World Series Recap: Red Sox def. Cardinals, 4-2

The 2004 World Series Trophy in City Hall Plaz...

The Commissioner’s Trophy (File) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the 3rd time in the last 10 baseball seasons, the team celebrating a World Series title is the Boston Red Sox, who defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in 6 games to win their 8th championship.  This title was historic, since it was the first one clinched at Fenway Park in Boston since 1918 (their titles in 2004 and 2007 were both clinched on their opponent’s field).  This was an odd series that included a lot of big hits, some big calls, and one Big Papi.  This was the 4th World Series meeting between the Red Sox and Cardinals, after the Cardinals won in 1946 and 1967, and the Red Sox won in 2004.  Let’s look at each game of this World Series.

Game 1:  Red Sox 8, Cardinals 1.  The Red Sox wasted no time making a statement in Game 1.  In the top of the 1st, with the bases loaded, Mike Napoli hit a 3-run double to make the score 3-0.  That occurred in the at-bat after a controversial sequence that included a Pete Kozma error, first incorrectly called as an out, before a conference of the umpires led to an overturned call.  In the 2nd, Dustin Pedroia singled, making it 4-0.  David Ortiz hit a fly ball to deep right, and Carlos Beltran made a tough catch to save a grand slam, but David Ross scored on the sacrifice, making the score 5-0 Boston.  Adam Wainwright settled down after that, but the damage was done.  David Ortiz added a 2-run homer in the 7th to make the score 7-0, and in the 8th, 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts added a run on a sacrifice fly that scored Daniel Nava, making the score 8-0.  Jon Lester threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings for the Red Sox, and the Cardinals scored their only run on a Matt Holliday solo homer off Ryan Dempster in the top of the 9th, once the game was practically out of reach.  The Red Sox had dominated Game 1, and had a 1-0 lead (this was their 9th consecutive win in World Series play, tied for 4th all-time).

Game 2:  Cardinals 4, Red Sox 2.  Game 2 featured a pitcher’s duel between John Lackey and Michael Wacha, and the game was scoreless through the first 3 innings.  The first run of the game scored on an RBI groundout, as Yadier Molina’s grounder to 2nd scored Matt Holliday, giving the Cardinals their first lead of the series.  When Michael Wacha threw a scoreless 4th, he became just the 4th pitcher in MLB history to allow 1 run or less in his first 25 postseason innings, joining Christy Mathewson (who didn’t allow a run), Babe Ruth (1 run) and Don Sutton (1 run); not bad company.  Both pitchers continued to dazzle until the bottom of the 6th.  In that inning, after a Dustin Pedroia 1-out walk, David Ortiz hit a Michael Wacha changeup the other way, elevating it enough to clear the Green Monster in left.  The homer gave the Red Sox a 2-1 lead.  The Red Sox needed a shutdown inning in the top of the 7th, but the Cardinals did not cooperate.  A Matt Carpenter sacrifice fly tied the game at 2-2 when Pete Kozma scored, before a throwing error on the play allowed Jon Jay to score, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.  The next batter, Carlos Beltran, hit a single that scored Daniel Descalso and the Cardinals had a 4-2 lead.  Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal got the final 9 outs, and the series was tied.

Game 3:  Cardinals 5, Red Sox 4.  Game 3 will long be remembered for a certain controversial call in the 9th inning (I’ll get there in a minute), but first let’s look at what was otherwise an excellent baseball game.  The Cardinals began the scoring in the bottom of the 1st, after Joe Kelly’s perfect inning in the top half, with RBI singles by Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina.  Nobody got past 2nd for either side until the bottom of the 4th, when the Cardinals had the bases loaded with nobody out but failed to score.  In the top of the 5th, Xander Bogaerts scored when pinch-hitter Mike Carp grounded out, making the score 2-1 Cardinals.  In the top of the 6th, a Daniel Nava singled scored Shane Victorino, tying the game at 2-2.  In the bottom of the 7th, a Matt Holliday RBI double scored 2, giving the Cardinals a 4-2 lead.  In the top of the 8th, the Red Sox answered, with runs scoring on a Daniel Nava fielder’s choice groundout and a short single by Xander Bogaerts, tying the score at 4-4.  In the top of the 9th, Red Sox manager John Farrell made a managerial mistake that may have impaired the Red Sox chances.  Believing that the game may go into extra innings, he sent relief pitcher Brandon Workman to the plate, instead of opting to pinch-hit Mike Napoli, who was on the bench since there was no DH (the game was being played in a NL park, under NL rules).  This was Workman’s first MLB at-bat, and he struck out.  That situation was only compounded when Workman didn’t pitch an extended outing, throwing just 1/3 of an inning and being pulled after giving up a hit to Yadier Molina.  Koji Uehara relieved Workman, and gave up a double to Allen Craig setting the stage for Jon Jay.  Jay hit a liner to 2B Dustin Pedroia, who somehow picked it and threw it to the plate, cutting down Yadier Molina.  Craig broke for 3rd late, so C Jarrod Saltalamacchia saw a potential play at 3rd.  3B Will Middlebrooks had to dive for his throw, which eventually went down the left field line.  Middlebrooks ended up on the ground after the dive, and Craig inadvertently tripped over Middlebrooks’ legs/feet as he broke for the plate.  LF Daniel Nava got to the ball and threw home, appearing to throw out Craig, but umpire Jim Joyce had called obstruction on Middlebrooks, which awarded Craig the next base.  Since the next base happened to be home plate, the Cardinals had a run, and a 5-4 win, giving them a 2-1 series lead.

