Tag Archives: Mike Napoli

Cardinals are World Series Champions

For the 11th time in their illustrious history, the St. Louis Cardinals can be called World Series Champions. Thankfully, they did it without the type of drama or heroics required in Game 6.

The Texas Rangers got on Chris Carpenter early, putting up two runs in the top of the first. It looked like it was going to be more of the same from the night before. But in the bottom of the first, it was David Freese once again delivering in the clutch with a two-RBI double to tie the game up.

After getting into a little trouble in the top of the second, Carpenter started to settle in, and so did Cardinals fans who have grown accustomed to knowing when Carp has a game under control. When all was said and done, he gave the Cardinals 6 quality innings on the mound, allowing just those two first inning runs. It was exactly what the Cardinals needed.

In the bottom of the 3rd, Allen Craig put the Cardinals on top with his third home run of the World Series and what would end up as his second game-winning hit of the series, bookending the best of 7. His 6th inning single in Game 1 scored David Freese in what put the Cardinals ahead to win that game 3-2.

In the bottom of the 4th, the Cardinals threatened to score once again on Rangers’ starter Matt Harrison. Yadier Molina and Rafael Furcal both singled before Skip Schumaker and Carpenter got the final two outs of the inning. However, that was enough for Harrison as the Rangers would head to the bullpen, who would hopefully put the brakes on this Cardinals team.

However, it was anything but, as the game unraveled in the bottom of the 5th and Cardinals fans exhaled then breathed a sigh of relief. The Rangers put Scott Feldman on the mound, but he got into trouble after walking Allen Craig and hitting Albert Pujols with one out. Lance Berkman moved the runners over before the Rangers intentionally walked Freese to load the bases.

Then Yadier Molina drew a walk that scored Allen Craig to give the Cardinals a 4-2 lead. The Rangers then went to the bullpen for C.J. Wilson, their #1 starter to try to stop the bleeding. Wilson may not have been ready and hit Rafael Furcal with his first pitch, scoring Pujols for a 5-2 Cardinals lead before striking out Schumaker.

In the top of the 6th, Nelson Cruz almost broke the postseason record for home runs in a playoff run and reclaimed some momentum for the Rangers with his shot to left field. However, Allen Craig found himself guilty of Grand Theft Homer when he pulled Cruz’s ball back with an excellent defensive play. To me, that was the defining moment of the game that really sucked the air out of the Rangers.

Jason Motte came into the game in the top of the ninth and needed just 11 pitches to work his way through Cruz, Mike Napoli, and David Murphy to close out the Cardinals’ first World Series clincher since 2006.

In the end, David Freese walked away with the World Series MVP trophy, a 2011 Chevrolet Corvette. His finally tally for the World Series featured a .348 batting average, 1 HR, and 7 RBI. He totalled up 21 RBI and 52 total bases in the playoffs, which now stand as postseason records.

However, you could have made a sincere argument for Allen Craig as MVP. Craig drove in the winning run in Game 1, drove in what should have been the winning run in Game 2, hit the game winning home run in Game 7, and hit a critical home run in Game 6 that allowed David Freese to tie up the game in the 9th inning. Certainly a stellar postseason resume for a player who, if all goes well according to Cardinals’ fans, doesn’t even have a guaranteed starting position going into next season.

This season is one that I will never forget. To follow this team virtually all season, all 180 games, was a once in a lifetime experience and to have it end like this? Amazing.

This World Series will probably not top the 2001 World Series on anyone’s list for the greatest World Series ever (mainly due to the Yankees or Red Sox’s lack of involvement), but it has in my opinion. In that series, Arizona headed home on the heels of two consecutive blown saves by their closer Byung-Hyun Kim. They too were down 3 games to 2. They blew out the Yankees in Game 6 before beating the Yankees’ invincable Mariano Rivera in the final inning of Game 7 to win the game and the series.

At the time I was even a Diamondbacks fan. So there’s no fanboyism.

