The Cardinals had been wasting scoring opportunities all night, so it makes sense that -- with Game 3 on the line -- they'd need a little help.
And they got it.
After Yadier Molina had blooped a one-out single in the ninth and moved to third on a double by pinch-hitter Allen Craig, Jon Jay cracked a grounder toward the middle. Dustin Pedroia made a full-body dive to snare the ball, then got up and threw out Molina at the plate for the second out.
With Craig -- running slowly because of a bad foot -- heading to third, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia popped up and fired to third. It was a questionable decision because it appeared Craig was in safely at third, and the decision went from questionable to disastrous when third baseman Will Middlebrooks couldn't handle the throw and the ball went into left field.
As Craig scrambled to his feet, he tripped over the prone Middlebrooks and fell. Third-base umpire Jim Joyce immediately called Middlebrooks for obstruction, which -- though no one seemed to know it -- ended the game, for the call allowed Craig to score.
Craig didn't know it; he raced to the plate. The Sox didn't know it; left fielder Daniel Nava retrieved the ball and fired home. Craig looked to be out, but plate umpire Dana DeMuth called him safe and immediately pointed to Joyce, saying the obstruction call ended the game.
And so it ended: Cardinals 5, Red Sox 4. St. Louis now holds a 2-games-to-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"Tough way to have a game end, especially of this significance," said manager John Farrell. "That's a tough pill to swallow."
A crazy ending to a wild night, in which the Cards missed multiple opportunities to put the game on ice and the Red Sox twice battled back from two-run deficits to send it into the ninth at 4-4.
The last rally had come in the eighth. The Cards had just pushed across two runs to take the lead -- more on that in a moment -- but the Sox went right back to work. With flamethrower Carlos Martinez on as the bridge to closer Trevor Rosenthal, Jacoby Ellsbury singled and Shane Victorino was hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and second with no outs. The Sox sent the runners on the 3-and-2 pitch to Dustin Pedroia and thus avoided the double play when Pedroia hit a grounder to short; instead, they had runners at second and third with one out.
David Ortiz was walked intentionally to set up an inning-ending double play, and -- after Rosenthal was brought in for a five-out save -- they almost got it when second baseman Kolten Wong snared a hard-hit, top-spin grounder by Daniel Nava. But after Ortiz was forced at second, Nava was able to beat the relay throw to first, allowing Ellsbury to score and making it 4-3.
Xander Bogaerts -- who had scored the first Boston run after tripling in the fifth -- then bounced a single up the middle, driving in Ellsbury and tying the score for the second time in the game.
The rally came after the Sox bullpen -- betrayed a bit by the youthful left side of their infield -- failed in the seventh inning for the second straight game, as the Cards broke a 2-2 tie.
Boston had pinch-hit for the offensively hopeless Stephen Drew (0-for-2 with two strikeouts, dropping him to 4-for-44 with 17 strikeouts in the postseason) in the top of the inning, so Farrell moved Bogaerts from third base to shortstop and put Middlebrooks at third.
Craig Breslow came on in relief of Felix Doubront, who had turned in two scoreless innings after replacing starter Jake Peavy in the fifth. The first batter Breslow faced, Matt Carpenter, hit a slow groundball to shortstop. Bogaerts came in but surrounded the ball rather than charging it head-on. His off-balance throw to first base was a little bit up the line and drew Ortiz off the bag, allowing Carpenter -- who was given credit for a hit -- to reach.
Breslow then grazed the next hitter, Carlos Beltran, on his elbow pad, putting runners at first and second with no out. Beltran never moved to get out of the way of the pitch, which barely hit him, but the Sox didn't protest the call.
With the right-handed Matt Holliday coming up, manager John Farrell brought in right-hander Junichi Tazawa. Holliday cracked a hard groundball just to the right of Middlebrooks; hard hit, but playable. Middlebrooks, however, hesitated for just a second then started his dive a tad late. The ball went under his glove and down into the left-field corner, allowing both runners to score and giving the Cardinals a 4-2 lead.
(It came in stark contrast to a play by Cardinals third baseman David Freese in the sixth, when he snared a line drive down the line by Pedroia to rob the Sox' second baseman of a double but, more importantly, preventing the Sox -- who wound up tying the game in that inning -- from putting together a bigger rally.)
Tazawa recovered smartly, striking out Matt Adams and Molina and, after walking Freese, retiring Jay on a fly to center to leave Holliday -- who had moved to third on the throw to the plate in the Sox' attempt to nail Beltran -- stranded at third.
Beltran was the ninth runners stranded by the Cardinals in the game to that point , four of them in scoring position . . . and all four were in scoring position with less than two out.
That wastefulness started early.
After his disastrous start in Game 4 of the ALCS in Detroit, the Red Sox couldn't help but be apprehensive about Peavy and their worst fears were seemingly realized in the first inning. Four of the first five batters singled -- and the only out he got was given to him, as the No. 2 hitter, Beltran, laid down a sacrifice bunt -- to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead. But he got out of that inning, and the rest of his outing, unscathed, keeping the Sox in the game.
First he retired Freese and Jay with runners on first and second to end the first. Then he put down the side in order in the second and third. And then, in the fourth, he turned the momentum completely around . . . albeit in heart-stopping fashion.
The hearts -- in Boston, anyway -- stopped when Molina singled, Freese walked and Jay singled, loading the bases with nobody out. Instead of letting the game get out of hand, however, Peavy struck out Pete Kozma, retired opposing starter Joe Kelly on a pop up, and also got Carpenter to pop up, keeping the score at 2-0.
The lost opportunities -- the Cards' inability to score more than two in the first, or to score at all in the fourth -- immediately came back to haunt St. Louis. Bogaerts led off the fifth with a triple and eventually scored on an RBI fielder's choice by pinch-hitter Mike Carp, cutting the lead to 2-1. And the Sox tied it in the sixth on a leadoff walk to Victorino, a one-out single by Ortiz and a run-scoring single by the next batter, Nava.