Monday, October 28, 2013

The Sleight of Hand: The Home Run, the Pickoff, and Another Enigmatic Ending

In an instant, game four was over. First baseman Mike Napoli showed his glove to the nearest umpire, then raised it in victory. Koji Uehara had picked-off pinch runner Kolten Wong to seal the win for Boston. At the plate, with the tying run on, was Carlos Beltran. There would be no clutch two-run home run from an October legend, only stunned silenced. For the second straight night, a World Series game ended in a way none had in history. Despite the history of the moment, the defining image from this game likely will not be Uehara's quick-thinking toss to first, but the home run that put the Red Sox up for good.

As it had the night before, the drama began in the sixth inning. Following a two-out single and a walk, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny removed his starting pitcher, Lance Lynn, from the game. In came Seth Maness to face Johnny Gomes. In his previous at-bat, facing Lynn, Gomes battled through ten pitches to earn a walk. Facing Maness, he would quickly be even at two balls, two strikes. Then, on the Cardinal reliever's fifth straight sinkerball, Gomes launched a mammoth fly ball to left field. The Busch Stadium crowd faded from their game-long roar to near stunned silence. An inning earlier, Boston had tied the game at one on a hard-fought round of small ball. In the sixth, Johnny Gomes put his Red Sox up three runs.

It seemed that every inning, the Cardinals would threaten to score. In the bottom of the seventh, Shane Robinson led off with a double against Craig Breslow. A Matt Carpenter single would plate Robinson, but the threat would end with the score four to two.

In the eighth, Xander Bogaerts allowed Yadier Molina to reach first and take second on a wild throw from across the diamond. John Lackey, in a relief pitching spot for only the fourth time in his long career, hurled a wild pitch that got away from catcher David Ross. Molina moved to third. Again, the Cardinals had a prime scoring opportunity. With one out, the probability that St. Louis could cut the lead to one run was considerably high.

Jon Jay popped out to short.
David Freese grounded out to short. Another opportunity squandered.

In the bottom of the ninth, with one out, Allen Craig came in to pinch hit for the outgoing Cardinal arm of Jon Axford. Craig had hit safely in each pinch hit situation so far in the series, and the home team needed baserunners. Following the infamy of the night before, Craig got on base via a line drive to right field. Immediately he was replaced on the basepath by the speedy Wong.

Matt Carpenter popped out to Dustin Pedroia at second. Wong could not advance. Into the box stepped a postseason hero in the form of Carlos Beltran. The author of so many clutch moments over the last decade, the likelihood of one such situation happening for Beltran was better than a slim chance. He would not be given a moment to shine, as Uehara gunned down Wong at first.

For all the talk of momentum in sports, this World Series has been an example of the true absence of such things. At no time has a lead or a win lead to much else beyond the other team reciprocating the favor. Knotted at two games each, the series now becomes a best two out of three. A season of such high drama and historical luster will come down to three games. The best each league has to offer have already given us a World Series to remember. Sunday's win guarantees that the 2013 season will end at the game's oldest stadium- Fenway Park.

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