However, this year. The Cardinals made mistakes that cost them Games 4 and 5. The series was prepared to go down as the Cardinals having lost the series to the Rangers rather than the Rangers truly winning it. Those miscues would have doomed any number of teams, but these Cardinals were resilient and fought back. Even when down by three runs late in Game 6, they hadn’t given up. They fought back to tie the game while down to their last strike in both the 9th and the 10th innings. Then on a well hit pitch came away with the winner. Then their ace went onto the mound on three days rest and shut down the Rangers in Game 7.

It’s certainly the best World Series of my lifetime. I can’t speak intelligently about those before.

The question on many people’s minds after the realization that the Cardinals won the World Series was what this means for Albert Pujols’ contract situation. To me, I think it guarantees that Pujols will be back with this club next season. Over the last few years Albert has said he wants to be somewhere that gives him the opportunity to win championships. Well, you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone of that when you walk away from a World Series team that has a pitcher like Adam Wainwright returning to the mound next year.

The risk to his legacy would be too great to simply walk away from St. Louis for more or equal money. If he leaves, he will never be felt in the same vein as the other Cardinals’ greats. The scar of his walking away from a World Series Champion would be too great. Albert is a smart man, and I’m sure he understands that.

For now though, enjoy this championship.

Why? Because the Cardinals will likely be favored to do it all again next season. Which means they’ll probably finish third in the NL Central.

Freese keeps the champagne on ice

Four times the Cardinals tied up or took the lead in the game. Four times the Rangers followed in their next half inning by taking it back. When Jake Westbrook came in to pitch the top of the 11th and held the Rangers off the board, that was the first time that the Rangers hadn’t come back immediately to take the lead. And it was just what the doctor ordered… Doctor Freese, that is.

After tying up the game with a two-out, two-RBI triple in the bottom of the 9th on a 1-2 count, David Freese came to bat to lead off the bottom of the 11th in a tie game.

Flashback to the 2004 when in Game 6 it was Jim Edmonds hitting a 12th inning home run into the St. Louis night to take the series to Game 7. Coincidentally, it was Jim Edmonds who was traded to San Diego for David Freese. So when Freese came to bat in the 11th, the allusions were made.

While Edmonds’ shot was just that, a shot. Freese’s had a little more doubt as he hit to straight away centerfield and dropping it just a few feet beyond the fence.

Because of the home run and the triple, Freese will get all the attention as the savior of the game. Well deserved attention too, but let’s not forget the rest of the crew that played pivotal roles in this come back.

After being injured diving back to third base on a pickoff play by Mike Napoli, Matt Holliday re-injured his finger and was forced to come out of the game. That put Allen Craig into it and the next time Craig came up to bat, he parked a curveball in the left field bleachers. It brought the game within 2 runs and was largely unheralded. Considering that Matt Holliday has hit just one home run since September 7th, over 50 days, it’s safe to say that Holliday would not have gone deep in that situation.

Next would be Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay, both left handed batters, leading off the bottom of the 10th inning against left handed reliever Darren Oliver. Descalso doesn’t hit left handers very well at all, hitting just .190 against them in the regular season. Jay lacks the split as badly, but had just 1 hit in the World Series (hitting .059) coming into that at bat. Both players would single and set the Cardinals up to make another rally back into the game.

Then Kyle Lohse got a chance to bunt in a double pinch-hit situation. Edwin Jackson pinch hit for Motte in the bottom of the 10th, but before he got a chance to take any pitches, LaRussa pulled him back and sent Kyle Lohse out for the bunt. And Lohse’s bunt, while horrible, did exactly what it needed to do, and nearly more. He advanced Desaclso and Jay to second and third which allowed Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman to drive home those two runs to tie the game back up. The bunt was far enough though, that he nearly made it on base himself. How that would have changed the complexion of the game.

Then calling on Jake Westbrook who had been relegated to bullpen duty this postseason, surely a tough situation for a longtime starting pitcher like him. But he threw his second scoreless inning of relief in the postseason in a moment where the Cardinals needed it the most. Allowing them to recapture some momentum and for David Freese to play the hero.

It was a rough game for Cardinals fans who would see their team take a step forward, only to take two steps back. To the lead, back behind. And they weren’t helping themselves on the field either.

