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World Series Game 2: Pressure

I fondly remember Sport Magazine growing up. I couldn’t wait until the next edition of the monthly publication came out and I’d read it cover to cover. I still recall an article in the 1960s titled “World Series Pressure is Unbearable,” based on the thoughts of Yogi Berra, who played in 14 Fall Classics and won 10 of them. The title might have been a rarity: a Yogi quote that made perfect sense. The Cardinals gave credibility to that theme in Game One with a defensive meltdown that opened the door to the Red Sox batters to score an early knockout. In Game Two, it was the Red Sox who cracked as the Cardinals took advantage for a 4-2 win to even the World Series as the teams headed for St. Louis. Game Two came down to who handled the pressure and who didn’t. The Cardinals youthful pitching trio of starter Michael Wacha, and relievers Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal — none older than 23 — handled it well. They held the Red Sox to two runs and four hits and struck out 12. Wacha made only one mistake, a changeup to David Ortiz that just came down on the other side of the Green Monster. But you can’t blame that serving on pressure. Wacha entered the game having allowed one run in 29-2/3 innings in his last four starts.

Like any good team should do, the Cardinals put the pressure on the Red Sox. Trailing 2-1 in the seventh, and with runners at first and second, the Cardinals pulled off a double steal. It was a sneak attack. The Cardinals were last in the National League in stolen bases with 45, and it was obvious that neither Red Sox pitcher Craig Breslow or catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia were ready for the base path surprise. The Red Sox meltdown came one batter later and again featured the Boston battery. After Daniel Descalso walked to load the bases, Matt Carpenter lofted a fly to Jonny Gomes in left. Then the pressure took hold. The throw was to the first base side of home and the runner on third, David Freese, was going to score easily. But Saltalamacchia still thought he could snag the ball, spin around to the plate and make a sweep tag. There was never a chance that could happen. The ball got away from Saltalamacchia, and John Jay, who was on second, dashed for third. Breslow, who was backing up the play behind home, then tried to nail Jay. But he never had a chance either. His direct path to third was slightly blocked by Saltalamacchia and the umpire, so he had to move around them before making the throw. The correct play was to eat the ball and keep the game tied at 2-2. Breslow tried to do too much and his wild throw to third turned into a World Series souvenir for a paying customer down the left field line. If you’re scoring at home, that’s 7 to 2 to 1 to fan. Suddenly it was 3-2, and the hurting Carlos Beltran added to the Red Sox pain by singling home Carpenter for the 4-2 lead.


* The Cardinals have home-field advantage for the next three games, not only because they are playing in the friendly confines of Busch Stadium, but because the DH disappears. My stand on the designated hitter has never been built on simple opposition to the concept, although I still prefer the game without it. I just don’t understand how baseball allowed a situation where the two leagues play by dramatically different rules. This is has become an even bigger gaffe because interleague play is now a daily part of the regular season schedule. The Red Sox have two choices for games three-four-five. Keep DH Ortiz’s lethal bat in the game and compromise the defense by playing him at first base or use Ortiz as a pinch-hitter and keep Mike Napoli at first to maintain the defense. Either way, the Red Sox lose offense by having to sit Ortiz or Napoli. Ortiz has five home runs in the post season, so manager John Farrell really has no choice, but this is the kind of series where defense has determined the first two games.

* Closer Trevor Rosenthal’s ninth inning: 11 pitches, three strikeouts, with the final strikes coming on pitches of 98, 98 and 99 mph.

* Too much information department: Red Sox starter Jon Lester sweats. A lot. That’s what we learned in between games one and two. A Cardinals minor league pitcher posted a screen shot on Twitter showing a green coloring on the glove of Lester from Game One, when he threw 7-2/3 scoreless innings. The implication was that Lester was using some unauthorized substance on the ball. Lester explained it was rosin, which he needs to keep a firm grip on the ball because he sweats profusely. Any reporter knows you need a second source for any story, so the journalists covering the World Series were able to fulfill their Woodward-and-Bernstein obligation by checking with manager Farrell, who confirmed, “He sweats like a pig.” MLB didn’t seem in any hurry to check out Lester’s claim, and can you blame them?

* In my Star-Spangled Banner Star Search Reality Show, which will determine the best anthem singer of the World Series, it was the great James Taylor’s turn at the mic. I told my panel of distinguished judges that I love James Taylor, but they couldn’t ignore the fact that Taylor got mixed up and started singing “America the Beautiful.” They noted it was the earliest anyone ever screwed up the words to the anthem, but I wrote it off as World Series pressure. Taylor went on to produce a wonderful low-key anthem accompanied by his guitar, besting Mary Blige’s rather frenetic performance in Game One. Serious note: Taylor did sing “America the Beautiful” in the seventh inning break in a poignant salute to victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. Taylor was perfect in bringing dignity to that moving moment.

* Best part about Game Two: Everybody, including me, got through the night with hardly a reference to the Cardinals Way or Boston Beards. We don’t need that to hype this matchup. These are good teams, and the potential of a dramatic Game Seven seems realistic. Anything can happen. Or as Yogi might say, “It ain’t over till the Big Papi swings.”


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