BOSTON – Relief for Carlos Beltran came from one thick-gauge needle puncture, one $12.99 bottle of funky-smelling salve and one big play. The needle was filled with Toradol, a legal painkiller that numbed his bruised ribs. The bottle was filled with J.R. Watkins Pain Relieving Liniment, an all-natural, straight-from-the-apothecary, camphor-and-capsicum potion that kept him warm and limber. And the play was filled with the sorts of things emblematic of these St. Louis Cardinals: savvy, opportunism and a risk-taking savoir-faire that works out for the best.
Everything that disappeared during Game 1 of the World Series – the Cardinals' signature style of play, as well the beat-up Beltran, their lineup's compass – returned with aplomb Thursday during Game 2. With a dose of help from the Boston Red Sox, who frittered away a shoulda-won game thanks to a blink-your-eyes-and-you-missed-it flurry of mistakes, St. Louis snuck out of Fenway Park with a 4-2 victory that evened the series.
Like Beltran, the Cardinals walked away from Game 1 battered but not broken. He punctuated their three-run seventh inning with an RBI single, his second hit of the day and the capper on a remarkable turnaround from 24 hours earlier, when he needed X-rays and a CT scan to confirm he hadn't broken a rib robbing David Ortiz of a grand slam. St. Louis' training staff coddled him all day, prepared him for a trip to the batting cages around 5 p.m. and gave him the go-ahead. Which, despite his black-and-blue chest, the Cardinals figured was a fait accompli anyway.
"How many games did it take [him] to get to this point?" Cardinals hitting coach John Mabry asked.
To his first World Series after 16 seasons? Only 2,109.
"If he wasn't broke," Mabry said, "he was going out there."
Good thing for the Cardinals he did. His coup-de-grace moment in the seventh inning followed the five seconds of misery that torpedoed the Red Sox's night. The Fenway crowd, electric after David Ortiz's go-ahead two-run home run off Cardinals starter Michael Wacha, slowly lost its voltage with each pitch.
It was almost as if the teams reversed roles. The Red Sox, notorious for grinding out plate appearances, watched starter John Lackey issue an eight-pitch, full-count walk to David Freese and follow by allowing a single to Jon Jay after starting the at-bat with a pair of strikes. In came left-handed reliever Craig Breslow, he of 7 1/3 scoreless innings this postseason, to face lefty Daniel Descalso, who worked the count full and drew a walk. With the bases loaded, lefty Matt Carpenter lifted a fly ball to left fielder Jonny Gomes, whose throw home kicked away from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia for Boston's first error. Jay broke to third base, and Breslow, who had picked up the remnants of the busted play, wound up and fired a ball to third.
Well, sort of toward third, like Maine is sort of near Massachusetts. It flew over third baseman Xander Bogaerts' glove and into the stands for another error that pushed Jay across with the go-ahead run. Beltran plated Descalso with a single to right field, and just like that, the Red Sox's thoughts of a two-games-to-none lead vanished into the cool October night.
"Tonight's win sort of exemplifies how this postseason has gone for us," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "We've been opportunistic and we took advantage of it."
That, and St. Louis' ability to coax nine innings out of Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal. Combined age: 67. Combined velocity on peak fastball: 294.8 mph. Combined strikeouts: 12. Combined Red Sox looking like bobbleheads shaking their noggins at St. Louis throwing arm after powerful arm at them: 25.
Never did the Cardinals waver from their post-Game 1 belief that the error-filled miseries of the 8-1 loss were behind. Velocity and command do wonders for a team's self-esteem, and watching Martinez and Rosenthal make the Red Sox look silly for the final three innings – Martinez on an unfair slider and Rosenthal with 11 fastballs leading to a struck-out side in the final frame – affirmed that the Cardinals weren't rolling over, not with three games at Busch Stadium awaiting.
"It was not a tentative team, which we haven't been all year," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "So it was good to see them turn the page on that, and that aggressiveness was able to generate runs when we got guys on base, and let guys do what they do best."
For Carlos Beltran, that is hit in October. Beltran has earned his reputation as one of the best postseason hitters in baseball history, which made the injury in Game 1 all the more bittersweet. Here he was, on the stage he earned and deserved, felled by an injury that with every swing feels worse and worse.
"You know one of those triangle-sized paint scrapers?" Mabry said. "Somebody stabbing you with one of those."
The Toradol and liniment did their jobs, and Beltran stepped in during the first inning and summarily whacked a single to left field. Maybe he was 75 percent. Perhaps he was 50 percent. He didn't feel good. Just good enough.
"I know for sure I'm going to wake up feeling sore," Beltran said, and he was more than OK with that. He is 36 years old, his body already worn down by six weeks of spring training and six months of games, his mind fatigued further by three weeks of intense playoff baseball. Anyone who isn't sore this time of year is either lucky or not doing things right.
When he peels his eyes open Friday, however bad the ache, Beltran will get at least one jolt of innate analgesic: He's still playing in the World Series, and not just any World Series but one that's tied and headed home. If that's not enough to numb the pain for an instant, nothing is.