Here were the St. Louis Cardinals, living, breathing instructional videos, melting in the fire Wednesday night at Fenway Park. On any given sweltering summer afternoon in the great Midwest, toddlers and grandparents assemble to watch them ply their trade, and then old turns to young to say, “That’s how it should be done.”

But here was October, the first game of the World Series and — suddenly and alarmingly — fundamentals fell at their feet. The Cardinals, a clean-shaven, spiffy, by-the-book organization, came unglued in the first two innings, and the Boston Red Sox punished them. Boston’s 8-1 victory opened a series that was supposed to be about the best baseball has to offer. Instead it turned, momentarily, into a circus.

“I don’t think any of us played well tonight,” said Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, a chief culprit.

Left-hander Jon Lester deserves credit for his 72 / 3 scoreless innings in which he walked one and struck out eight, and he’ll get it in Boston. Mike Napoli gashed the Cardinals with a three-run double in the first, and David Ortiz finished them off with a two-run homer in the seventh. This was, above all else, thorough.

“We’re more than prepared to play,” Boston Manager John Farrell said.


True. But the seeds of this defeat were planted and then lovingly cared for by the Cardinals themselves. They had committed three errors this whole postseason, and they committed three Wednesday. In those first two innings, they gave away no fewer than four outs, and their right fielder — postseason stud Carlos Beltran — was taken to a hospital, his ribs badly bruised. By the time St. Louis reassembled, performed some breathing exercises and looked like a baseball team again, it was 5-0, Boston. Check, please.

“One of the things we’ve sort of preached is if we don’t play clean baseball,” Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said, “it’s hard for us to win.”

This was downright dirty. Which gaffe best encapsulates a night on which the Cardinals allowed four unearned runs (one of which was earned in the personal line for reliever Kevin Siegrist but not the team)? Let’s line up the candidates, parade them around the stage and decide. Secret ballot, please.

St. Louis right-hander Adam Wainwright, he of the 2.10 postseason ERA, wanted to take the blame. “This entire game should be squarely put on my shoulders,” he said. Yet with two on and one out in the first, Wainwright executed his pitch, a cut fastball that Ortiz bounced to second baseman Matt Carpenter.

But when Carpenter fed Kozma, things went haywire. Not only did Kozma — in the lineup only for defense — drop the feed, visible both in plain sight and slow motion, but second base umpire Dana DeMuth called base runner Dustin Pedroia out.

“There was really no entry into the glove with the ball,” Farrell said, and he got all six umps to confer. Kozma, though, said, “I thought I had enough of it,” and when the umpires reversed their call, he was aghast.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a play like that overturned,” Kozma said, and he added later: “It’s up to the guy who saw it. The other umpires, they have something else to look at.”

Either way, with the lumbering Ortiz running, a clean turn meant the inning would have been over. Instead, the bases were loaded, and Napoli followed with a laser to left-center. A ho-hum first inning turned into a 3-0 Boston lead.

“I love this stage,” Napoli said. “It’s in the spotlight.”

The Cardinals won 97 games this year, have been to the playoffs 10 times in the last 14 seasons and are successful in part because they can shrug off such lapses, rare as they are. Then they opened the second by getting Boston shortstop Stephen Drew, hopeless in the postseason at the plate, to hit a soft, low popup on the infield.

Wainwright called for it, but as catcher Yadier Molina approached, Wainwright pulled back.

“It’s one of those plays where you’re taught to give the ball away. It’s somebody else’s call,” Wainwright said. “But not the one that’s right to you like that. . . . I didn’t take charge on the mound, and I didn’t take charge on that play, and it cost us a lot of runs.”

Then the final blow. With one out and runners at first and second, Shane Victorino hit a ball into the hole between short and third. Kozma — who’s 4 for 33 this postseason — couldn’t corral it. It was ruled another error, and the bases were loaded.

Pedroia followed with a run-scoring single to left, and with the bases still loaded, Ortiz drilled a flyball to deep right. Beltran, though, snared it before it settled into the bullpen. Yet his ribs matched the Cardinals’ psyche: badly bruised.

Given such an advantage, Lester did what he had to. “A solid, solid outing,” Farrell said, and his one hairy moment was erased by a pitcher-to-catcher-to-first double play, a turn Lester celebrated with catcher David Ross.

For one night, the Cardinals — protectors of the game — couldn’t manage such a play. They now head to Thursday’s Game 2 in search of both themselves and the way baseball should be played.