ST. LOUIS -- A sign that stood out in the sea of red was the one that read, "Rule 2.013: You Can't Obstruct Destiny."
If the Cardinals -- and their fans -- felt destiny was on their side in the immediate aftermath of that incredible obstruction-aided ending to Game 3, it's understood. October often gives us these tell-tale moments in which it appears clear that one club simply has a little more magic or momentum on its side. And so it was Saturday night, when Rule 2.00 was famously applied.
But the World Series did not end Saturday night, and now the Cards have to do everything in their power to ensure it does not end Wednesday night in Game 6 (6:30 p.m. CT air time, 7:07 first pitch on FOX). Because in the aftermath of two crushing losses in a ballpark they are usually prone to protect, they are flying back to Fenway down 3-2 to the Red Sox, a team that hasn't clinched a title at home in 95 years.
Think that will be a welcoming atmosphere for the boys from St. Louis?
"This will be legendary if we go into Boston and win two games," Adam Wainwright said. "It starts with Game 6."
The Cardinals have to hope it does, and they have a burgeoning postseason powerhouse on their side in the young Michael Wacha. That is reason enough for them to like their chances of forcing a Game 7, where anything goes.
But there's no mistaking the fact that the Cards have put themselves in a prickly predicament, and shockingly so. They hadn't lost two straight at Busch Stadium in 2 1/2 months, and they were riding a wave of determination, if not destiny, when they won Games 2 and 3.
So, how did this happen?
How did the Cardinals fall from the graces of the rule book's recesses to the frustration of a Fenway must-win?
Well, they got here, for starters, by pulling starter Lance Lynn at an inopportune time in Game 4. Cards manager Mike Matheny lost faith in Lynn when his fastball was still sturdy and a strikeout was needed against Jonny Gomes. He sided instead with Seth Maness, a contact-prone ground-ball guy with a shaky postseason showing, and it cost him when Gomes went deep.
They got here by watching Kolten Wong get picked off the bag for the final out of Game 4, while Carlos Beltran had a bat in his hands. A brutal way to end a game.
Game 5 funk
|Year||Opponent||Game 5||Series result|
|2013||Red Sox||3-1 L|
|2011||Rangers||4-2 L||Cardinals in 7|
|2006||Tigers||4-2 W||Cardinals in 5|
|1987||Twins||4-2 W||Twins in 7|
|1985||Royals||6-1 L||Royals in 7|
|1982||Brewers||6-4 L||Cardinals in 7|
|1968||Tigers||5-3 L||Tigers in 7|
|1967||Red Sox||3-1 L||Cardinals in 7|
|1964||Yankees||5-2 W||Cardinals in 7|
|1946||Red Sox||6-3 L||Cardinals in 7|
|1944||Browns||2-0 W||Cardinals in 6|
|1943||Yankees||2-0 L||Yankees in 5|
|1942||Yankees||4-2 W||Cardinals in 5|
|1934||Tigers||3-1 L||Cardinals in 7|
|1931||Athletics||5-1 W||Cardinals in 7|
|1930||Athletics||2-0 L||Athletics in 6|
|1926||Yankees||3-2 L||Cardinals in 7|
And in Game 5, they got here by contributing to the growing legend of David Ortiz, prolonging a season-long split statistic and opening themselves to yet another round of second-guessing.
Ortiz burned them right off the bat, and Wainwright's decision to pitch to the hottest hitter on the planet with a runner in scoring position was a subject of much scrutiny. Possibly, that's being overly picky, because it's hard to justify an intentional walk to anybody -- even the piping-hot Big Papi -- in the first with your ace on the hill.
But Wainwright's aggressiveness and inability to get his cut fastball past Big Papi, who pounded out an RBI double, padded Ortiz's Hall of Fame credentials and, oh yeah, gave Boston an early 1-0 lead.
"As hot as he is, I believe in my mind that I can get anybody out, and I still believe that," Wainwright explained. "[In Game 4], we pitched around him and the guy behind him [Gomes] burned us. In my mind, what we have to do is don't compound the innings, and in the first inning, the last thing I wanted to do there was put several ducks on the pond."
The Cardinals, you might have noticed, did not put many ducks on the pound in this one.
Their lack of production from the lower third of the order has been glaring enough in this Series, but their struggles tend to extend lineup-wide when a lefty gets the start. The splits don't lie: They had a .672 OPS against left-handers this season, which was fifth lowest in MLB.
Surprisingly, that wasn't an issue when they ripped into Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. But when guys like Jon Lester are able to run their cutter in on right-handed hitters, the Cards looked utterly flummoxed. And sans "green rosin," Lester flummoxed them for 7 2/3 innings of one-run, four-hit ball.
"The cutter is a tough pitch," said leadoff man Matt Carpenter, who combined with Shane Robinson and pinch-hitter Jon Jay to provide an 0-for-8 output atop the order. "When you combine that with a good four-seam [fastball] at 94 [mph] and a curveball to keep you off both of them, and when you're locating those three pitches, it's tough to do much against them."
Save for Matt Holliday's game-tying solo shot to the grassy knoll, where David Freese once sealed his own date with destiny, the Redbirds didn't do much at all, and that made Matheny's handling of his starter a hot topic for the second consecutive night.
With Wainwright sitting at 85 pitches through six solid innings of work, Matheny let him lead off the bottom of the inning, which was absolutely justifiable. In the seventh, though, Wainwright, who surpassed the 270-inning season total early in this one, clearly began to labor. He served up a single to Xander Bogaerts and, in the most telling example of a guy running on fumes, couldn't get his curveball over to the scuffling Stephen Drew, who drew a walk on a full count.
This would have been an opportune time for Matheny to employ the kind of no-nonsense hook he utilized with Lynn in the sixth a night earlier. Instead, Matheny rode it out, and, once again, he got bit. Wainwright gave up the ground-rule double to David Ross that basically put this one to bed, with a Jacoby Ellsbury RBI single tacked on before the inning was over.
"We liked how he was throwing," Matheny said. "We liked the fact that he had a couple of strikeouts and a popup in the previous three at-bats, and liked the way he was going about it to get us out of that."
There would be another source of second-guessing on this night, when Matheny let Pete Kozma bat in a high-leverage spot (a runner on second and one out) in the eighth. But he was short on right-handed options off the bench because the Cardinals are carrying an eight-man bullpen in which Shelby Miller and Edward Mujica have been nothing more than interested observers.
Anyway, that's not the crux of the issue here. In the grand scheme, the two primary issues at play are that the Cards didn't win with their ace in either of his World Series outings, and they didn't take care of business at Busch.
"No one said it was going to be easy this Series," Beltran said.
Indeed, we all called this Fall Classic a coin flip, but now the home-field advantage the American League earned at Citi Field this summer is as big an issue as expected. The Red Sox went 53-28 in their quirky confines in the regular season, and now their lineup will be back to full strength with the designated hitter reinstated.
The good news for St. Louis is that there are no more lefty starters on the horizon, and Wacha's fastball-changeup combo has proved as confounding to the AL elite as it was in the run-up to this Series. The Cardinals still have the superior 'pen, particularly given Red Sox lefty Craig Breslow's recent woes, and they still have a lineup that sets up well on the AL stage.
What they don't have, right now, is that momentum and magic that seemed to be on their side after Game 3.
The road toward destiny is now a daunting one.
"We have to go into Boston, their home turf," said Wainwright, "and do the same thing they did to us."