Swinging to win

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! SportsOctober 24, 2004

BOSTON – They are going to keep hitting. Both teams will, but certainly these high-powered Boston Red Sox, who still are shaky on defense and still have questions with pitching. The Sox are up 1-0 on the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series because of a ton of big bats up and down the lineup.

It was all on display here Saturday.

The good: 11 runs despite a wind blowing in at Fenway Park. But also the bad: Tim Wakefield's four walks in one inning and a four-error job in the field – including a pair of brutal, nearly comical, mistakes by Manny Ramirez in the eighth.

But in the end, these guys just keep swinging and swinging.

In the bottom of the eighth, with the score tied at 9, with Fenway starting to get eerily concerned, the No. 9 hitter, Mark Bellhorn, who just a week ago was mired in a mighty slump, clubbed a two-run homer off Pesky Pole and that was that.

Boston won ugly. Real ugly.

"That was not an instructional video to send to the instructional league or something," Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "That was a little rough. I walked through the outfield and about twisted an ankle where Manny had his divot."

It was that play – where Ramirez tried to slide to catch a ball and wound up in a heap as the tying run scored – that epitomized the Sox's sloppy effort. They lacked concentration and were only sporadically successful.

It looked like the Red Sox still were a bit hung over from the post-Yankee victory party. They tried to give this game back to St. Louis about four different times.

But offense cures a lot of ills, and Boston has a lot of offense. The Sox scored a MLB-best 949 runs this season, almost 100 more than St. Louis. In the playoffs, Boston is averaging 7.0 runs per game, 1.6 more than the Cardinals.

"We did a very good job early," Francona said. "We kind of gave it back to them. But we kept grinding away with our at bats."

St. Louis plays the game in a purer tactical sense. Its manufactured run in the second was a thing of Tony La Russa beauty. There was a bunt single, a walk and two sacrifices to get the run across.

The problem was it made the score 4-1 – because Boston had jumped all over the Cardinals thanks mostly to another home run by David Ortiz.

This may not be the best series for small ball. Not when Boston is all about big ball, big muscle and big bats.

Of course Boston's 7-2 lead in the fourth inning should have been enough to cruise to an easy, enjoyable victory.

But Wakefield couldn't find the plate and the defense couldn't do much well, and St. Louis isn't the kind of team you want hanging around. The Cardinals may not be able to hit like Boston (no matter what Tony La Russa says), but they didn't have the best record in baseball this season by accident.

"They have a nice lineup," La Russa said. "We don't concede anything [to] their lineup. Our lineup is real dangerous, too."

This was hardly St. Louis at its best either. Cardinal pitchers walked eight batters, and the team also committed a error. After two breathless League Championship Series, maybe we were due for one of these.

"You open the door," La Russa said, "however you open it, and guys are going to score."

Perhaps things will get better Sunday in Game 2, when Boston sends out ace Curt Schilling and St. Louis starts 15-game winner Matt Morris. But for St. Louis to compete in this series, it can not give Boston any second chances because the Red Sox have too many weapons.

Consider Bellhorn, the late-game hero. He batted .091 in the ALDS. He was little better in the first five games of the ALCS, prompting Sox fans to call for his benching in favor of Pokey Reese.

But Francona stuck with him, and Bellhorn delivered a critical three-run home run in Game 6 against the Yankees. Now there was this, making him a fairly unlikely hero.

"You just got to battle through it," Bellhorn said of snapping his slump. "And that's kind of what I did."

Just like his team. Mental errors, bad pitching, botched plays and unearned runs – in the World Series, no less.

Boston didn't play like a champion Saturday. But it still managed to win like one.