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Crazy game (again), crazy ending (again), and the World Series is tied

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

ST. LOUIS -- The Red Sox plan everything.

They didn't plan this.

They couldn't have. They wouldn't have.

Not the way this most crucial of World Series wins began. Certainly not the way it ended.

Not a starting pitcher going four innings. Not another starting pitcher starring as a special-guest eighth-inning setup man. Not an outfielder getting scratched for the lineup, only to have his replacement hit the three-run home run that wins the game.

And certainly not the closer who never throws to first base (because there's almost never a baserunner there) making a shock pickoff throw that ends a game.

"We have the knack for the unnatural," Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo said.

And so does this World Series. The Red Sox and Cardinals are back to even after four games, and the scheduled Halloween Night Game 7 ending seems more and more appropriate for a series that gets a little closer and a little crazier with each passing game.

"I can't wait until tomorrow," Joe Torre said over and over as he passed through a Busch Stadium hallway after Sunday night's 4-2 Red Sox win in Game 4. "I can't wait until tomorrow."

Anyone who has watched has to feel the same way, and everyone participating has to have a little of that feeling, too. The Cardinals no doubt can't wait to put Sunday's crazy ending behind them, much the way the Red Sox wanted to leave Saturday's night's obstruction ending in the past.

The rest of us? We're just wondering how these teams can play the first-ever World Series game to end on an obstruction call one night, and then the first-ever World Series game to end on a pickoff the very next night.

"That was wild," Red Sox catcher David Ross said. "Awesome. I bet they're dumbfounded -- 'What just happened?' -- just like we were [Saturday]. You've got one of the best postseason hitters up, next to David [Ortiz], and now the game's over. I was happy."

Yes, that's the other part of the pickoff throw that may live on for years. When Red Sox closer Koji Uehara picked off Cardinals pinch runner Kolten Wong to end Sunday's game, Carlos Beltran was standing at the plate representing the tying run.

"I was aware that if there was a home run, it would be a tie game," Uehara said through an interpreter. "So the pickoff was a relief."

How unexpected an ending was this?

Lovullo, who charts such things, said Uehara has made fewer than 10 pickoff throws all year, and none since the third-to-last game of the regular season. The Red Sox normally call for pickoff throws from the dugout, but they didn't call for this one.

And Wong, of course, wasn't trying to steal and had been told to "be careful, shorten up," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.

"I was just trying to change the rhythm, and it just happened," Uehara said. "I was just trying to change the rhythm of my pitching."

It just happened, which is as good an explanation as any for so much that has happened in just the first four games of this World Series. These teams are so evenly matched and these games are so close that the smallest thing that "just happens" can change everything.

There are at least two games left and more likely three, the way this series is going. The Cardinals get Game 5 at home with Adam Wainwright on the mound, and the Red Sox get the final game or games at home -- but would they really feel confident in Jake Peavy starting a Game 7, or would he even start?

No need to get too deep into that just yet, especially after a Game 4 that proved that every now and then, getting innings from your starting pitcher is not the most important part of winning a game.

The Red Sox got only four innings from Clay Buchholz, who has had such a crazy week that he was pretty pleased just to make it to the mound.

"After the first pitch, I was thinking, 'I finally threw a pitch,'" Buchholz said.

Buchholz's velocity was down, and his command wasn't great. He figured he was throwing at about 80 percent. But he had just enough movement and just enough guts to make it through those four innings and allow just one run.

A starting pitcher in a World Series game (or any game) almost never gets pulled after four innings in which he has allowed only a single run. This was just the sixth time it has happened in the World Series, the first since 1981.

But the Red Sox had runners on base, and Buchholz had already thrown 66 pitches, and anyway, they were pretty pleased to get four innings out of a guy they weren't fully sure could throw even one.

All they needed were a few more runs and a few more innings out of the bullpen. In other words, a three-run home run from Jonny Gomes (who was only starting because Shane Victorino was scratched with lower-back stiffness) and five innings from a combination of Felix Doubront, Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, John Lackey and Uehara.

Can you tell which name doesn't fit in that group?

That would be Lackey, the Game 2 (and Game 6) starter, whose last relief appearance was nine years ago.

He went to manager John Farrell on Saturday and offered his services. He had no idea at the time that those services would be required with the Red Sox protecting a two-run lead in the eighth inning of a game they had to win.

"It was definitely different," Lackey said. "I haven't run in from the bullpen in a lot of years. But what's the difference? An inning's an inning this time of year.

"We're just trying to win two more games."

They realize what's at stake here. Just in case they didn't, Ortiz reminded them of it at the end of the fifth inning Sunday night.

"This is our time," he told his teammates as he gathered them around him.

The Red Sox believe it is their time, just as the Cardinals believe the same thing about themselves. The Cardinals can point to moments like Saturday's ending. The Red Sox can point to moments like Sunday's.

Seriously, who expects a game to end with a Koji Uehara pickoff? The guy didn't even allow a baserunner for nearly a month from mid-August to mid-September. Who even knew he had a pickoff move?

"He's got a great move," Lovullo said. "The Cardinals do some pretty good research, but they may not have seen it. That was just a special moment, a special move, at a good time."

It was a crazy way to end a game, a night after another crazy way to end a game. It was a perfect way to even up this World Series, a perfect way to have all of us wondering what in the world could come next.

"I can't wait until tomorrow," Joe Torre said.

Who can?

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