Here’s something you might not have known about the Red Sox: they’re good, especially at the hitting part. Over the course of the regular season, they scored 853 runs in 1439 innings, or about 0.6 runs per. Pitchers facing the Red Sox posted a 5.02 ERA, nearly half a run higher than the next-highest mark. As the Red Sox demonstrated in Game 1, they’re capable of scoring runs in a hurry, which, incidentally, is the only thing they do in a hurry, and this is one of the reasons why the Sox are probably the best team in baseball. That statement should hold true no matter how this series ends up.
Much of the talk after Game 2 is focusing on the top of the seventh, when the Cardinals rallied and took advantage of some defensive lapses to establish a two-run lead. In that frame the Cardinals went ahead 4-2; by that score, the Cardinals were triumphant. But a two-run lead against the Red Sox in Fenway is precarious, no matter how it’s achieved. Better to be ahead than behind, of course, but the Cardinals couldn’t have considered their position safe. They still needed to keep the Red Sox off the board, and that’s where Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal came in handy.
The basic numbers themselves tell the story. Between them, Martinez and Rosenthal worked three scoreless innings, allowing a hit while striking out six. Just below the surface, we can observe that there was an error in there, too, but that the hit was basically an infield single. Look in the box score and you get the gist: Martinez and Rosenthal were dominant with the leverage indices glowing. But you’re probably not satisfied just looking at the box score. If you were, you wouldn’t be reading stuff on FanGraphs, and I think it’s worth getting deeper still into the Cardinals’ relief effort behind Michael Wacha.
To get right into it, Martinez handled the seventh with no trouble at all. Jarrod Saltalamacchia started with the rare swinging strikeout at a fastball in the dirt. That was followed by two grounders, and the teams proceeded to the eighth. It was in the eighth and ninth that Martinez and Rosenthal really got interesting. The seventh was over too soon, and minds were still occupied by what had taken place in the upper half to so significantly change the feel.
Martinez got ahead of the first batter in the eighth with a sinker, and the second pitch was a sinker to the other side of the plate, which Jacoby Ellsbury grounded to second. Yet he was able to reach on an error, and that’s when Fenway started considering the idea of a comeback. Shane Victorino walked up, and it hasn’t been long since the last time Victorino did something heroic. Yet, in an instant, Victorino found himself behind 0-and-2, having fouled consecutive low fastballs.
To that point, Martinez had thrown 14 pitches, and 13 of them had been fastballs, including ten in a row. Victorino had reason to expect more heat, and because the count was so lopsided in Martinez’s favor, Victorino might’ve been expecting something off the plate. Maybe a fastball away, or something to change the eye level. If Martinez were to throw a breaking ball, he might try to bounce it, with Yadier Molina behind home plate. The pitch Victorino probably wasn’t expecting was a breaking ball fully in the zone.
Dustin Pedroia was next, and Martinez started him off with a fastball inside the outer edge. Then he came in with a fastball to get a foul, and again Martinez was in front 0-and-2. This time, Pedroia was prepared for the breaking ball over the plate. Martinez threw it again, just like he had to Victorino, but Pedroia pulled the trigger and fouled the pitch off. So Martinez decided to follow that with a low fastball, which Pedroia also fouled off. Through four pitches, Pedroia had seen four pitches easily in the zone, and after consecutive fouls, it would’ve been reasonable for Martinez to try to get Pedroia to expand his zone. Just to try something different.
Martinez stayed in the zone, but this time he threw his breaking ball away, and Pedroia got himself out ahead of it. What that is, really, is a flawless breaking ball, just an example of good pitching beating good hitting, but you always do have to consider the mind games. There are different levels of being prepared for a pitch, and the more prepared a batter is, the greater his chances. From the looks of things, Pedroia didn’t have a chance.
