ST. LOUIS -- To say the Cardinals have taken control of this World Series is entirely accurate.
To say they've done so by playing their best ball against the Red Sox is quite the opposite.
And maybe that's what's most encouraging to the Cards, here in the aftermath of their unprecedented walk-off obstruction that gave them a 5-4 Game 3 victory and a 2-1 Series lead. Their best ball might very well still be ahead of them. But for now, they've won two games in somewhat fluky fashion.
Carlos Beltran acknowledged. "Right now, it seems like we've made mistakes and they've made mistakes and sometimes they've taken advantage of our mistakes and we've taken advantage of theirs. Right now, I haven't seen either one of us play real, real solid baseball."
That's for sure. This Series has basically been defined by damaging defensive miscues, and to that we now add in Will Middlebrooks' unavoidable but inarguable obstruction of Allen Craig's path toward home plate in the bottom of the ninth Saturday night.
Think for a minute, though, about some of the strange situations that played out positively for the Cards to get them to this point.
Go back to Game 2, when Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow's ugly throw to third allowed Jon Jay to scamper home with the run that put the Cards ahead.
Review that play closely, and you'll discover that Breslow was only in position to attempt that throw because of Jay's own baserunning gaffe.
Matt Carpenter had hit a fly ball to left field with Jay at second and Pete Kozma at third. Kozma tagged up and headed home safely, with the ball scooting away from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Breslow backed up the play and saw Jay bounding toward third. But had Jay not veered too far off second base with the fly ball in the air, rather than waiting on the bag to tag up, Breslow never would have been in position to try to make a play at third, because, by that point, Jay would have already been there. Instead, Jay was running late, Breslow had a shot at him, and Breslow's throw was errant enough to allow Jay to come all the way home.
Closing kick for the Cards
|2011||Rangers||Cardinals in 7|
|2006||Tigers||Cardinals in 5|
|1985||Royals||Royals in 7|
|1982||Brewers||Cardinals in 7|
|1968||Tigers||Tigers in 7|
|1967||Red Sox||Cardinals in 7|
|1942||Yankees||Cardinals in 5|
|1934||Tigers||Cardinals in 7|
|1931||Athletics||Cardinals in 7|
|1926||Yankees||Cardinals in 7|
Sometimes it really is better to be lucky than good.
In Game 3, the Cards made waste of multiple scoring opportunities and, in several ways, won in spite of themselves.
In the first inning, Beltran made the unusual decision to put down a bunt attempt in a 3-1 count with Carpenter on first with none out. Beltran was taking advantage of the Red Sox's shift toward the right-hand side of the field, but Jake Peavy's pitch had more break than he bargained for, and he was not able to bunt it hard enough to the left-hand side. Peavy easily fielded the ball and retired Beltran at first for what turned out to be an inadvertent sacrifice bunt (one Beltran arguably never would have attempted if not dealing with the rib injury to his right side).
The "sac bunt," as it were, wound up working, because Matt Holliday followed with a single that scored Carpenter from second to get the Cards on the board. They'd add another RBI single from Yadier Molina later in the inning.
But those would, surprisingly, be the only two runs scored by the Cards off a shaky Peavy, who lasted just four innings and gave up six hits and a walk. In the fourth, the Cards loaded the bases with none out, only to see Kozma strike out looking and Joe Kelly and Carpenter pop out.
"If we would have lost," Carpenter said, "that would have been something to look back on."
Carpenter ignited a seventh-inning rally ... on a checked swing. He rolled a grounder to short, where Xander Bogaerts had replaced the defensively sound Stephen Drew, and beat it out when David Ortiz was unable to handle Bogaerts' feed. Beltran continued the rally ... on a hit-by-pitch. And it was only a hit-by-pitch because it nicked his elbow pad. Holliday capitalized with a two-run double that gave the Cards a 4-2 lead, but he would end up stranded at third despite getting there with no outs.
The Cards would wind up coughing up that lead in the eighth, though it can be argued that the second run allowed that inning was entirely preventable. With the bases loaded and one out, Daniel Nava hit a scorcher to second that Kolten Wong halted with a sensational diving stop. Wong instinctually threw to second to get the force of Ortiz and try to start the double play, but Nava beat out the relay to first.
Ortiz, however, had froze at first base on the play. Wong might have had a better shot to turn two if he first threw to first. You can't blame him for following his instincts -- particularly after making such a great play in the first place -- but the double play would have prevented what happened next: a run-scoring single from Bogaerts that tied the game.
And of course, the Cards went on to win the game on a play that we've never seen before in this setting and will likely never see again.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that the Cards have not won either of these games in what you'd call ordinary fashion. But hey, since when is October ordinary? If the Cards finish off this Fall Classic by claiming their 12th title, they'll know they did so by capitalizing on the flukes of fate.
I doubt they'd mind that one bit.