BOSTON -- Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow was almost a quiet force during Boston's stretch run. He became much more of a talking point during a dominant showing through the first two rounds of the playoffs. And in the first World Series appearance of his eight-year career Thursday night at Fenway Park, he was at the center of it all.
Only not in a good way.
Breslow's remarkable run came to a crashing halt with an ugly relief outing that may go down as a defining moment in this World Series, if in fact it helps propel the St. Louis Cardinals to a title.
The walk, throwing error and single on Breslow’s watch certainly helped propel the Cardinals to a 4-2 victory in Game 2, leaving the solid-as-a-rock left-hander answering questions quite different from those he has faced while allowing one measly run -- on a solo home run nearly two months ago -- since mid-July.
“Obviously, I’m aware of what’s at stake first time pitching in this situation,” he said. “I think above all it comes down to executing pitches, and I didn’t do that.”
In fact, Breslow's lack of execution on many fronts was alarming given his incredibly consistent performance of late. He inherited a 2-1 lead and two runners from John Lackey with one out in the top of the seventh inning, but went 2-2 on No. 9 hitter Daniel Descalso, who entered the at-bat 3-for-18 with no walks in the postseason.
Seeking a put-away pitch against a guy who hit .183 against left-handers this season, Breslow went with a heater that soared up and far out of the zone. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was unable to cleanly catch the pitch while flying out of his crouch. The runners, who were off with the pitch, moved into scoring position without a throw, dramatically altering the makeup of the frame.
“I was trying to get a ground ball with guys on first and second,” Breslow said. “Once they had the double steal and first base was open, that kind of changes the approach a little bit. Obviously, pretty big to try and keep those runs there, try and get a strikeout. Take a chance with the breaking ball, didn’t make the pitch, and found myself in need of a ground ball with the next guy.”
Not only did that ground ball never come, but after Descalso walked to load the bases, disaster struck. Matt Carpenter lifted a fly to left. Jonny Gomes caught the ball and tried to get the runner at home, but made a poor throw, which Saltalamacchia could not corral. When the ball rolled away from the plate as the tying run came across, Breslow picked it up and saw that Jon Jay was breaking for third base. With the naked eye it looked as if Breslow had little chance to get Jay. Slowing things down on replay suggests that with a quick release and a good throw, Breslow might’ve made the play, but with two outs it was a questionable decision to even try.
Regardless, Breslow first hesitated just a tad and then uncorked a horrible throw that sailed over Stephen Drew’s head at third base and bounced down the line as Jay scored the go-ahead run. Five pitches later, Carlos Beltran lined a Breslow fastball into right field to bring in Descalso and cap the scoring, leaving the Red Sox to ponder several what-ifs.
“That’s one in looking 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. We give them the run,” manager John Farrell said. “And then Beltran, which we wanted to hit from the right side of the plate, with a 3-1 pitch, adds an insurance run to it. Uncharacteristic of the way I think we’ve taken care of the baseball this year. And it contributed to three runs.”
And the entire turn of events was uncharacteristic of Breslow, although he felt pretty good about his decision to make the throw to third.
“I think I definitely had a play there. Looking up, I felt like it was definitely worth making the throw, but it wasn’t a good throw,” he said.
Due to the massive media presence for the World Series, many scribes fill a room behind the press box, relegated to watching the game on TV. The Fox broadcast was roughly 10 seconds behind live action, and reporters would hear roars from the crowd long before they saw what elicited such a reaction. There was a pronounced groan in the stands when Breslow threw the ball away, and in those few seconds media members guessed what they were about to witness on TV. A second groan then rose from the room behind the press box, borne more out of seeing another ugly display of baseball that was all too prevalent in Game 1.
And for the first time in a long time, there was reason to question Craig Breslow.