That led to a controversial bit. The next batter was left-handed David Ortiz. Ortiz represented the tying run, and the Cardinals had Randy Choate warm. Statistically, it’s absolutely the right decision to bring in a lefty reliever in that circumstance. Should’ve been Choate. Realistically, should’ve been Kevin Siegrist, so perhaps Mike Matheny overreacted to what happened in Game 1. But he didn’t go to Choate. Unthinkably, Matheny stuck with the righty reliever, and he explained himself in the aftermath:
It’s not an easy decision. Knowing that we have a left?hander up and ready to go. A lot of it has to do with what we see, how the ball is coming out of Carlos’s hands at that time. We have two guys on base, one by an error and another by a ball that made it’s way kinda through the infield. Looked like he had real good life. And if we get through Ortiz, then we have an opportunity to use Carlos’s good life right there against a Napoli, where we don’t have to bring Trevor in more than one.
Not an easy call, but we liked the way Carlos was throwing the ball at that particular time.
I’m not going to say Matheny made the right call. That should’ve been a lefty. I will say it doesn’t not matter how Martinez looked. I will say we’re talking about small changes in percentages, so it’s not like the decision meant everything. Ortiz’s odds of going deep against anyone are low. Anyway, a point: when Ortiz was coming up, Martinez had thrown 16 of his previous 17 pitches in or below the lower half of the zone. Martinez said after the game his whole job was to work down, and he was working down effectively, and that gave Matheny some confidence that he’d stay down against Ortiz, too. And then even if Ortiz reached, Martinez would be in there to pitch to Mike Napoli afterward.
Martinez worked down and Ortiz put the first pitch in play.
He singled, but he barely singled, and so Martinez was still in there for Napoli. The first pitch was a perfect outer-third fastball. Then Martinez kind of lost his location. The next fastball buzzed Napoli’s tower. The third fastball was elevated and put into play, and it was in a similar location as the pitch Napoli hit for a three-run double in Game 1. But this fastball was faster and a little more inside, and Napoli popped out. That was the end of the Martinez assignment.
And what Rosenthal did was just laughable. I mean, in bullet-point form:
It all took 11 pitches, and the two balls were mighty close. Rosenthal threw nothing but fastballs. The thing that struck me about his performance was how he was able to remain near the edges. Eight of his 11 pitches were within two inches of the nearest strike-zone edge. Another was within three. The first of the two pitches that weren’t as close was an 0-and-2 fastball to Gomes a little away, off the plate. It was the perfect heater in that count. The second of the two pitches that weren’t as close was a 1-and-2 fastball to Nava over the outer third. It was also Rosenthal’s fastest pitch, at 99 miles per hour. Where Nava might’ve expected something off the plate after consecutive called strikes, Rosenthal and Yadier Molina elected to blow him away.
A couple representative .gifs:
A note of very mild interest: Rosenthal pitched to one righty and two lefties in the inning. Here’s where he stood against the righty:
Here’s where he stood against the lefties:
There’s a shift there, to the first-base side of the rubber, of about seven inches. Presumably, it was a conscious decision. Presumably, it followed some conversations, and Rosenthal presumably feels like the shift gives him better command in the zone against opposite-handed hitters. Better angles to work in and out, and everything. I don’t know how much the shift mattered in the end, because what the Red Sox couldn’t handle was Rosenthal’s raw stuff.
And maybe that’s not surprising. Gomes has always been strikeout-prone against righties. With the Red Sox, Saltalamacchia has swung 43 times at fastballs going at least 97 miles per hour, and 16 times he’s whiffed. He has two singles to show for all those attempts. Meanwhile, with the Sox, Nava has swung 23 times at fastballs going at least 97 miles per hour, and he’s recorded one hit. If Rosenthal ever gave thought to using his other stuff, it wasn’t serious. His fastball was popping and the Sox didn’t know what to do with it.
Part of the story is that the Cardinals opportunistically seized the lead. The rest of the story is that they subsequently refused to give it up, thanks to brilliant relief work from a 22-year-old and a 23-year-old. A fact of the matter is that Martinez probably shouldn’t have been pitching to Ortiz when he did, but there are other facts of the matter, including the fact that Martinez survived, and including the fact that the bullpen didn’t allow a run. Martinez executed against Ortiz. Martinez and Rosenthal executed against everyone. In that way the Cardinals managed to even the series, and going forward the Red Sox can’t count on Martinez or Rosenthal throwing any softer. This flame-throwing stuff is kind of their thing.
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