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Cardinals top Red Sox in Game 2, and have no doubt now -- this will be a classic

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  October 25, 2013 01:24 AM

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Put the brooms away, presuming you ever possessed the hubris to take them out in the first place. The daydream was nice for 24 hours, but this postseason will not be punctuated with a Red Sox sweep.

The Red Sox beat the Cardinals in four straight nine years ago to win their first World Series in generations. They did it again three Octobers later against the overmatched Colorado Rockies.

After the Red Sox' rollicking, suspense-free 8-1 victory over the disjointed Cardinals in Game 1 Wednesday, visions of another World Series walkover rattled around our delirious skulls.

The rude awakening was delivered Thursday night with the speed and accuracy of Trevor Rosenthal fastball.

These Red Sox and Cardinals are as even as it gets on paper. After the Cardinals' 4-2 victory in Thursday's Game 2, they're also even in the World Series.

Rookie sensation Michael Wacha limited the Red Sox to three hits in six innings to earn his fourth postseason win, Carlos Martinez and the closer Rosenthal combined to strike out six in three scoreless innings of relief, and the Cardinals took advantage of some uncharacteristically self-destructive Red Sox defense to earn a split at Fenway Park. Game 3 is Saturday night in St. Louis.

"Just in terms of the series, we fully expected this to be a hard-fought series,'' said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "[It's] not surprising that we're in this position.

"With what our guys have proven over the long haul, we're looking forward to the challenge of going into what should be a great environment over in St. Louis."

The Red Sox em>should head to St. Louis with confidence, even with the uncertain status of Clay Buchholz. The Cardinals' starters in Games 3 and 4 -- Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn -- are capable, but they're not of the quality the Sox have faced on the route here through Tampa Bay and Detroit. The offense should awaken even with either Mike Napoli or David Ortiz on the bench in the League of Flailing Pitchers.

But they take with them a lament of what-might-have-been in Game 2.

John Lackey, who really is a Beloved Fan-Favorite at Fenway nowadays, pitched 6-plus superb innings. The Cardinals scratched out the first run on a Matt Holliday triple and Yadier Molina's RBI groundout in the fourth, but the Sox grabbed a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning when Ortiz -- who seems intent on making October his own again -- drove an 85 mph Wacha changeup into the Monster seats for his 17th career postseason home run.

If there is a surprise in this series so far, it's that each team has submitted an uncharacteristically sloppy performance. Wednesday, it was the clumsy Cardinals who made three errors.

It was the Red Sox' turn in Game 2.

But to the home crowd, there was nothing funny about their comedy of errors on one pivotal play in the seventh inning, no laughs to accompany their gaffes.

"The margin for error is really slim at this time of year,� said Lackey. �We let one go tonight.�

It all came apart in the top of the seventh, mere moments after the 38,436 in attendance had ceased roaring after Ortiz's homer.

Lackey struck out Allen Craig looking to open the inning. But after a walk to David Freese on a 3-2 pitch and a sharp single by Jon Jay, Farrell emerged from the dugout and removed Lackey (with less expletive-dotted resistance than usual) after 95 pitches.

In came Craig Breslow, the 33-year-old journeyman lefty whose emergence as the exceptionally reliable bridge to closer Koji Uehara has been one of the most fortunate developments in a season full of them.

But good fortune was not with Breslow on this night. After a double steal by pinch-runner Pete Kozma and Jay and a walk to Daniel Descalso, leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter lifted a fly ball to Jonny Gomes in left field.

Gomes made the catch and unleashed a throw home in an attempt to nab Kozma. But catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia could not catch the ball cleanly, and as it rolled away, Jay broke for third. Breslow retrieved the ball and threw wildly past third, allowing Jay to come home with the go-ahead run. Saltalamacchia and Breslow were charged with errors on the play.

"That's the moment, in looking back, I'm sure Craig would like to have that back." said Farrell. "It's uncharacteristic of the way we've protected the baseball this year."

The next batter, Carlos Beltran, singled in Descalso with the fourth Cardinals run.

The Red Sox had a whisper of a rally against Martinez in the eighth. Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a single, and two outs later Ortiz also singled. But Mike Napoli, whose 6-4-3 double play in the fourth snuffed out the Red Sox' best scoring opportunity in the early innings, popped to Kozma at short to end the threat.

Rosenthal refused to get involved in any drama in the ninth, striking out Jonny Gomes (now 0 for 7 in the series), Saltalamacchia, and pinch-hitter Daniel Nava to end it.

The loss was the Red Sox' first in the World Series since Game 7 in 1986. It's the first time the Cardinals have held a lead against the Sox, let alone won the game, in the teams' past six World Series matchups.

No, this is not 2004, nor is it 2007. Neither team's superiority over the other is predetermined. It's being determined. This is going to require at a minimum five games, probably six, and most likely seven to settle the matter.

We're two games into what could be a true Fall Classic, where no brooms are required and steely nerves are going to be essential.

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About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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