The St. Louis Cardinals reached the 2013 World Series with a roster construction that features a lot of young, home-grown players. That fact has been discussed at length when focusing on the Cardinals' success this season. It has ultimately played a large part in the failures as well.
Small sample size aside, putting a single game under a microscope is a tradition practiced by most sports writers, pundits and analysts around the country. After any given game in the long baseball season, a manager's choices are disputed and players actions are scrutinized.
Throughout 2013, these examinations of the Cardinals have revealed a very successful core of young players that have led them to the best record in the National League and now to the World Series. Analysts are quick to point out the dominance of Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez at the back of the bullpen. The offensive exploits of Matt Carpenter and the untouchable pitching of Michael Wacha have been poured over at painstaking detail. There is no doubt that the Cardinals are in the World Series because of the youth of the franchise.
There is also very little doubt that the youth of the Cardinals have led the team to find themselves tied with the Red Sox with two wins each after the first four games of the Fall Classic. The youngsters have been often dominant, but their inexperience showed in Game 4.
The inexperience of Cardinals' manager Mike Matheny has been on display as well. His questionable decision to insert Seth Maness, a ground-ball pitcher, in the sixth inning to face Jonny Gomes, a fly-ball hitter, left many people scratching their heads. Hindsight is impeccable, and most are questioning Matheny based off the results, a three-run home run that ultimately won the game.
Matheny opened up on that decision when talking to reporters after the game, including Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com:
"We got into a spot, we had to make a decision," Matheny said. "And we take everything into consideration in trying to figure out a way to keep the game where it was at that point. And that hit [by Pedroia] definitely added to the equation, and it made it easy for us, in our opinion."
Maness would rely on his strongest pitch, a sinker, to attempt to retire Gomes. He would throw it five consecutive times in an attempt to get Gomes to ground out and end the inning. Unfortunately, the fifth time he delivered the pitch, he left it high in the strike zone. Gomes did not miss the opportunity to hit the mistake far over the left field wall for his first hit of the World Series.
The inexperience of Matheny came through loud and clear. Seth Maness proved that the rookie pitchers in the Cardinals' bullpen are not untouchable. The Cardinals were not completely out of the game, however, and an Allen Craig pinch-hit single would lead to another young member of the Cardinals stepping into the World Series spotlight.
Craig, clearly hobbled and not able to run the bases, would yield to pinch runner Kolten Wong in the ninth inning, and the Cardinals would send the potential tying run to the plate. Matt Carpenter would pop out to second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Carlos Beltran, one of the most prolific hitters in postseason history, would stride to the plate. Matt Holliday, the Cardinals' hottest hitter in the World Series, would wait on deck.
Tim McCarver, the color analyst for the Fox Sports broadcast of the World Series, prophetically observed that the Red Sox were not playing behind the runner at first base. Beltran was hitting from the left side of the plate, and playing behind Wong at first would allow a better opportunity to retire Beltran on a ground ball to the right side. The potential of Wong scoring was unimportant, and most defenses would simply allow the youngster to take second base on defensive indifference and focus on the hitter.
The Red Sox had different plans.
Wong did not appear to be leaning or extending to any sort of a lead that would be considered large. He seemed to simply be caught off guard when Boston's closer Koji Uehara threw to first base to keep him close. The successful pickoff took the bat out of Beltran's hands and ensured the 2013 World Series would end at Fenway Park in Boston.
Frank Cusumano, a reporter for the NBC affiliate in St. Louis, noted in this tweet that Wong was visually shaken after the game, coming into the clubhouse in tears.
Really a sad moment in the clubhouse as Kolten Wong is in tears. Tough thing for a young kid. #stlcards— Frank Cusumano (@Frank_Cusumano) October 28, 2013
Wong is not a bad base runner. Mike Matheny has made some questionable decisions but is ultimately a consistent manager. Seth Maness is a ground-ball pitcher that succeeds in that situation more times than not. The Cardinals are full of potential and ability.
But they are young. They will make mistakes. The pressure is huge. The Cardinals will win because of the youth on the roster. They will also lose because of it.
The future still looks very promising.
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