ST. LOUIS -- A day after the only call that mattered was not theirs to make and still went their way, the Cardinals had a pivotal call of their own and watched it go awry.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny lifted starter Lance Lynn in the sixth inning with trouble brewing and went to groundball-getter Seth Maness with Game 4 of the World Series in the balance. Boston outfielder Jonny Gomes, a last-minute addition to the lineup in place of ailing Shane Victorino, clubbed Maness' fifth pitch for a home run that radically changed the look of the World Series. Gomes' three-run bolt put Boston ahead for a 4-2 victory Sunday night at Busch Stadium, and the Red Sox dodged late-game advances by the Cardinals to level the best-of-seven championship at two games apiece.
The win assures the series will be decided at Fenway Park, and the Cardinals turn to ace Adam Wainwright on Monday night in what's become a best-of-three series for the trophy.
Any obstruction the Cardinals encountered Sunday was their own.
"Tough loss, in general," third baseman David Freese said. "We had a chance to win this game. I think we just got beat. We had a lot of opportunities to win that game."
The Cardinals failed to exploit a diminished Clay Buchholz in the early innings and got at least the tying run to the plate in each of the final three innings. The Cardinals went hitless in their final 10 plate appearances with a runner on base. The only inning of the final three that a runner wasn't stranded was the ninth, when rookie Kolten Wong was picked off first for the final out of the game. In the clubhouse after the Game 4 loss, Wong fought back tears. He was despondent. Lynn was defiant.
The righthander set a franchise record Sunday night with his 20th playoff appearance, all of them coming in the past three Octobers. He moved ahead of Jason Isringhausen and Jason Motte, two closers who had a share of the club record for pitchers with 19 playoff appearances. Lynn had perhaps his best out of the 20. Lynn didn't allow a ball out of the infield until the fourth inning, and allowed only one hit out of the infield through five. In the sixth inning, he was instructed to pitch carefully around David Ortiz, who had three hits and is eight for 11 in the Series. That was his last batter with Gomes, hitless in nine-bats in the series, coming up.
"You're trying to do everything you can to not give up a run in that inning," Lynn said. "I'm not happy when I come out of a game ever. If you want out of a game you shouldn't be out there."
Matheny explained that in the sixth inning the club "keeps our eyes wide open" for trouble, and they felt Lynn was about to tumble into it with two outs. Maness has been the escape hatch with runners on base. Gomes put Matheny's decision to go to the bullpen into the bullpen with a three-run homer that cleared the bases and upended the game.
"Took a shot," Matheny said. "It didn't work."
Lynn took early control of the game and the count by getting ahead of the Red Sox, who notoriously milk at-bats for every possible pitch. The Cardinals' righty had a first-pitch strike on eight of the first nine batters he faced and 12 of the first 14. The only hit he allowed through the first four innings was a grounder that he stuck his foot in front of to stop from becoming an out. David Ortiz shattered his bat in the process of hitting the infield single.
The Red Sox did not get a ball out of the infield until Lynn's 45th pitch. Daniel Nava, who hit second because Victorino couldn't play with back soreness, lifted a fly ball to center with one out in the fourth inning.
It was caught for the second out.
"I think Lance Lynn is a winning pitcher," Wainwright said before the game Sunday. "I think Lance Lynn could be one of the best pitchers in baseball. I do. I tell him that all the time. He's got all the pitches. He's got the high fastball, the good sinking fastball, he's got a good split changeup that he doesn't throw very often. He's just got to home in a little bit. ... He jokes with me all the time because he's got more postseason wins than I do."
What has kept Lynn from becoming consistently the pitcher Wainwright described is his inconsistent ability to defuse an inning. Earlier this season, Matheny described how Lynn couldn't avoid the "clutter." He was distracted by the mental flotsam that kept him thinking about a play not made, a call he didn't get, or a batter on the horizon and not the pitch in his hand. Innings mushroomed on him as a result.
The inning that did was out of Lynn's control because he had been removed from the game. The inning that could have was the fifth.
Ortiz scalded a double to lead off the fifth inning against Lynn. At that point, Ortiz had seven of the Red Sox's 20 hits in the World Series and both of Boston's hits in Sunday's Game 4. Lynn got ahead of the next batter, Gomes, 0-2. This past season, Gomes had fallen behind 0-2 in 72 plate appearances and walked only once. He fouled off a few Lynn fastballs, saw eight consecutive fastballs, and worked his way to a full count -- and then a walk. The wheels on the inning started to wobble. Lynn walked Xander Bogaerts to load the bases for shortstop Stephen Drew.
Drew's spot in the lineup had been called into question as the infielder slumped to an .091 average this postseason and a one-for-10 spiral to start the World Series. He got enough of a pitch from Lynn to send it to the outfield for a sacrifice fly that scored Ortiz and tied the score at 1-1 But Lynn never went on tilt. The inning could have unraveled from there until Lynn struck out Dave Ross and retired a pinch hitter on a grounder. He kept his composure.
He wasn't afforded that chance before Gomes' homer.
Matheny shuffled his lineup between Games 3 and 4 in part because of the missed opportunities on Saturday night. The Cardinals had Boston starter Jake Peavy in duress several times but failed to take anything larger than a two-run lead. The Cardinals were four for 15 with runners in scoring position. Three of those hits produced runs, though they went hitless in seven plate appearances with runners in scoring position from the first inning through the fifth. Matheny slid lefthanded-hitting Jon Jay up in the order behind Yadier Molina and Freese down to create a different look.
The results remained similar.
Freese went without a hit in four at-bats to drop his World Series average to one for 12 (.083). He struck out looking in the second inning with two runners on base and grounded out in the eighth with a runner at third base.
"Terrible. Just terrible," Freese said. "But baseball can change. It's obviously not the time of year to not be productive."
Against Buchholz the Cardinals were unsettled by the righty. Buchholz would have been the Game 3 starter, but the Red Sox bought him an extra day because of ongoing shoulder trouble. Buchholz took the unusual measure of acknowledging being less than 100 percent before the World Series. The radar reading revealed that. A righty who averaged 92 mph and 93 mph on his two fastballs this past season, Buchholz didn't touch 90 mph until the third inning. He lived in the 88-mph zone and still managed to get through four innings and hold the Cardinals to one run. It was unearned.
"We expected him to come out pumping a little bit," Freese said. "His pitches were effective. He showed that he absolutely knows how to pitch when his speed isn't there. It was a click down a little bit. We knew he didn't have his velocity, but he hit his spots."
Carlos Beltran tagged Buchholz with a RBI single in the third inning for a 1-0 lead. Beltran has scored or driven in 18 of the Cardinals' first 43 runs this October. He was on base when Buchholz force-fed a fastball right over the plate for Holliday to munch. The Cardinals' left fielder and a leading hitter so far this World Series, Holliday just missed the meatball and flew out to left field. Holliday put his hands to his helmet as he walked back to the dugout.
In the seventh, Holliday again had a swing to change the game, this time against far better stuff. Matt Carpenter singled home Shane Robinson to cut the Red Sox lead to two runs. Beltran worked a walk from reeling reliever Craig Breslow to put the tying run on base. Boston went to righty Junichi Tazawa. For the third consecutive game, Holliday had a late-game at-bat against the righty. Tazawa got a groundout in Game 2 from Holliday. The Cardinals' left fielder golfed Tazawa's offering to him in the seventh inning Saturday for a two-run double that snapped a tie game.
Tazawa fired a fastball and retook the edge on Holliday in their ongoing personal series. Holliday grounded out to end the inning.
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