It had been over two weeks since the Red Sox won a game by more than three runs, so their 8–1 laugher in Game 1 over the surprisingly overmatched Cardinals were a breath of fresh air for a blustery wind-chilled Fenway faithful. Boston struck early and often, taking a 3–0 lead on a Mike Napoli three-run double in the first, matching the team’s entire opening inning run output for the postseason. Napoli’s at bat was a gift wrapped with shiny paper and a ribbon by St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma who simply didn’t catch the relay throw from second baseman Matt Carpenter on a sure double play grounder by David Ortiz (although second base umpire Dana DeMuth insisted he did catch it before being overturned by the rest of his crew). That was the first of two errors for the normally sure-handed, often spectacular infielder who had never made more than one miscue in any of his 150 big league contests.
Perhaps the biggest moment of Game 1 that will have a great impact on the remainder of the series is the availability of rightfielder and team postseason MVP Carlos Beltran, whose spectacularly nonchalant theft of a potential David Ortiz grand slam resulted in him having to exit the game with severely bruised ribs. Listed as day-to-day, Beltran is among the alltime postseason leaders in a wide array of offensive categories despite making his World Series debut last night. Any prolonged absence would change the Series outlook completely.
Now the Cardinals have to regroup after an uncharacteristically embarrassing game in which they lost their best clutch hitter and with—get this—a rookie on the mound. But all is not going to be a cakewalk for the Red Sox tonight. Here’s why:
St. Louis’s starter is no ordinary rookie. Since joining the rotation as a regular at the beginning of September, Michael Wacha has been one of baseball’s premiere starters. Most observers began to take note of his potential on September 24 when he lost a no-hit bid with two outs in the ninth inning. Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman beat out a slow grounder to shortstop for an infield single, costing Wacha a chance at history, but also sparking a streak of four straight lights-out games that have helped immensely in propelling the Cardinals to the National League title.
In his next start after the near no-no, Wacha made his postseason debut in the NLDS against the Pirates where he once again allowed just one hit, an eighth-inning, solo home run by third baseman Pedro Alvarez on a 3-1 count, which also accounted for the only run he gave up against Pittsburgh over 7 ⅓ innings. Then he blanked the Dodgers in back-to-back starts, pitching 13 ⅔ innings of scoreless baseball.
To this point in the postseason the 22-year old from Texas A&M has allowed just 12 baserunners in 21 innings. To put that into into perspective, consider this: His 3.43 hits per nine innings is the best of all starting pitchers this postseason, nearly half a hit better than second place Justin Verlander, who as the Red Sox know firsthand is one of the games best big game starters. You may wonder, “Where that might rank on the alltime list for a single season?” Examining every starting pitcher who threw at least 10 innings in a single postseason, Wacha currently ranks third, trailing only Mike Mussina (3.41 for the 1997 Orioles) and Don Larsen (0.84 in 1956, aided greatly by his perfect game against the Dodgers).
Wacha’s 0.43 ERA also places him among the giants (and Giants) of the game. Of those who’ve made a minimum of three starts in a single postseason Matt Cain (2010 Giants), Christy Mathewson (1905 Giants), Wait Hoyt (1921 Yankees) and Kenny Rogers (2006 Tigers) went their entire postseason without allowing an earned run. Then among those who allowed runs, only megastars Sandy Koufax (0.38 in 1965) and Verlander (0.39 this season) were better.
For the Red Sox we all know that John Lackey was the hard-luck pitcher during the regular season and Boston was 14–15 in games he started, but since the postseason began his fortunes have taken an upturn. Lackey has won both of his playoff starts, including a 7-4 victory over the Rays in which he allowed all four earned runs. During the regular season his record was 1–8 when giving up at least three earned runs, and the one win came in a September outing against the Yankees, undoubtedly his worst of the year, when he yielded seven earned runs in 5 ⅔ innings. Luckily for the Red Sox, New York’s starter David Huff was even more pitiful, surrendering nine earned in 3 ⅓ innings.
Now Lackey starts his first World Series game since Game 7 of 2002 when he beat the Giants as an Angel, with a chance to send the Sox to St. Louis with a 2–0 Series lead. There’s a solid chance that he won’t have to face Beltran, and even if he does, the rightfielder is 0 for 9 lifetime against him (the Cards’ other veteran bat, Matt Holliday, is 0 for 7 lifetime). The question is “Can the offense that abandoned him for most of the regular season, score against the game’s hottest pitcher?” We’ll soon find out.
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He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.