BOSTON -- A team that spent nearly seven months succeeding together on the field and could stand seven hours stranded together on a plane couldn't extend the season one more day to win a championship together.
The team they grew to love in the clubhouse played out of character at the end.
A St. Louis Cardinals team that made a season of timely hits couldn't find them in the final days of October and fell finally, quietly, 6-1 to the Boston Red Sox in Game 6 of the World Series. Boston clinched its eighth World Series in franchise history with a four-games-to-two win against the Cardinals. The Red Sox solved rookie Michael Wacha early, poured on later, and fended off the final gasps of a Cardinals offense that led the National League in scoring but went uncharacteristically and almost completely cold as the weather turned to fall.
"They beat us. They deserve a lot of credit," outfielder Matt Holliday said. "I feel like for whatever reason we didn't play our best."
The Cardinals rode a young pitching staff and shining prospects such as Wacha to their 19th World Series but left the field after the 109th World Series disappointed. Talk of the bright future was stowed as they sat in the clubhouse. Manager Mike Matheny urged them to consider the past as he encouraged them to "keep their heads up," and remember what the 97-win National League champs accomplished. Many of the players looked around the room and considered the immediate changes ahead.
Wacha, hotshot closer Trevor Rosenthal and a cast of veterans will be back, but switch-hitter Carlos Beltran may not be. The changes may not be limited to free agents.
"We know," ace Adam Wainwright said, "in this clubhouse, not everybody will be back."
The Cardinals, who have been to four World Series in 10 years, have done their part to salve Red Sox Nation after generations of angst in the Hub. In the past decade the Cardinals were on the losing end of Boston's first World Series in 86 years, and this season they came back to Boston with the World Series for the first clincher by the home team at Fenway in 95 years.
Babe Ruth was amongst the Red Sox frolicking at Fenway that night in 1918.
David Ortiz, a more contemporary slugger, won the NL MVP by finishing the Series with a .688 average. The Cardinals surrendered in Game 6 and intentionally walked the lefthanded-hitting designated hitter three times. He scored twice as the Red Sox used two three-run innings to end the Cardinals' season. John Lackey pitched 6 2/3 superb innings and danced around the Cardinals' nine hits off him.
The lack of success with runners in scoring position wasn't the only uncharacteristic failing for the Cardinals.
Wainwright, the ace, lost two games. Game 6 featured a balk, a botched rundown and nine runners left on base. In the final three games of the Series, all losses, the Cardinals left 19 runners on base. It was similar to the brownout that they experienced a year ago in losing three consecutive in the NLCS and exiting October. Last fall, they were outscored 20-1 in the final three games. This fall, they were just outplayed.
"This Series was really defined by the team that made the least mistakes and the team that took advantage of those mistakes," general manager John Mozeliak said. "We were on the short end of that. Things just didn't break our way."
The Cardinals' two chances for sustained rallies -- one to take the lead, the other to tidy-up the score -- fizzled as so many did in the Series. The first two batters of the second inning drilled singles against Lackey. The Cardinals couldn't conjure the hits to move them 90 feet, let alone bring them home. First baseman Matt Adams lined out, David Freese flew out, and when Lackey offered a wild pitch to get both runners into scoring position, Jon Jay struck out.
Lackey found his footing with three outs on five pitches in the third inning.
The Cardinals brought the tying run to the plate in the fourth inning because of an error, but Lackey didn't even bend that time. The Red Sox righty held the Cardinals without a hit in their first seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. In the first four innings, Adams and Freese each had two cracks at Lackey with two runners on base. Adams, with his elbow aching from discomfort related to a bone spur, lined out to left field twice. Freese flew out and struck out to start his fourth hitless game of the Series.
"Both lineups are in pretty much the same situation," Matheny said in his office before Game 6, which both teams started with a .211 average in the Series. "They've got one really hot guy (Ortiz) and a couple guys who have gotten big hits in big situations. ... It hasn't been lopsided one way or the other as far as one lineup really struggling (more). Good pitching. Times where you can't throw it all together."
The last rattle from the Cardinals' lineup came in the seventh inning, when with two outs and a six-run deficit the team awoke. No. 9 hitter Daniel Descalso ripped a single off Lackey to start the threat, and Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran followed with singles. Beltran's scored Descalso to give the switch-hitting veteran, who may have played his final game with the Cardinals, 15 of the Cardinals' 49 RBIs in the postseason.
Lackey insisted on staying on the mound when John Farrell came to get the ball, and then walked Holliday to load the bases.
Cleanup hitter Allen Craig, whose obstructed run from third base in Game 3 won the Cardinals' final game of the season, had a chance to get the Cardinals within a run with one swing. He hit a hard grounder to first base.
"We needed a big hit," Holliday said of the series. "We couldn't get them."
Wacha, who had five wins at Class AAA this season and four in the majors, was aiming to become the first pitcher in history with five wins in five starts in the same postseason. The righty had gone 4-0 for the Cardinals coming into Game 6, including a win at Pittsburgh to avoid elimination in the division series and a win at Fenway already in this series. In his first October, Wacha had been the Cardinals' most-dominant pitcher through October.
His Game 6 start just proved to be the month's briefest.
The 22-year-old's start Wednesday was the shortest by a Cardinals pitcher in their 17 playoff games. The first two batters of the second inning reached base against the righty, but he was able to retire the bottom of the Red Sox order, which sans one timely hit had been as meek as the Cardinals' back third. Trouble greeted him in the fourth. The second time through the order in their second game against Wacha, Boston found its swing. Wacha aided the rally by avoiding sizzling slugger Ortiz with an intentional walk and then hitting Jonny Gomes to load the bases.
Victorino missed both of Boston's wins in St. Louis because of back pain, but he returned to the lineup for Game 6, hitting sixth. Victorino had the grand slam that cinched the pennant for the Red Sox in the American League championship series. He came a few feet away from doing the same for the World Series. Victorino drilled a 2-1 fastball off the Green Monster to clear the bases for a 3-0 lead.
Stephen Drew, who entered the game hitting .080, hit Wacha's first pitch of the fourth inning for a home run. Jacoby Ellsbury turned on a pitch for a one-out double, and again Wacha intentionally walked Ortiz, preferring to test cleanup hitter Mike Napoli instead of the eventual MVP. Those were Wacha's final pitches. He watched from the dugout as Lance Lynn, the Game 4 starter turned innings-eater three days later, allowed two RBI singles and a walk. Boston pushed its lead to 6-0 and the Cardinals' long reliever left the game without recording an out.
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