BOSTON – It was just your basic hippity-hop ground ball to second base. To watch it hop-hop-hop its way toward Matt Carpenter, you never would have suspected the havoc that was about to ensue.
But sometimes in October, this is all it takes. One double play not turned. One routine throw that isn't caught. One controversial call by an umpire that gets fixed by the Supreme Court of Umpiring.
And bam, everything changes.
So we don't know yet whether the 2013 World Series shifted forever Wednesday night when David Ortiz chopped an innocent-looking double-play ball that was about to go from two outs to one out to zero outs, faster than you could say, "Ed Armbrister."
But Game 1 of the World Series sure changed forever. Can we all agree on that, at least?
For the Boston Red Sox, it turned a no-run first inning into a three-run first inning, which led to a fun-filled 8-1 wipeout that will go down in history as their fourth most one-sided World Series win ever.
Three errors that easily could have been five. A 40-foot pop-up that fell to earth untouched. Four unearned runs. And possibly a franchise postseason record for most postgame Advils popped.
"Honestly," shortstop Pete Kozma said after his 75th explanation of the throw he didn't catch at second base, "I can't remember the last time we played a game like this."
And if he was really being honest, he also would have admitted he wouldn't particularly want to remember the last time the Cardinals played a game like this. But just for the sake of refreshing his memory ...
The Cardinals had one game all season in which they committed three errors. That was Sept. 22, against the Brewers. It didn't particularly feel like Game 1 of the World Series. At Fenway Park. With the whole continent watching.
Or at least the portion of the continent that was wondering why it turned off "The Big Bang Theory" to take in this mess.
But the big bang in this game had nothing theoretical about it.
It came four hitters into the bottom of the first inning. One out. Runners on first and second, Ortiz at the dish, with a packed house rocking. He then did exactly what the man on the mound, Adam Wainwright, was hoping he would do. He rolled over a cutter on the fists and thunked it right toward the second baseman.
If you were keeping score at home (or anywhere else on the planet, come to think of it), it was tough to resist the urge to scribble a big 4-6-3 the instant the ball left the bat.
Asked afterward if he thought, "Double play," the moment he saw that baseball hopping his way, Matt Carpenter replied: "Yeah. Sure. It was softly hit. But I mean, he's not the fastest runner, you know?"
Right. We know. We know. But things began to run amok immediately after Carpenter scooped up the baseball and made a perfect flip toward Kozma, who plays shortstop for this team solely because he happens to be their best defender on the field who isn't named Yadier.
The baseball clanked off Kozma's glove as he came across the bag. Second-base ump Dana DeMuth found himself watching Kozma's feet sweep across the bag instead of watching him catch a routine throw – and pumped a fist in the air, saying that Kozma had dropped the baseball as he went to throw it. So the Cardinals had at one badly needed out on that play.
But not for long.
What happened next pretty much never happens.
It should. But it doesn't.
The other five umpires on the field huddled with DeMuth and voted unanimously – and correctly – that Kozma never did get around to catching the baseball.
So all of a sudden, instead of inning over -- or two outs, two on -- the Red Sox had the bases loaded. And Mike Napoli was about to stomp up there and squash a three-run double up the gap.
And Big Papi would come rampaging home with an emphatic slide that registed 8.3 on the Richter Scale.
In an incredible span of four pitches, the Cardinals had gone from getting two outs … to one out …to no outs …to, well, "Game over." Or just about.
From that moment on, one ugly Cardinals moment seemed to lead to another. Wainwright let a Stephen Drew pop-up drop at his feet to kick off the second inning. Kozma made another error. It was 5-0, Red Sox, after two innings. And we'll see you tomorrow night.
But when all that rubble had settled to earth, it was hard not to connect the dots back to one innocent little double-play ball that turned into something epically game-changing.
And to one of the strangest first innings of any World Series that you'll ever witness.
