While there's no reason to give up on the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals just yet, Game 1 of the World Series Wednesday night created an awful lot of reasons to be concerned.
It's not that the Redbirds lost. It's how they lost, doing absolutely nothing well. Their ace, Adam Wainwright, was hit hard all night. Their defense, not known for being rangy or spectacular but credited for making all the plays it should make, misfired on at least five critical occasions by failing to convert extremely routine chances and booted away at least five of the eight runs the Red Sox scored in the process. The most clutch offense in the Major Leagues couldn't do a thing with runners on base. And the previously untouchable bullpen gave up three runs including the first homer of the season to a lefty batter surrendered by Kevin Siegrist.
There was no reason for the contest to be so lopsided. The Red Sox managed only one more hit that the Cardinals over the course of the evening. But their hits came when it mattered, cleaning bases clogged with runners by errors.
When the Red Birds, down 5-0, loaded the bases their second trip through the batting order with a walk and a pair of hits, 2011 World Series hero David Freese grounded weakly to the pitcher for an easy 1-2-3 double play.
A single might have given the Cardinals a new lease on life in the game. A sacrifice fly would have at least broken the seal on the St. Louis offense. But when the Birds ended up with nothing you could just see them fade away.
Optimists will point out that the Redbirds were blasted for a double digit loss in the first game of the 1982 World Series yet they came back to win. And this is true. But that Fall Classic was played with the Cardinals holding home field advantage. Those Cardinals knew that if they could force a long series they'd have an opportunity to finish at home. St. Louis can certainly come back from this setback. But it has to do so immediately. A loss Thursday night would put the Birds in a position where they would have to win all three games in St. Louis to have a realistic chance of winning the World Series.
That's an unfair amount of pressure to put on rookie pitcher Michael Wacha. While he was super in the National League Championship Series, the pressure of the World Series is a whole different animal, especially when the momentum has started to go the other way and it's Wacha's task to stop it.
I'm also gravely concerned about Pete Kozma who was fantastic in the National League Divison Series in 2012 against the Washington Nationals. Then he made a critical error with the Cardinals way ahead in that season's NLCS and then he folded. On Wednesday he made TWO errors and carried it to the plate where he was 0-for-3. Will he be able to put his mistakes behind him and contribute? Or will the Cardinals be forced to go with Daniel Descalso, who has considerably less range on defense, at short?
The Cardinals simply must win Thursday night. If they do they'll seize home field advantage in the Series by tying it at one game each with three of the five remaining games at Busch. If they lose Thursday it wouldn't be impossible to come back. But they may find that they allowed Boston to build a mountain that the Cardinals can't climb.