Of those moments I remember in my life fewer remain more brightly than the night of the fourth game of the 2004 World Series, at the old Busch. The Red Sox were leading and were six outs from their first world championship since 1918. There were close to 2,000 New Englanders outside the ballpark.
And the St. Louis Cardinals and the good people who ran The Busch opened the gates, so all those people in the streets could see their Red Sox win their first World Series since 1918. Which is just a little background to Game Five Monday night, a game started by two of pitching’s fiercest and most human warriors, Adam Wainwright and Jon Lester, a game that will go a long way towards determining the 2013 World Series, the fourth series played between what may well be the two greatest baseball nations in America since World War II.
But this series is not about Ted Williams and Stan Musial, Bob Gibson and Carl Yastrzemski or Pedro Martinez pitching to Albert Pujols. It has been a great series because in many ways it is like great fiction, about moments, above all human frailty and the unexpected things that go bump in the night.
As Saturday night rolled into Sunday morning, the Cardinals took a 2-1 lead in the series, a lead statistics and mystics say is a probable World Series ring, when an obstruction call ended the game. The first time in 1,403 World Series games played since the Boston Americans first met Pittsburgh in the initial 1903 Fall Classic that a game had ended on an obstruction call.
Then on Sunday night, after Jonny Gomes blasted a three run homer in the sixth inning and six Red Sox pitchers survived, Koji Uehara closed the 4-2 Boston win by picking Cardinal rookie Kolten Wong off first base. The first time in 1,404 World Series games that one ended on a pickoff at first base, much less a pickoff by a pitcher who hadn’t thrown over to first base in the post-season.
“I don’t want to hear about what is supposed to happen,” said Gomes. “In a fight like this, it is about living out each moment.” So John Lackey came out of the bullpen to throw the eighth inning; hey, when the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the seventh game of the 1952 World Series, they used three of their four starting pitchers. “You try to do what you can do,” said Lackey. Hey, Lester approached pitching coach Juan Nieves and volunteered that he could get a couple of outs on Sunday and start on Monday.
We understand the flaws. In Game One, we saw Pete Kozma botch a double play relay, even a premier pitcher named Adam Wainwright let a popup drop. In Game Two, we watched Jarrod Saltalamacchia misfire on a throw to third, then drop a throw from the outfield and Craig Breslow turn a throw to third base into a UFO. In Game Three, there was the Saltalamacchia throw and obstruction mess.
On to Game Four. Red Sox players and coaches were still seething about the obstruction call, or the vague language of the rule that does not include intent. The umpires, Joe Torre and MLB did a marvelous job diffusing the situation, but the Bostonians were riled the way the 1975 Red Sox were riled about the non-call on Ed Armbrister interfering with a Carlton Fisk throw that decided that Game Three in the tenth inning. “You know what happened the next night?” Gomes was asked Sunday afternoon. He did not.
“Luis Tiant,” he was told, “went out the next night, threw 173 pitches, had two on in the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, popped up Joe Morgan for the final out and won 5-4.”
“We’ll do the same,” Gomes said.
Earlier in the afternoon, Gomes had pictures and videos on his phone that he downloaded from Barstool Sports and other sites questioning the obstruction call. He wasn’t in the lineup, but he was out there in the dugout 6 ½ hours before the game. But, hey, this is Jonny Gomes. This is a guy who has been—in person– to six different World Series in which he wasn’t playing. This guy, who’s played with Josh Hamilton and Toe Nash, John Rocker and now David Ortiz—nicknamed “Cooperstown”, just lives baseball.
Then Sunday, less than an hour before the first pitch, he learned he was Ortiz’s muscle, the protection batting fifth because Shane Victorino’s back wouldn’t loosen. So there he was, hitless, part of a Boston outfield that was 4-for-40, standing in the on deck circle in the sixth inning as Ortiz was walked, putting Dustin Pedroia at second, Ortiz at first and bringing sinkerballer Seth Maness out of the bullpen to relieve Lance Lynn in a 1-1 game.
This is Jonny Gomes, who on a September road trip to Tampa went to the Ted Williams Museum and bought a framed picture of Williams and Johnny Pesky with troops during World War II. This is Johnny Gomes, who wants to know everything about Carl Yastrzemski. Maness, who had the second best ground ball rate in the National League, made his human error, throwing a sinker that didn’t sink, and Gomes crushed it into the visiting bullpen.
This Jonny Gomes, also human, certainly flawed, a believer in the human will, a part of the human condition at which Tiant excelled. One Red Sox executive staunchly maintained that before this series is over, Stephen Drew will be a huge offensive figure; defensively, Drew has been nothing short of brilliant, his backhand flip to Pedroia for a force Sunday was one of nearly ten superb defensive plays in the four games. He has one hit, the popup that fell in front of Wainwright.
Little of what has happened this series can be quantified. Missed popups, airmailed throws, obstruction, pickoffs. All we now know is that the World Series will be decided by whoever wins two out of three, with the Red Sox having to beat a great pitcher in Adam Wainwright in his park on the road (where American League teams have won 12 of their last 35 games because of the non-DH rule), the Cardinals having to win it in Fenway Park. Hey, the Red Sox are 5-0 in games started by Wainwright, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price. The Cardinals are simply the best team to come to Fenway Park this 2013 season.
There will not be a thousand New Englanders waiting to be allowed through the gates of the new Busch Stadium Monday night, and there will not be thousands of Cardinal fans along Yawkey Way this week; it’s two, not 86 years since they last won the World Series.
But, as the Bill DeWitt’s Cardinal employees proved in 2004, this is a special franchise, and as close to 40,000 Wednesday sing along with Bob Marley, the Cardinal players will be reminded that, as Matt Holliday says, “there is no place like Fenway Park.” Obstruction, pickoffs, air mails, popups, Matt Adams and Jonny Gomes, this is the unimaginable played out by the two best teams in baseball in the two best baseball towns in America, and as Pedroia constantly reminds us, “one game, one play, one mistake does not define who either of us really is.”