunt. The Cards ended up scoring their lead run on a sac fly and Joe Buck exclaimed, “That’s a National League run at its best.”
Well, unfortunately the Red Sox just scored four American League runs at their best, and by the end of the night the Cards would need 12 runs to win the game. As Earl Weaver once said, “If you play for one run, that’s all you’re gonna get.” That’s all La Russa got, as he settled for a 4-1 deficit heading into the bottom of the second. Yuck.
- By the time the Sox had made it 7-2 in the third, I started having flashbacks of Game 1 of the 1982 World Series, when the Cardinals were roughed up mercilessly by Harvey’s Wallbangers. I was at the game that night, and I remember sitting slumped in my seat high up in right field, thinking, “this team’s just better than us.” I had the same thought early in last night’s game, but just as the Cards wound up getting their act together against Milwaukee in ’82, they chipped away in this game, improbably tying the score 7-7 and 9-9. Yeah, St. Louis fell short, but at least they know it’s not a mismatch.
- Are these Sox hitters stubborn or what? They saw 190 pitches on the night, or 24 per inning. They just do not give away at-bats. Of course, it doesn’t help that the Cards have almost no power pitchers on the staff, making for long ABs (and, at four hours, a very long game). St. Louis only struck out three guys on the night. With Morris and Suppan going the next two games, get used to it.
- As much as the Sox impressed me as batsman, they impressed me far less as gentlemen. I know, I know, gentlemanliness is a quaint notion nowadays, but what was with that slide into second by Orlando Cabrera, when he came up elbow-first? (Thank God Reggie Sanders reprimanded him the next inning.) The other bush-league moment was Manny Ramirez trotting to first on a tie-breaking single with his finger telling the world he was #1. A one-run game in the seventh and you’re acting like you just hit a walk-off homer? Ridiculous.
- Fortunately the baseball gods got their revenge an inning later, when Manny made Skates Smith look like Elvis Stojko out in left field. I noticed he wasn’t holding up the #1 sign as he was tripping over himself on Larry Walker’s liner.
- All in all the Cards benefited from a lot of luck this game — not only Manny’s commedia dell’arte in the field, but also Wakefield’s wild streak in the 4th (you know you’re wild when you walk Sanders and Womack back-to-back). But they also ran into some awful luck too. First there was the tailor-made double-play ball off the bat of Ortiz in the 7th inning. It ended up hitting the lip of the infield and ricocheting off Tony Womack, not only widening Boston’s lead but possibly breaking Womack’s collarbone in the process.
The Cards got more bad luck in the 8th, when home-plate ump Ed Montague punched out Jim Edmonds on a called third strike to end the inning and leave the bases loaded. The ball was at least a foot inside, the worst ball/strike call of the entire postseason. Now, I’m not saying that Montague cost St. Louis any runs — I mean, who knows what Jed would have done in that situation. It’s just a shame that it was the biggest moment of the game up to that point, and the star was not Keith Foulke or Jim Edmonds but Ed Montague. Great timing.
- I got a kick out of Julian Tavarez trying to wave Mark Bellhorn’s drive foul in the bottom of the 8th — Carlton Fisk in reverse. Damn. Tavarez has now given up as many home runs in his last four games as he has the previous two years.
- Here’s a glimpse of the mood up in New England. A guy I know, big Sox fan, had been in phone contact all game with two of his friends back East. The first called him after the Sox made it 4-0 in the first and said, dead serious, “I think we’re gonna sweep ‘em.” After the Cards tied it 7-7, his buddies called him from Fenway and said, just as seriously, “That’s the series.” Hilarious.
- There are two ways of looking at last night’s game. The first is that the Red Sox made four errors and issued six walks and yet still ended up winning. The second is that the Cards got zilch from their starting pitcher, almost nothing from their 3-4-5 men (oh Scotty Rolen, where were ye?), played their worst all-around game of the postseason, and went into the bottom of the 8th all tied up. I’ll guess we’ll know more tonight which way the possession arrow is leaning.