Yes, the play looked awkward; it was.  That’s the first time any postseason game (much less one in the World Series) has ever ended on obstruction, and the first time I’ve ever seen any game end on obstruction.  In fact, I think I’ve only seen obstruction 2 or 3 times in my life.  Jim Joyce took some heat from the media, something he’s unfortunately used to after he blew a call in 2010 on what would have been the final out of a perfect game by Armando Galarraga.  Like that situation, he handled this one with class and dignity, or in other words, the right way.  But in this case, unlike the call he so obviously missed 3 years ago, he got the call right.  Whether there was intent or not (and I have no evidence that there was intent), Will Middlebrooks tripped Allen Craig, impeding his path toward home plate.  I went back and timed a couple of things on that final play.  First, I timed how long it took the ball to get to home from the time it got past Middlebrooks and went up the line, which was 6.5 seconds.  Next, I timed how long it took Craig to get home once he got up from the trip, which is how long it would have taken him had he not tripped, and that was 4.5 seconds.  In other words, if the trip had not occurred, Craig would have beat the ball to the plate by 2 whole seconds.  As is, he would’ve been out by a wide margin in the event Joyce had not called obstruction.  Therefore, this was absolutely te right call, as Middlebrooks inadvertent trip of Craig cost him the next base, which he was awarded.  The fact that next base happened to be home plate was a big part of the reason for the ensuing controversy.

This was the first World Series game to end on an error since, ironically, the Red Sox lost Game 6 in 1986 on Bill Buckner’s infamous error.  Luckily for Middlebrooks he will, unlike Buckner, not be the scapegoat, since the Red Sox went on to win the series in this case.  In fact, the unusual celebration at home plate by a shocked Cardinals team (Adam Wainwright claimed he thought he’d seen “the worst call of all-time” when plate umpire Dana DeMuth called Craig safe, before realizing it was the result of the events at 3rd base) was the last such celebration they would have in the series.

Game 4:  Red Sox 4, Cardinals 2.  As bizarre as the ending to Game 3 was, Game 4 also had a strange ending, although this time, there was very little controversy.  The pitching matchup was between Lance Lynn of the Cardinals and Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox, who pitched through nagging injury.  In the bottom of the 3rd, Carlos Beltran singled, scoring Matt Carpenter and giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.  Lance Lynn was perfect through 4 innings, but in the top of the 5th, after a double and 2 walks loaded the bases, a Stephen Drew sacrifice fly allowed David Ortiz to score, tying the game at 1-1.  Just before the top of the 6th, David Ortiz appeared to give a motivational speech to his teammates in the dugout.  Whatever he said worked; Jonny Gomes (who had been put in the lineup only 75 minutes before first pitch due to Shane Victorino’s back issues) hit a 3-run homer giving the Red Sox a 4-1 lead.  This game had become a bullpen game for Boston, as Buchholz only lasted 4 innings.  Felix Doubront and John Lackey were among the relievers who pitched for the Red Sox, although both had been starters in the regular season and Lackey had started Game 2, and was scheduled to start Game 6.  A Matt Holliday RBI single made the score 4-2, but the Red Sox were still in control.  Advance to the bottom of the 9th, when closer Koji Uehara was in to pitch for the Red Sox.  Allen Craig hit a 1-out single, and was pinch-run for by Kolten Wong (Craig battled a foot injury all series, he actually had not played since September 4 before the series began).  That single game Allen Craig a World Series-record 4th pinch-hit of the series.  After Matt Carpenter popped out, Carlos Beltran came to the plate, but didn’t get a chance to hit; Wong was picked off by Uehara, ending the game, with the Red Sox winning 4-2, and tying the series at 2-2.  Like Game 3, this was the first postseason game in history to end on a pickoff (according to STATS, only 1 game ended on a pickoff during the 2013 regular season).

