Thursday, October 20, 2011
Rangers tie World Series with dramatic rally
By David Schoenfield
Allen Craig reacts following his pinch-hit RBI single in the seventh inning.
ST. LOUIS -- A famous philosopher named Joaquin Andujar who resided in St. Louis once uttered the classic phrase, “You never know.”
On this night, never was that statement more true.
Game 2 of the World Series belonged to the St. Louis Cardinals. Allen Craig had won the sequel over Alexi Ogando. Jaime Garcia had pitched a brilliant game. It was 1-0 in the ninth inning, the team’s Rivera-esque closer was coming in to lock it down and Busch Stadium was rocking in anticipation of its beloved Cards taking a commanding lead in the World Series.
But this is baseball. Postseason baseball. You never know.
Instead, the Texas Rangers snatched a stunning victory, the first team to win a World Series game after trailing through the eighth inning since the Arizona Diamondbacks won Game 7 in 2001. They became just the third team to win a World Series game after trailing 1-0 entering the ninth. As Rafael Furcal's fly ball fell quietly toward Nelson Cruz’s glove for the final out of the game, the crowd had already started turning for the aisles. Cruz pumped his fist, the Rangers celebrated their 2-1 victory, the Cardinals retreated to the clubhouse and suddenly we have the makings of a classic World Series.
The ninth inning of Game 2. Keep this one in mind. It could be the inning that turns around this World Series, 21 pitches of agony for the Cardinals, 21 pitches of ecstasy for the Rangers.
True story: I had lunch Thursday at a famous St. Louis barbecue joint called Pappy’s Smokehouse. As I got there, Cardinals closer Jason Motte sat in his big white Ford pickup, talking with a local television camera crew (which actually was there trying to find some Rangers fans to interview). As the interview ended and Motte started up his engine, a fan yelled out, “Save another one, Jason!” Motte responded, “Yes, sir!”
When he strolled to the mound for the ninth, Motte had allowed one baserunner all postseason. That’s not runs; that’s baserunners. He’d faced 28 batters and retired 27 of them. Yes, sir ... it seemed inevitable. He'd come in and finish up a 1-0 pitchers' duel.
Ian Kinsler hit a 2-2 pitch to center for a leadoff single. Elvis Andrus tried to bunt initially, and took a ball, a strike and then another strike, with Kinsler stealing and beating the throw. After two foul balls sandwiched around another ball, Andrus lined a hit to center, Kinsler taking a wide turn and holding. But Albert Pujols failed to cut off the throw, and Andrus expertly dashed in to second. Three huge plays: the steal, the failed cut-off play, the extra base by Andrus.
Plus a little luck. That, too, is baseball. Rangers manager Ron Washington was willing to give up the out with Andrus. "I had Elvis bunting, just trying to get the run over to second base and give the middle of the order a chance to at least give us a run and stay in the ballgame," Washington said afterward. "But it all worked out."
Tony La Russa brought in 41-year-old Arthur Rhodes to face the lefty-swinging Josh Hamilton, who is battling a groin injury. He’d looked bad all night, unable to generate any power from his lower half. Maybe La Russa should have left in Motte, with his high-90s fastball; in his postgame news conference, the Cardinals' manager said he went with Rhodes because Hamilton is a good fastball hitter, that his main goal was to keep the go-ahead at second base.
Hamilton flew out to right, deep enough to advance both runners, and then Michael Young hit a fly to center off Lance Lynn, scoring Andrus with the winning run. Not sexy, but it got the job done. On Wednesday night, La Russa got all the praise for his moves; on Thursday night, he faced the questions of why he brought in Rhodes -- a 41-year-old guy over a reliever who had been basically untouchable all postseason. He says he still has confidence in Motte: "I know that if we get the lead on Saturday, he'll be 100 percent ready to go. He caught a tough break, which is baseball."
See? La Russa understands: You never know.
* * * *
It looked like Allen Craig would be the hero with his seventh-inning RBI single.
For the second night in a row, Nick Punto got on base with two outs to keep an inning going. On this night, he fell behind the count two strikes, fouled off a fastball, then hit a hard grounder toward first base. Young should have made the play -- a tough play perhaps, but there is no margin for error in the World Series. It bounded off his glove into right field for a base hit, knocking Colby Lewis from the game.
Setting the stage for the second night in a row: Craig versus the flame-throwing fastball machine Alexi Ogando.
First pitch: a 98 mph fastball fouled off.
Second pitch: a 96 mph fastball in a good location, low and away. But not low enough and definitely not away enough. Craig saw this pitch in Game 1. He’d seen nothing but fastballs. Ogando and catcher Mike Napoli kept his slider in their back pocket. And just like in Game 1, Craig lined a single into right field, David Freese scored, Busch Stadium erupted into a temporary madhouse and Craig had put the Rangers into a heap of trouble.
It was a brilliant pitchers’ duel, and it appeared we'd get the first 1-0 World Series game since Game 4 of the 2005 Series, the clinching victory for the White Sox over the Astros (Freddy Garcia versus Brandon Backe, the winning run scoring in the eighth inning). There have been just three 1-0 games since Jack Morris’ legendary 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of 1991.
Jaime Garcia is a joy to watch when he’s on. He rarely cracks 90 on his fastball, content and confident enough to get ahead of hitters with 88 mph two-seamers and 86 mph cutters, but everything he throws has movement and he usually keeps the ball down in the zone. He’ll mix in a curveball, and his changeup has become his big out pitch. In at-bats ending with his changeup this season, right-handers hit just .151 off it. And he has the moxie to throw it nearly 20 percent of the time. Just a brilliant effort on this night. Other than two hard lineouts by Napoli and a hard shot by Nelson Cruz that landed a few feet foul in the second inning, nobody hit him hard.
In his pregame news conference, Washington firmly said Hamilton is his No. 3 hitter, despite Hamilton’s lingering groin injury. “Even if Hamilton doesn’t do anything, he makes a difference just with his presence in our lineup, and I want his presence in it, and it’s in there tonight,” he said. Hamilton did get the sac fly, but his health remains a big issue as the series moves to Texas.
Two key plays in the game: a beautiful 6-4-3 double play by Andrus and Kinsler in the fourth inning on Matt Holliday, with Andrus ranging wide to his left and Kinsler bare-handing the toss and executing a lightning-quick turn, backing up his credentials as one of the best pivotmen in the majors. Later, Andrus made one of the sweetest plays you'll ever see, a diving stop of Rafael Furcal's liner up the middle with two runners on in the fifth, with a brilliant glove flip of the ball to Kinsler. Those plays will be lost in the midst of the ninth-inning dramatics, but without them, the game might not have been 1-0 at that time.