When Adam Wainwright settled in, and plowed through the entire Boston lineup with but one exception, the importance of what the Red Sox had done prior to that point became unmistakably clear.
When Wainwright surrendered just one hit over the third, fourth, and fifth innings, when he retired 10 of 11 over that span, and when he finally started to look like a perennial Cy Young candidate with an impressive postseason pedigree, it emphasized how critical it was in setting the tone and tenor of this World Series that the Sox capitalized on the opportunities they had to bury the Cardinals and their ace early on in a Game 1 they'd eventually win 8-1.
Those opportunities were afforded in part by some shoddy St. Louis defense, shortstop Pete Kozma completely missing a flip from second baseman Matt Carpenter to give away one out -- and maybe two -- then Kozma booting a bouncer in the hole, and Wainwright not exactly helping himself by miscommunicating with his catcher on a popup they let land safely between the plate and the mound.
It was uncharacteristic of a team that won 97 games during the regular season. And it couldn't come at a worse time in the game, according to the way Wainwright's starts tend to go.
His earned run average ranks third among all active pitchers, and he led the National League with 19 wins this season, so there's really not a good time to face him. But if there is a particular point in the game when the big right-hander is vulnerable, the numbers say it's early.
During the regular season, Wainwright's ERA in the first inning was 6.09, and opponents batted .326 against him with an .876 on-base plus slugging. No other frame was close, and after that opening inning his numbers fall to a 2.43 ERA, a .233 average, and a .591 OPS. So, basically, Wainwright is below average in the fourth -- but then he suddenly becomes one of baseball's best.
Opponents better get to him early, then, and that's exactly what the Red Sox did. Jacoby Ellsbury laid off a couple of two-strike curveballs to draw the second leadoff walk Wainwright has issued this season, then Dustin Pedroia followed a loud out from Shane Victorino with a single to center.
The Sox nearly blew their chance at that point, when David Ortiz bounced into what might've been a double play, but Kozma mishandled the throw and that brought Mike Napoli to bat with the bases loaded, and with a chance to make sure the Sox didn't let Wainwright off the hook. He did exactly that by lacing a double that rolled up against the base of the wall in left-center, and with that the Sox had a 3-0 lead.
"You've got to take advantage of those opportunities you get in a game," said Boston's first baseman. "We've been able to do that all playoffs. And that's what it's about. A lot of things went right for us, but we've got to take advantage of those opportunities and we did."
Napoli's three-run knock came on the 23rd pitch of the game -- and with Wainwright more hittable from pitch 1-25 than he is during any other 25-pitch increment throughout a start, their 3-0 lead stood as proof that the Sox had taken advantage of the opportunities they needed to take advantage of. Kozma's second error and the Cardinal battery's gift to the curators of the baseball bloopers reel opened the door to two more Red Sox runs in the second, but from there Wainwright figured things out, like he usually does. After Ortiz's grand slam was turned into a sacrifice fly on a terrific catch by Carlos Beltran, Wainwright allowed just one more baserunner over his final three innings of work.
But by then, by not having let that first inning go to waste, the Sox were already in control of the game. And -- for the moment, at least -- the series.
"You've got to do those things to win 97 games in the regular season, and definitely to win in the postseason," said Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes. "To sum it up, we do a really good job of that, but on the flip side we do a really good job of picking each other up and hiding our mistakes, too."
The author is solely responsible for the content.