EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 24, 2013

Sox played near perfect; Cards get 'wakeup call'

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — Except for the grubby, unkempt beards, didn’t the Boston Red Sox look really sharp last night?

We’re talking three-piece suit with polished wing tips sharp!

Yes, it’s true that the Red Sox could not have played a more flawless game ... well, other than Jonny Gomes’ bobble in the fifth inning. Except for that, your Boston Red Sox played like a well-oiled machine in Game 1 of the World Series against a Cardinals team that threw up their cleats with three errors and a lazy pop up dropping smack-dab in the middle of starting pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina.

Behind Jon Lester’s 7.2 scoreless innings and eight strikeouts as well as a thunderous three-run double in the first inning by Mike Napoli, Boston rolled 8-1 over the Cards here at Fenway Park.

Lester was so darn excellent — and he knew it — that he even tipped his cap to a roaring Fenway Park crowd after manager John Farrell relieved the southpaw with two outs in the eighth. Lester doesn’t do that too often. When he does, he barely lifts the cap off his head. Last night, we saw his entire noggin.

Did this dominance remind you of anything? Maybe it provided you a flashback to the 2004 World Series when Boston scored four runs in the first inning of Game 1 and rolled to a 4-0 series sweep.

Maybe you had a flashback to Game 1 of the 2007 World Series when Boston came out like gangbusters against the then-hottest team in the majors, the Colorado Rockies, scoring three times in the first inning and controlling that series throughout on the way to a 4-0 series sweep.

I’m not getting ahead of myself. I’m not telling you the Red Sox are going to sweep this series. That would be foolish considering they have their own issues right now.

But the way the Red Sox dominated the 2004 and 2007 World Series after a grueling ALCS each of those postseasons — and the similar way Boston looked last night — don’t the Cardinals need to win tonight, or else fly back to St. Louis for Game 3 feeling like they have one and a half feet in the grave.

Yes, the Red Sox have their issues, too. Clay Buchholz has a tired arm. That will force Farrell to start Jake Peavy — who gave up seven earned runs in 3.0 innings in a loss to Detroit in Game 4 of the ALCS — in Game 3 of the World Series (and a potential Game 7) while using Buchholz in Game 4.

But if Game 2 starter John Lackey and the Red Sox dominate the Cards tonight in the same fashion as Game 1, those issues will appear minuscule with a 2-0 series lead.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny called this lopsided lollipop for the Red Sox a “wake-up call” for his Cards.

“That is not the kind of team that we’ve been all season,” Matheny said. “And they’re frustrated, I’m sure embarrassed to a point. We get an opportunity to show the kind of baseball we played all season long and it didn’t look anything like what we saw tonight. You’re going to have games like that periodically. But if you begin to accept that, then this could not really go anywhere.”

Yes, the the Cards won’t be going anywhere — certainly not to a parade — if they lay another egg today. They need to pick it up fast.

“Right now everybody is kind of gathering themselves and putting things together on what they need to do to get back,” Matheny said. “Not anything more, but certainly not anything less than what they’ve done all season.

Lester, meanwhile, delivered what his team needed the most — a win — especially since Buchholz and Peavy are so unpredictable right now.

Considering the stakes and stage, this might have been the finest start of Lester’s career, better than his no-hitter in May 2008 and his 2007 World Series victory.

“He’s been incredible his whole postseason career,” Red Sox lefty Andrew Miller said about Lester. “And it’s a different level. You’re facing only the best of the best at this point. Even how well we know him, it’s still impressive seeing what he’s doing here. He’s even exceeding our expectations. His stuff’s so good. I think he threw his first changeup in the seventh inning. He has good command of his fastball and cutter. That’s all he needs. It’s unfair when he adds the other pitches.”

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB