BOSTON — The World Series is a terrible place for a persecution complex. The St. Louis Cardinals’ biggest challenge may not be ignoring their own ugly comic play or the brutal 8-1 drubbing inflicted on them by the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the World Series. Their largest task may be, in just one day, to totally erase any sense they were jilted, jobbed or unjustly served by an umpiring crew that did its appointed job: correct its own mistake — in a sport that is still one season from replay — and get a vital Series call correct.
“The umpires told me they wanted to get the call right,” said Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny, his jaw set and words clipped. His shortstop, Pete Kozma, clearly dropped a double-play pivot feed at second base in the first inning. An incorrect call of “out” was made at second base. After complaints by Boston Manager John Farrell and a six-umpire huddle, the call was reversed: all Boston hands safe. Bases loaded, one out, not first and third with two outs. The next Boston hitter, Mike Napoli, doubled in three runs and the Cardinals fell apart thereafter with fielding gaffes and poor hitting.
“That’s not a play I’ve ever seen before. There were six umpires, and I don’t think they’d seen it before. It’s a pretty tough time to debut that, over a brutal call in the World Series,” Matheny said. “It’s just a tough one to swallow.”
The Cardinals better swallow, digest and do it fast. But it’s gong to be especially hard — because of 1985. St. Louis still has the bitterest blown-call memory in World Series history — an obvious “out” that was called “safe” by Don Denkinger in the ninth inning of a Game 6 that was eventually lost. Then, the next night, an entire Series vaporized in collective outrage.
If one town on baseball earth believes in Get the Call Right it is St. Louis. Now, the most conspicuous reversed call in the Series in many years has, ironically, gone against that same team. The town’s fans have righteously fumed over it for a generation. Now, the dad-blamed Red Sox do get a call reversed?
“That’s something you rarely see,” Napoli said, “especially on a stage this big. . . . But it’s good for the game. Get it right.”
That’s the direction of the sport which will introduce managerial challenge, demanding instant-replay review, next season. The details haven’t been ironed out. But it’s coming and will cover plays like the Kozma muff. Were the ’13 umps influenced by that shift in baseball history in a way that umpires in ’85, before universal instant replays in other sports, would not have been? Yes, probably. But that’s okay. Times change, sports move.
The Cardinals, as hard as it may seem to them, need to accept it, because in another important area — coping with the pressures of a Game 1 in Fenway Park — they failed badly. They need to change their ways, not fume.
“Welcome to Fenway Park, America’s Most Beloved Ballpark,” say the signs all over this yard, in case you missed the theme park angle. Well, not if you are the visiting team in the World Series. Then you hate it.
For the third straight Series here, just like ’04 and ’07, the Red Sox used the very first inning of Game 1 to jump all over their gawking houseguests, pull their coats over their heads, snatch their wallets and give them the bum’s rush headlong into Lansdowne Street. This time, they just had the psychological assistance of that blown call by Dana DeMuth and its reversal by five not-blind mice dressed in blue.
In ’04, Boston led the Cardinals 4-0 after one inning, helped by a three-run homer by David Ortiz. In ’07, the Red Sox led 3-0 after one inning, helped by a home run by Dustin Pedroia. Neither foe ever recovered any semblance of poise and Boston swept both those Series.
On Wednesday night here, the Red Sox again clubbed St. Louis in Game 1, this time 3-0 after one inning and 5-0 after two, on a three-run double by Mike Napoli and, what a shock, runs knocked in by Ortiz and Pedroia. The drubbing ended at 8-1 with Ortiz adding a two-run homer.
Few places in sports have more mystique on first meeting than this old yard. It’s now a buffed profit factory, no longer grimy. But the Fens is still infinitely evocative, a place where Babe Ruth pitched all 14 innings of a 2-1 World Series win for the Red Sox 98 years ago (time of game 2:32).
There’s history here, but also the weight of making new history. The current Red Sox, the Curse a distant memory, are finally used to it now. Ortiz and Pedroia are symbols of that transformation. But National League teams in the Series — the Cardinals have only played six regular season games here in their history — tend to feel, or at least play like tourists.
You can’t prove it. But you sure can suspect it. In ’04, the Cards starter hit the second Boston hitter with a pitch and the merry-go-’round started. In ’07, Pedroia’s homer was a leadoff job to shock the Rockies.
And this time, from a leadoff walk to the first Red Sox batter by control artist Adam Wainwright, to Kozma’s drop to an embarrassing pop up that fell between Wainwright and Yadier Molina as they stared blankly at each other, this game looked like an out-of-towners tour gone terribly wrong.
Worst for the Cardinals was the disintegration of their vaunted composure and fundamental soundness. Few St. Louis players have ever set foot in Fenway. In the history of baseball, these teams have only met 27 times before with 18 of those in previous Series. Even the Cards’ veteran ace, Wainwright, had never pitched in Fenway nor started a Series game.
By the time the Cardinals had finished smacking batting practice balls off the Green Monster, found the “Jimmy Fund Sign,” spotted the seat where Teddy Ballgame’s 501-foot home run landed and said “Hello” to the Pesky pole, they sure didn’t look ready for the World Series.
This ancient park is a terrible place to try to cure a case of badly rattled nerves. The Cardinals also met the kind of quality lefty, one able to jam their right-handed hitters, who gives them problems. Boston ace Jon Lester lasted 72 / 3 shutout innings. He’ll be b-a-c-k if there is a Game 6.
Since the team with the home-field advantage has won 21 of the last 25 Series, it’s doubly unwise to lose Game One and look like you have stage fright in the process. Suddenly, the start of Cards rookie Michael Wacha in Game Two seems unusually important.
“This is kind of a tricky little ballpark,” said Wacha, who’s 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA this postseason. “One pitch can really kind of change a game. I try not to think too much about it.” That’s hard, kind of.
The Red Sox could hardly have established a more entrenched beachhead. Lester is exactly the kind of pitcher the Cardinals hate to face. Boston’s 3-4-5 hitters drove in seven runs.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals have to overcome the put-upon feeling, the sense that they aren’t a glamorous East or West Coast media-darling team, that has occasionally hindered their team in postseason. The Cards can blame the umps or they can blame themselves.
“That’s not who we are,” Matheny said. “That’s not the kind of baseball we played all season long. We’re embarrassed, up to a point. We got a wake-up call.”
Let’s hope so. The World Series began Wednesday and only one team showed up. Two would be greatly preferable.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.