Game 5:  Red Sox 3, Cardinals 1.  Naturally, Game 5 was a big game, as the winner would be up 3-2 going back to Boston.  After the finishes of Games 3 and 4, people were wondering what oddity would occur in Game 5, but the game ended up being pretty pedestrian.  Game 5 was a pitching rematch of Game 1 between Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright.  The Red Sox hit Wainwright first, with David Ortiz doubling in Dustin Pedroia, giving the Red Sox a 1-0 lead.  After the pitchers exchanged a hand-full of scoreless half-innings, Matt Holliday tied the game at 1-1 on a solo homer in the 4th.  That was the first run Jon Lester had ever given up in World Series play, ending a streak of 16 1/3 scoreless innings to start his career, the 3rd longest in history behind Christy Mathewson and Jim Lonborg.  The pitchers continued to match scoreless innings until the top of the 7th.  After Daniel Nava struck out to lead off, Xander Bogaerts singled.  Stephen Drew came up to bat, and was behind 1-2, before taking 3 straight balls that were probably tempting to hit, and drawing a walk.  Immediately I remarked to some friends in the room that the Drew at-bat may have been one of the biggest of the series.  David Ross made that hypothesis possibly correct when he hit a ground-rule double down the left field line, scoring Bogaerts.  After Jon Lester grounded out, Jacoby Ellsbury singled, scoring Stephen Drew, and although David Ross was thrown out at home, the Red Sox now had a 3-1 lead.  Jon Lester was pulled after 7 2/3 innings, and Koji Uehara came in for the 4-out save.  When he retired his 4 hitters in order, the Red Sox were going back home with a 3-2 series lead.  By the way, Adam Wainwright became the first Cardinals pitcher with 10 strikeouts in a World Series game since Bob Gibson’s 5th such game in 1968, and the first with 10 strikeouts in a loss since Josh Beckett in 2003.

Game 6:  Red Sox 6, Cardinals 1.  The Red Sox came into Game 6 with an opportunity to clinch a World Series at home for the first time since 1918.  In the 1st inning, neither John Lackey of the Red Sox or Michael Wacha of the Cardinals allowed a hit.  In the 2nd, both pitchers allowed two baserunners but did not allow a run.  After Lackey pitched a perfect top of the 3rd, Jacoby Ellsbury led off the bottom half with a single.  A Dustin Pedroia groundout advanced Ellsbury to 2nd (only after Pedroia hit a foul ball that missed being a homer by inches), and David Ortiz was walked intentionally.  After Mike Napoli struck out, Jonny Gomes was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for Shane Victorino.  In Victorino’s last at-bat with the bases loaded, he had hit a grand slam in Game 6 of the ALCS.  This time, he missed a homer by a few feet, but hit it off the Green Monster for a 3-RBI double, giving the Red Sox a 3-0 lead.  In the 4th, after a Stephen Drew solo homer made it 4-0, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino both added RBI singles, scoring 2 more and making the score 6-0.  Victorino’s hit came, once again, with the bases loaded, joining Billy Rogell in 1934 and Bobby Richardson in 1960 as the only players with 2 bases-loaded hits in a World Series game.  All 6 runs were charged to Wacha, after he had given up just 1 run coming into the World Series, and just 2 runs in Game 2 of the Series.  The rookie sensation had finally cracked, costing the Cardinals.  In their remaining 5 turns at bat, the Cardinals only had baserunners in 2 of them, and while a Carlos Beltran RBI single in the 7th made the score 6-1, and Allen Craig hit with the bases loaded in that same half-inning, it was the Red Sox night and the outcome of the game was never really in doubt.  Jon Lester went 6 2/3, and was relieved by Junichi Tazawa (1/3 inning), Brandon Workman (1 inning) and Koji Uehara (1 inning), who came in to pitch the 9th and retired the side, striking out Matt Carpenter for the final out, becoming the first Asian-born pitcher to record the final out of a World Series clincher.  The Red Sox had won the game 6-1, and the series 4-2, taking home another World Series championship.

David Ortiz was intentionally walked 3 times over the course of the game, and was unintentionally walked in the 1st, becoming the 7th player to draw 4 walks in a World Series game, and the 4th to be intentionally walked 3 times in a World Series game (Albert Pujols in 2011, Barry Bonds in 2002, Rudy York in 1946).  Ortiz was the series MVP, after hitting .688 with a .760 on-base percentage, becoming the 3rd oldest World Series MVP (37 years, 346 days), behind Willie Stargell in 1979 and Randy Johnson in 2001.  His .760 OBP was 2nd all-time behind Billy Hatcher (.800 in 1990).  He was the 2nd player in World Series history to reach base 3 times in 5 straight games, joining Barry Bonds in 2002 (although Bonds’ Giants didn’t win that Series).  Even with Ortiz’s success, the Red Sox hit just .211 for the series, which is the 2nd lowest average by a World Series winner since 1969, behind only the 1972 Orioles, who hit .209.  John Lackey became the 7th pitcher in history to win two World Series-clinching games, but the first to do it for 2 different teams, after he won Game 7 for the Angels in 2002 as a rookie.  The Cardinals did have 9 hits, meaning Lackey became just the 2nd pitcher to allow 9 hits and 1 run or less in a World Series clincher, joining Spud Chandler in 1943.

