BOSTON – Sending out an APB: If anyone locates the real St. Louis Cardinals, please alert authorities immediately. The only explanation for what happened in Game 1 of the World Series was that imposters took the field at Fenway Park in Cardinals regalia.
Among the dropped flip, the fumbled grab, the bungled pop-up, the mangled backhand, the errant catch and the do-si-do groundball, the Cardinals packed a half-dozen flubs into the first two innings, and the Boston Red Sox pummeled them 8-1 Wednesday night in a game far worse than the final score indicated – and the final was quite awful in and of itself.
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While nobody ever mistook these Cardinals for a field full of Ozzie Smiths, to see them melt down so spectacularly served as the initial insult. Losing Carlos Beltran to bruised ribs suffered when robbing David Ortiz of a grand slam was the injury. And getting shut down by Red Sox starter Jon Lester dropped a moldy cherry atop a sundae of awful.
The disciplined Cardinals of the regular season, their 97 victories matching Boston's for most in the major leagues, went AWOL from the beginning of the game. Starter Adam Wainwright, who began the season with 34 2/3 straight innings without a walk, walked leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury. Then came a Dustin Pedroia hit, which presaged chaos.
Ortiz hit a ground ball, and it should have been an easy force out at second base on a Matt Carpenter flip. Only Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma dropped the ball. Initially, umpire Dana DeMuth called him out, by a long shot the worst error on Wednesday night, which is saying something. The six-umpire crew got together, reversed the call, watched Mike Napoli clear the bases with the help of a Shane Robinson misplay in center field and stake Boston to a 3-0 advantage.
Wainwright lurched off the field frustrated, and understandably so: Boston was squaring up his pitches, and rather than feed off the 38,345 at Fenway, the atmosphere, in concert with his team botching a pair of plays, quickly turned claustrophobic.
"What I found throughout my playoff career so far is that I respond really well when the adrenaline really kicks in," Wainwright said Tuesday. "I love that. The crowd gets louder. I get more fired up. That's something that I just – I can't tell you how cool it is to pitch in front of great crowds like we're going to have [Wednesday] here in Boston, and we're going to have in St. Louis with that crisp, cool air, that Octobery kind of air, where you know it's playoff baseball.
"This is my favorite time of year, for many reasons. There's NFL football on TV, there's college football on TV, there's hunting season, there's playoff baseball. It does not get much better than that."
Nope. It got a lot worse.
Stephen Drew, the first batter of the second inning, 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 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 was significant. He went to a nearby hospital for further examination, and his status for Game 2 on Thursday was in question.
Misery continued deep into the Boston night. Cardinals swung and miss with regularity at 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. St. Louis’ lone run came on a Matt Holliday homer in the ninth inning.
It puts the Cardinals in the position of having to rely again on rookie Michael Wacha, thus far the best pitcher in the 2013 postseason. He faces John Lackey, a World Series MVP 11 years ago and back for the first time since. And if he's anything like his last start nine days ago, when he outdueled Justin Verlander, the Cardinals better escape from wherever they absconded to during Game 1 and actually show up.