When you have two teams playing for a championship, the hope is the play on the field is clean to determine who is best without having to focus on mistakes being made.
The 2013 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox hasn't followed that formula. It is tied one-all heading to St. Louis following two defensive miscues by the Red Sox in Game 2 that led to three runs for the Cardinals.
One day earlier the Cardinals had their own mental breakdown in the field, with three errors leading to seven of the eight runs the Red Sox scored in Game 1.
Seeing the Cardinals yuck it up in the field was surprising because they were on routine plays; a throw to second base to start a double play or letting a pop-up drop (though it wasn't declared an error because official scoring in baseball is insane).
In a series that is expected to be close between two teams appearing evenly matched on paper, errors will be the difference. That's held true through the first two games of the series and figures to continue as things shift to Busch Stadium.
So what has been at the source of these mental gaffes? Is it just players losing concentration for one moment, or is there something else going on?
Let's examine some of the possibilities.
Taking Your Eyes Off the Prize
Starting with the funniest error of the series in Game 1, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina let a pop-up that traveled about 40 feet drop in between them in the second inning. The thinking seemed to be Wainwright didn't take control of the situation because pitchers are traditionally told to stay out of the way on plays like that.
Of course, when the pitcher has the best chance to make a play on the ball, why would he get out of the way?
Remember when Cliff Lee nonchalantly caught a pop-up on the mound in the 2009 World Series with Philadelphia? That was the greatest moment of that series, even though the Phillies lost to New York, and cemented Lee's status as a guy who doesn't care about the stage he is on.
Wainwright took his eyes off the ball for a split second to see where Molina was. That hesitation was just enough to let the ball drop in front of him, setting up an inning the Red Sox would score two runs for a 5-0 lead.
Since you have to touch a ball for it to be declared an error, the official scorer awarded Stephen Drew a base hit. Drew could use a batting average boost given how he has hit in the postseason, but this was a mental error and should have been scored as such.
Seeing the Bright Lights
St. Louis Cardinals
There is an old saying that goes once is a coincidence, twice is a pattern. St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma's first error in Game 1 came on a simple flip from second baseman Matt Carpenter that should have led to an inning-ending double play.
Nothing happened on the play to suggest Kozma should have missed the ball. It hit his glove square and fell out. He didn't take his eye off it or rush to turn the double play, not with David Ortiz running to first base. It was just a bad play by a usually-reliable defender.
To his credit, Kozma owned up to it after the game, telling Jennifer Langosch of MLB.com, "I just missed it. Carpenter made a good feed, and I just didn't get my glove in it."
Kozma's second defensive miscue, in the second inning of Game 1, was more understandable. Shane Victorino hit a chopper deep in the hole between shortstop and third base, Kozma got his glove on the ball only for it to trickle out. The odds of him being able to make a play on David Ross at second or Victorino at first are slim considering how far to his right he had to move.
What are we to make of these two errors in two innings from the third-best defensive shortstop in the NL (per FanGraphs)?
If a ball gets dropped because of a runner making a good, hard slide into second base, that is one thing. But to have a ball slip out of your glove because you didn't squeeze it shut in time suggests the moment got to Kozma.
Kozma was hardly the only goat in Game 1, though he will get the brunt of the blame. Center fielder Shane Robinson couldn't pick up Mike Napoli's bases-clearing double in the first inning, which came after Kozma's first error, allowing Ortiz to score all the way from first base.
To Kozma's credit, he rebounded in Game 2 after coming in as a pinch runner during the pivotal seventh inning. He made a great bare-handed play on a ball that deflected off pitcher Carlos Martinez's glove to throw out Stephen Drew.
David Freese, who is rated as the worst defensive third baseman in baseball, per FanGraphs, made an error on what should have been a routine play. He picked up a grounder from Dustin Pedroia and made a bad throw to first base that Matt Adams couldn't pick out of the dirt.
If Kozma was overwhelmed by the stage early in Game 1, Freese was doing what he's done all year. He's a limited defensive player, as the metrics show, and will have games where an easy play turns into an error.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox shot themselves in the foot during Game 2, though they didn't have as many gaffes as the Cardinals in Game 1, they were just as costly.