Red Sox fans could finally celebrate at fabled Fenway Park.  A few minutes after the game ended, as I absorbed the history unfolding on my TV, I said to everyone in the room that the curse (referring to the so-called Curse of the Bambino, often cited as a reason for the Red Sox World Series drought from 1918-2004) was now officially, completely over, since a title had now been clinched and celebrated on the field at Fenway Park.

This is the 3rd title for David Ortiz, the final holdover from the 2004 team that won the Red Sox first title in 86 years.  This was also manager John Farrell’s first title, in his first year with the Red Sox, after spending the previous two years with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Boston has the winter to celebrate.  As for the rest of us baseball fans, the countdown to spring training (which stands at about 15 weeks) now begins.

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NLCS Recap: Cardinals def. Dodgers, 4-2

The St. Louis Cardinals have won the National League Championship Series, 4 games to 2, against the Los Angeles Dodgers, to advance to their 19th World Series.  Let’s look at how the Cardinals defeated a very good Dodgers team pretty handily.

Game 1:  Cardinals 3, Dodgers 2 (13 innings).  The series began with a marathon in this classic Game 1.  The Cardinals’ Joe Kelly and the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke both pitched 2 scoreless innings to start the game, and both struggled in the third.  In the top half, Juan Uribe came up with the bases loaded, and a single scored Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez and gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead.  In the bottom half, it was Carlos Beltran (Mr. Postseason Clutch) who batted in Matt Adams and Joe Kelly with a 2-RBI double, tying the game at 2-2.  Both pitchers were very good after the 3rd, with neither side having more than one base runner in any inning from the 4th until the 8th.  In the 9th, once the game was turned over to the bullpens (Greinke went 8 innings, Kelly went 6), the Dodgers were retired in order by Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, while the Cardinals threatened in the bottom half.  Matt Adams and Yadier Molina drew back-to-back walks off Brian Wilson, and Jon Jay had a chance to potentially win the game, but he flied out to center.  In the top of the 10th, Rosenthal continued on the mound.  Mark Ellis tripled for the Dodgers, and following an intentional walk, Michael Young flied out to right.  When Ellis tried to tag up, he was thrown out at the plate, keeping the game tied.  The Cardinals were retired in order by Ronald Belisario in the bottom half.  The Dodgers threatened again in the 11th, but John Axford struck out Nick Punto to end the inning with 2 on base.  The Cardinals didn’t do anything with a Matt Carpenter leadoff single in the bottom half.  In the top of the 12th, once again it was Michael Young who hit into a double play, although this one was more conventional (groundout).  The Cardinals went down in order in the bottom of the 12th, and the Dodgers did the same in the top of the 13th.  With one out in the bottom of the 13th, Daniel Descalso hit a pinch-hit single, followed by a Matt Carpenter walk.  The Dodgers brought in closer Kenley Jansen to try and stay alive, but Carlos Beltran (once again, Mr. Clutch) singled to left, scoring Descalso to win the game 3-2 in the longest Game 1 in LCS history, and led the series 1-0.

Game 2:  Cardinals 1, Dodgers 0.  Game 2 was another classic, featuring a pitcher’s duel for the ages between Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (the likely NL Cy Young Award winner for 2013), and rookie sensation Michael Wacha, who in his previous 2 starts had seriously threatened to throw a no-hitter, including taking one into the 8th in Game 4 against the Pirates in the NLDS.  This game partnered with Game 1 of the Red Sox-Tigers game for the first ever instance of two 1-0 games on the same day in postseason history.  The scoring summary for this game is simple:  in the bottom of the 5th, David Freese doubled to left to leadoff, and moved to 3rd on a passed ball.  After Matt Adams struck out, Jon Jay hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Freese to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.  That was all Wacha needed, as he would go 6.2 innings, allowing just 5 hits and a walk, with 8 strikeouts.  Kershaw was just as spectacular, as he threw 6 innings, giving up just 2 hits and a walk with 5 strikeouts and the run, which was unearned.  The Cardinal bullpen picked up Wacha, throwing 2.1 innings without allowing a hit, and the Cardinals closed out the Dodgers 1-0 to take a 2-0 series lead going to Los Angeles.  This game was just the 3rd time in postseason history when a sacrifice fly accounted for all the scoring in a 1-0 game, with the last being in 1987 when, ironically, the Cardinals beat the Giants in the NLCS, Game 6.  The Cardinals became the 8th team in postseason history to win a game with 2 hits or fewer; the last had been the 2001 Yankees.  The Cardinals were the 7th team all-time in the postseason to win a 1-0 game in which the only run was unearned, joining, most recently, the 2001 Braves, who did it against the Astros.  Kershaw was the 6th pitcher to throw at least 6 innings without allowing an earned run in a loss.  Wacha joined Bob Gibson (1968 World Series) as the only two Cardinals pitchers to allow 1 run or fewer and strike out 8 in consecutive postseason games.  If you look at the stats for Wacha’s last regular season start and his first two starts in the postseason (including this one), he held batters to a .093 average with a 0.39 ERA in 22.2 innings pitched, with 26 strikeouts.  These facts and figures show how special Game 2 really was.  The Cardinals had their third 2-0 NLCS lead in their history, winning the first two series in 1982 against the Braves and 2004 against the Astros.