For both teams, the game was a seeming comedy of errors. The two teams generated 5 errors between them and numerous misplays that didn’t get tagged as such. For 8 and a half innings it was going to go down as the Cardinals handing away the World Series, much like the Detroit Tigers did in 2006.

And they weren’t even tough errors. No, a misplayed fly ball to left field caught Rafael Furcal and Matt Holliday failing to communicate and the ball dropped. Then you had David Freese dropping a routine pop fly to third base.

Needless to say that it would be difficult to overcome all those obstacles again. So the Cardinals need to not do it again.

Game 7 will be tonight in St. Louis with the World Series on the line. In the last 30 years, the home team in Game 7 of the World Series is 8-0.

The last time a home team failed to win a World Series Game 7, 1979, when the Pirates beat the Orioles 4-1.

It will be an interesting game for both managers after an extra innings thriller that saw both bullpens do a lot of work.

For the Rangers, Game 7’s expected starter Matt Harrison along with Michael Gonzalez and C.J. Wilson were the only three pitchers that weren’t used in Thursday night’s contest.

The Cardinals are in slightly better shape. Three starting pitchers for the Cardinals went unused in pitching situations. Edwin Jackson and Kyle Lohse both made pinch hitting appearances (sort of, Jackson pinch hit and then Lohse pinch hit for Jackson before there were any pitches thrown). Not to mention, Mitchell Boggs went unused and you have Chris Carpenter available on 3 days rest.

Each team also has some injury decisions. Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz strained his groin during his final at bat.

Also, the Rangers’ leading candidate for series MVP, Mike Napoli, who rolled, and likely sprained, his ankle on a botched slide attempt into second base. He played the rest of the game, and his xrays were negative, but swelling could be an issue.

For the Cardinals, Matt Holliday’s finger is a major question mark. There were reports that it was bothering him more than he was letting on and that could be seen at the plate, and I think in field early in that game when he let Furcal call him off of a fly ball that should have been the left fielder’s.

How will Game 7 finish out? That remains to be seen, but I thoroughly expect another nerve-wracking game. I don’t know if my heart can take it!

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Mistakes cost the Cardinals Game 5

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.

A strikeout from Nick Punto and a ground out by Rafael Furcal and the Cardinals let the Rangers off the hook again.

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.

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Holland dominates, Rangers win

The fear that Cardinals fans had that no name, left handed pitchers would shut down the Cardinals in this World Series was finally realized. Thankfully, it’ll likely be his only start of the World Series.

The 25 year old Derek Holland completely shut down the Cardinals offense on Sunday night, tossing 8 1/3 innings of 2-hit, shutout baseball. Every Cardinals player except for Lance Berkman went hitless against Holland. Berkman was even batting from the right side against Holland, his weaker side.

Following Pujols’ historic game, Holland followed with one that could be considered historic in it’s own right. He became the 26th pitcher to throw at least 8 innings and allow 2 hits or less. The last pitcher to do it was Kenny Rogers in the 2006 World Series, coincidentally also a left handed pitcher facing the Cardinals.

His counterpart, Edwin Jackson, did not end his time in Cardinal red the way anyone wanted him to.

Elvis Andrus singled to get the Rangers started in the first inning. Josh Hamilton followed with a double that brough Andrus home for an early 1-0 Rangers lead. Jackson would get out of the inning after that. With his typical first inning troubles out of the way, Jackson began to settle in.

Despite keeping the other team off the board, Jackson started getting into walk trouble, ultimately walking 7 over his 5 1/3 innings on the mound. He walked his final two batters in the sixth before Tony LaRussa walked out to the mound to bring out Mitchell Boggs, wanting to keep the game at 1-0.

Just as FOX commentator Joe Buck finished talking about Tony LaRussa telling him that Boggs was as good as any pitcher in his bullpen when Boggs is hitting his spots, Boggs missed. Mike Napoli ripped a pitch to the left field bleachers to give the Rangers a 4-0 lead after six innings.

At that point the Rangers faithful were in the game while the Cardinals started to go down quietly. The Rangers had captured the momentum. Holland put the Cardinals down 3-up, 3-down in the 7th and 8th. In the top of the 9th, Holland came out to get the opportunity to finish what he started.

