Cardinals

WHEELER: Worst Display of World Series Play Ever?

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ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 27: Kolten Wong #16 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts to being tagged out at first by Koji Uehara #19 of the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning as Mike Napoli #12 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates winning Game Four of the 2013 World Series at Busch Stadium on October 27, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri. The Red Sox defeated the Cardinals 4-2.

Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

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I am stunned.

The two best teams in Major League Baseball are playing like Little League teams in the game’s greatest showcase.

My headline may be a bit misleading – I haven’t seen all 108 World Series that have come before this one – but I cannot remember a Fall Classic that has been as poorly played as this one. By both teams. The first World Series I truly remember is the 1979 series between Baltimore and Pittsburgh (I won my first bet on that World Series – a silver dollar with my babysitter, Jenny), so that’s my frame of reference.

Keep in mind, I’m not just talking about poor hitting against good pitching or poor pitching against good hitting. Heck, I’m not even talking about managerial decisions (and there has been plenty to talk about on both sides). I’m talking about the simplest, most basic things that Major League baseball players should be expected to do.

I’m sure I’ll forget some things but let’s go game-by-game and see how many of these miscues I can come up with…

Game 1

* Right out of the gate, bottom of the 1st inning, we have Pete Kozma missing an easy flip at 2nd base that could have resulted in an inning-ending double play. Boston went on to put up a 3-spot in the inning.

* The next inning, Pete Kozma is given an error that loads the bases with 1-out. I don’t think he had a play on anyone even if he had caught the ball – no way he throws out Jacoby Ellsbury at 2B or Shane Victorino at 1B on the play – because 3B David Freese went after a ball he had no chance at getting and abandoned 3B, which would have been the only play had Kozma caught the ball.

* Jonny Gomes boots a ball in LF after a Matt Carpenter single, allowing Shane Robinson to advance to 3B and Carpenter to 2B. No runs scored but still, error in LF on a single?

* In the 7th, Freese commits a throwing error (never got his feet underneath him) on a relatively routine play allowing Dustin Pedroia to reach 1B with two outs. So what should have been an inning-ended groundout leads to David Ortiz stepping to the plate and launching a 2-run HR. That made it 7-0 Red Sox with 5 of the 7 runs coming after errors that could have ended the 1st and 7th innings without anyone crossing the plate.

* Carlos Martinez wild pitch in the 8th moves Daniel Nava from 2B to 3B, Nava then scores on a sac fly by Xander Bogaerts. 8-0 Red Sox…with 6 runs that very likely would not have scored minus the miscues.

Most people would agree, the Cardinals handed Game 1 to the Red Sox on a platter. Several Cardinals even said they were embarrassed by their play.

Game 2

* With Boston leading 2-1 in the top of the 7th, the Cardinals had runners on 1st (Jon Jay) and 2nd (Kozma). Craig Breslow fails to hold the runners close, the Cardinals take advantage with the double steal and there is no throw as Jarrod Saltalamacchia never got a grip on the ball. Good heads-up baseball by the Cardinals but only made possible because Boston failed to properly keep track of the base runners.

* After Daniel Descalso walked to load the bases with 1-out,  Carpenter hits a soft liner to shallow left-center. Gomes uncorks a terrible throw, one that a Major League outfielder has to be able to make, and Saltalamacchia fails to come off home plate to catch the ball. That allowed Kozma to score. The throw from Gomes wound up in the hands of Breslow who promptly threw the ball into the stands behind 3B, allowing Jay to score and giving the Cardinals a 4-2 lead. To sum up: the pitcher loses track of two base runners, walks a light-hitting lefty and then makes a poor decision to throw to 3B when there wasn’t a play only to throw the ball to a fan in the 1st row.

* In the bottom of the 8th, an error by Carpenter allows leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury to reach base to start the inning in a 2-run game. Carlos Martinez saved the day by striking out Victorino and Pedroia before allowing a single to Ortiz and then getting Mike Napoli to pop out to SS.

Again, we can make a strong case that the losing team gift-wrapped the game for the winning team.

Game 3

* With the Cardinals leading 2-0, Matt Holliday hits a soft pop fly to shallow center field. He never runs. Well, he moved toward 1B slowly, with his head down in frustration initially, and when the ball drops he gets caught in between. After straying a little to far from the bag, Holliday is thrown out at 1B. Not running out the play, not paying attention, straying too far from the bag.

* In the bottom of the 4th the Cardinals loaded the bases with nobody out. There were no “errors” here, just bad at-bats. Kozma strikes out looking, Joe Kelly pops out (not really holding it against him, he’s a pitcher) and Carpenter pops out. Wasted opportunity in a 2-0 game.

* Bottom of the 7th, Matt Holliday drives in 2-runs to put the Cardinals up 4-2. He advances to 3B on the failed attempt to throw out Carlos Beltran at home, putting a runner at 3B with nobody out. A bad decision to throw home allows a runner to 3B with no outs and the Cardinals failed to score Holliday. Double whammy.

