Stopping the Boston momentum was the most important job the Cardinals had to do entering game two. And all things considered, there was no better man available to do the job than Michael Wacha. The rookie continued his sensational October run, but this time all the breaks did not fall to him, and finally the odds caught up.
For the Cardinals, the early series stakes couldn’t be higher. Coming off a blowout where they lost in basically every facet of the game, against an energized club riding high on confidence and home crowd fuel, , there were not many factors on the Cardinal side—except for its young ace in the making.
Unlike the night before, when runs and miscues came in waves, game two was a much tighter affair. It was one defined by both an early pitching duel between the October veteran and the undeniable efforts of the rookie hurler
Throughout the team’s playoff run, Wacha’s flirtations with perfection have been the biggest story of the late year. Yet, while turning in sterling outings once after another, he has done so out of necessity, as the he has received only the necessities in regards to run support. Save for the two big inning outbreaks in game six of the National League Championship Series, the Cardinals bats had mustered just three runs of support for him, while he embarked on a club-record tying 19 consecutive innings of scoreless frames. The law of averages said that was due to change, and it was done so in a very sudden fashion on Thursday night.
After masterfully working through the potent Red Sox lineup for five innings, Wacha left one of his now signature change ups a bit too high, and David Ortiz used it to build a new floor on his own personal October legend, hammering it over the Green Monster for a two-run homer that humanized Wacha for the first time this fall. While Wacha’s night ended after six innings, the Cardinals hung into fight for a few more decisive rounds, and showed the type of fight that is only bred from being cornered.
On the other side of the field, John Lackey portrayed the role of grizzled veteran perfectly. While he was not as awe-inspiring as Wacha appeared at times, matched him take for take on the mound, in a style that should have come as no surprise. Eleven years after his initial rise to prominence as a member of the Anaheim Angels, where he won the decisive seventh game of his first World Series, Lackey turned in an effort that proved worthy of his pedigree, albeit one that did not stand up as well as his previous effort did.
While the big moment was oft in the demand, it became the small ones that defined the game. In the wake of Ortiz’s gargantuan tide-changing home run, the Cardinals rallied behind a series of plays, as well as fate, falling in their favor. After getting Lackey out of the game after a walk to David Freese and a Jon Jay single, they continued to roll with the jabs before delivering their knock out punches.
A gutsy double steal call put pinch runner Pete Kozma and Jay into scoring position and after a walk-by-inches to Daniel Descalso, Matt Carpenter delivered a sacrifice fly to left field scored Kozma, but then an errant throw home advanced Jay to third. It was then that the game one and two tables turned and misfortune swapped dugouts. Pitcher Craig Breslow, in an attempt to cut down Jay, threw the ball over third base which scored Jay and let Descalso make it around to third. It was then, in a nearly on-demand fashion, that Carlos Beltran delivered in the big moment, putting the Cardinals up 4-2, and lining them up for a 1-1 series tie with three home games to come.
Supported by the equally timely pitching of another two rookies in Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, the game ultimately became the best possible win the club could ask for. Through a blend of all of the defining elements of their season: timely hits, overpowering rookie pitching and topped it off with gutsy execution, as well as a bit of the type of assistance they consistently supplied and buried themselves with the previous night.
It is the moment that reverbs the most in the playoffs; how a team both limits and capitalizes on them alike. While there is still much to be revealed regarding if they can enforce their will upon Boston to take and hold control of the series, a tough win on the road is always encouraging. Thursday was a both a proving ground evening for the club, in a fighter’s win.