Resilient St. Louis can take comfort that it's handing ball to rookie sensation Wacha
BOSTON -- The St. Louis Cardinals have to do more than hope that there are much better days in their immediate future. They have to create one of those days on Thursday.
Two factors make dramatic improvement somewhere between possible and probable for the Redbirds in the 2013 World Series against the Red Sox. Their built-in resilience is a matter of record. They have bounced back before from difficult defeats and hard situations.
And starting Game 2 for the Cardinals on Thursday night (6:30 p.m. CT air time on FOX, 7:07 first pitch) will be sensational rookie right-hander Michael Wacha. The winner of the Most Valuable Player Award of the National League Championship Series, Wacha is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in three postseason starts.
A bounce-back game will be in order for St. Louis. Game 1 of the 2013 World Series on Wednesday night was so essentially non-Cards-like that it was unrecognizable. The result was an 8-1 loss at Fenway Park, with inadequate play in every phase of the game.
"We had a wake-up call," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "That is not the kind of team that we've been all season. And they're frustrated. I'm sure embarrassed, to a point. We get an opportunity to show the kind of baseball we played all season long, and it didn't look anything like what we saw tonight. You're going to have games like that periodically. But if you begin to accept that, then this could not really go anywhere."
Adam Wainwright, ace of the Cardinals' staff, was uncharacteristically shaky early, giving up five runs (three earned) in the first two innings. What was characteristic of Wainwright was that after the loss, he took the blame -- all of it, repeatedly.
"All night long, to be honest with you, I set the tone," Wainwright said. "This entire game should be put on my shoulders. There were very few pitches that I threw of any quality at all. My delivery was the worst it was all year.
"Just horrible timing, I know, and no Cardinal fan wants to hear me say [that] it was just a bad night. But my delivery was so bad tonight, I spent the last three innings I pitched just trying to control my body and my arm."
The two unearned runs of Wainwright's line were due to two errors by Pete Kozma, normally a distinctly above-average shortstop.
Another play that was not officially an error, but definitely represented a mistake, occurred when Boston shortstop Stephen Drew led off the second by popping up in front of the mound. Wainwright called for the ball. Catcher Yadier Molina advanced toward the mound. The ball fell in front of Wainwright, nearly hitting him, and Drew reached first before, of course, eventually scoring.
"Again, it's just a really bad effort by me, all night long," Wainwright said. "It's one of those plays where you're taught to give the ball away, it's somebody else's call, but not the one that's right to you. I made the mistake of calling it and then waiting for someone else to make the play instead of taking charge."
The clutch hitting that has been an integral part of the Cardinals' success this year was also absent. The Cards loaded the bases with one out in the fourth inning, but David Freese grounded into a double play.
It all added up to a lopsided defeat that did not resemble the work of the 2013 Cardinals.
Making matters worse, veteran right fielder Carlos Beltran suffered a right rib contusion while taking a grand slam away from Boston designated hitter David Ortiz in the second inning. Beltran has been an inspirational leader on this team, and a leading threat in the lineup. St. Louis missed him in more ways than one for the last seven innings Wednesday night. General manager John Mozeliak said that an X-ray and a CT scan on Beltran were negative, and that the outfielder's status was "day to day."
Still, if this was a particularly bad game for the Redbirds, it had the virtue of being only one game. The Cardinals can get even in Game 2. It does not require a leap of imagination to picture Wacha producing another dominant start. The Red Sox's lineup may be tougher than anything the Cards have seen in the NL, but Boston's bats haven't seen anything like Wacha, either.
"He continues to surprise us, and every time he has to step up, he has," Mozeliak said of Wacha. "Hopefully, he can give us that outing that we need [Thursday night]."
Wainwright, meanwhile, voiced confidence in his own ability to bounce back, and in his team's ability to get beyond this ugly loss.
"The only thing that I can take out of this is that I didn't show [the Red Sox] anything I could normally do," Wainwright said. "So next start should be like a fresh start. I wish I could have performed better on this stage. I know my team will give me another chance."
The Cardinals have certainly bounced back before. The caliber of the competition offered by Boston won't make that task any easier, but the Cards have previously demonstrated both the ability and the will to rebound. Plus, they have the kind of pitching, particularly in Wacha, that makes success much more than a mere hope.