By Jeff Passan
ST. LOUIS – Another World Series game, another crazy ending.
Boston closer Koji Uehara picked off rookie pinch runner Kolten Wong off first base for the final out of Game 4 on Sunday night with the great Carlos Beltran at the plate, locking up a 4-2 Red Sox victory over the St. Louis Cardinals the night after St. Louis won Game 3 on an obstruction call. Neither event ever had closed out a World Series game previously.
The pickoff capped another close game, the highlight of which before the pickoff had been the Red Sox's ceaselessly creepy beard-groping reaching its gross apex. Mike Napoli stroked Jonny Gomes' tangle of awful facial hair like he was Gollum and it was the precious, because if ever there were a time for one grown man play tug-of-beard with another, this may well have been it.
Gomes, the leader of Boston's beard brigade, walloped a three-run home run in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the World Series, and the Red Sox bullpen bent but didn't break against a St. Louis Cardinals lineup that failed to capitalize in a 4-2 win that evened the series and ensured it will return to Boston.
In the lineup only because lower-back tightness forced Shane Victorino to the bench an hour before the game, Gomes hit a sinker from groundball specialist Seth Maness that didn't live up to its name. The ball carried over the left-field fence, and Gomes, his shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest and his beard threatening to grow down there, too, went around first with a fist pump as Maness bent over, pained by what he had done.
Cardinals starter Lance Lynn worked through a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fifth by giving up only one run, and he found himself in trouble again in the sixth after a Dustin Pedroia single and a walk from David Ortiz, who reached base in all four plate appearances. The walk chased Lynn, and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny turned to Maness, who had allowed four home runs in 62 regular-season innings.
His fifth was the biggest of all, salvaging a game the Red Sox worried could get away from them early with the hobbled Clay Buchholz starting. After his fastball averaged 88.3 mph in the first inning, down more than 3.5 mph from its regular-season average, Buchholz looked ripe for the Cardinals to pounce.
Instead, he slogged through 64 pitches of varying efficacy. None touched higher than 91.1 mph. None traveled over the fence, either, the Cardinals' lone run against him unearned after Jacoby Ellsbury booted a ball that allowed Matt Carpenter to move to second base and Carlos Beltran singled him in.
Stellar relief work by Felix Doubront bridged the Red Sox to reliever Craig Breslow, who for the third consecutive game threatened to contribute to a loss by allowing an RBI single to Carpenter and a walk to Beltran. Junichi Tazawa snuffed out that rally, and starter John Lackey did the same in the eighth inning with a relief appearance on his regular throw day.
After allowing a shot off the wall to Allen Craig, who stopped at first only because a foot injury limits his ability to run, Uehara retired Carpenter. He threw two pitches to Beltran, then nabbed Wong at first base with a brilliant – and shocking – throw.
The celebration raged quickly, and Gomes, as usual, found himself in the middle. This, after all, was the same guy who oncecelebrated by drinking beer out of an athletic supporter. The 32-year-old Gomes, who this offseason signed a two-year deal with Boston, quickly became a favorite inside the clubhouse – people close to the team opine he watches as much video as anybody – and outside thanks to his outsize personality.
Against Maness, he stood at the front of the batter's box – he's always there, even against Trevor Rosenthal's 100-mph fastball – and saw sinker after sinker, five of them in all. With his manic stance, shaking his back leg, he unloaded on the final one and prompted Napoli to meet him outside the dugout and grab two handfuls of hair.
It was icky and probably unsanitary and altogether fetid. And for these Red Sox, who love wins clean and dirty, it was absolutely perfect.