Unable to win behind their ace for the second time in this World Series, the Cardinals head to Boston with the tall task of needing to win twice at Fenway Park. Monday night's 3-1 loss to the Red Sox in front of a sellout crowd of 47,436 sent the Cards to back-to-back losses at Busch Stadium for the first time since Aug. 9-10.
These consecutive defeats could not have come at a more precarious time. Now, in order to hoist a 12th championship banner, the Cardinals have to repeat what they did against the Pirates earlier this month and win a pair of elimination games.
"I think our guys are going to see it as a good challenge," said Allen Craig, who went 0-for-3 after talking himself into the lineup. "We're going to stay positive. We've done it before. We've got to win Game 6 and see what happens."
The before was just two years ago, when the Cardinals fell behind, 3-2, to the Rangers before reeling off a pair of wins. The Cards will need to match that magic, only this time on the road. They'll first turn to rookie sensation Michael Wacha on Wednesday in Game 6 (6:30 p.m. CT air time on FOX, 7:07 p.m. first pitch).
"This will be legendary, we go into Boston and win two games," Wainwright said. "It starts with Game 6."
For the third time in this Series, Monday's outcome was decided in the final third of the game. The turning point came in the seventh against a bottom part of Boston's lineup that had been mostly inept in the World Series. The final four spots were a combined 8-for-67 when six-hole hitter Xander Bogaerts laced a one-out single up the middle that Wainwright said afterward had him "a little disappointed [he] didn't catch."
A six-pitch walk to struggling Stephen Drew followed, and David Ross broke a tie game with a ground-rule double into the left-field corner. Wainwright struck out starter Jon Lester, but Jacoby Ellsbury singled home an insurance run before Shane Robinson's throw to the plate kept Ross from scoring and halted the Red Sox's momentum.
Boston's two-run lead would never be challenged by the Cardinals, who are now hitting .213 this postseason.
"My at-bat before that, I had a good at-bat and sort of was picking the ball up better," Drew said. "It's 1-2 and 2-2, and [he] made some tough pitches. I was able to lay off. [Bogaerts] getting on right there, and myself and David coming up big right there, it changed the game."
It would push Wainwright's postseason losing streak to three games, a skid he never endured during the regular season.
"I don't live my life with regret and looking back at stuff, but I know I could have made some pitches there to get our team out of the [inning]," Wainwright said. "But we're not out of it. If this was Game 7 and I lost the game, it would be a lot harder to take, but I fully believe that our team can go into Boston and win two games."
Wainwright's tone could have been quite different if only for some help from the offense. The Cardinals' bats have come alive only in short, brief spurts this postseason. After averaging nearly five runs a game during the regular season (the most in the National League), the Cards have scored more than three in just seven of 16 games.
They have four total runs in their three losses to the Red Sox.
"I don't know if there's any rhyme or reason for it," said Matt Carpenter, who went hitless from the leadoff spot. "Part of it is because we've been facing really good pitching, and we have the entire postseason. But you can't make excuses. You've got to find a way to get it done. Unfortunately, in both starts against Jon, we haven't been able to figure it out. Part of that is him pitching really well, and part of it is just not making the adjustment."
After throwing 7 2/3 scoreless innings against the Cardinals in Game 1, Lester proved no more mortal on Monday. The Cards made more hard contact, but that only mattered once -- when Matt Holliday crushed a fastball 427 feet for a fourth-inning home run.
The blast, Holliday's fourth this month, tied the game at 1. It snapped Lester's World Series scoreless-innings streak at 16 2/3 but would be one of only four hits the lefty allowed. His efficiency matched his effectiveness, which allowed Lester to cover 7 2/3 innings again before handing the game over to closer Koji Uehara.
"He threw the ball extremely well," manager Mike Matheny said. "It came down to a big hit. They got the big hit when they needed it, and we couldn't put much together."
Holliday's homer erased the lead the Red Sox had built before the Cardinals ever batted. Wainwright opened the game with the first of his 10 strikeouts before surrendering consecutive doubles to Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. Ortiz, who has been a nemesis to the Cards, finished with a three-hit night. He is 11-for-15 in the World Series.
"He's out of his mind hot right now," Wainwright said of Ortiz. "That was my call before the game. I said, 'I'm not pitching around Ortiz, I'm going to get him out.' He hit a good pitch, made a good swing."
Wainwright closed the first inning with a pair of strikeouts and would strike out the side in the second. His 10 strikeouts (four of which came with a runner in scoring position) tied a career postseason high set back in the 2012 NL Division Series. Wainwright became the first Cardinals pitcher to register double-digit strikeouts in a World Series game since Bob Gibson fanned 13 in his 1968 Game 4 start.
"He settled in after that [first inning]," Pedroia said. "He was great. He was locating. His curveball was sharp, his cutter was good."
Problem was that while Wainwright hushed the Red Sox, the Cardinals' offense also remained silent. Their leadoff batters reached in the second and third, but never made it past second. The Cards would not move another runner into scoring position until the eighth, when David Freese was stranded there after a one-out double.
Lester retired Pete Kozma to finish his night, and Uehara shut down the inning with a strikeout of pinch-hitter Matt Adams before closing out the win in the ninth. Uehara retired the side in order in the ninth to collect his seventh postseason save.
That means that, for the seventh time in franchise history, the Cardinals find themselves trailing, 3-2, in the World Series. In five of the previous six instances, the Cards still rebounded to take the title.
"The good thing is just the experience that we've had in the past years," Carlos Beltran said. "A lot of guys have been here before me. In the recent years, they've been in situations where things have looked tough and they've been able to pull it off. No one said it was going to be easy, this Series, and we knew that Boston was going to go there and play hard. That's what they have done. They have played hard and found a way to win.
"Now this Series is going back to Boston. But at the same time, we know we can win over there."