Fast Starts Often Mean Big Wins In Baseball Playoffs

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BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 23: Adam Wainwright #50 of the St. Louis Cardinals walks back to the dugout during Game One of the 2013 World Series against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on October 23, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

By Sam McPherson

Common sense and logic dictate you never want to dig yourself a hole so deep that you cannot get out of it.

And in Major League Baseball playoff history, this adage is especially true.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Game One of the 2013 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park was the 46th postseason game in history in which one team led the other by five or more runs after just two innings, and it was the 18th time it had happened in the World Series.

The quick-starting team in these instances has never lost the game.

It’s something to consider about postseason baseball — making small mistakes that grow into large problems is not conducive to winning, another gem of common sense and logic, no doubt. St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright surely re-learned this lesson on Wednesday night in Game One.

Kozma made an error in the first inning, but it wasn’t the end of the world. The little shortstop will take the blame publicly for dropping a ball with one out that opened the floodgates to Boston’s 5-0 lead after two innings, a lead the Red Sox obviously parlayed into a big 8-1 victory in the series opener at their home ballpark.

But Wainwright is just as culpable for not bearing down as perhaps a veteran pitcher with his experience should have in such a situation. Immediately after the error with the bases loaded, the St. Louis starter gave up a three-run double to Boston first baseman Mike Napoli, and the rout was on.

Strangely, the same thing basically happened again in the second inning: after another one-out error by Kozma that left the bases loaded, Wainwright again was unable to prevent any damage. The Red Sox scored two runs on a single and a sacrifice fly to make a 5-0 game heading to the third inning. (Never mind the lead-off “single” of the second inning that dropped between Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina in front of the mound, of course.)

Just like that, St. Louis’s night was over quickly, and the frenzy at Fenway never subsided.

Errors happen in baseball, of course, and it’s unusual for a World Series team with the experience of the Cardinals to commit three errors in one game. St. Louis has been in the postseason four times in five seasons now, and this is their second World Series appearance in three years, having reached the National League Championship Series in 2012 as well.

The Cardinals had made three errors in 11 postseason games coming into the series, including one by little Pete Kozma during a 5-3 Game Three loss in the National League Division Series that helped the Pittsburgh Pirates take a 2-1 series lead over St. Louis.

We all know who won that series in the end.

But when errors happen, as they inevitably do, it’s still the pitcher’s job to focus on the next batter, get the out and move forward. Both times after the Kozma errors, Wainwright was unable to do so. Perhaps he got rattled by the stage? Doubtful, considering his past. As a rookie thrust into the closer’s role in late 2006, Wainwright had three regular-season saves before going into the playoffs. There, he merely allowed no runs in 9 2/3 innings while saving the clinching game in the NLDS, the NLCS and the World Series.

Wainwright defines battle-tested baseball, in essence. With all the St. Louis arms to choose from, he got the call in Game One, too.

Yet, he still let Kozma’s difficulties in the field behind him affect the outcome of the game by not making the right pitches when he absolutely had to.

Call it an off night for Wainwright — he only allowed six hits and one walk in five innings, and only three of the five runs he allowed were earned — but he knew he needed to make better pitches to the next immediate batter after the errors, both times.

In a perfect trifecta of incompetence for the night, the Cardinals committed a third error after Wainwright exited the game in the seventh inning. The next at-bat, right after the error by third baseman David Freese? Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz hit a two-run home run off St. Louis reliever Kevin Siegrist. Consider the Cardinals thoroughly confuzzled in Game One.

Coming into this World Series, both teams had committed three errors in the field in prior postseason play this October. However, the Red Sox had not allowed any unearned runs to score as a result of their fielding miscues, while St. Louis had allowed two free runs to its opponents.

Surprise! Boston made an error in Game One, too, actually, but in the fifth inning with two on and two out, Red Sox starter Jon Lester got the next batter after the error to ground out.

Game over. Lesson learned, again, perhaps.

Read more MLB Playoff news here.

Sam McPherson is a freelance journalist and a baseball fanatic. In addition to sports writing, Sam is also a competitive triathlete. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.

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