The St. Louis Cardinals grabbed control of the World Series with a thrilling, albeit controversial, win on Saturday.
Now the Boston Red Sox will try to even this best-of-seven set with perhaps the biggest question mark in this Fall Classic -- Clay Buchholz -- in Game 4 on Sunday at Busch Stadium.
Buchholz was among the best pitchers in baseball through the first two months of the season and was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA after beating the Angels on June 8. But thanks to a shoulder injury, that would be his last start for more than three months.
He won three of his four starts upon returning in September and pitched to a 1.88 ERA in those outings. With Jon Lester and a healthy Buchholz, the Red Sox seemingly had as good a 1-2 punch atop the rotation in baseball heading into the postseason.
That hasn't been the case.
While Lester has pitched like an ace, Buchholz has hit a wall in October. And what was once a sure thing, has become anything but, as Buchholz has a 5.40 ERA in three starts, while showing a dreaded dip in velocity.
Even more alarming is the fact that he has failed to get past the sixth inning in any of the three outings and lasted only five innings in his last start against the Detroit Tigers in Game 6 of the ALCS on Oct. 19.
The reduced velocity and the lack of stamina is a concern, but despite the abbreviated showing against the Tigers, it was easily his best outing of the postseason, as he limited the Tigers to two runs on four hits and two walks.
"The ball is not really coming out of my hands like it does in spring training or at the beginning of the season," Buchholz said. "I think that's true for the majority of the guys that have been pitching all year, and something that I've had to deal with over the last 3 1/2 months."
Buchholz, who will be making his first World Series appearance, has admitted that he isn't exactly 100-percent and is suffering from a bit of fatigue in the shoulder. The Red Sox and the righty insist that he is ready to go, though.
"I don't think there is any risk there," Buchholz added. "My one thing that I have is to go and compete. Go out there for as long as John wants to leave me out there, and give the team a chance to win to the best of my ability. Obviously, given the couple of days that I've been out so far, not a hundred percent. But I've said it a couple of times this year, I don't think anybody, especially at this time of the season, is a hundred percent.
"It's going to be my first World Series experience being on the field, and I think that just the environment, the crowd, the adrenaline, that's going to help me out, too."
St. Louis, meanwhile, will hand the ball to righty Lance Lynn, who will become the Cards' all-time leader in postseason appearances by a pitcher. Lynn will be appearing in his 20th postseason game, moving him past Cardinals closers Jason Isringhausen and Jason Motte for a club record.
"I think he's one of the guys that gets overlooked as we start talking about the youth of the staff," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Lance is a guy that won 18 games for us last season and has done well in the postseason, and he does carry himself like a guy that's been around a while."
Lynn, who hasn't pitched since Oct. 15, is 2-1 this postseason, despite a 5.40 ERA. During the season, the Cardinals provided him with an NL-best 5.2 runs- per-game.
"It's never going to feel normal; it's a World Series," Lynn said. "You're getting a chance to start in the World Series against the best team from the American League. You're excited, got a little bit of nerves. But when it's all said and done, you've been doing it all year and you have to take it as another start and be the best prepared for it as you can. And once you go through your pregame stuff, it's all business after that."
Lynn will be trying to pitch the Cards to the brink of their 12th world title after winning Saturday's Game 3, 5-4, thanks to an obstruction call.
With the score tied 4-4 in the ninth and runners on second and third with the infield in, St. Louis' John Jay ripped a shot at second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who dove to get to the ball then fired home to nail Yadier Molina. On the play Craig tried to advance to third and Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw low to third to try to get him. The ball caromed off the glove of third baseman Will Middlebrooks and Craig's arm and bounced away.
As Craig -- running on a sprained left foot -- tried to get up and run home, Middlebrooks, who was lying on his stomach, raised his feet. Craig tripped and stumbled home. Saltalamacchia applied the tag off the throw from left fielder Daniel Nava, but third base umpire Jim Joyce ruled Middlebrooks impeded Craig's progress.
"Tough way to have a game end, particularly of this significance, when Will is trying to dive inside to stop the throw," Boston manager John Farrell said. "I don't know how he gets out of the way when he's lying on the ground. And when Craig trips over him, I guess by the letter of the rule you could say it's obstruction. Like I said, that's a tough pill to swallow."
The Cardinals, who are 8-0 this postseason when scoring first, have been up 2-1 in the World Series on 10 previous occasions and have won the World Series eight of those times. In fact, the team to go up 2-1 when a series has been tied, has gone on to win the World Series in the last four and 11 of the last 12 instances.
Game 5 is scheduled for Monday at Busch Stadium.
The Sports Network