He got Nick Punto to ground out, but walked Rafael Furcal after a brief battle. Ron Washington came to the mound to talk to his young starter. Holland pleaded with Washington to let him get at least one more batter to see if he could get the double-play ball off of Craig and leave Pujols on deck. In the end, Washington made the call to the bullpen for his closer Neftali Feliz to finish out the game as Holland walked off to a standing ovation.

Feliz came into the ballgame erratic and about 4-5 miles an hour down on velocity. Allen Craig, his first batter, walked on six pitches without even taking the bat off of his shoulder.

Then Albert Pujols stepped into the box with runners on first and second with one out and a chance to put the Cardinals right back into the game with one swing of the bat. It is the kind of at bat that postseason and World Series baseball is built on.

However, Feliz was back at speed and ultimately got Pujols to harmlessly fly out to center field.

Up came Matt Holliday who worked 8 pitches off of Feliz before he swung through a 99 mile per hour fastball to end the game, giving the Rangers their second win of the series.

After the previous night’s blow out, the Cardinals were poised to put the Rangers on the ropes on Sunday night, but the Rangers weren’t going to go quietly and fought themselves out of the corner. The series now turns into a best of 3 series with the Cardinals getting home field advantage back.

With the series tied 2-2, the series is guaranteed to go at least six games. In the last 10 years, four World Series’ have gone at least six games. In three of those four, the team with home field advantage came away as World Series Champions.

In Game 5 tonight at the Ballpark in Arlington, Chris Carpenter and C.J. Wilson match up once again. The game will be a rematch of Game 1 that saw the Cardinals come away winners with a 4-3 result. Except that game was at Busch Stadium. Now we’re in Texas with the battle of the aces once again. The game can go any way.

However, with Carpenter up in Game 5 and then Jaime Garcia back on the mound for Game 6 back at Busch Stadium, I still like those odds.

The Cardinals haven’t done anything the easy way this season. Why start now?

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Rangers steal Game 2

As I said after the game on Twitter, I expected the Cardinals to lose this one. Just not the way they did.

By all accounts Jaime Garcia should have been lit up by the Texas Rangers offense that can be easily considered to be the best offensively producing team against left handed pitchers in the entire major leagues this season. Instead, Garcia turned in what was probably his best pitching performance since a two-hit complete game shutout that he threw on May 6th against Milwaukee. It was probably in the top-3 of his pitching performances of the year, and if you consider the circumstances around it, quite possibly the best.

In his 7 innings on the mound, Garcia held the Rangers at bay with just 3 hits and a walk, along with 7 strikeouts.

He issued a leadoff walk to Ian Kinsler in the top of the fourth that nearly came around to bite him, but he caught Adrian Beltre swinging on strike 3. In fact, Kinsler, who walked and then made it to third on a single by Michael Young, was the only Rangers player to make it past first base until the 9th inning.

Cardinals fans felt like they had to be watching a replay when in the bottom of the 7th of a tie game, Tony LaRussa brought out Allen Craig to pinch hit. Ron Washington, going with the definition of insanity (repeating the same process and expecting a different outcome), brought out Alexi Ogando who Craig singled off of to drive home the go-ahead run in Game 1. With Freese on third this time and Punto on first after a pair of singles, Craig singled to right field again, scoring Freese for a 1-0 Cardinals lead.

At that moment, I felt like Craig had virtually clinched a shot at World Series MVP, if the Cardinals won the series, in just two at bats. It was going to be tough to beat a guy who was 2-for-2 with 2 game winning RBI.

Fernando Salas struck out Mike Napoli in the Rangers half of the 8th. Then Marc Rzepczynski came out and struck out Yorvit Torrealba (potentially ending the talk that he was the better option in Game 1?) and then faced Esteban German again, who grounded out to Albert Pujols.

In the bottom of the 8th, the Cardinals threatened to add an insurance run to the board. Mike Adams got Jon Jay and Albert Pujols to fly out to start the inning, but Lance Berkman followed that up with a single before Matt Holliday walked. Up to the plate came Daniel Descalso, who had been one of the Cardinals’ best clutch hitters earlier in the season, but Adams got Descalso to ground out to second base.

