BOSTON — If the Red Sox lose the World Series — and we’re a long way from that — they’ll bemoan Thursday night’s seventh inning for a long time. The Sox owe the 4-2 Game 2 loss to the Cardinals almost exclusively to that frame, which featured some of their worst baseball of the year.
The inning began with the Red Sox leading, 2-1. It ended with three more St. Louis runs, thanks partly to the clutch hitting of the Runners In Scoring Position Cards, but far more to an appalling series of mental and physical errors.
Consider the following:
• With one out and one on, Sox starter John Lackey, tremendous for much of the night, lost No. 8 hitter John Jay after getting ahead in the count 0-2, allowing a one-out single that advanced David Freese (walk) to second.
• In came left-hander Craig Breslow. The Cardinals attempted a double steal, and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia had pinch-runner Pete Kozma dead to rights at third base, but bobbled the transfer.
• After a walk loaded the bases, Matt Carpenter lined out to a charging Jonny Gomes in medium left field. Gomes’ throw sailed slightly up the first base line and ticked off Saltalamacchia’s glove as the catcher attempted to apply a sweeping tag.
• Breslow, alertly backing up the play, made a regrettable attempt to nail Jay advancing to third. The throw sailed into the seats and the Cardinals scored the go-ahead run.
Let’s start with the real killer: the double steal. Kozma tipped St. Louis’ hand by breaking for third while Breslow stepped off the mound at the start of Carpenter’s at-bat. That led shortstop Stephen Drew to dog Kozma behind the bag, truncating his lead.
The two runners broke on a high-and-inside 89 mph fastball that effectively served as a pitchout.“It was a great pitch to throw on, great spot,” Saltalamacchia said. “Obviously, (Kozma) didn’t have a good jump. He would’ve been out if I could’ve transferred the ball and made a good throw. It just popped out of my glove. It’s one of those where he didn’t have a good jump, so I might’ve gotten big-eyed and tried to get too big too quick.”Instead of two outs and a runner on second, Breslow had to go for a strikeout against No. 9 hitter Daniel Descalso and lost him on a full-count breaking ball.
“I didn’t make the pitch,” Breslow said. “I found myself in need of a ground ball with the next guy.”
Breslow got the next best thing — a liner shallow enough for Gomes to have a play at the plate. Gomes, who has an accurate arm, caught the ball across his body and rotated before unloading.
“Ball going to my left, really got to swing my body around to get it to the plate,” Gomes said. “I was hoping for a strong throw, and I think I had a strong throw. Just kind of hopped away from Salty a little bit, and then . . .”
Saltalamacchia sized up his options as the throw tailed.
“I could’ve just let him score and caught the ball,” Saltalamacchia said. “I could’ve gotten around the ball and just catch it and dive (for the tag). There’s a lot of things you can look back on now and try and change.”
Breslow backed his catcher up and saw Jay break for third. He uncorked a throw over the head of Drew, who was covering the base.
“I definitely had a play there,” Breslow said. “Looking up, I felt like it was definitely worth making the throw. But it wasn’t a good throw. It sailed on me.”
Carlos Beltran followed with a clutch two-out single to right field, and there’s your final score.
“If we eat that ball or if we don’t throw that ball, there’s truly not too many problems,” Gomes said. “Granted, not ideal. Both of our throws were tough, but not out of the ordinary. I’m not OK with errors in general, but it wasn’t like the old ball between the legs.”
Whatever it was, it cost the Red Sox Game 2, and now we’re off to St. Louis with a markedly different series.