Strong from the start
By BEN WALKER
BOSTON —An easy toss on a sure out that skittered away. A routine popup that somehow dropped between Gold Glovers. And something even more startling — umpires reversing a key call.
Most everything fell into place for the Boston Red Sox in the World Series opener.
Mike Napoli hit a three-run double right after a game-changing decision in the very first inning, Jon Lester made the early lead stand up and the Red Sox romped past the sloppy St. Louis Cardinals 8-1 Wednesday night for their ninth straight Series win.
A season before Major League Baseball is expected to expand instant replay, fans got to see a preview. The entire six-man crew huddled and flipped a ruling on a forceout at second base — without looking at any video.
“I think based on their group conversation, surprisingly, to a certain extent, they overturned it and I think got the call right,” Boston manager John Farrell said.
David Ortiz was robbed of a grand slam by Carlos Beltran — a catch that sent the star right fielder to a hospital with bruised ribs — but Big Papi later hit a two-run homer following third baseman David Freese’s bad throw.
The Red Sox also capitalized on two errors by shortstop Pete Kozma to extend a Series winning streak that began when they swept St. Louis in 2004. Boston never trailed at any point in those four games and coasted on this rollicking night at Fenway Park, thanks to a hideous display by the Cardinals,
It got so bad for St. Louis that the sellout crowd literally laughed when pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina, who’ve combined to win six Gold Gloves, let an easy popup drop untouched between them.
Serious-minded St. Louis manager Mike Matheny didn’t find anything funny, especially when the umpires changed a call by Dana DeMuth at second base.
“Basically, the explanation is that’s not a play I’ve ever seen before. And I’m pretty sure there were six umpires on the field that had never seen that play before, either,” Matheny said.
“It’s a pretty tough time to debut that overruled call in the World Series. Now, I get that they’re trying to get the right call, I get that. Tough one to swallow,” he said.
DeMuth said he never actually saw Kozma drop the ball.
“My vision was on the foot. And when I was coming up, all I could see was a hand coming out and the ball on the ground. All right? So I was assuming,” DeMuth told a pool reporter.
There was no dispute, however, that the umpires properly ruled Kozma had not caught a soft toss from second baseman Matt Carpenter on a potential forceout. That’s what crew chief John Hirschbeck told Matheny.
“I just explained to him … that five of us were 100 percent sure,” Hirschbeck said. “Our job is to get the play right. And that’s what we did.”
“I said, ‘I know you are not happy with it, that it went against you, but you have to understand that the play is correct,’” he said.
The normally slick-fielding Cardinals looked sloppy at every turn. Wainwright bounced a pickoff throw, Molina let a pitch trickle off his mitt, center fielder Shane Robinson bobbled the carom on Napoli’s double and there was a wild pitch.
The Cardinal Way? More like, no way.
“We had a wakeup call. That is not the kind of team that we’ve been all season,” Matheny said. “And they’re frustrated. I’m sure embarrassed to a point.”
Game 2 is Thursday night, with 22-year-old rookie sensation Michael Wacha starting for St. Louis against John Lackey. Wacha is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA this postseason.
Beltran is day to day after X-rays were negative.
Lester blanked the Cardinals on five hits over 7 2-3 innings and struck out eight for his third win this postseason.
“We wanted to set the tone and get them swinging,” he said.
Ryan Dempster gave up Matt Holliday’s leadoff home run in the ninth.
Boston brought the beards and made it a most hairy night for St. Louis. The Cardinals wrecked themselves with just their second three-error game of the season.
The umpires made a mistake, too, but at least they got to fix it in a hurry.
After the control-conscious Wainwright walked leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia singled him to second with one out.
Ortiz then hit a slow grounder to Carpenter, and it didn’t appear the Cardinals could turn a double play. Hurrying, Kozma let the backhanded flip glance off his glove.
DeMuth instantly called Pedroia out, indicating that Kozma dropped the ball while trying to transfer it to his throwing hand. Farrell quickly popped out of the dugout to argue while Pedroia went to the bench.
Farrell argued with every umpire he could and must’ve made a persuasive case. As the fans hollered louder and louder as they studied TV replays, all the umpires gathered on the dirt near shortstop and conferred and decided there was no catch at all.
“You rarely see that, especially on a stage like this,” Napoli said. “But I think that was good for the game.”
Pedroia came bounding from the dugout and suddenly, the bases were loaded in the first. Napoli unloaded them with a double that rolled to the Green Monster in left-center.
Napoli, with maybe the bushiest beard of all, certainly picked up where he left off the last time he saw the Cardinals in October. In the 2011 Series, he hit .350 with two home runs and 10 RBIs as Texas lost in seven games to St. Louis.
The Red Sox added to their 3-0 lead with two more runs in the second. A fielding error by Kozma set up Pedroia’s RBI single.
The whole inning got going when Stephen Drew’s popup in front of the mound landed at Wainwright’s feet, a step or two from Molina. The ace pitcher and the star catcher both hung their heads.
“I called it. I waited for someone else to take charge. That’s not the way to play baseball. It was totally my error,” Wainwright said.
Ortiz, who hit a tying grand slam at Fenway in the AL championship series win over Detroit, sent a long drive to right-center. Beltran, playing in his first World Series, braced himself with one hand on the low wall in front of the bullpen and reached over with his glove to make the catch.
“At least I got an RBI and we were up four and got the momentum,” Ortiz said.
Beltran hurt himself on the play and left in the third inning.
Ortiz homered in the seventh and the Red Sox got another run in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by 21-year-old rookie Xander Bogaerts.
The Red Sox almost made a terrific play to finish the game. With two outs in the ninth, Freese hit a sharp single and right fielder Shane Victorino nearly threw him out at first base.
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