ST. LOUIS -- Lance Lynn was surprised, and so, too, were many of the rest of us.
Mike Matheny put his faith in Lynn to face the Red Sox a third time through the order. Until Lynn gave up a single over the shortstop to Dustin Pedroia with two outs in the sixth.
And that's when Matheny's faith was erased and replaced by the bullpen maneuver that wound up costing the Cardinals in Game 4 of the World Series on Sunday night.
Jonny Gomes, a last-minute injury replacement in the Red Sox lineup, hit the go-ahead three-run home run off Seth Maness that would hand the Cards a 4-2 loss, evening up the Series at two games apiece.
While Gomes' teammates tugged at that ugly heap of hair hanging off his chin, the entire sequence of events tugged at the competitive instincts of Lynn, who, understandably, would have loved to have had the chance to finish what he started in the sixth.
"It's the World Series," Lynn said. "If you don't want to pitch in the World Series, then you should go right home."
Part of what has made this Series so fascinating is that the second-guessers among us have had a smorgasbord of selections on which to feast (it is still utterly amazing that Brandon Workman got an at-bat in the ninth inning of a tie game in the World Series).
In this case, Matheny's methods in the sixth weren't outright outlandish, by any means, but they were certainly interesting enough to take a closer inspection.
The first and most fundamental issue that must be understood is that Lynn threw just 89 pitches in this game, and he has a track record of getting stronger as a game goes along -- a track record validated by the fact that his fastball was still sitting at 93 in the sixth. In the regular season, Lynn actually had more success the third time through the order (.231/.309/.369 opponent slash line in 224 plate appearances) than the first (.253/.330/.352 in 314) or second (.270/.338/.413 in 292).
This was why Matheny stuck with Lynn when the starter came to bat in a high-leverage spot in the fourth. And more meaningfully, it was why he allowed Lynn to head out to the mound for the sixth despite Lynn having to pitch through traffic an inning earlier.
Indeed, Lynn had labored through the fifth, as the Red Sox knotted it up at 1. But the way he limited the damage that inning after giving up a leadoff double and two walks was encouraging. The Red Sox's only run came off a sacrifice fly from Stephen Drew, and Lynn escaped without further incident by striking out David Ross and getting pinch-hitter Mike Carp to ground out.
"We were fortunate to get out of the inning after double, walk, walk with just a run," Matheny said. "He got into another bind in the sixth inning, which is the spot we keep our eyes wide open."
What Matheny watched, with eyes wide open, was Lynn quickly retiring Jacoby Ellsbury on a popout and Daniel Nava on a groundout to start the sixth. The trouble, however, arose when Pedroia reached down and grabbed a Lynn sinker and punched it out to left for a single.
Now, Matheny was faced with his most difficult decision of the night. He could either bring in lefty specialist Randy Choate, who was warming in the 'pen, to face David Ortiz, or he could work around Big Papi and take his chances with Gomes in some fashion -- either with Lynn or with a reliever.
Matheny chose the latter route.
"[Choate] was ready," Matheny said. "We just weren't going there."
That part made sense. Not sure if you've seen Ortiz's numbers this Series (8-for-11 with two homers and a double), but pitching around him -- even if it meant moving Pedroia into scoring position -- had a certain level of sanity attached to it. Yes, Ortiz is notoriously less effective against lefties, but in Game 1 of this Series he hit a home run off Kevin Siegrist that hasn't landed yet and in Game 3 he ripped a single off Choate to help set up a game-tying run.
So Matheny's mindset was absolutely justifiable. Catcher Yadier Molina came out to talk to Lynn and establish the obvious:
Pitch around Papi.
Competitive or not, Lynn was on board.
"I'm not one to be dumb," he said. "I'm not going to let that guy beat me in that situation."
So Lynn threw Ortiz four pitches that had no relation to the strike zone, and Ortiz strolled to first.
And even with runners at first and second, this, conceivably, put the Cards in a desirable position. Gomes was, at that moment, 0-for-9 in the Series. The Cards needed one out, and Gomes, who struck out once every 4.11 plate appearances in the regular season, seemed ripe to provide it.
Suddenly, though, Matheny's faith in Lynn had waned, all as a result of that Pedroia single. Suddenly, he opted to match up a ground-ball specialist against a fly-ball hitter in Gomes, rather than trying to exploit Gomes' strikeout tendencies.
In came Maness, out went Lynn and, four pitches later, out went Gomes' game-changing homer to left on a 2-2 sinker that didn't sink.
"It was up, right down the middle, on a tee for him," Maness said. "He capitalized."
Matheny, unsurprisingly, didn't go in depth with reporters about the stats or strategy behind his decision, saying only that the rookie Maness has done "an incredible job in that situation all season." Of course, Maness' results in the postseason have been quite a bit different than the regular season, as he entered this night having allowed four inherited runners to score with the opposition hitting .308 off him.
More to the point, Matheny's decision came down to his suddenly shaken faith in his starter, who was naturally frustrated to not get the opportunity to face Gomes, who had drawn a walk off him an inning earlier.
"I'm not happy coming out of a game. Ever," Lynn said. "That's just part of being a competitor. If you want out of a game, you shouldn't be out there ever. That's just my opinion."
The World Series stage lends itself to plenty of opinions. If you were of the opinion that Matheny would have been better off handling this sixth inning differently, you have plenty of backing for that belief.
Of course, it always helps when hindsight is on your side.
"We got into a spot, we had to make a decision," Matheny said. "And we take everything into consideration in trying to figure out a way to keep the game where it was at that point. And that hit [by Pedroia] definitely added to the equation, and it made it easy for us, in our opinion."