Game 3:  Dodgers 3, Cardinals 0.  Leading up to Game 3, it looked questionable that the Dodgers wouldn’t go down 3-0 in the series, as Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright was facing the Dodgers Hyun-Jin Ryu, who had struggled in Game 3 against the Braves in the NLDS.  Instead, Ryu outdueled Wainwright, and the Dodgers cut the series lead in half.  The game was scoreless through 3 innings, and there had only been 1 hit between the two teams.  Doubles by Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez and a triple by Yasiel Puig in the bottom of the 4th gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead, while Ryu had still not allowed a hit.  The no-hitter ended in the 5th, as David Freese and Matt Adams hit back-to-back singles, but Ryu got out of the inning after pinch-runner Daniel Descalso was doubled off second on a flyout and Pete Kozma grounded into a fielder’s choice.  An AJ Ellis triple led off the bottom of the 5th, but Ellis was stranded at 3rd base.  Neither side got a man past 1st base through the end of the 7th.  In the 8th, after 2 singles, Hanley Ramirez got an RBI on a groundout, extending the Dodgers lead to 3-0.  Kenley Jansen struck out the side in the 9th, giving their Dodgers their first win of the series and some much-needed momentum.  Ironically enough, the Cardinals, at .134, had the lowest batting average ever for any team through 3 games of an LCS (for a day; the Red Sox broke the record the next night at .133), yet they still led the series, 2-1.

Game 4:  Cardinals 4, Dodgers 2.  After the sensational pitching matchups this series had produced, the Lance Lynn-Ricky Nolasco matchup for Game 4 felt like an undercard, as Kelly-Greinke and Wacha-Kershaw awaited for Games 5 and 6.  However, both pitchers threw a perfect first inning.  In the second, Nolasco allowed a walk, and Lynn allowed a hit and 2 walks, but the game remained scoreless.  In the top of the 3rd, the Cardinals opened up the scoring.  Daniel Descalso hit a leadoff single, and was bunted to second by Lynn.  After a Matt Carpenter double scored Descalso to make the score 1-0, Matt Holliday hit a two-run homer to give St. Louis a 3-0 lead.  In the bottom of the 3rd and the top of the 4th, both lineups were retired in order.  In the bottom of the 4th, Yasiel Puig and AJ Ellis both had RBI singles, making the score 3-2.  Both sides stranded a base-runner in the 5th, and repeated the procedure in the 6th.  In the 7th, Shane Robinson came up to pinch-hit for St. Louis.  Out of nowhere, he homered, making the score 4-2 and giving the Cardinals some breathing room.  He had just 2 HR in the regular season, and just 5 for his entire career, before Game 4.  In the bottom of the 7th, Nick Punto, who was in the game for the injured Hanley Ramirez, doubled, but the Dodgers momentum stalled when he was picked off at 2nd.  The Cardinals got 2 on in the 8th, but they were stranded, and the Dodgers were retired in order in the bottom half.  Matt Carpenter was stranded at 2nd in the top of the 9th, and closer Trevor Rosenthal came in for a shot at the last 3 outs.  After Andre Ethier singled to lead off, Yasiel Puig represented the tying run, but he grounded into a double play.  Juan Uribe struck out, and the Cardinals were up 3-1 in the series, and were a win away from the World Series.

Game 5:  Dodgers 6, Cardinals 4.  The Cardinals were a win away from the Fall Classic, but if they wanted to get there in Game 5, they would have to beat Zack Greinke.  In the top of the 1st, it didn’t look like it would go well for Greinke, as the Cardinals loaded the bases with nobody out.  When Matt Adams struck out, and Yadier Molina grounded into a double play, Greinke was out of the jam.  No one reached base until the bottom of the 2nd, when Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Juan Uribe, and Zack Greinke all singled, scoring 2 runs to give the Dodgers the early 2-0 lead.  The Cardinals answered; Matt Carpenter singled, and was hit in by a triple by Carlos Beltran, who was hit in by a Matt Holliday double, and the score was tied, 2-2.  In the bottom of the 3rd, the Dodgers answered with a solo homer by Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 3-2 lead.  No one reached base for either side until the top of the 9th, with the exception of 3 solo homers:  Carl Crawford, AJ Ellis, and Adrian Gonzalez (again) in the 5th, 7th, and 8th, respectively, made the score 6-2, Dodgers.  In the top of the 9th, Kenley Jansen struggled, allowing RBI singles by Matt Adams and Pete Kozma to make the score 6-4, and the tying run was at the plate.  Adron Chambers, pinch-hitting for the Cardinals, struck out looking, sending the series to Game 6 in St. Louis, as the Dodgers narrowed the gap to 3-2.

