Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Alexi Ogando is the first to flinch
By Jean-Jacques Taylor ESPNDallas.com
ST. LOUIS -- Admit it, you're shocked Alexi Ogando gave up a key hit Wednesday night in Game 1 of the World Series.
You're not alone. We're just not used to seeing it.
Alexi Ogando showed he's human after all by giving up a go-ahead hit to Allen Craig while trying to hold down the fort for C.J. Wilson.
Not when it comes to Ogando, the dude teammates have been calling the "Magic Man" because of the way he's been dealing since getting moved to the bullpen for the postseason.
But he failed to get the job done in Game 1.
In a taut, well-played pitchers' duel at chilly, blustery Busch Stadium, Allen Craig's looping opposite-field, pinch-hit single meant the difference between winning and losing.
St. Louis Cardinals 3, Texas Rangers 2.
"I'm not surprised he gave up a hit," Rangers manager Ron Washington said of Ogando. "He's human. I'll take my chances with him every time. Give Craig credit. He beat one of my best today."
Now, the Rangers will have to win their title the hard way. Twelve of the past 14 winners of Game 1 have eventually gone on to win the World Series.
The Rangers lost because Ogando couldn't clean up C.J. Wilson's mess.
Wilson pitched into the sixth inning in what was his best performance of the postseason, which isn't saying much.
He spent much of the night avoiding trouble because he struggled with his command.
This time Wilson walked six -- two intentional -- hit a batter and threw a wild pitch, which ultimately wound up being his costliest mistake of the night. In 94 pitches, he threw just 50 strikes.
In doing so, Wilson became the first pitcher with five-plus innings pitched to have more walks than innings pitched in a World Series game since the Dodgers' Carl Erskine in 1952.
With one out in the sixth, David Freese doubled to right-center off Wilson and moved to third on a wild pitch. Wilson struck out Yadier Molina, and Washington brought in Ogando to get the inning's final out.
All Ogando had done in the first two rounds of the postseason was record an 0.87 ERA in 10 1/3 inning with 12 strikeouts.
Opposing batters were hitting .108, so it was perfectly normal for you to expect Ogando to blow away Craig.
After all, the Magic Man had been virtually flawless in the postseason.
After missing on his first pitch to Craig, Ogando blew consecutive fastballs past him. Craig didn't come close to hitting either even though he was starting his swing early in hopes of catching up to Ogando's heater.
In the regular season, hitters with a 1-2 count stood almost no chance against Ogando. They hit .154 (16-for-105) with 50 strikeouts.
The only question was whether Ogando would throw another fastball or put Craig away with a slider that darts down and out of the strike zone against right-handed batters.
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But Craig, late on a 98 mph fastball, arched a shot down the right-field line just in front of Nelson Cruz, who attempted a sliding catch.
Cruz nearly caught the ball, which would have simply added to his postseason legend. Instead, the ball dropped just in front of him and bounced off his ankle, giving Freese plenty of time to score the go-ahead run.
Without the wild pitch, Freese would have wound up at third because he would have had to wait to see whether Cruz caught the ball.
"It was a good fastball," catcher Mike Napoli said. "We wanted to go with his best pitch. [Craig] managed to get his barrel on the ball, and it stayed fair.
"I thought Nellie was going to catch it, but he just couldn't quite get there."
Ian Kinsler said Ogando had been pitching so well, he never considered he wouldn't get the final out of inning.
"That's the game of baseball," he said. "We had him played right; the ball just found a little hole."
Aside from Craig's hit, the Rangers' bullpen was just as effective as it had been in the American League Championship Series against Detroit, when it went 4-0 with a 1.32 ERA in 27 1/3 innings.
It pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 1, but St. Louis' bullpen outperformed it with three perfect innings.
No margin for error exists in this battle of phenomenal bullpens.
Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.