Series teams live up to defensive metrics in opener
Cards not as sharp as conventional stats indicate; Sox make all necessary plays
BOSTON -- As an organization, the St. Louis Cardinals embrace statistical analysis. But when you live by the numbers, sometimes you die by them -- or at least by the trends they reveal.
One of the biggest advantages in this seemingly classic, extremely even World Series is that only one of the two teams is really strong in the field -- and that's not the one that was fifth in the Majors in fielding percentage.
These Cardinals aren't nearly as solid defensively as their old-school numbers say they are, and you only had to watch two innings of Game 1 to see that flaw revealed. By the time the Red Sox had finished their 8-1 victory, with Carlos Beltran absent after a trip to Mass General Hospital, there were two questions that lingered:
How's Beltran? And can the Cards can repair the damage to their self image before developing the proper level of amnesia prior to Game 2, when they take the field behind rookie Michael Wacha?
Manager Mike Matheny had an easier time with the first query than the second one. Beltran is day to day, Matheny said, and while he didn't use that term, it seems it applies to the Cardinals' psyche as much as to their team leader after the way they unraveled behind Adam Wainwright.
"I'm just not going to let our guys forget we're a good club, too," Matheny said. "We make plays, we also put together tough at-bats. We grind at-bats. We work pitch counts. But right now, this is one game that got away from us, and it was in a fashion that we're not used to, or will we [ever] get used to."
Shortstop Pete Kozma -- who along with catcher Yadier Molina and Beltran, is among the Cards' top fielders -- made two quick errors that helped bury Wainwright. A seventh-inning throwing error by third baseman David Freese kept that inning alive long enough for David Ortiz to blast a two-run homer, and there were at least a couple of other moments -- when Wainwright and Molina allowed a popup by Stephen Drew to fall in between them, and a run-scoring grounder by Dustin Pedroia that skipped past Freese on an in-between hop -- that illustrated the point that John Dewan, the founder of the Chicago-based "Baseball Info Solutions," had made before the game.
While the Cardinals' fielders weren't often charged with errors during the regular season, they allowed more than their share of balls to fall into gaps and they left too many double plays unturned. And never forget, all pitchers like their double plays turned.
The Red Sox -- behind their steady shortstop, Drew, and the outfield tandem of Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino -- have been solid in the field since April. They finished the regular season with 24 defensive runs saved, according to Dewan's metrics, compared to a minus-39 for the Cards.
That's an advantage of almost half a run per game for the team that also has the twin terrors of October -- Ortiz and Pedroia. But Matheny concedes nothing.
"We've really had a nice tight defense, especially on our infield -- guys making plays and doing it on a consistent basis," the Cardinals' second-year manager said. "And there's no reason to accept anything less, and there's no reason to expect anything less. ... You just have to let [mistakes] go. We've had them before. It's just a matter of having a short memory and realizing that that's not who we are and fixing it as soon as possible."
This certainly wasn't the Cards' night. Beltran made the defensive play of the game -- reaching over the five-foot outfield wall to rob Ortiz of a grand slam in the second inning -- and it would have been better if it had sailed far over his head.
With Beltran battling bruised ribs -- a la Hanley Ramirez in the National League Championship Series -- the Cardinals may again have to count on Jon Jay, who has quietly been benched after starting the first 10 games of the playoffs. Matheny said he went to Shane Robinson as his center fielder to get another right-handed hitter against Clayton Kershaw in the clinching Game 6 of the NLCS, but Jay had seemed to lapse into a defensive funk after a bit of miscommunication with Beltran during Game 3.
Jay backed away from a catchable fly ball from Mark Ellis as Beltran approached, and the ball fell in for a double that set up a two-run inning in a game the Dodgers won, 3-0, behind Hyun-Jin Ryu. That's the kind of misplay that shows up in defensive metrics, like the ones compiled by Dewan, if not traditional fielding stats.
Wainwright did his best to take responsibility for the loss, saying his walk of Ellsbury to start the bottom of the first inning "set the tone completely the wrong way." The ace blamed himself for a bad pitch to Mike Napoli after Kozma whiffed on an awkward throw from second baseman Matt Carpenter to trigger the reversed call by John Hirschbeck's crew of umpires, as well as letting Drew's pop fall in front of him.
"That whole second inning could have been avoided if I catch the ball," Wainwright said. "The first guy pops up to me. The second guy, if we're not playing double-play depth, he's back a little more and he catches [a soft liner by David Ross] standing up, no problem, and then we've got a 1-2-3 inning. Those are the kind of mistakes you can't make against great teams, and we're in the World Series, so we're playing a great team in Boston, and we know that."
The Red Sox weren't flawless. Left fielder Jonny Gomes gave the Cardinals two bases when he muffed a one-hop single by Carpenter in the fifth inning, but Jon Lester pitched around it. Gomes had previously made a sliding catch to rob Matt Adams of a single, and Boston turned a rare 1-2-3 double play to escape a bases-loaded mess.
It was a case of the Red Sox making all the plays they were supposed to, plus one or two more. That's what good defensive teams do, and the Sox have been one all season.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.