The Boston Red Sox avoided disaster in two ways in Sunday’s contest against the St. Louis Cardinals. By winning the game 4-2, the Red Sox evened the World Series at two games apiece instead of going down three games to one. They also got four innings of proficient pitching from ailing starter Clay Buchholz, who was dealing with shoulder tightness, that provided just enough positive win probability and ate up just enough innings to ensure that the Cardinals were unable to jump out to any early big leads.
Considering how vulnerable Buchholz looked on the mound in Game 4, the Red Sox were very fortunate to get as much value from his pitching as they did. Buchholz faced just 18 Cardinals batters before being pulled after the fourth inning, and he was unable to really overpower them in the way he would have done if the game had been played early this season before injury issues took a firm hold of his shoulder and refused to let go. Of the 18 batters Buchholz faced, six reached base against him; he issued three walks and gave up two singles and one double.
Despite allowing so many base runners, Buchholz was able to strand all but one of those six base runners, and even that single run that did score was not entirely his fault. A throwing error by center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury allowed Matt Carpenter to advance to second base after Carpenter hit a single with one out in the third inning. Had there been no error, leaving Carpenter relegated to first base, perhaps Carlos Beltran’s single in the Cardinals’ next plate appearance would not have driven in Carpenter for the first run of the game; Carpenter is a good base runner, but perhaps not that good.
Even with the one run the Cardinals scored against Buchholz and the shoulder issues he was dealing with, the Cardinals still never found themselves with a run expectancy of at least 1.00 while Buchholz was in the game. Buchholz certainly proved to be effective enough to justify the Red Sox sending him out there injured.
After Buchholz left the game, the Red Sox were able to cobble together five innings of one-run pitching as every pitcher called upon to pitch, with the exception of reliever Craig Breslow, did a good job of keeping the Cardinals off the base paths and stranding them when they did. With two outs in the seventh inning, Breslow allowed a runner he had inherited from Felix Doubront to be driven in by a Matt Carpenter single; he also walked the only other batter he faced and was the only Red Sox pitcher who threw in Sunday’s game to post a negative win probability added (-0.105).
Overall, Red Sox pitchers held the Cardinals to a lackluster hitting line of .182 BA/.270 OBP/.242 SLG with a .227 wOBA and were rewarded with a win probability added of 0.317 as they deserve the lion’s share of the credit for the victory.
However, good pitching can end up mattering little without some run support to back it up, which the Red Sox offense was able to provide despite the fact they struggled almost as much to solve the Cardinals pitching as the Cardinals hitters did to solve the Red Sox pitching; the Red Sox hitters finished the game with a batting line of .194 BA/.278 OBP/.323 SLG with a .269 wOBA.
Luckily for the Red Sox, they were able to concentrate some of their best offensive plays within a couple of innings in order to score their four runs. In the fifth inning, the Red Sox got a double from David Ortiz and walks from Jonny Gomes and Xander Bogaerts to load the bases with zero outs before Stephen Drew hit a sacrifice fly to score one run. Considering the Red Sox loaded the bases with zero outs, the club should have scored more than just one run, and probably should have scored at least two, but at least they scored.
The sixth inning saw the Red Sox use a Dustin Pedroia single and a David Ortiz walk with two outs to set the tables for Jonny Gomes’s match-up with Cardinals reliver Seth Maness. It was a match-up that Gomes won handily as he crushed a three-run home run to put the Red Sox up 4-1. Gomes’s home run was the single most valuable hit for the Red Sox in Game 4.
Aesthetically pleasing, Game 4 was not, unless for some reason, you are a person who loves to watch shaky pitching where teams combine to walk about as many batters as they strike out and hitters who cannot negotiate their way on base or accomplish much when their teammates put themselves in scoring position. Then Game 4 was the game for you. Perhaps the Red Sox are now fans of those kinds of games, though, since it did result in a much needed victory for them, setting up Game 5 as the pivotal contest in this World Series.