BOSTON -- In the most ridiculous of the many ridiculous moments that defined those first two innings of Game 1, Adam Wainwright's face contorted into something resembling… a smile?
"Not a smile," he interjected.
All right, not a smile. Maybe a smirk. Maybe a you-know-what-eating grin. Something. Something that -- in the immediate wake of Stephen Drew's popup single that fell at Waino's feet -- showed that Wainwright was equal parts amazed, bemused, bewildered and, yes, a bit embarrassed.
Whatever it was -- and Wainwright would simply define the feeling behind it as "weird" -- it was an applicable image to encompass all that had come and all that was on the horizon for Wainwright's Cardinals in this disarming, alarming 8-1 loss at Fenway Park.
The Cards made three errors (and those were just the mental miscues actually credited to them on the scoreboard). They didn't hit a lick against Jon Lester (only four balls left the infield, all flyouts). They watched their ace (who, by the way, hit his head on this ancient ballpark's low dugout ceiling while coming out for the first) labor through five largely forgettable innings.
Oh, and they lost their own answer to Mr. October, Carlos Beltran, to bruised ribs on what was actually one of their few highlights, defensive or otherwise.
What a night.
This was not "The Cardinal Way." This was The Cardinal Wayward.
In every aspect, the Cardinals melted down right in front of our eyes. It's anybody's guess why it happened. The four-day layoff? The World Series jitters? The baseball fates favoring the bearded Bostonians? Who knows? But to the Cards, it simply didn't sit well.
"That," manager Mike Matheny said, "is not the kind of team that we've been all season."
Well, no kidding. You don't win 97 games playing like this. You don't reach the World Series playing like this. You don't inspire a million items of pregame prose about how you do things "the right way" playing like this.
Wainwright's right. This was weird. And the weirdness was so outlandish that the Cardinals shouldn't have an inordinate amount of trouble dismissing it as an aberration.
"I can't remember the last time we played a game like this," shortstop Pete Kozma said. "We've got one [Thursday], so that makes it easier to forget."
There was so much to forget. Start with that play in the first, when the Cards, in rapid and strange succession, went from two outs to one out to zero outs.
Actually, start with the first plate appearance of the inning, when Wainwright walked Jacoby Ellsbury. He'd be kicking himself over that the rest of the night.
"You cannot walk the leadoff hitter of the game, especially a guy as dangerous as he is on the basepaths," Wainwright said. "He scored more runs than anybody in the game [this season], if I'm not mistaken, and he does that for a reason. He's got great plate discipline and great speed. So that set the tone the completely wrong way from the start."
Wainwright felt wrong from the start. No, not because he hit his head -- "Trust me, that did not have anything to do with anything," he said -- but because he was a mechanical mess, flying open, missing spots, missing zip and making "adjustments" that only exacerbated the issue.
But Wainwright's issues were also exacerbated by his supporting defense, or lack thereof. After Dustin Pedroia's one-out single put two aboard in that first inning, Wainwright got David Ortiz to hit a tailor-made double-play grounder to second. Matt Carpenter fielded it and made the ill-fated feed to Kozma, who couldn't keep his glove on the ball at the bag. Initially, Pedroia was ruled out, so at least the Cardinals got something out of this. Except, at the behest of Red Sox manager John Farrell, the umps conferred and came to the conclusion that, no, Kozma never truly had the ball in his glove and this was too spacious a neighborhood for the neighborhood rule to apply.
Pedroia was safe. It was the right call, and it was the beginning of the end for the Cards. Because two pitches later (both balls, for the record), Mike Napoli ripped a double to center and all three runners motored home. Shane Robinson, who supposedly took over in center because of Jon Jay's shaky defense, even bobbled the ball, just to make matters more interesting for the official scorer.
Yet that would not be the last of the Cardinals' defensive foibles. Drew led off the bottom of the second with that high popup that, on an ordinary night, would have come crashing down into the outstretched glove of Adam Wainwright. But Waino called for it, only to defer to Yadier Molina, who, of course, heard Waino call for it. The ball fell in, and Drew had the most unlikely of first career World Series hits.
That's when that look -- whatever it was -- crept across Wainwright's face.
"This is the first time in my life," Wainwright said later, "where there was a play where I could take charge, and I didn't."
The charges were costly. David Ross singled on a soft line drive to center, then, one out later, Kozma booted a Shane Victorino grounder to load 'em up. Pedroia singled on a grounder through the hole on the left side to bring home a pair and make it 5-0.
It all boiled down to that botched popup.
"The first guy pops up to me," Wainwright said. "The second guy, we're not playing double-play depth [if the first out was made], so he catches that standing up, no problem. And the third guy flies out, so we've got a 1-2-3 inning. Those kinds of mistakes, you just can't make against the great teams."
More mistakes -- of less import -- followed. David Freese's throwing error that was followed by Big Papi's two-run homer in the seventh. Carlos Martinez's wild pitch to a crossed-up Molina that set up a sac fly in the eighth. But really, by that point, what did it matter? The Cards were never in this game, because, in those early innings, Lester was on and they were off and, well…
"I don't think it could have gone any stranger and any worse for the Cardinals," Carpenter said.
No, it really couldn't have. And when it was over, they were not smiling or smirking or grinning. They were merely thankful that their meltdown counted only as a single loss in this best-of-seven series and that the ridiculousness was in the rearview mirror.