BOSTON — The Cardinals fought fire with fire.
If St. Louis’ 4-2 victory in Game 2 of the World Series looked familiar, it’s because the Cardinals won in typical Red Sox fashion — right down to Trevor Rosenthal’s very efficient save.
David Ortiz put the Red Sox in front 2-1 in the sixth inning with a two-run homer off Cardinals starter Michael Wacha. Wacha had allowed just one run over his first 26 1/3 innings of the postseason, but Ortiz — whose home run was the 17th of his postseason career — once again showed why he’s one of the greatest clutch hitters in baseball history.
A commanding 2-0 series lead was in the Red Sox’ hands, and conversely, a gaping 0-2 hole awaited the seemingly overmatched Cardinals. But the Cards took a page out of the Red Sox’ 2013 playbook over the final three innings of Game 2 and rode good plate discipline, aggressive baserunning and a strong bullpen effort to a come-from-behind win that evened up the World Series at two games apiece.
The Cardinals’ big rally came in the seventh inning. John Lackey struck out Allen Craig to open up the frame, but things started to unravel for Boston from there. David Freese worked an eight-pitch walk, and Jon Jay lined a two-strike single into right field that spelled the end of Lackey’s night.
“I thought John Lackey threw the ball very well,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “The leadoff walk starts to get things going for them. After the base hit to Jay, I felt like we were in a pretty good situation for a matchup.”
Farrell turned to the typically reliable Craig Breslow, who hadn’t surrendered a run in seven innings over seven postseason appearances, to face Daniel Descalso with runners at first and second and one out. Pete Kozma, who made two major miscues in Game 1, pinch ran for Freese.
Kozma started for third base with Descalso at the plate before tossing on the brakes and retreating to second. That forced Breslow to step off the mound, and it was also a bit of foreshadowing, as Kozma and Jay each advanced a station on a rare double steal by the Cardinals. Jarrod Saltalamacchia was unable to attempt a throw on the double steal, as Breslow’s pitch sailed up and out of the zone.
The Cardinals ranked 29th in the majors with 45 stolen bases during the regular season. Only the Tigers, who swiped a measly 35 bags, ran less. The Red Sox, meanwhile, ranked fourth in baseball with 123 stolen bases and were no strangers to pulling off a double steal from time to time.
“They felt like they had an opportunity to get two guys in scoring position,” Farrell said. “They timed some things up with Brez on the mound. Whether it was just a read that they had on the number of head looks to keep Kozma in check back there, but in that moment, a timely play on their part.”
Descalso, a career .243 hitter, hit just .183 and walked only three times in 66 plate appearances versus lefties during the regular season, yet he demonstrated the eye of a tiger following the Cardinals’ double steal. He laid off a 3-2 slider just off the inside corner for St. Louis’ second walk of the inning. The Cardinals ranked 14th in the majors with 481 walks during the regular season, while the Red Sox, a team that relies on grinding out at-bats, ranked third with 581 free passes.
“Once they had the double steal and first base was open, that kind of changes the approach a little bit,” Breslow told reporters after the game. “Obviously pretty big to try and keep those runs there, try and get a strikeout. Take a chance with the breaking ball, didn’t make the pitch and found myself in need of a ground ball with the next guy.”
Breslow failed to get the ground ball that he desperately needed, as Matt Carpenter instead lifted a first-pitch fly ball to left field. Jonny Gomes made the catch and fired home, but his throw was a bit off the mark and Saltalamacchia was unable to reel it in. The ball got away from Salty, and Breslow picked it up and fired an errant toss to third base while attempting to throw out Jay. The play ended with Jay scoring the go-ahead run.
“It just kind of sailed on me,” Breslow said. “I looked up and saw that I definitely had a play there. I didn’t make a good throw.
“I think I definitely had a play there. I felt like it was a play worth making a throw.”
Although Breslow insists that he might have had Jay with a good throw, it was a risky, low-percentage play that was provoked by the Cardinals’ aggressiveness on the base paths. In other words, the shoe was on the other foot for a Red Sox team that prides itself on baiting opponents into similar miscues by way of aggressive baserunning tactics.
Carlos Beltran added an insurance run with a single into right field that knocked in Descalso, and it was up to the Cardinals’ bullpen to secure the win. Much has been made of St. Louis’ solid, young relief corps, and Boston got a firsthand look at it in Game 2.
Carlos Martinez kept the Red Sox off the scoreboard in the seventh and eighth innings. Matheny stuck with Martinez with two outs in the eighth even though Ortiz represented the tying run, and the hard-throwing right-hander rewarded his manager. Although Ortiz reached on a single into the shift, Martinez rebounded to retire Mike Napoli an inning-ending popout.
“Carlos Martinez, we saw a little bit of him yesterday, and what we saw here today is a lot more of what we’ve seen here recently of Carlos. And just the life on the ball,” said Matheny, who admitted that it wasn’t easy to decide whether to stick with Martinez to face Ortiz. “He’s a kid that can carry it into a couple of innings, too. So we’re keeping an eye on him, but the ball was coming out of his hand really well.”
The ball came out of Rosenthal’s hand well in the ninth inning, too. Rosenthal — a la Koji Uehara — needed just 11 pitches to strike out Gomes, Saltalamacchia and Daniel Nava, who pinch hit for Stephen Drew. The series now shifts to St. Louis for Games 3, 4 and 5 with the Cardinals in much better shape than they once appeared.
“The guys stayed aggressive today. That’s the difference between yesterday and today,” Matheny said after Thursday’s Game 2. “You saw aggressiveness offensively. You saw guys taking charge, and the same thing with at‑bats. It was not a tentative team, which we haven’t been all year, 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.”
The Cardinals looked more like the Cardinals in Game 2, but they also looked a lot like the Red Sox. That combination threw Boston for a loop, and also showed just how evenly matched and similar these two teams really are.