BOSTON – Two innings into the opening game of the World Series, it was hard to imagine the St. Louis Cardinals as a 97-win team, the National League's best, a club which had erased the game Pirates and Dodgers to get to the big dance.
The effort in the 8-1 Red Sox victory lacked the feel of the much ballyhooed "Cardinal Way." It felt more like a get-it-out-of-your-system night for St. Louis. The problem is there are no throw away games at this time of year and the opponent is too strong to be given freebies.
"We had a wake up call," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "That is not the kind of team that we've been all season. And they're frustrated. I'm sure embarrassed to a point. We get an opportunity to show the kind of baseball we played all season long and it didn't look anything like what we saw tonight."
Then, Matheny offered his team a public wake up call of his own.
"You're going to have games like that periodically. But if you begin to accept that, then this could not really go anywhere."
Boston scored three times in the first off the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright. Jacoby Ellsbury walked. One out later, Dustin Pedroia singled. David Ortiz came to the plate and rolled a potential double play grounder to second baseman Matt Carpenter. Shortstop Pete Kozma, with what would be his first of two errors early in the game, dropped Carpenter's throw to second. All hands were safe.
Not so fast. Second base umpire Dana DeMuth inexplicably ruled that Kozma had caught the ball and bobbled the transfer, ruling Pedroia out.
Red Sox manager John Farrell bolted from the dugout faster than he left Toronto a year ago. DeMuth heard Farrell out and then agreed to confer with his five colleagues. The call was overturned and Pedroia was ruled safe. The umpires got the call correct.
"I think the one thing we strive for is to get the call correct," said Farrell. "And I think based on their group conversation, surprisingly to a certain extent, they overturned it and I think got the call right."
Farrell's use of the term "surprisingly" fit with Matheny's take on the play. It's not customary for umpires to confer on subjective safe/out calls. This was out of the ordinary.
"That's not a play I've ever seen before," said Matheny. "And I'm pretty sure there were six umpires on the field that had never seen that play before either. It's a pretty tough time to debut that overruled call in the World Series. Now, I get that they're trying to get the right call. I get that. Tough one to swallow."
Mike Napoli came up with the bases loaded and slammed a three-run double off the Green Monster.
Boston scored two more in the second on the strength of three hits and another Kozma error. The lead off single of the inning, by Stephen Drew, was a pop up in front of the pitcher's mound that Wainwright called for before backing off. The ball dropped, untouched, as Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina stared blankly at each other.
"I'm under that ball," said Wainwright. "It's one of those plays where you're taught to give the ball away to somebody else's call but not the one that's right to you like that. I made the mistake of calling it and then waiting for someone else to make the play instead of just taking charge. I didn't take charge on the mound and I didn't take charge on that play and it cost us a lot of runs."
As if their poor play wasn't damaging enough, star right fielder Carlos Beltran left the game after the second inning, having played hero moments earlier.
David Ortiz, back at the plate in the second inning and with the bases loaded, drove a ball to right centerfield, headed for the visitor's bullpen. Drawing comparisons to Torii Hunter's effort on an Ortiz grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS, Beltran tracked the ball back to the wall and unlike Hunter, made a great catch.
In doing so, Beltran slammed into the wall. He was taken to hospital for a CT scan and an x-ray, both of which were negative, and Beltran is listed as day-to-day with deeply bruised ribs.
"I think he's a little down right now," said general manager John Mozeliak. "Certainly disappointed. Obviously wanted to play in this and to have to come out of the game before the game ended was disappointing to him.
"Obviously you want to see your club at full strength," said Mozeliak. "You don't want to go into this thing where you lose somebody early on so we'll just have to see but hopefully he'll be ready to go."
Boston got a top notch performance from ace left-hander Jon Lester, who buoyed by the early run support tossed 7 2/3 innings of shutout baseball. Junichi Tazawa and Ryan Dempster carried the final four outs.
The Red Sox, dating back two World Series appearances to 2004, have now won nine straight games in the Fall Classic.
The Cardinals, suddenly, are compromised.
Assuming Beltran, St. Louis' two-hole hitter, plays, he won't be anywhere near 100 per cent. Allen Craig, a first baseman serving as designated hitter under American League rules and batting cleanup, returned from a sprained foot to play his first game since suffering the injury on September 4. He's working to get his timing back when there isn't much time.
Game 1 was a case of St. Louis playing awfully more than it was Boston dominating. The Cardinals can take solace in that. But if they don't produce a much better level of play in Thursday's Game 2, it could pave the way for a short series.
"One of the things we've always preached, if we don't play clean baseball it's hard for us to win," said Mozeliak. "We gave a lot of outs up tonight and they obviously took advantage of it and we came up short."