The first two games of the 2013 World Series have both turned dramatically on fielding miscues, magnifying the importance of defense when every play can determine whether a season was successful or not. It was 27 years ago today that Red Sox Nation was forever stung by that realization in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series when a Mookie Wilson grounder down the first base line that scooted through Boston first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs and into infamy.
The Cardinals have been involved in a similarly sloppy start to a Series before as well. In 2006 they and the Detroit Tigers each committed at least one error in each of the first two games, totalling seven, the same number that the Sox and Cards have entering tomorrow night’s Game 3. In that set Detroit made at least one miscue in every game, which wasn’t even the last time that happened. The Rays and Phillies each made at least one error in each of the first four games of the 2008 Series, with the Phills completing the set in Game 5. And when the Red Sox appeared in the first World Series (as the Boston Americans) they and the Pittsburgh Pirates combined for a record 33 mistakes in the eight game set.
The errors committed in this Series thus far, while not Buckneresque, due to the timing and game situations, but have been no less impactful.
First there was Pete Kozma’s failure to catch a relay throw (you can’t assume a double play, but with David Ortiz running, we’ll do just that here) in Game 1 that led to a Mike Napoli base-clearing double. Kozma later committed another error which accounted for another run, giving Boston four gift runs (although only three are officially unearned) while forcing Adam Wainwright to throw 95 pitches just to get 15 outs.
Then in Game 2 it was Boston’s turn for defensive lapses. As soon as Craig Breslow relieved starter John Lackey in the top of the seventh with men on first and second, and Daniel Descalso at bat Kozma, running for David Freese, and Jon Jay pulled off a double steal when catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was unable to get the ball out of his glove. After Descalso walked Matt Carpenter hit a fly ball to Jonny Gomes in medium depth left field (who’s been stellar defensively thus far in the postseason). Kozma tagged and ran home, only to be beaten by the throw, however the ball bounded off of Salty’s glove for the run. Breslow, backing up the play, then airmailed his throw to third into the stands, allowing Jay to score. According to the Elias Sports Bureau that was the first play in World Series history in which a pitcher and catcher were each charged an error.
That leads us to Game 3’s starters. For the Cardinals Joe Kelly, in just his second season, has pitched in two and a half times as many postseason games as his much more experienced counterpart, Jake Peavy, and with considerably more success. In 10 games, including three playoff starts, over 24 innings, Kelly is 0-1 with a 3.75 ERA. Peavy on the other hand is 0–3 with an unsightly 10.31 ERA in 18 innings. Much of the damage was done by the Cardinals in the NLDS while he was with the Padres. Against St. Louis, Peavy has allowed 13 earned runs in 9 ⅔ innings.
So how does how does defense factor into this matchup? For the season, including the playoffs, Kelly was charged with six unearned runs, second-most on the Cardinals behind Jake Westbrooks’s nine. However Kelly’s defense has failed him all too often as of late, accounting for five of those six unearned tallies since September 12, including one against the Pirates in the NLDS. Prior to the NLCS when they were clean, the Cardinals had made seven error in Kelly’s last five starts.
The Red Sox however have committed just two errors total in Peavy’s dozen starts since coming over in a trade from the White Sox (curiously for defensive wizard Jose Iglesias), and all 29 of the runs he allowed were earned.
In the regular season these two teams were among the best in baseball defensively ranking fifth (Cardinals) and ninth (Red Sox) in team fielding percentage. They allowed the seventh (St. Louis) and eighth (Boston) fewest unearned runs, and yet under the bright lights of baseball’s biggest stage, simple lapses on defense have cost them each dearly. The team that can make the fewest mistakes from here on out, will be the one enjoying a parade sometime next week.
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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.