ST. LOUIS — The Boston Red Sox have been in a terrible hitting slump for much of the postseason, but they’ve specialized in the one-big-moment approach to get by.
It happened again Sunday night in Busch Stadium and instantly turned the World Series into a best-of-three sprint to the finish.
With his team’s offense in an epic funk, slugger David Ortiz called everyone together for a dugout pep talk after the fifth inning and it paid immediate dividends.
Left fielder Jonny Gomes – a late insertion into the lineup after Shane Victorino was scratched with a bad back – crushed a three-run homer to left field to snap a tie in the top of the sixth, and the Red Sox went on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-2, to tie the series at two wins apiece.
So in the crucial Game Five swing affair tonight, it will be a battle of aces between Boston’s Jon Lester and St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright. Lester cruised to an 8-1 victory in Game One as Boston got five runs in the first two innings off Wainwright.
Sunday’s win assures the series of a return to Fenway Park, where Game Six will be played Wednesday night. Game Seven, if necessary, would go on Thursday.
Gomes crushed a 2-ball, 2-strike fastball from Cardinals reliever Seth Maness into Boston’s left-field bullpen and celebrated wildly as he circled the bases, pumping his arms and pounding his chest as the top buttons of his jersey popped open.
“I don’t know how to describe that,” Gomes said. “When you think of my baseball path, that’s a pretty special moment”
When he got to the dugout, his teammates vociferously tugged on his huge beard in celebration. That’s how the Sox roll this October.
Especially when it comes to the big blow. Grand slams by Ortiz and Victorino proved to be decisive in the ALCS against Detroit. Mike Napoli had a three-run double in the opener of this series while Ortiz had two-run homers in the first two games.
That’s really been all. The numbers are patently brutal. They read like a team that should have been swept.
“We know we’re not doing much,” said Dustin Pedroia. “We’re doing enough in this thing and it’s a battle.”
The Sox entered the game batting just .188 for the World Series and .225 for the postseason. A six-hit night left those averages basically unchanged at .189 and .223.
Ortiz went 3 for 3 with a walk Sunday and scored two runs. He’s an incredible 8 for 11 in the series – while the rest of the team is just 16 for 116 and batting .138.
Ortiz sensed too many of his teammates were feeling down so he staged the impromptu dugout chat. No one in the Boston clubhouse really let on what said, but Ortiz did when reporters finally saw him just before midnight Central time.
“I saw a lot of faces looking in the wrong direction,” Ortiz said. “I know we’re a better offensive team than we’ve showed. You put pressure on yourself and try to overdo things it doesn’t work that way.
“You think you’re going to come to the World Series every year,you’re wrong. Especially playing in the AL East. You know how many people we beat up to get to this stage? A lot of good teams.
“And that doesn’t happen every year. I told them it took me six years to get back to this stage. We had better teams than we had right now and we never made it, so take advantage of being here.”
Ortiz’s .727 batting average is currently second in Series history for players with at least 10 at-bats. The only one higher is the .750 recorded by Cincinnati’s Billy Hatcher in the Reds’ four-game sweep of Oakland in 1990.
“If this guy wants to rally us together for a pep talk, it was like 24 kindergartners looking up at their teacher,” Gomes said. “He got everyone’s attention and we looked him right in the eyes.”
“It was meaningful,” said manager John Farrell. “He’s the one guy, of all the guys we have, people look up to. Our guys look up to him and it was a timely conversation he had with everybody.”
There would have been no surprise if Ortiz was the hero again, given his numbers. There was no way to foreshadow that role for Gomes.
Gomes came to the plate 5 for 41 in his career in the postseason. He was 0 for 9 in this series and didn’t have an RBI since the first game of the division series against Tampa Bay. He wasn’t even slated to play, but Victorino was scratched about an hour before the first pitch and Gomes was added to the lineup.
“During batting practice, when I met with Shane today, he said, ‘Yeah, put me in there. I’ll find a way to get ready to start the game,’” Farrell said. “As we went through the other work, it became obvious he wasn’t capable. And you know what? It turns out that his replacement is the difference in this one tonight.”
In the addition to the home run, the Red Sox survived this one thanks to their bullpen. Farrell, on the hot seat in Boston after several moves failed in the ninth inning of Game Three, pieced together an interesting game after starter Clay Buchholz and his balky shoulder lasted just four innings.
Lefty Felix Doubront gave the Sox 2∏ strong innings but left after pinch-hitter Shane Robinson’s two-out double in the seventh.
Embattled lefty Craig Breslow, a nigthmare for the Sox in each of the last two games, likely nailed his ticket to the bullpen bench for the rest of the series by allowing Matt Carpenter’s RBI single and walking Carlos Beltran.
But with the record crowd of 47,469 on its feet roaring, Junichi Tazawa retired Matt Holliday to get out of the threat.
Farrell then used starter John Lackey on his normal throwing day to get an inning of relief in the eighth. Lackey, who is scheduled to start Game Six, had to deal with a runner in scoring position as Yadier Molina got to second on a throwing error by third baseman Xander Bogaerts and got to third on a wild pitch.
But Lackey responded by getting John Jay on a pop-up to short and followed that by inducing a groundball to short from David Freese.
Closer Koji Uehara then finished, giving up pinch-hitter Allen Craig’s single and then picking off pinch-runner Kolton Wong to end the game. One night after the first postseason game in history to end on an obstruction call, the Sox closed the first one ever to end with a pickoff.
The Cardinals opened the scoring in the third as Beltran’s RBI single drove in Carpenter, who had singled and took second when the ball was bobbled in center field by Jacoby Ellsbury for an error.
Boston tied it in the fifth as Ortiz led off with a double and starter Lance Lynn followed by walking Gomes and Bogaerts. Shortstop Stephen Drew, an all-field/no-hit batter who was 4 for 45 in the postseason, immediately tied the game with a sacrifice fly to left on the first pitch.