Stranding runners in scoring position. Bullpen mismanagement. Hit-and-run mistakes. Swinging at bad pitches. Deflected balls. You name a mistake, the Cardinals probably made it on Monday night.
The Texas Rangers weren’t doing anything special. In fact, more than anything, it seemed as if the Cardinals were poised to once again take the series lead. They kept threatening and kept threatening and then hitting themselves out of scoring opportunities. But when all was said and done, the Cardinals and their fans can only shake their heads in disbelief that they gave this game away.
For 7 innings, Chris Carpenter hurled a quality game. The Rangers had mustered two solo home runs, one by Mitch Moreland in the third and one to Adrian Beltre in the sixth. It was enough, though, to cancel out a pair of RBI singles by the Cardinals from the second inning to tie the game up at 2-2.
It was actually the 7th inning where the Cardinals’ issues really started compounding and causing a problem. In the top of the 7th with one out Alexi Ogando walks Allen Craig. With Albert Pujols at the plate, Allen Craig took off running for second. Pujols didn’t swing and Craig was thrown out by Mike Napoli on what was assumed to be a hit-and-run when Craig looked over his shoulder at the plate while he ran towards second.
Now off the hook, Ogando and the Rangers quickly decided to walk Albert Pujols to face Matt Holliday. According to an ESPN account on Twitter, that is the first time anyone has been intentionally walked with nobody on base in World Series history. Holliday capitalized on the opportunity and singled, but ended up on second base on the throw. The Cardinals now had 2nd and 3rd with two out. The Rangers again decided to walk Lance Berkman to face David Freese.
Freese flew out to Josh Hamilton to end the inning, leaving Cardinals fans wondering what happens if Allen Craig stayed at first base.
As Lance Berkman said to MLB.com’s Matthew Leach after the game, “I think the more you let them off the hook, the better they feel about their chances, especially at home. If you’re going to beat a good team at their ballpark, you’ve got to capitalize when you have the opportunity.”
The Cardinals certainly let them off the hood more than once tonight, leaving 12 men on base and going just 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
The game cruised into the 8th inning, still tied up at two runs a piece. In the top of the 8th, the Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina managed to get a single on a ground ball to the short stop. At this point, Rangers’ manager Ron Washington brings in left handed pitcher Darren Oliver to face Skip Schumaker. Not to be outdone, Tony LaRussa pinch hit Ryan Theriot for Schumaker, and then called for a sacrifice bunt.
Theriot successfully converted, but you have to wonder how the lefty-lefty matchup affects a bunt? More on puzzling moves later.
In the bottom of the 8th, Octavio Dotel came in from the Cardinals’ bullpen to pitch. Dotel allowed a double to Michael Young to lead off the inning before striking out Adrian Beltre. LaRussa then had Dotel intentionally walk Nelson Cruz before making another trip out to the mound.
Marc Rzepczynski was called into the game to replace Dotel to face the lefty David Murphy. Murphy hit a bouncer back up the middle that Rzepczynski caught a piece of while trying to catch, which eliminated any potential play on what otherwise might have been a double-play ball. At this point, the Rangers had the bases loaded with just a single out.
Rzepczynski stayed in the game to face right hander Mike Napoli, only the hottest hitter in major league baseball since July 4th. Why he still hits 8th when his OPS is over 1.100 since that time, I don’t know. Napoli does what everyone was expecting him to do, Rangers and Cardinals fans alike, Napoli drives a ball to right center, doubling to bring home Young and Cruz to make the game 4-2.
At this point Rzepczynski stays in face the left handed Mitch Moreland, ultimately striking him out. The Rangers now have men on 2nd and 3rd with two out.
So Tony LaRussa walks to the mound and signals for the right hander and out trots Lance Lynn from the bullpen. Lynn, however, had been deemed unavailable for this game. Deciding that he wasn’t going to have Lynn pitch to someone because they’d deemed him unavailable, he had Lynn intentionally walk Ian Kinsler before coming back out to the mound to finally call in Jason Motte.
