BOSTON – In the immediate aftermath of the ugliest game he could remember, Adam Wainwright retreated into the tiny visitors' clubhouse at Fenway Park to watch the snuff film he starred in minutes earlier. He wasn't the only one who killed the St. Louis Cardinals' chances in Game 1 of the World Series. The rest of the culprits, who ascended through an organization that worships a manual on fundamental baseball, had made a mockery of it. Re-living a wound so raw would sting.
Wainwright plopped himself in front of a monitor and ran the tape anyway. He cringed at his very first pitch. And as the first five innings played out before him on video, the final four were unspooling a few hundred feet away at Fenway Park, without as much characteristic ugliness but with equally obscene results. The Boston Red Sox throttled the Cardinals 8-1 on Wednesday night, though if one turned the eight sideways, it would better represent what the game felt like to those in the St. Louis dugout: the game that couldn't end soon enough but kept going anyway, an infinity-to-one beatdown that showcased the absolute worst in the Cardinals.
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After watching his performance, Wainwright deemed himself "terrible," compared it to "an out-of-body experience" and coined a new oxymoron: "Everything I threw tonight was pretty garbage." And to illustrate just how awful a night it was for St. Louis, the terrible, out-of-body, pretty garbage Wainwright was far from the worst part of the Cardinals' night.
Among the dropped flip, the fumbled grab, the bungled pop-up, the mangled backhand, the do-si-do groundball and the one good thing they did turning bad – Carlos Beltran's grand slam-saving catch leaving him with bruised ribs and questionable for Game 2 – the Cardinals packed a half-dozen moments of agony into as many outs. If this was the Cardinal Way, it was the wrong way. And for it to surface in Game 1 of the World Series, of all places, in the first and second innings of Game 1 of the World Series, of all times, left St. Louis equal parts confused and irritated.
"We had a wake up call," manager Mike Matheny said. "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. You're going to have games like that periodically. But if you begin to accept that, then this could not really go anywhere."
Game 2 will not go where Game 1 went. No game can go where Game 1 went because of the sheer oddities of the first two innings, starting with Wainwright walking the first batter he faced. In 153 starts over the last five seasons, Wainwright has done that six times. A Dustin Pedroia single presaged the chaos that arrived when David Ortiz hit a ground ball into the Cardinals' shift. On the flip to second base, Pete Kozma dropped the ball. Initially, umpire Dana DeMuth called him out, by a long shot the worst error on Wednesday night, which was saying something. The six-umpire crew got together, reversed the call, and three pitches later Mike Napoli cleared the bases with the help of a Shane Robinson misplay in center field to stake Boston a three-run advantage.
"One thing happens," Kozma said, "and then you're down 3-0. That's how fast it works sometimes."
The pace hastened in the second. Stephen Drew, hitting .083 this postseason, popped a short fly in between Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina. They weren't more than 5 feet from one another when the ball hit the ground in between them. Neither said a word. Laughter from the stands filled the silence.
Later in the inning, it stopped on account of pity. Shane Victorino's grounder that glanced off Kozma's glove? It was just piling on. A bases-loaded ground ball from Pedroia that snuck by third baseman David Freese? Have mercy. Beltran did what Torii Hunter couldn't in the ALCS – steal a grand slam from Ortiz with an over-the-fence catch in right field – though the price could be significant. Even though a CT scan and X-rays came back negative, banged-up ribs can severely limit a player, as Hanley Ramirez's wince-filled NLCS showed.
Misery continued deep into the Boston night. Cardinals swung and missed with regularity at Boston starter Jon Lester, who threw 7 2/3 shutout innings. Even when they loaded the bases in the fourth, Freese hit into a 1-2-3 double play. And he made the Cardinals' third error of the night with a bad throw in the seventh inning. Followed immediately by Ortiz hitting one nobody would catch into the right-field bleachers for a 7-0 advantage.
All the Cardinals mustered was a solo home run from Matt Holliday in the ninth, and by then Wainwright was finishing his video session with a disgusted visage. He owns his bad games as well as anyone, and his criticism of himself was blistering. His delivery was a mess. He didn't make adjustments. He left pitches over the plate. He was aiming. For an elite pitcher, it was the sort of fiasco that lingers like smoke on a jacket. Wash yourself of it or it won't go away.
For that, Wainwright plans on cracking open his iPad and studying his best starts of the year. He's scheduled to be back in Game 5 and, Matheny hinted, could pitch on short rest in Game 4. If rookie Michael Wacha rescues St. Louis from its doldrums in Game 2 on Thursday, pushing Wainwright up is unlikely. Should the Cardinals head home down 2-0, the possibility becomes far likelier.
Because he still is their best pitcher, far more representative of what the Cardinals usually look like than the imposters who took the field Wednesday. After the blown-call reversal, the Cardinals wore a look of tightness to which they copped afterward. It's the World Series. It was the first inning of Game 1. The oldest veteran and youngest rookie would react similarly in such a situation.
"It's one of those things where afterward," second baseman Matt Carpenter said, "you're like, ‘Wow. I can't believe that just happened.' "
It happened, and it snowballed, and the game almost ended on what would've been the perfect slice of indignity: a 9-3 putout. Freese laced a single to right field and only a feet-first slide into first base beat the throw from Victorino. It's probably best that didn't happen.
The Cardinals had insult, and they had injury, and following this debacle, they didn't need anything more.