BOSTON -- The Red Sox got their first two batters on base in the fourth inning on Thursday against arguably baseball's hottest pitcher this month, and Mike Napoli -- 8-for-23 with 13 RBIs in eight previous World Series games, and 24 hours removed from hitting a key three-run double -- was up.
The result? A debilitating 6-4-3 double play.
"He threw a good sinker," Napoli said of Cardinals starter Michael Wacha. "I hit it right to the shortstop."
The Red Sox got only a two-run homer from David Ortiz, put two runners in scoring position all night and couldn't recover from an ugly sequence in the top of the seventh, ultimately losing Game 2, 4-2.
Boston went 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position, one night after turning two St. Louis errors into five runs over the first two innings.
"Hitting with runners in scoring position is tough on both sides right now," left fielder Jonny Gomes said. "It would be nice to get some of these hits with runners on. We're definitely getting them on, and we've got to get them to the plate."
Two innings before Ortiz lofted Wacha's fourth straight changeup just over the Green Monster, and three innings before the play that turned the game -- when Gomes' throw home bounced off Jarrod Saltalamacchia's glove and Craig Breslow's throw to third sailed high, allowing two runs to score -- Boston had a chance to get to Wacha.
But after giving up a leadoff double to Dustin Pedroia and walking Ortiz to start the fourth, the 22-year-old right-hander threw an 0-1 fastball that plummeted below the strike zone, causing Napoli to bounce into a tailor-made double play, with Gomes flying out behind him.
"I've said it before -- you have to take advantage of opportunities," Napoli said.
"Credit to their lineup; they battled me all night," Wacha said. "They weren't swinging down in the zone that I usually get swings at. They made me work out there, got my pitch count up a lot higher than I wanted it to be. I had to go out and battle and let my defense work behind me. They made great plays and got me out of innings pretty smoothly."
The Red Sox led the Majors in runs during the regular season, but against three teams with dominant starting pitching -- the Rays, Tigers and Cardinals -- their offense has predictably dropped off in the playoffs. They've struck out once every 3.56 plate appearances (compared with once every 4.88 in the regular season), posted a .690 OPS with runners in scoring position (.799) and averaged 4.88 runs per game (5.27).
In Game 2, Wacha -- fresh off throwing 13 2/3 shutout innings and beating Clayton Kershaw twice in the National League Championship Series -- pretty much came as advertised despite admittedly not having his best stuff.
Relying primarily on a lively mid-90s fastball and a devastating changeup that Ortiz said is his best pitch, Wacha limited the Red Sox to two runs over six innings, scattering three hits, walking four and striking out six. In typical fashion, the Red Sox took plenty of pitches and got the Cardinals' bullpen into the game for the last three frames, but that strategy worked a lot better against the vulnerable 'pen in Detroit.
St. Louis' relief corps is a lethal one.
Carlos Martinez (one earned run in his last six appearances) pitched two scoreless innings to preserve a two-run lead, and Trevor Rosenthal (no runs and nine strikeouts in seven playoff innings) followed with a breezy, 1-2-3 ninth.
The Red Sox got their second runner in scoring position in the eighth, when Jacoby Ellsbury reached on an error and took second on Ortiz's single. But Martinez's 95-mph fastball got Napoli to pop out to second base and the Red Sox wasted a threat -- one of few they had all night.
"That's baseball -- you have to take advantage of opportunities," Pedroia said. "We pride ourselves on that. Game 3, we'll come out and try to do that."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.