Motte quickly came in and got Elvis Andrus to strike out swinging to end the threat in the 8th inning.
LaRussa said after the game that he wanted Jason Motte to be ready to come in and face Mike Napoli, but that when he called the bullpen they warmed up Rzepczynski and Lynn instead.
Now, common sense would dictate that the bullpen coach, Derek Lilliquist, should know who is available to pitch in a particular game and who isn’t. Right? LaRussa and Duncan claimed after the game that they hadn’t shared that information with Lilliquist before the game, so he didn’t know. I’m sorry, either that’s a severe lack of communication or it’s just plain old incompetence.
And who hears “Motte” and confuses it with “Lynn,” they don’t even sound alike?
With the damage already done, the Cardinals came up in the ninth inning with Rangers’ closer Neftali Feliz once again on the mound. And once again erratic.
He led off the inning by hitting Allen Craig with a 78 mph slider. That put the tying run at the plate in Albert Pujols.
Pujols worked Ogando to a 3-2 count. Now with a full count, LaRussa put on the hit-and-run in an attempt to eliminate the opportunity of hitting into a double play, something that Albert Pujols and the Cardinals led the league in this season. After fouling off two pitches, Pujols swung through a 99 mile an hour fastball that was very likely a ball. Not skipping a beat, Napoli threw to second to catch Allen Craig by about four feet for an old fashioned “strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out” double play. Once again, letting the Rangers off the hook.
With now two out, the entire complexion of the game has changed from a doable comeback, to a very slim chance. Matt Holliday worked a walk off of Ogando before Lance Berkman struck out swinging to end the top of the ninth, and the game.
Mistakes like this have always been my problem with Tony LaRussa. He gets into these phases where he tries to pull off a genius move, except that it doesn’t work and he ends up managing the Cardinals out of the ballgame. Tonight was definitely one of those nights.
While you can hang it on the offense for , I am left to question why LaRussa makes the moves he does in the bullpen.
With six outs left in the game against the Rangers if the Cardinals can win, LaRussa decides to get fancy with his bullpen and use Dotel, then Rzepczynski, and then Motte. What’s the point in having Fernando Salas, a guy who spent the majority of the season as your closer before being dropped later in the season, if you aren’t going to use him in pressure situations. Salas in the 8th, Motte in the 9th. The system works for every other team in baseball.
Now, you might argue with two left handed hitters that Rzepczynski, the left hander, was the correct person to pitch there. They are both effective against left handed pitchers, but Salas can throw more effectively to both sides of the plate overall. And when you need him for just 3 outs, Salas is extremely reliable.
The Rangers are now up 3 games to 2 and headed to St. Louis, where Wednesday night they will match up in Game 6. It will be a straight rematch of Game 2, Colby Lewis on the mound for the Rangers and Jaime Garcia for the Cardinals. The Cardinals came nearly snuck away with a win in that game, but a late game collapse doomed the Cardinals.
The Cardinals haven’t figured out who will pitch Game 7. In fact, rain might make that even more interesting if Wednesday’s Game 6 is rained out as suggested by local meteorologists. If Game 6 is pushed off and Game 7 gets played on Friday night instead, there would be the potential of bringing Chris Carpenter back on 3 days rest to pitch the final game of the series.
But that still requires the Cardinals to win Game 6 behind Jaime Garcia. A late game mistake that prompted a media firestorm around Albert Pujols cost the Cardinals that game. They’ll have to bring their bats to the party as it’s naive to expect a similar performance out of Jaime Garcia.
Many fans are already ready to write the season off as over. No team has beaten the Rangers twice in a row since the Red Sox did it on August 24th. Because of that, all hope is lost. But many haven’t checked the Cardinals’ record on that. Until last night, they hadn’t been beaten twice in a row by the same team since that day as well.
Streaks are made to be broken.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to call it a season just yet.