ST. LOUIS — This messily compelling World Series now has an unobstructed path back to Boston.
For a while Sunday, it looked like the Cardinals might be on a path to wrap up the title in St. Louis while the Seahawks were playing a nearby, locally invisible Monday night game against the Rams. But then the Red Sox rose up and said, “Not by the hair on our chinny chin chin.”
Instigating that quaint October tradition known as “beard groping,” Jonny Gomes smashed a decisive three-run homer in the sixth, ensuring that the Red Sox will live to fight another day.
Two, actually, because the Series, now tied at two games apiece after Boston’s 4-2 victory, is thus ensured of returning to Fenway Park for Game 6. The Red Sox last experience with Game 6 in the World Series didn’t go so well, but that’s another story.
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This one has enough story lines of its own, for a series rife with miscues (the Red Sox have committed seven errors in four games), sloppy play, second-guessable managerial decisions, and the all-time wackiness of Saturday’s game-ending obstruction call (Have a nice trip; see you next Fall Classic).
Just to spice things up some more, Game 4 ended with Cardinal pinch-runner Kolten Wong getting picked off first base by Koji Uehara, with Carlos Beltran at the plate representing the tying run. Toss another gaffe on the pile.
“We had meetings early on, go over all the guys, and talked very clearly about what a good pickoff move he had,’’ Cardinal manager Mike Matheny said. “We reminded him again when he went out (to run), reminded him that his run didn’t mean much, be careful, shorten up and he got a little extra, then he slipped, and the slip cost him.”
But somehow, stumbles and all, it’s been riveting. This series is picking up so much steam it might even find a way to distract viewers away from the monolith known as the NFL.
Nah. Let’s not get giddy. But it’s pretty entertaining. You have Allen Craig, who dragged his aching body to the plate in the ninth and became the first player ever to get four hits as a pinch-hitter in the World Series. He’s done it in four at-bats, making him the companion piece to Red Sox pinch-runner Quintin Berry, who notched another steal – off Yadier Molina, no less – and is now 29 for 29 in his career.
As for Gomes, he wasn’t even in the original starting lineup, but when left fielder Shane Victorino was a late scratch with a back injury, in went Rip Van Slugger in his place. And when Gomes connected with two outs off Cardinal reliever Seth Maness – much to the consternation of Cardinal starter Lance Lynn, not too happy about being pulled by Matheny – Mike Napoli practically ripped out Gomes’ facial hair after he crossed home plate.
It’s the Red Sox version of a hearty handshake, and right now it’s about the only contribution to be offered by Napoli. He was once again chained to the bench in the National League ballpark until he finally re-emerged in the eighth inning as a defensive replacement for David Ortiz.
Speaking of which … Big Papi is a force unto himself, with three more hits and a walk in this game. He is 8 for 11 in the World Series with four walks, and that doesn’t even include the grand slam that Beltran robbed in Game 1.
Ortiz even made an oratorical contribution right before the big sixth, when he gathered the team in the dugout for a talking to as the game stood tied at 1-all.
“If this guy wants to rally us for a pep talk, we’re like 24 kindergartners looking up to their teacher,’’ Gomes said. “His message was pretty powerful.”
The Cardinals wanted no part of Ortiz with two outs in the sixth inning, and Lynn clearly pitched around him with a four-pitch walk after Dustin Pedroia’s single. In came Seth Maness, and out went the ball over the wall in left.
‘It’s a spot we keep our eyes wide open, and make sure we take our best shot,’’ Matheny said. “We took a shot, and it didn’t work.”
Speak for yourself. For the Red Sox, it worked beautifully – particularly for Gomes, who responded with a jubilant, un-premeditated tour of the bases.
“I don’t think I’m that good to plan out my home runs in the World Series,’’ he said. “That being said, the one thing I’ve always wanted out of this game is opportunity … I got that opportunity tonight, and one thing I’ll guarantee: When I go up, I’m going to be swinging.
“What’s going on here is pretty special and magical … I’ve had so many mentors and messages for me to get here, but when I step into the box in the World Series, I’m all alone.’’
Well, just him and his beard.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry.