BOSTON — What role tension plays on a cool October night can’t be quantified. But in the wake of his meltdown moment, Craig Breslow said two things late Thursday night that bear repeating.
“Obviously, I’m aware of what’s at stake,” Breslow, a left-handed reliever for the Boston Red Sox, said in the moments after the second game of the 109th World Series. And then, seconds later, he followed with this: “I’ve made a throw of that distance thousands of times in my life.”
Combine the stakes and the throw – exceptionally wild, finding not the mitt at third base, but the stands behind it – and Breslow’s spot in what, to this point, is an odd World Series is secure. A night after the St. Louis Cardinals handed the Red Sox Game 1, Boston picked up the package and re-gifted it right back to St. Louis, crumbling in a seventh inning that included a pair of errors on one play, the difference in the Cardinals’ 4-2 victory that evened the series.
“Uncharacteristic of the way I think we’ve taken care of the baseball this year,” Boston Manager John Farrell said. He was merely parroting his counterpart, Mike Matheny, from the previous night.
With the series now headed to St. Louis for three games beginning Saturday, there were so many people who, at one point or another Thursday night, looked as if they might own the narrative. Michael Wacha, St. Louis’s remarkable rookie right-hander, seems a leading man, and he made his change-up dance for much of the night, allowing two hits through five innings. But David Ortiz, the indomitable Red Sox slugger, seized that role from Wacha when he launched a 3-2 change-up over the Green Monster, sending Fenway Park into a frenzy in the bottom of the sixth and giving the Red Sox a 2-1 lead.
“We had a chance there,” said Red Sox right-hander John Lackey.
But it came down to a series of plays in a pivotal seventh inning, one of those frames that provides a window into how Octobers become either cherished, joyful memories, or black stains that would be wonderful to forget – if only you could.
Ortiz’s homer had given the Red Sox life against Wacha, who had the “worst” of his four outings of the postseason – six innings, three hits, two runs, four walks, six strikeouts. “The kid continues to impress,” Matheny said, and it was true – even as he was losing when he walked off the mound in the sixth.
Farrell stuck with Lackey, who hadn’t yet thrown 90 pitches, heading to the seventh. With one out, Lackey walked David Freese. With the left-handed hitting Jon Jay up, Farrell again stuck with Lackey rather than turning to Breslow, his left-hander – and Jay singled to right. Tying run on second. Lead run on first.
Here, then, came Breslow to face the ninth-place hitter, left-handed Daniel Descalso. Pete Kozma – the goat of Game 1, when he made two of the Cardinals’ three errors and continued to look inept offensively – came on to pinch run for Freese at second. From the moment the two entered the game, it was apparent Kozma was timing Breslow, trying to lead a double steal.
“Can’t give you all our secrets here,” Matheny said, but the play worked. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia couldn’t even pry Breslow’s pitch out of his glove. Kozma was at third, Jay at second – and a moment later, Descalso looked at a 3-2 pitch for ball four. The bases were loaded.
Still, this was a manageable situation. A bouncing ball, and the Red Sox would have been out of the inning. And even the flyball Breslow coaxed from St. Louis leadoff man Matt Carpenter seemed fine. Left fielder Jonny Gomes made the catch and positioned himself to gun home. Kozma was running, but a good throw had him.
Gomes’s throw was not good. Saltalamacchia simultaneously tried to block the plate and reach up the first base line to snare it.
“It’s a shallow enough flyball for there to be a play at the plate,” Farrell said. “Salty is trying to hold his ground. We know the importance of the run in that spot.”
Just before Kozma crossed the plate, Saltalamacchia tried to grab the ball and sweep back with the tag. Except he didn’t have the ball. Error No. 1, and the game was tied.
Breslow, though, was where he should have been – backing up the play, able to scoop up any mess, which he did. And when he looked up, there was Jay, aware the ball had popped loose, streaking for third.
“I think I definitely had a play there,” Breslow said. “Looking up, I felt like it was definitely worth making a throw.” And then, the fateful coda: “But it wasn’t a good throw.”
Third baseman Xander Bogaerts never had a chance. Jay trotted home with the lead run, and the rattled Breslow then allowed a run-scoring single to Carlos Beltran.
A moment before, Wacha was in line to be the loser, Lackey the winner. Right then, Lackey was tagged with the loss, and Wacha ran his postseason record to 4-0 – a victory nailed down by the powerful duo of Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, who struck out six between them.
That’s all important. But so, too, is the fact that Breslow has made that throw thousands of times. Thursday night, when it mattered most, he couldn’t make it accurately, and the World Series is tied because of it.