It was all about the fuzzy beards on a chilly night at Fenway Park. This hardly tells the story of how much the team’s facial hair has become a fad in Boston, where fans are wearing fake beards to the oldest ballpark in the majors. The menacing look of lumberjack sluggers blasting home runs over the thirty-seven foot, two-inch high left-field wall at Fenway Park, known as the Green Monster, is terrifying and startling.
The beard-growing craze began in spring training with Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes, and as the team continued winning, the rest of the team was inspired to grow beards. It’s the latest trend for Red Sox players, I suppose, to grow beards longer than ZZ Top, shaggier than Zack Galifianakis, scarier than Brian Wilson or bushier than Yosemite Sam. It seems Red Sox players are kind of superstitious and have strange rituals. And although the Red Sox, who look like shaggy cavemen, are more newsworthy for growing beards and not an amazing turnaround, these men have built a stronger bond and repaired chemistry inside the clubhouse.
There’s a sense of excitement in the air that something splendid is about to happen in Boston, and as the Red Sox have been on an amazing run and continue to win, their beards keep growing. This is starting to look more and more like 2004, and it’s the team that’s playing the best baseball. This time around, raising the trophy over their heads doesn’t seem impossible but possible. This time around, the Red Sox have been favored to win the Fall Classic, and when they took Game 1 Wednesday night, 8-1, due to an early offensive surge, it gave us reason to believe that this team has the most productive offense and outstanding pitching, a battalion of strong talent from Shane Victorino to Napoli to Gomes to Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara. The players have changed the culture, and it has resulted in the Red Sox scoring more runs and allowing fewer runs than a year ago. This team has gone from mediocre to spectacular, and the World Series features two teams with the most storied histories in baseball — the Cardinals vs. Red Sox.
This October, the Red Sox are widely regarded as one of the game’s very best teams, and rarely have lost in the postseason. The Red Sox truly are a group of players who rise to the occasion, and before this is over, Boston will give us more October lore. It was a sentiment of rationality that swept through the ballpark on Wednesday night, and the Red Sox unleashed a dominant performance to romp the Cardinals to secure a 1-0 lead in the series. But apparently, the Cardinals’ mistakes became more commonplace — the ones unlikely to make a couple of errors.
It was uncharacteristic of Pete Kozma to drop a flip pass from Matt Carpenter after David Ortiz drilled it. That was a ball a little leaguer could have fielded and thrown to first for the out. If this call wasn’t overruled, Kozma would likely have gotten away with the mistake as umpire Dana DeMuth ruled that Dustin Pedroia was out running to second. The call was unexpectedly overturned as replays showed Kozma dropping the ball at second base. In short, the Red Sox took advantage of the Cardinals’ miscues. That was embarrassing for the Cardinals, who dropped throws and failed to catch a pop up on the infield.
But just as the Cardinals struggled on the field in the early innings, Carlos Beltran robbed Ortiz of a grand slam. He drilled it, driving the ball deep to right. It had enough to get over the fence and give the Red Sox an 8-0 lead, but Beltran made a sensational catch. He chased it down, slammed into the right-field wall while reaching over to take away a grand slam. He left the game in the third inning and was sent to the hospital. The good news is that X-rays were negative, but Beltran, one of the Cardinals sluggers, suffered a right rib contusion. This was supposed to be a low-scoring, one-run scoring game between two teams that both are well rounded and like to work the pitch count. It turns out the Red Sox were knocking around Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright.
Legends are born in autumn, and Red Sox ace Jon Lester certainly pitched like a legend. The future looks bright for Lester and he is fully emerging into one of the most stellar pitchers in the major leagues, capable of pitching like an ace with his strong right arm. He pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings, using his fastball, cutter and a few change ups to attack St. Louis. As with Big Papi, he was the Boston slugger everybody in Beantown knows too well, and after Dustin Pedroia reached base on an error by third baseman David Freese, he ripped a two-run homer in the seventh to seal the deal. It’s just silly not to think Ortiz isn’t a serious threat when he steps in the batter’s box, notorious for his natural ability and dramatic home runs that he launches with his mammoth power.
This could have easily been the other way around, but the Cardinals made a number of mistakes and the Red Sox benefited from terrible fielding from a sloppy St. Louis team. The Red Sox, remarkably, had a perfect performance on a night when six different batters connected for a hit as St. Louis players were fatigued and unprepared for the start of the series. What started out as a disaster for the Cardinals in the bottom of the first, when Ortiz reached base after hitting a grounder that Kozma dropped near the second-base bag, ended with a beatdown. The bases were loaded with one out for Napoli, who unloaded with an RBI double that drove in three runs. It was, after all, just a bad night for the Cardinals that the team overall were charged with three errors. The night was done for Wainwright after five innings, allowing five runs, all of which came in the first two innings.
For these players, the reality is, in many ways, that they can get it done this October. And, as the Red Sox showed tonight, momentum definitely doesn’t matter in the postseason, if not ever in baseball that it might as well not exist. More than ever, the Red Sox are feeling much better about themselves after winning Game 1 at home in front of their supportive fans. The most interesting fact noted in the past two World Series featuring the Red Sox is that Boston scored three or more runs in the first inning of the first game.
They are pushing forward, and know the Cardinals will respond Thursday night with Michael Wacha, the phenomenal 22-year-old who has allowed just one earned run in the postseason. This is not a team marred by misfortunes and collapses. The Red Sox definitely have another chance to fulfill their promise.
Those fuzzy beards are frightening, aren’t they?
Sure, they are.