With the 1-0 game, Tony LaRussa went to Jason Motte once again. Once again back in the no-doubles defense (a throwback to the 2009 NLDS Game 2 where Holliday misplayed a ball that resulted in a Dodgers rally and victory), Ian Kinsler popped one up. It was just out of the reach of Furcal as he ranged back and Holliday was a few steps short of catching it. Had he been playing regular depth, Holliday catches the ball without an issue and we have 1 out in the 9th. Instead, Kinsler is standing on first base.

While the next batter Elvis Andrus looked at bunting, Kinsler took off and stole second base. That took the bunt off and Andrus wasted no time in hitting a line drive to Jon Jay for his own single that put the tying run in Kinsler at third base with no out.

On the same play, Andrus was able to advance to second on the throw after a couple miscues by the Cardinals that have resulted in a bit of a furor about it. Jon Jay’s throw was wide of the plate and Pujols had a chance to cut off the play and keep Kinsler at third and Andrus at first, but he missed the ball and it ended up rolling the rest of the way to Molina. More on the furor later.

That misplay ended up being the key ingredient in the Rangers win.

LaRussa went out to the mound to bring in Arthur Rhodes to replace Motte to face the left handed Josh Hamilton. Hamilton hit a sacrifice fly to Schumaker in right field that scored Kinsler and advanced Andrus. 1-1, tie game.

LaRussa went back to the mound to bring in Lance Lynn for his first World Series appearance. It was a good move considering that Lynn is far more of a strikeout threat than Rhodes and you don’t want them hitting the ball and scoring the go-ahead run. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Michael Young did. He hit a sacrifice fly to Jon Jay that allowed Andrus to score on the tag up.

Lynn then got Beltre to ground out to third base, but the damage was done and the Rangers were up 2-1 with Molina, Punto, and Schumaker due up in the bottom of the 9th with Berkman and Freese already out of the game.

With Rangers closer Neftali Feliz entering the game with his 100 mph fastball, the Cardinals spent the entire inning struggling. He initially struggled to find his command though, walking Yadier Molina. Watching the inning, I felt that Feliz never really regained his command, but despite that, struck out Nick Punto (who failed twice to bunt) and Skip Schumaker. Feliz would then get Rafael Furcal to fly out to right field to end the game and let the Rangers notch one of their own in the win column.

According to MLB.com, Feliz threw all fastballs in that 9th inning, none slower than 97 miles per hour. He is a true flamethrower.

After two games, the series will head to Texas and the Ballpark in Arlington where it’s now become a Best of 5 and the Rangers have home field advantage. The Rangers are the second best home team in baseball and the Cardinals are the second best road team in baseball. Arlington also happens to be an extremely hitter friendly park, so it’s safe to say that we’ll probably see more offense over the next three games than we have.

Finally, to discuss the aftermath of the play in the top of the 9th. This morning Jeff Passan wrote a piece about Pujols’ leadership after the loss, or lack thereof. Apparently by the time the St. Louis Cardinals’ clubhouse opened up to the media, Pujols had showered and left. So had Berkman, Holliday, and Molina. The four of them leaving their younger teammates to answer questions about what went wrong in a heartbreaking ninth inning collapse.

This experience illustrates exactly what I’ve been saying about Pujols and the Cardinals for the last few years, really since the 2009 season. Pujols is not a leader, well maybe a (9, 1) leader on the managerial grid. He is very much let’s his work ethic and on field performance speak for him. He’s not the type of leader who will help motivate the players around him. There are stars in sports who are great players, and then there are stars in sports who elevate those around them. Pujols is the former. A guy like Peyton Manning is the latter.

But the issue becomes as well, that as long as Pujols is a Cardinal and as long as he is the highest paid and longest tenured player on the roster, nobody is going to potentially step on his toes and step up to take that role. As we heard during the 2006 run to the playoffs, it was Jim Edmonds who stepped up to motivate the team. Edmonds was the veteran, he had the paycheck and the tenure to do it.

