BOSTON – Relief for Carlos Beltran came from one thick-gauge needle puncture, one $12.99 bottle of funky-smelling salve and one big play. The needle was filled with Toradol, a legal painkiller that numbed his bruised ribs. The bottle was filled with J.R. Watkins Pain Relieving Liniment, an all-natural, straight-from-the-apothecary, camphor-and-capsicum potion that kept him warm and limber. And the play was filled with the sorts of things emblematic of these St. Louis Cardinals: savvy, opportunism and a risk-taking savoir-faire that works out for the best.
Everything that disappeared during Game 1 of the World Series – the Cardinals' signature style of play, as well the beat-up Beltran, their lineup's compass – returned with aplomb Thursday during Game 2. With a dose of help from the Boston Red Sox, who frittered away a shoulda-won game thanks to a blink-your-eyes-and-you-missed-it flurry of mistakes, St. Louis snuck out of Fenway Park with a 4-2 victory that evened the series.
Like Beltran, the Cardinals walked away from Game 1 battered but not broken. He punctuated their three-run seventh inning with an RBI single, his second hit of the day and the capper on a remarkable turnaround from 24 hours earlier, when he needed X-rays and a CT scan to confirm he hadn't broken a rib robbing David Ortiz of a grand slam. St. Louis' training staff coddled him all day, prepared him for a trip to the batting cages around 5 p.m. and gave him the go-ahead. Which, despite his black-and-blue chest, the Cardinals figured was a fait accompli anyway.
"How many games did it take [him] to get to this point?" Cardinals hitting coach John Mabry asked.
To his first World Series after 16 seasons? Only 2,109.
"If he wasn't broke," Mabry said, "he was going out there."
Good thing for the Cardinals he did. His coup-de-grace moment in the seventh inning followed the five seconds of misery that torpedoed the Red Sox's night. The Fenway crowd, electric after David Ortiz's go-ahead two-run home run off Cardinals starter Michael Wacha, slowly lost its voltage with each pitch.
It was almost as if the teams reversed roles. The Red Sox, notorious for grinding out plate appearances, watched starter John Lackey issue an eight-pitch, full-count walk to David Freese and follow by allowing a single to Jon Jay after starting the at-bat with a pair of strikes. In came left-handed reliever Craig Breslow, he of 7 1/3 scoreless innings this postseason, to face lefty Daniel Descalso, who worked the count full and drew a walk. With the bases loaded, lefty Matt Carpenter lifted a fly ball to left fielder Jonny Gomes, whose throw home kicked away from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia for Boston's first error. Jay broke to third base, and Breslow, who had picked up the remnants of the busted play, wound up and fired a ball to third.
Well, sort of toward third, like Maine is sort of near Massachusetts. It flew over third baseman Xander Bogaerts' glove and into the stands for another error that pushed Jay across with the go-ahead run. Beltran plated Descalso with a single to right field, and just like that, the Red Sox's thoughts of a two-games-to-none lead vanished into the cool October night.
"Tonight's win sort of exemplifies how this postseason has gone for us," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "We've been opportunistic and we took advantage of it."