Game 6:  Cardinals 9, Dodgers 0.  The Cardinals came into Game 6 still just one win away from the World Series, and Game 6 featured a rematch of the historic Game 2 between Michael Wacha and Clayton Kershaw.  If Cardinals fans were having flashbacks to last year’s 3-1 series lead that was lost by the Cardinals, they were erased in the early innings of Game 6.  Two brief half-innings, the bottom of the 3rd and 5th innings, turned what was supposed to be a close, low-scoring game into a blowout.  In the 3rd, Matt Carpenter fouled off pitch after pitch, seeing a total of 11, before hitting a double down the right field line.  That was the first time all year a left-handed hitter had an extra-base hit off of Clayton Kershaw on a full count.  Carlos Beltran singled to right, scoring Carpenter, and a bad throw by Yasiel Puig moved Beltran to 2nd.  After Matt Holliday struck out, Yadier Molina singled, scoring Beltran, making the score 2-0.  After Matt Adams walked, Shane Robinson, a daring insertion into the lineup by Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, singled to right, scoring two to make the score 4-0, and Robinson moved to second on another Puig throwing error.  After Pete Kozma walked, Wacha struck out, ending the inning.  In the 5th, Yadier Molina and David Freese led the inning off with back-to-back singles.  Matt Adams doubled, scoring Molina to make the score 5-0, and moving Freese to 3rd.  That was the end of the night (and the season) for Kershaw.  After a Shane Robinson fielder’s choice and an intentional walk to Pete Kozma, Wacha helped himself with an RBI fielder’s choice groundout, making the score 6-0.  Matt Carpenter’s sacrifice fly made the score 7-0, and a wild pitch allowed Kozma to score and make the score 8-0.  Wacha scored on a Carlos Beltran single, making the score 9-0.  (At this point, I sarcastically tweeted “BREAKING NEWS:  Multiple sources confirm the Bad News Bears are playing tonight, disguised as the LA Dodgers.  Cards by a TD and a safety.”)  As for Wacha’s pitching, he allowed just 2 hits in 7 innings pitched, with 1 walk and 5 strikeouts.  After Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal pitched perfect innings in relief, the Cardinals had won the game and the series, 4 games to 2, and the celebration that had been going on for a while in the stands now began on the field.

Wacha: 3d rookie in LCS history to win 2 starts, 2d rookie pitcher to win NLCSMVP (L.Hern.1997), 2nd youngest (F.Valen in 1981) to win series clincher in LCS

This will be the 4th trip to the World Series in 10 seasons for the Cardinals.  In 2004, they lost to the Red Sox, and in 2006, they beat the Tigers.  Now they will play one of those teams in 2013.  (In 2011, they beat the Rangers.)  Either way, it will be the 4th time they have faced that opponent, and either way, the Cardinals have won 2 out of the previous 3 series.  The last NL franchise to appear in 4 (or more) World Series in a 10-year span was the Atlanta Braves in 1991-92, 1995-96, and 1999.  The Cardinals are now 9-4 all-time in postseason series against the NL West, including 4-2 in the NLCS.

Michael Wacha became the 2nd rookie pitcher in NLCS history to be named series MVP, after Livan Hernandez with the Marlins in 1997.  He is the 3rd rookie in LCS history (either league) to win 2 starts in a series, and is the 2nd youngest pitcher, behind Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, to be the winning pitcher in an LCS game (again, either league) that clinched the series.

In Carlos Beltran’s 4th NLCS appearance, Mr. Postseason Clutch (of our time, at least) finally won to advance to his first World Series.

The Cardinals will have a few days off before the start of the World Series on Wednesday against the champion of the American League.

NLDS Recap: Cardinals def. Pirates, 3-2

The St. Louis Cardinals have defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in 5 games to advance to their third straight NLCS.  This series didn’t lack drama, as these teams knew each other well from their 19 regular season meetings, and the series included excellent performances by multiple players for both teams.  While the Pirates had most of the support around the country (outside of St. Louis) after reaching the playoffs for the first time in 21 years, the Cardinals had the home-field advantage and plenty of postseason experience after winning the World Series in 2011, and losing the NLCS in 7 games last year.  Let’s look at how the games played out.

Game 1:  Cardinals 9, Pirates 1.  Game 1 started quietly, as the game was scoreless with only 2 hits combined after two and a half innings, before the Cardinals opened up the scoring, and effectively ended the game, in the bottom of the 3rd.  It all started with an Adam Wainwright leadoff walk, followed by a Matt Carpenter single.  Carlos Beltran then hit his 15th career postseason home run (tying Babe Ruth), giving the Cardinals a 3-0 lead.  Matt Holliday doubled, Matt Adams was hit by a pitch, then Yadier Molina and Jon Jay both walked, scoring another run, making the score 4-0.  A David Freese single, and a subsequent throwing error by Marlon Byrd, cleared the bases and made the score 7-0, and there was still nobody out.  The next three hitters all made outs, but the damage had been done.  Pedro Alvarez homered in the top of the 5th for the Pirates lone run of the game, and the Cardinals added tack-on runs in the 5th and 6th on RBIs by Daniel Descalso and Yadier Molina.  The Pirates went down in order in each of the remaining innings, excluding an Andrew McCutcheon single in the 9th, and the Cardinals had made a big Game 1 statement, and led the series 1-0.

