Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Of Pins and Needles: Dueling Aces and the Last Night in St. Louis

David Ross was out at the plate. Yadier Molina had caught a near perfect throw from outfielder Shane Robinson to apply the tag in time. The out ended the top of the seventh inning. It ended the Boston rally that gave them a two run lead late in the crucial game five, and it ended the night for St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright. What the back pages will see is the three runs he allowed, Wainwright's performance Monday night was nothing short of masterful. But as he rested in the dugout, his team could not reciprocate his efforts.  Wainwright's counterpart, Red Sox stalwart Jon Lester, had been nearly his equal. Lester had given up only one run and punched only seven strikeouts, but in the end it was deemed plenty by the Red Sox offense.

If Wainwright was to be scrutinized for not fulfilling his duties as an 'ace' pitcher, the condemnation would be unwarranted. Through the first four innings, he was nothing short of frustrating. Though the first inning saw a blip on the proverbial radar, he was otherwise a craftsman meticulously dissecting the Red Sox order. The 'blip' was a set of two doubles by who else- Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz -the anchors of the Boston offensive attack. Wainwright allowed the run, but surrounding the one faltering in the box score were six consecutive strikeouts; the first six Boston outs. He would pepper four more strikeouts in the next four innings, but it was the seventh where he would meet the end to his World Series.

Xander Bogaerts stood at second base with one out. He had singled then moved up ninety feet on a walk by Stephen Drew. Given his speed, Bogaerts could have easily scored on any base hit that left the infield. David Ross cracked a ballooned line drive that hooked toward the left field line but stayed fair. The ball bounced hard against the often re-sodded Busch Stadium lawn and landed out of play. Ground rule double. Bogaerts scored with ease, but Drew was held at third because the ball left the field of play. Had it ricocheted off the foul-territory wall and caromed around, Drew would have scored and Ross would be ninety feet from home. Instead, when Jacoby Ellsbury punched a soft liner to center, Drew was able to saunter home, but Ross would have to beat the throw. As Yadier Molina collected the slightly off-center throw from Shane Robinson, he had ample time to thrust his glove over to beat Ross to the plate. While the actual contact may have been after Ross touched the plate, Molina was given the benefit of doubt. As the two catchers rose from the home plate dirt, they exchanged handshakes in a moment of respect for each other and their craft. 

The Cardinals had relinquished the home field advantage they had taken from Boston after game two. They now face a mountainous task- winning both games at Fenway, where the Red Sox haven't clinched a World Series since 1918.

Much is said for who wins games three and five when a series is tied beforehand. After the series was knotted at one, the Cardinals took game three and were given an inside track to their twelfth title. Yet this series has been no respecter of trends past. Boston has now taken two straight to tie and now lead the series. History will show the percent of teams who went on to win the World Series after winning game five of a tied series, but the present shows a twenty-two year old, borderline-unhittable right hander waiting Wednesday night to give St. Louis life. They say 'it ain't over until its over,' and in a series full of unprecedented plot twists, there is no reason to believe the drama is close to done.

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