* In the top of the 8th with the bases loaded and 1 out, Kolten Wong makes an outstanding play to catch a hot shot off the bat of Daniel Nava, recording an out at 2B and allowing just one run to score. Here’s the mistake – and I admit, this may be nitpicking, but Ortiz was on 1B when Nava hit the ball and Ortiz DID NOT RUN, he stopped. Had Wong thrown to 1B to get Nava, the Cardinals likely would have completed the double-play. That run would have scored either way (tagging Ortiz would have happened after the runner crossed home and it would not be a force after the play at 1B), making it 4-3 Cardinals at the end of the inning. Bogaerts followed with a single, tying the game 4-4. Again, this is probably the weakest of all the points I’m making here. It’s awfully tough to expect Wong to make the “perfect play” there.

* In a 4-4 game in the bottom of the 9th, Allen Craig doubled into the LF corner giving the Cardinals runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1-out and Jay coming to the plate. Rather than walking Jay, loading the bases and setting up a potential inning-ending double-play (and a force at home) with Kozma due up next, the Red Sox pitch to Jay. Jay hits a hard ground ball and Pedroia makes an outstanding diving catch followed by an accurate throw to nail Molina at home plate. Inexplicably, Saltalamacchia tries to throw Craig out at 3B after Molina was out at home. Craig is slowed by a foot injury, no doubt, but there was no real chance to throw him out after Pedroia made a diving stop on a grounder and threw home. Plenty of time for even a hobbled player to make it to 3B. With Kozma coming to the plate with 2-outs and a runner on 3rd, Saltalamacchia (arguably the worst throwing catcher in the Majors) fails to accurately assess the situation. Then he throws wildly to 3B, the ball goes down the LF line and the now infamous “Obstruction Call” was made, leading to a 5-4 Cardinals win.

Game 4

* Carpenter singles to CF in the bottom of the 3rd and advances to 2B on an error by Ellsbury. Carpenter scored on a Beltran single. Another error on a relatively routine OF play leads to a run.

* In the bottom of the 5th, with the Cardinals leading 1-0, the Red Sox load the bases with nobody out. Stephen Drew hits a soft fly ball to left field and Ortiz beats Holliday’s throw home to tie the game. Lost in the shuffle of this game is an explanation for why Molina was on the foul side of the 3rd base line when the entire play happened in fair territory. He couldn’t get to the ball through a sliding Ortiz and it got away, allowing the other runners to advance. Had Molina been where catchers are supposed to be – where Molina is 99.99% of the time – at the front edge of home plate in fair territory I think there’s a really good chance Ortiz would have been out. I looked at this plate 7-8 times rewinding on the DVR to see if I could tell why Molina was so far out of position and I couldn’t come up with anything except that, perhaps, he lost the throw in the crowd and moved to where he thought it was going. That’s the only rational explanation outside of a severe brain cramp and Molina isn’t prone to those.

* Bottom of the 8th inning in a 2-run game and 1-out, Molina hits a grounder down the 3B and Bogaerts makes an impressive diving stop. That was followed by an unnecessarily rushed throw with a slow runner heading down the line, the throw from Bogaerts got past Napoli and Molina ended up on 2B with the tying run coming to the plate. Molina then advanced on what was ruled a wild pitch but was really a passed ball on David Ross. Jay popped out meekly to SS, Freese grounded out to SS to end the inning, stranding Molina at 3B in a 2-run game.

* In the bottom of the 9th Craig comes up with a huge at-bat, driving a ball off the right field wall for a single. It was only a single because Craig is injured and can’t run, so no mistake there just an injured player coming up with a great at-bat. Wong pinch-runs for Craig. After a week pop out by Carpenter, Wong gets picked off at first base with Beltran – arguably the greatest postseason hitter of the last 30-40 years – standing at the plate. Inexcusable.

That’s a lot of little league stuff for 4 games, isn’t it? Especially when you have two teams trying to win the World Series. Again, that stuff doesn’t even count strange managerial moves on both sides, bad approaches by hitters on both teams and all the other normal physical things that can go wrong.

That doesn’t even account for the fact that these two teams have combined STRIKE OUT LOOKING 23 times in these four games. The Cardinals struck out looking 5 times each in Games 1 and 4 – it’s no coincidence they lost those games.

I know the strike zone has been terrible throughout the playoffs (in all rounds, affecting all teams) but at some point you have to get the message that the zone is bigger, for whatever reason, and swing the bat when you’re in a 2-strike count, especially late in these big games. The Cards struck out looking 3 times against Felix Doubront alone in Game 4.

Now, this Series has been entertaining. There has been plenty of excitement, plenty of drama, but we’re seeing things happen here that should be reserved for the games you see played in Williamsport, PA during the Little League World Series.

Hopefully the next 2-3 games will be a lot cleaner and the teams that win will do so on their own merit rather than because of silly mistakes made on the other side of the diamond.

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