Game 2:  Pirates 7, Cardinals 1.  Game 2 was almost identical to Game 1, except for the fact the visitors were the team who scored all the runs (and they didn’t do all their damage at once).  Both sides had a hit, but no runs, in the 1st inning.  In the top of the 2nd, Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole helped himself with a RBI single, giving the Pirates their first lead of the series, 1-0.  In the third, Alvarez homered for the second straight game, hitting a 2-run shot to give Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead.  When the Cardinals were hitting, Gerrit Cole was pitching superbly, mowing down the Cardinals.  In the top of the 5th, RBIs by Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin made the score 5-0, Pirates.  Yadier Molina had the lone Cardinals bright spot in the bottom of the 5th when he hit a solo homer to make it a 5-1 game.    Russell Martin added a sacrifice fly in the 7th and Sterling Marte hit a solo homer in the 8th to make the score 7-1 in favor of the Pirates, who got the final outs easily and had evened the series at 1-1.

Game 3:  Pirates 5, Cardinals 3.  Game 3 will be looked at, particularly in Pittsburgh, as a playoff classic (and might would’ve been even more so if the Pirates had won the series).  It began in the bottom of the 1st with a 2-RBI single by Marlon Byrd, giving the Pirates a 2-1 lead.  The Cardinals loaded the bases in the 3rd against Francisco Liriano, but Matt Holliday flied out to end the threat.  Carlos Beltran singled in the 5th to score 2 and tie the game at 2-2.  In the bottom of the 6th, Russell Martin hit a sacrifice fly to score Andrew McCutcheon and give the Pirates a 3-2 lead.  In the top of the 8th, Carlos Beltran hit a solo homer (to now pass Babe Ruth with 16 career postseason HR), tying the game, 3-3.  In the ensuing half-inning, RBI singles by Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin gave the Pirates a 5-3 lead.  Closer Jason Grilli came in for the Pirates, and three outs later, the Pirates had a 2-1 series lead.  This game was so good because the Pirates led by 2, the Cardinals tied it, the Pirates led by 1, the Cardinals tied it, and the Pirates took the lead in the 8th and won by 2.

Game 4:  Cardinals 2, Pirates 1.  Game 4 is another game that will be considered a classic, this time particularly in St. Louis.  The Cardinals turned to rookie Michael Wacha, and not ace Adam Wainwright, even though they were facing elimination.  In Wacha’s final start of the regular season, he had come within one out of a no-hitter, and that form continued into this game.  Wacha had a perfect game into the 6th, before allowing a walk, and took a no-hitter 7 1/3 innings, before it ended on a Pedro Alvarez homer.  That made the score 2-1; the Cardinals had taken a 2-0 lead in the 6th on a Matt Holliday 2-run homer.  That had been Charlie Morton’s only mistake, but he couldn’t match the performance of Wacha.  Trevor Rosenthal pitched the 9th for the Cardinals, and put the tying run on with a 2-out walk of Neil Walker, bringing NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutcheon to the plate with a chance to tie or win the game.  When McCutcheon popped up, the Cardinals had tied the series, 2-2, and were going back home for Game 5.

Game 5:  Cardinals 6, Pirates 1.  Game 5 between Adam Wainwright and Gerrit Cole was much closer than the score would indicate, as it was actually a 2-run game before the bottom of the 8th.  Both pitchers didn’t allow a hit in the 1st, although Wainwright did walk Neil Walker.  In the top of the 2nd, a Marlon Byrd leadoff single was nullified when he was doubled up on a line drive by Pedro Alvarez.  In the bottom half, David Freese, who seems to always come up with big hits in the postseason, hit a 2-run homer to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.  From that point until the middle of the 6th, Wainwright allowed just 1 hit, and Cole allowed just 2.  In the bottom of the 6th, after Justin Wilson relieved Gerrit Cole, Jon Jay hit an RBI single that scored Matt Holliday to give the Cardinals a 3-0 lead.  In the top of the 7th, the Pirates cut into the lead after infield singles put Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd on base, and Morneau scored when a Pedro Alvarez grounder hit the first base bag and bounced over Matt Adams head, making the score 3-1.  A big moment in the game came in the top of the 8th when, after a Jordy Mercer single, a Sterling Marte liner was caught by Cardinals 2B Matt Carpenter, who threw to first to double up Mercer in a very close play, ending the inning.  In the bottom of the 8th, with the Cardinals already leading by 2 and 3 outs away from the NLCS, Matt Adams hit a 2-run homer to make the lead 5-1, then a Pete Kozma infield hit scored Jon Jay to make the score 6-1.  Wainwright stayed in for the 9th to try for a complete game, and did give up 2 hits, but struck out Pedro Alvarez to win Game 5 and eliminate the Pirates, winning the series, 3-2.

