BOSTON — They swept the Cardinals in four games in 2004. They swept the Rockies in four games in 2007. Two innings into this chilly Wednesday night beer-league rout at Fenway Park, it had to be, just had to be asked.
What is it about these 21st century National League champions when they show up in Boston for Game 1 of the Fall Classic? They go slapstick. They go Silly Putty.
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"We had a wakeup call," manager Mike Matheny said after the Red Sox routed his Cardinals, 8-1. "That is not the kind of team that we've been all season. They're frustrated. I'm sure embarrassed to a point."
In 2004, the Dropkick Murphys performed "Tessie," Steven Tyler sang the national anthem, old No. 8 threw out the first pitch and before anybody could say Yastrzemski it was 4-0 and the Cardinals never had a lead in four games. In 2007, the Sox went up 3-0 in the first inning on Colorado, won Game 1, 13-1, and that one was over in four, too.
So here came ace Adam Wainwright and the rest of the Cardinals for the 109th World Series. Mary J. Blige sang the national anthem, Yaz threw out the first pitch again and the Cardinals went down faster than Michael Spinks at the hands of Mike Tyson. It was embarrassing.
These two teams, according to some experts, are alleged to be mirror images. By the third inning, however, when the Cardinals looked in the mirror all they saw were the Bad News Bears. That wasn't Matheny managing the National League champions. It was Morris Buttermaker. Forget Carpenter, Holliday and Craig. They looked in the mirror and saw Timmy Lupus, Amanda Whurlizer and Tanner Boyle.
It was already 3-0 when Stephen Drew led off the second with a harmless infield pop up. Wainright wanted it. Catcher Yadier Molina wanted it. Wainright called Molina off and then watched it drop to the grass. Did you happen to follow Wainwright's eyes on television? Never had determination so quickly turned to confusion to panic. I haven't seen that play since I managed my little brother's Little League team in 1976. It led to two more runs.
"Wainwright is the first one that's going to say that that's his ball," Matheny said. "That's kind of in between land where we typically tell our position players we want them to try to get that. It's a very tough play on the catcher. Adam wanted that ball, and as soon as he came off the field he was talking about how he should have caught it."
It is also one of the unfortunate quirks of baseball scoring that it had to be ruled a single and not an error. Oh, the Cardinals had plenty of those, too. They finished with three errors and it would have been four if center fielder Shane Robinson's shaky play on Mike Napoli's three-run double in the first wasn't later erased by the three official scorers.
Nothing seemed to go right for the Cardinals. And when it did, Carlos Beltran nearly broke himself in half making a terrific catch to rob David Ortiz of a grand slam. Poor Beltran. He had played in 45 postseason games in his career, hit a record 16 postseason home runs, before finally reaching his first World Series game. He didn't last three innings. The one terrific thing the Cardinals did all night and it could end up costing them a premier hitter. Cardinals fans would gladly surrender three more runs for a healthy Beltran for the rest of the series. Afterward, Matheny said X-rays and a CT scan on his injured ribs were negative and Beltran's day-to-day.
Shortstop Pete Kozma is in Matheny's lineup for his glove, not his bat. Well, Pete came into the World Series with all defensive panache of Cosmo Kramer. Second base umpire Dana DeMuth did his best to bail out Kozma in the first inning by calling Dustin Pedroia out at second base when he clearly was safe. Komza dropped the throw from second baseman Matt Carpenter and it had nothing to do with transferring the ball from his glove to try to turn a double play. Mr. DeMuth, we have a message. Your eye appointment is at 11 a.m.
The umpires huddled. They made a rare decision to overturn such a call. They got it right.
"Good for baseball," Napoli said.
"What was explained was they wanted to get the call right," Matheny said. "And they got together as a group, and five of them believed that the call was different than the one that was made. That's not a play I've ever seen before. I'm pretty sure there were six umpires on the field that had never seen that play before either. It's a pretty tough time to debut that overruled call in the World Series. I get that trying to get the right call, I get that. Tough one to swallow."
Napoli followed with a gapper to left-center. Of course, he did. Of course, three runs scored on the double. According to ESPN, Wainright had allowed one bases-loaded hit all season. Well, he shows up at Fenway and allows two in the first two innings. By the time Pedroia singled home a run and Ortiz had his sacrifice fly that sacrificed Beltran's health, the Red Sox were 4-for-4 with bases loaded with 13 RBI dating to the ALCS Game 2 grand slam by Ortiz.
Kozma had another error in the two-run second.
It was a game plan only Wil Myers could love.
Yes, Jon Lester was superb. He closed out Game 4 in Colorado in 2007, the last World Series game the Red Sox played, and he shut out the Cardinals on this night over 72/3. He now has 131/3 innings of shutout World Series ball in his career. Impressive. Napoli, meanwhile, has a hit in six successive World Series games, matching Derek Jeter for the longest current streak among active players. And, of course, Papi hit one into next week and that tied him with Beltran for most all-time post-season homers at 16.
Yet it seems to go beyond that now. Remember how teams seemed to melt in the Bronx in the glory October days of the Yankees in the nineties. That's what it feels like in Boston now. Myers screwed up that play in right field in Game 1 of the ALDS and night after October night something bad always seems to happen to the visitors. Maybe it's the configuration of the park. Maybe it's the fact the fans are on top of the players. Maybe it's the noise. Maybe it's the pressure. Maybe it's all of them.
All I know is by the time Big Papi crushed reliever Kevin Siegrist's pitch into the Red Sox bullpen for a two-run homer in the seventh and Officer Stephen Horgan was there raising his arms in glee again, I couldn't help thinking the Boston cop already has ordered own spot in the duck boat parade next week. I also couldn't help wondering if it was too late to change my prediction of Red Sox in seven to Red Sox in three.