BOSTON -- The pitching was faltering, the defense was falling apart and the first World Series game at Fenway Park in 18 years looked to be shaping up as a devastating collapse for the home team. But through it all, the Red Sox erased all their flaws with the ability to keep swinging. They simply outslugged the Cardinals, 11-9, in Game 1 on Saturday night at Fenway Park.
As much as this night was low in stylistic value for the Red Sox, it was, after all, the World Series. This isn't exactly the time of year to be picky about the road to victory.
"We came out and did exactly what we needed to do," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "We won. I'm happy. We got the first one."
Three more wins -- no matter how they are achieved -- would equal the first World Series championship the Red Sox have had since 1918.
Mark Bellhorn, who has emerged in a big way in his last three games, had the swing that had the most impact. His two-run homer off Pesky's Pole in right field with one out in the bottom of the eighth snapped a 9-9 tie.
It was Bellhorn's third homer in the last three games, and the last two have both struck the foul pole. The switch-hitter unloaded on an offering that Cardinals right-hander Julian Tavarez would love to have back.
"The ball was right in the middle of the plate," said Tavarez. "I wanted to throw it down to his feet. It was a big mistake."
This wasn't the type of drama anyone expected after the way it started.
With a 7-2 lead after just three innings, the Red Sox had visions of putting this one into cruise control. Instead, the Cardinals delivered Tim Wakefield an early knockout punch and exhausted the rest of the Boston bullpen. And the defense committed an unsightly four errors, making it nearly remarkable that the Sox still found enough in those bats to win.
Game 1 was the highest-scoring opening game of a World Series in history:
Oct. 23, 2004
Red Sox 11, Cardinals 9
Sept. 28, 1932
Yankees 12, Cubs 6
Oct. 10, 1908
Cubs 10, Tigers 6
Oct. 10, 1978
Dodgers 11, Yankees 5
Oct. 17, 1998
Yankees 9, Padres 6
Then again, when you have David Ortiz on your side, a lot of things are possible. The designated hitter continued his epic postseason, bashing a three-run homer and tying Carl Yastrzemski's franchise record for most RBIs in a World Series game. Yaz also knocked in four in Game 2 of the 1967 Series.
"Let me tell you, we didn't play that well," said Ortiz. "We had four errors that cost us, like, six runs. I don't think you want to do that, especially in the World Series, when you don't have that many chances. I hope we come back tomorrow and play better."
Closer Keith Foulke certainly deserved a better fate than a blown save. But that was exactly what he got when two consecutive errors by Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez in the top of the eighth forced Boston's 9-7 lead to disappear.
The latter error came on a Larry Walker flyball that Ramirez dove for and then had his shoe get caught in the moist dirt.
"I shouldn't have dove for that ball. I could have caught it easy," Ramirez said. "That's why you have teammates. We try to pick each other up."
Few players have picked his teammates up in these playoffs more than Foulke, who not only got out of that eighth inning jam but silenced the heavy-hitting Cardinals in the ninth to get the win.
It was the fifth consecutive victory for the Sox since they trailed the Yankees, 3-0, in the American League Championship Series.
In the bottom of the first inning, it looked like the Red Sox were merely continuing Game 7 of the ALCS. With one out, Ortiz made his first World Series at-bat a memorable one, bashing a three-run homer into the grandstands down the right-field line. It was Ortiz's fifth homer this postseason.
David Ortiz / DH
Weight: 230 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: L
The slugger was almost perplexed that his mammoth postseason has been perceived as such a big thing.
"If you're not all ready to go in October, you should go home," said Ortiz.
If the Sox were going to do that, it would have happened last week, when the Yankees had four separate games to put them down for the count.
Instead, the Sox are alive and well, and they didn't let up after Ortiz made his presence felt in this Fall Classic.
Kevin Millar followed by smashing a double high off the Green Monster. Bill Mueller opened the lead to 4-0 by lacing a two-out single to left.
It was the first time a team has scored four runs in the first inning of a Game 1 of the World Series since the Orioles did so against the Pirates in 1979.
The Cardinals got one back in the second against Wakefield, with Mike Matheny lofting a sacrifice fly to center. Walker, who was getting ready to have a monster night (4-for-5), got the Cardinals a much louder run in the third, raking a solo shot down the line in right to slice the deficit to 4-2.
Cardinals righty Woody Williams, who never looked to be in a rhythm, stumbled in the third. The Red Sox loaded the bases with one out, thanks in large part to Williams issuing two walks. Damon smacked an RBI single to right, running Williams from the game. Orlando Cabrera greeted Cards reliever Danny Haren with an RBI single to left. Ramirez's fielder's choice RBI put the Cardinals in a 7-2 hole.
But quickly, the Cardinals whittled away at that lead, thanks to a control meltdown (walks to the first three batters) by Wakefield in the top of the fourth. A sacrifice fly to right by Matheny turned out to be worse than that, as first baseman Millar grabbed right fielder Trot Nixon's cutoff and sailed a wild throw to third. It bounced out of play, allowing an extra run to score. Wakefield (3 2/3 innings, three hits, five runs) couldn't right himself and was replaced by Bronson Arroyo. A fielder's choice grounder to third by So Taguchi got the Cardinals within two runs.
Tim Wakefield / P
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"I mean, that [game] was not an instructional video," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "That was a little rough."
Especially when the Cardinals completed their comeback from five runs down in the sixth. With two outs, Taguchi got a rally going with a dribbler to first for an infield hit that Arroyo threw away, setting up a runner at second. Edgar Renteria and the ridiculously hot Walker followed with back-to-back RBI doubles, tying the game at 7.
Haren did a superb job holding the Sox at bay, firing 3 2/3 scoreless innings. But when the Cardinals went to Kiko Calero in the seventh, the Boston offense got rejuvenated.
Calero got himself into a mess by walking Bellhorn and Cabrera, giving Ramirez an RBI opportunity with one out. Ramirez didn't waste it, belting a single up the middle to bring Bellhorn home and put the Sox back in front.
That was all for Calero, as left-hander Ray King was enlisted to try and cool off Ortiz's red-hot bat. Instead, Ortiz hit a wicked one-hopper off the left collarbone of Womack. The RBI single not only gave the Sox a 9-7 edge, but knocked Womack out of the game.
By the end of the wild night, the Sox had things under control.
"It's huge, you need four wins to win the whole thing," Foulke said. "Getting that first one out of the way, it's one less that we have to win now. That was a weird game. It's probably not going to happen again."
The Sox will gladly take the same result three more times.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.