The Pirates certainly have nothing to be ashamed of, after their first winning season and first playoff appearance since 1992.  They also were within one game of advancing to the NLCS; that would have given them their first playoff series win since the 1979 World Series.  Clint Hurdle’s team certainly has a bright future, with a lot of young players who played key roles in this magical season.  One of those is 3B Pedro Alvarez, who became the first player in MLB history to have an RBI in each of his first 6 career playoff games (including the NL Wild Card Game and the NLDS).

Big players for the Cardinals in the series included David Freese and Carlos Beltran, both of whom have reputations for performing well in the postseason.  That reputation for Freese started after Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, when he tied the game in the 9th with a 2-RBI triple and won the game in the 11th with a walk-off homer, and Game 7, when he had a 2-RBI double in a game that would eventually clinch the Cardinals’ 11th championship.  He added to that reputation in this series with the Game 1 RBI single and especially the homer in Game 5.  Beltran, as I mentioned, tied and passed Babe Ruth for postseason homers, and that puts Beltran 8th all-time in that category.  Beltran accounted for all 3 of the Cardinals RBIs in Game 3.

The Cardinals, as mentioned earlier, will now play their 3rd consecutive NLCS.  The last team to do that was actually the Cardinals from 2004-06.  They won two of those three, advancing to the World Series in 2004 and 2006.  For that trend to continue, after winning the NLCS in 2011 on their way to a World Series title, and losing it to the San Francisco Giants last year, they will have to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, who defeated the Atlanta Braves in 4 games to win their NLDS.  The last time these two franchises met in the playoffs, the Dodgers swept the Cardinals in the 2009 Division Series.  Their last meeting in the NLCS was in 1985, remembered for an Ozzie Smith homer won Game 5 for the Cardinals (Go crazy, folks!), before the Cardinals won the series in 6 games.  The Cardinals will have home-field advantage for the best-of-7 series.

Cardinals’ Wacha Misses No-Hitter By Inches

Before tonight, Michael Wacha was simply heralded in St. Louis as a pretty good pitching prospect for the Cardinals.  Most people outside St. Louis, including me, had never heard of the 22-year-old right-hander.

After three hours of work, everyone who was watching now knows how good he’s going to be.

For 8 2/3 innings, Wacha no-hit the Washington Nationals, a team who has been playing very well lately, is 12 games over .500, and was eliminated from playoff contention yesterday.  He had walked just two, and one Nat had reached on an error.  When it came time to get the final out, and make history, Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman came to the plate.

Zimmerman hit the first pitch into the ground, and it took a hop straight up and over the mound.  Wacha reached his glove as far as he could, missing the ball and almost surely the 27th out by just inches.  Wacha even said after the game he thought his glove nicked the ball, although replays appear to show he did not.  SS Pete Kozma still had a play on the ball, but it became a slow bouncer once it hit the ground, and by the time he picked it up and threw to 1B Matt Adams, it was too late and bid for history was history.

All this came from a player who just made his major league debut on May 30, and was pitching just his 15th game and 9th start in the big leagues.  The near miss improved his record to 4-1 (the Cardinals won 2-0), and he is 3-1 in his starts, although all of his no-decisions have been games the Cardinals lost (they are 3-6 overall in his starts).  His ERA before tonight was 3.21, but is now down to 2.78.

I mentioned Wacha’s young age of 22; he was in school at Texas A&M just 16 months ago.  He was drafted last year with the 19th overall pick; this was the pick the Cardinals received for the loss of Albert Pujols in free agency (so Wacha will be a trivia answer someday).  By the end of the year, he had played in the Cardinals farm system for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals (Rookie), Palm Beach Cardinals (Advanced Class A), and the Springfield Cardinals (AA).  He hit those three levels in a total of 11 games.  He spent most of this year with the Memphis Redbirds (AAA), where in 15 games he was 5-3 with a 2.65 ERA.

Another baseball game tonight, between the White Sox and Indians, had a thrilling finish, which was made even more meaningful by the fact the Indians are part of the big AL Wild Card race.  Cleveland led 3-2 going to the top of the 9th, at home, before closer Chris Perez allowed two solo homers to Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza to give the White Sox a 4-3 lead.  In the bottom half, with Michael Brantley on second, 42-year-old Jason Giambi hit a pinch-hit walk-off HR to give the Indians a 5-4 victory.  The Braves also won on an Andrelton Simmons RBI single in the 9th that scored Justin Upton and gave the Braves a 3-2 victory over the Brewers.  Atlanta retains a half-game lead over St. Louis for the best record in the NL.