"It was odd, man. Very odd," Boston's Shane Victorino said of an inning it would take Wainwright 31 pitches -- and half an hour -- to escape. "I don't think you could script that or write that. When it happens, you just say, `Wow.'"
Or, if you were watching it from St. Louis, you might have said several other words that won't be uttered on "Sponge Bob Square Pants" any time soon.
"That's just the way baseball goes sometimes," Carpenter said. "When a play like that happens, it kind of unravels the whole inning. And you can't stop the bleeding. And you're down 5-0 before you know it."
Asked if it felt like that inning would never end, Kozma looked for a moment like a man caught in a nightmare he couldn't wake up from.
"Not really," he said, finally. "But if we'd have kept on making mistakes, it wouldn't have [ended]."
"At the time it's happening," Carpenter said, "you're focusing, pitch by pitch, trying to get out of it. But it's one of those things where, after it ends, you're like, `I can't believe that just happened.'"
And he wasn't the only one.
There was the overturned call itself, for instance.
The moment Dustin Pedroia slid into second and saw the baseball skip free, he said he told DeMuth immediately: "He dropped it." DeMuth turned right to him and said, "No, it was on the transfer." And that, Pedroia thought, was that.
But then out raced his manager, John Farrell, to suggest maybe that shouldn't be that. Farrell was just beginning to argue his case, though, when he and DeMuth found themselves surrounded by every other umpire on the field. And when DeMuth looked up and realized why the rest of his crew had gathered around him, he confessed: "When I see that, it's an awful feeling."
Except his fellow umpires then did something he'll be eternally grateful for some day: They got him off the hook. But in the name of getting it right, they also set off the Cardinals -- who were fighting for every out they could get.
"I don't think I've ever seen a play like that overturned," Kozma said. "Usually, it's pretty much up to the guy who saw it. And the other umps -- they've got something else they're looking at, I guess. But I don't know. I'm not an umpire."
"That's not a play I've ever seen before," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "And I'm pretty sure there were six umpires on the field that had never seen that play before, either. It's a pretty tough time to debut that overruled call -- in the World Series."
Even Wainwright, the one Cardinal who was actually willing to concede that "I think they probably made the right call there," smiled sheepishly when he was then asked if he was in favor of seeing the umpires huddle to get calls like that right.
"Not," he deadpanned, "if it goes against us."
But we can get into the etiquette of modern umpiring some other time. The bigger question, on this night and maybe throughout this World Series, is whether the wild turn of events that play and that call unleashed were almost directly responsible for the Red Sox taking a one-game-to-zero lead in a series in which four wins earns you a parade.
Wainwright tried his best to take the fall, saying over and over that he'd "stunk," that he couldn't find his delivery "from the very first pitch to the last pitch I threw," and that Napoli's three-run double was just the result of "a horrible pitch," not any kind of hangover from one crazy play.
But his teammates weren't about to let their ace hang this debacle simply around his own neck.
"That whole inning kind of went wrong," Carpenter said. "It felt like it was getting away from us before we could figure out how to stop it, or what was going on. … That call ended up changing the way that whole inning played out."
But there were two teams playing in this game, of course. And if the Red Sox hadn't stepped on the pedal after getting that gigantic break, we might have a whole different take on that play, that call, that inning, that game and possibly this entire World Series.
"For us, we got a second chance there and we capitalized it," Victorino said. "And that's what it takes to win a World Series. You have to capitalize on those kind of mistakes."
Go back through World Series history, and you'll find he's exactly right. Think about how many of them have turned on one play, one call, one mistake, one swing of the bat, one dramatic swing in momentum.
And especially when it happens in Game 1. There's a reason, you know, why only four of the past 25 teams to win Game 1 of the World Series went on to lose that Series. So that look on Pete Kozma's face late Wednesday night said it all.
A huge loss in a huge game rested on his shoulders. And no one was more aware of it than him.
"I think everyone takes something from a game like that on their shoulders," he said, softly. "But the good news is, there's another game tomorrow."