ST. LOUIS — The man the St. Louis Cardinals respected was, understandably, David Ortiz, who commands respect in his own dugout and throughout baseball. In the fifth inning, he had addressed his own team – passionately and purposefully – in the dugout. When he came up in the sixth, the Cardinals sent their outfielders to the edge of the warning track, lest he hit one in the gap. Then they tossed him four straight balls. Ortiz scarcely looked tempted, and walked to first base.
By extension, then, the man the Cardinals didn’t respect was Jonny Gomes. And at this point why would they? When he came to the plate he was hitless in the World Series. He wasn’t even in the original lineup. He looked lost.
So Cardinals reliever Seth Maness fed Gomes fastballs. Trickery seemed unnecessary – until it was. Until, on that fifth fastball, Gomes unleashed a swing that spun the series back to Boston. Gomes’s three-run homer helped deliver a 4-2 victory for the Red Sox in Game 4, a victory started by ragged-but-ready right-hander Clay Buchholz, who was backed up ably by five relievers, including a particularly important effort from lefty Felix Doubront, an inning from Game 2 starter John Lackey – and a game-ending pickoff from closer Koji Uehara.
All were important. None would have meant as much without Gomes’s shot.
“A pretty special moment,” Gomes said. “If you’re looking for words, I don’t got much for you.”
By the end of this series, there may be no words. It is now even at two games apiece, and is guaranteed return to Boston after Monday night’s Game 5 at Busch Stadium – in which the staff aces, Adam Wainwright of St. Louis and Jon Lester of Boston, will reprise their series-opening roles.
But consider what it took to get there. The Red Sox, stung by two straight losses that were decided by out-of-the-box, sloppy plays, were struggling to scratch anything together against St. Louis right-hander Lance Lynn. Their own starter, Buchholz, was hampered by shoulder stiffness. His velocity was down. It seemed certain he couldn’t go deep.
So with the score tied 1-1, the Red Sox came off the field after the bottom of the fifth. They faced an uncertain future. And Ortiz – the only tie to the 2004 World Series championship team, here for the 2007 title as well – spoke.
“Every time that guy steps in the box, he’s a presence,” Gomes said. “Any time that guy puts on a uniform he’s a presence. If this guy wants to rally us together for a pep talk, it’s like 24 kindergartners looking up to their teacher.”
Given how their two losses came about – an errant throw from reliever Craig Breslow that cost them in Game 2, and a wacky obstruction call that followed a stray throw from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia that ended Game 3 – the Red Sox could well have been rattled. Ortiz, the one Boston player who looked to have a clue against Lynn, has the clout to calm them.
“He just said, ‘Hey guys, this opportunity doesn’t come around very often,’ ” catcher David Ross said. “ ‘Let’s seize the moment. Let’s have some fun. Let’s be ourselves.’ ”
So with two outs in the sixth, that started to take shape. Dustin Pedroia singled off Lynn, the first hit by someone other than Ortiz – who went 3 for 3 with a double, a walk and two run scored. That’s when the Cardinals pushed their outfield back. And that’s when Lynn acted as if he wanted nothing to do with Ortiz, doling out those four straight balls – even as the Cardinals had veteran lefty Randy Choate ready.
“We just weren’t going there,” St. Louis Manager Mike Matheny said.
The Cardinals, instead, opted for Maness vs. Gomes, who stepped into the box hitless in nine World Series at-bats, just 5 for 41 in the postseason.
“He’s been able to come in and get the big out when we needed it,” Matheny said of Maness, “and we wanted to give him a shot.”
The shot came on a 2-2 fastball, and it ended up in the Red Sox bullpen. With that, the game became about the Red Sox bullpen, whether it was constructed as it normally is or not. Doubront, who pitched in the Game 3 loss, hadn’t worked on back-to-back days in more than two years. Yet he was brilliant in retiring the first eight men he faced.
“He doesn’t panic,” Boston Manager John Farrell said.
He did, though, issue a two-out double in the seventh. Junichi Tazawa erased that by getting a groundball, and then came Lackey – who will start Game 6, and who hadn’t relieved since 2004 – for the eighth. He worked around an error for a scoreless frame, and left it to Uehara.
With one out in the ninth, pinch hitter Allen Craig singled, and reserve infielder Kolten Wong ran for him. After Uehara got Matt Carpenter to pop up, it became clear that this series could have no games end normally, because Uehara picked off Wong to end the game.
“That was on his own,” Farrell said.
Gomes’s shot, too, would seem to have been created on his own, to have come from within. But it came, too, because of how much respect both teams afford Ortiz, who changed the attitude of his team and the direction of the series.