BOSTON – Less than 24 hours earlier, Cardinals' ace right-hander Adam Wainwright stood before a media throng, took responsibility for his club's poor performance in the World Series opener and then expressed confidence Michael Wacha would pick him up.
Wainwright's words seemed prophetic through five innings of Game 2, hit a glitch in the sixth, but then were repaired by an offensive outburst in the seventh keyed by a Red Sox defensive meltdown.
The Cardinals pitched better, slightly, and played a better field than the Red Sox on Thursday. The result, a 4-2 win and a series even at a game apiece heading to the Gateway City.
"The kid continues to impress," said Cardinals' manager Mike Matheny of Wacha, his 22-year-old rookie starter. "I don't know what else you could ask. Put him on any stage and he does a real nice job of limiting distractions."
Wacha improved to 4-0 in the postseason. He sports a dominant ERA of 1.00, having allowed only three earned runs in 27 innings of work.
Where Wainwright felt he didn't set the proper tone on Wednesday, Wacha did on Thursday. He worked an efficient first inning, including a pair of strikeouts of Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia with nasty fastball-changeup combinations.
"Nerves weren't too bad," said Wacha, who'd never pitched in Fenway Park. "Just kind of anxious to get out there. It's the World Series. Big-time game so I just tried to use it to my advantage to go out and pitch with some adrenaline and just try to block out the fans and the crowd."
He didn't have his best stuff, but Wacha worked five scoreless innings. With St. Louis up 1-0 in the sixth, he issued a one out walk to Dustin Pedroia. David Ortiz followed and worked a full count before driving a changeup, often Wacha's out pitch on this evening, over the Green Monster for a two-run home run.
Boston led 2-1 and it felt as though Wacha's strong start would go for naught.
Not so fast.
The Red Sox channeled the Cardinals from the night before and, in the seventh, handed St. Louis the split.
With one out, John Lackey, who had another strong playoff start for the Red Sox, walked David Freese. Jon Jay followed with a single to end Lackey's night. Left-hander Craig Breslow took over. Pete Kozma, who entered as a pinch runner for Freese, and Jay executed a double steal. Breslow then walked Daniel Descalso, loading the bases for Matt Carpenter.
The Red Sox's night fell apart.
Carpenter lifted a fly ball to left field. Kozma tagged. The throw from left fielder Jonny Gomes skipped past catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Kozma scored. Breslow, backing up the play, attempted to throw out Jay trying for third but he hurled the ball into the seats. Jay scored the Cardinals' go ahead run. They wouldn't look back.
"I'm sure Craig would like to have that ball back and hold it with a chance to shut down the inning right there," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "We give them the run ... Uncharacteristic of the way I think we've taken care of the baseball this year and it contributed to three runs."
Carlos Beltran, who injured his ribs slamming into the wall to rob Ortiz of a grand slam on Wednesday night, deemed himself able to play about three hours before game time. He had two singles, including a hit in the eighth which provided St. Louis the insurance run.
Positive signs all around for Matheny.
"Very encouraged," said Matheny of Beltran, who received an injection of the painkiller Toradol before the game. "We were all kind of sitting around waiting to see how things would turn out today. We didn't know how he was going to feel but obviously he feels pretty good. He was moving well, too."
Buoyed by the performance of a young starter, Wacha, who outdueled the veteran Lackey, the Cardinals hope for the same on Saturday.
Two games in and a split as the scene shifts, the stakes only get higher from here.