Boston's problems came on two plays in consecutive at-bats that may have swung the entire series.
Pete Kozma and Jon Jay executed a double steal in the top half of the seventh inning with Daniel Descalso batting. Kozma actually tried to steal third earlier in the at-bat, but didn't appear to have Craig Breslow's delivery to the plate timed well enough to make it successfully.
On the double steal, Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia may have had a play at third base if he pulled the ball out of his glove cleanly. He bobbled it just a bit, ruining any chance to throw out Kozma.
Throwing runners out has never been Saltalamacchia's strong suit as a catcher, succeeding just 23 percent of the time in his career and 21 percent in 2013, so who knows what would have happened if he got the ball out of his glove cleanly.
After the Cardinals loaded the bases following a Descalso walk, Matt Carpenter hit a sacrifice fly to left fielder Jonny Gomes, who attempted to throw Kozma out at home only for Saltalamacchia to misplay the throw and let the ball trickle away. Jay moved to third base on the miscue and came home after Breslow's throw to third base flew into the left field seats.
Carlos Beltran followed all the madness with an RBI single to give the Cardinals a 4-2 lead, more than enough for the dynamic duo of Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal to close things out.
If we were to attribute Kozma's problems in Game 1 to the big stage of the World Series, it is only fair that we do the same thing for the Red Sox in the seventh inning of Game 2.
Specifically, Breslow's errant throw strikes me as a classic case of trying to do too much. The left-hander tried to make a difficult play to get out of the inning and paid for it with a bad throw that allowed the Cardinals to take the lead and moved Descalso to third base.
After the game, Breslow told reporters he saw a play at third base and felt it was a necessary move to make (via MLB.com).
I looked up and I saw that I definitely had a play there. I didn't make a good throw. That's not a throw I make too much, but it's one I need to make there. That could have been a big out for us.
With respect to Breslow, I disagree that it was a play he needed to make. There is no doubt it was a play he wanted to make, but once you have given up the tying run, your first order of business is to limit the damage.
It would have been a close play at third base, even with a good throw. Making a poor throw completely reshaped the game for the Cardinals and Red Sox. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny could play the matchups he wanted with the bullpen, while Boston had to figure out a way to solve Martinez and Rosenthal.
Will The Trend Continue?
Seeing these two teams make so many errors, seven combined through two games, is surprising. The Cardinals aren't an elite defensive team, at least when it comes to saving runs or zone rating, but did tie for the NL lead with a .988 fielding percentage.
Boston has an above-average defense, ranking ninth in the league with nine runs saved, 10th with 519 plays made out of the zone and 10th in ultimate zone rating. One play washed all that away and put the Red Sox up against the wall heading to St. Louis.
Errors are impossible to predict because all it takes is one player taking his eye off of a throw, or one weird hop to change an entire game.
The Red Sox will weaken their defense in Game 3 with Mike Napoli sitting and David Ortiz playing first base, according to manager John Farrell (via Boston Herald).
Napoli is thought of as just a slugger, but his defense at first base was very good this season, being credited with 10 runs saved (per FanGraphs). Ortiz has played just 39 innings at first base in 2013 and 130.2 since the start of 2010.
Even with Ortiz at first base, I would put money on the Cardinals making more defensive mistakes moving forward. We have talked about their defensive inability already, not to mention the fact they are going with Joe Kelly as their Game 3 starter.
The 25-year-old right-hander has a good fastball, but doesn't generate a lot of swings and misses. He averaged just 5.7 strikeouts per nine innings during the regular season, which isn't good against a team that is capable of working counts and putting the ball in play.
It's simple logic that says more balls put in play equals more opportunities to make mistakes. The Red Sox will send Jake Peavy to the mound in Game 3. While he doesn't rack up strikeouts the way he used to, punching out 7.5 per nine innings in 2013 is very good.
Both pitchers can be erratic, as we have seen in the postseason with Kelly giving up six earned runs in his last 11 innings and Peavy allowing seven runs in three innings against Detroit in the ALCS.
Still, if you were to ask me to put faith in one pitcher to help his defense in Game 3, Peavy would be an easy choice.
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