The second thing is that there is a seeming divide between the veterans and the younger players. Colby Rasmus was a big illustration of this to me. Pujols was quoted as saying that he’d talked to him maybe 2-3 times the entire time they played together. So basically, what Pujols just said is that he spends at least 162 days a year with 12 guys, they played together for two and a half years (almost 450 games) and they only talked 2-3 times? I know Rasmus keeps to himself, but really?

I have zero problem with Pujols snubbing the media. As many have said as we’ve had fan forum debates on it that the players owe the media nothing unless outlined in Major League Baseball rules.

Where my problem lies is that he left his teammates holding the bag, and it’s not the first time we’ve heard this story about Pujols.

My problem is that you can bet your tail that if Pujols had hit a walk off grand slam that he would have stayed to make sure every reporter’s questions about it got answered while he basked in the glow of success with that trademark grin on his face. On the other hand, when he fails and a misplay by him ultimately costs the Cardinals the game, he cuts out early and leaves his teammates to answer questions about the tough loss.

When you don’t have players who have each other’s backs, you create poison in the locker room. This sort of thing is the #1 reason why I feel the Cardinals have underperformed over the last three years. Team psychology during the season, and even more so the playoffs, is a critical thing. Passan asked a remaining Cardinals’ player about why Pujols left and he shrugged his shoulders and dodged the question about how he felt about it. I have a feeling his response would have been something to the effect of, “It is what it is.”

This kind of thing can be the catalyst that breaks a team. And if it does, that is all on Albert Pujols for hanging his teammates out when he should have been the one to accept his failures and man up to them to set the example for the rest of his teammates. That’s what being a leader and a man is all about.

I hope the team proves me wrong on Saturday night by going out and getting another win.

Cards take Game 1

What elbow problems? Chris Carpenter silenced the doubters who suggested that his elbow injury might limit his ability to shut down the high powered Texas Rangers offense on Wednesday night. When it was all said and done, Carpenter allowed just 5 hits and walked 1 over 6 innings. Two runs were all that the Rangers managed to put on the board, those on a one runner on mistake that Mike Napoli crushed in the top of the 5th.

The tone of the night was set early. Ian Kinsler singled to lead off the game. Kinsler, one of the two 30-30 guys this season, was caught by Yadier Molina after Elvis Andrus whiffed on an attempted hit-and-run. And it didn’t even look like Molina tried. It seemed effortless.

The Cardinals offense got the action going in the bottom of the 4th. Rangers starter C.J. Wilson had his moments, but was mostly inconsistent from the mound. That was illustrated by a pitch that bounced well before the plate and hit Albert Pujols in the shin. Then Matt Holliday doubled to give Lance Berkman an RBI opportunity in his second plate appearance of the World Series. With men on second and third, Berkman singled to right field allowing Pujols and Holliday to score easily. 2-0 Cardinals.

The Rangers answered quickly in the top of the 5th. Adrian Beltre singled to right field himself. Then a mistake to Mike Napoli was parked in the right field bleachers. That quickly evened it up, 2-2.

It was Allen Craig, pinch hitting for Chris Carpenter with two out in the bottom of the 6th, that broke up the tie game. David Freese hit a one-out double and then Nick Punto was walked to put men on first and second with the pitcher’s spot due up. This was to make Tony LaRussa pull Carpenter and go to the bullpen. The gamble is, of course, that the pinch hitter does nothing.

Tony LaRussa went with the hook and sent Allen Craig up to the plate with two outs in a tie game in the World Series. No problem with pinch hitting or coming off the bench or the pressure situation, Craig hit a line drive down the line that Nelson Cruz nearly caught with a slide. The ball bounced out of Cruz’s glove, allowing Freese to come around to score the go-ahead run. The Cardinals were now up 3-2 with 9 outs remaining, as us UCBers on Twitter have taken to tracking games by.

With Carpenter out of the game, LaRussa called upon Fernando Salas for his first choice out of the bullpen. While Adrian Beltre grounded out to start the inning off, Salas quickly found himself in trouble with a Nelson Cruz single and a Mike Napoli walk. Was the bullpen starting to show it’s first cracks from it’s heavy use in the National League Championship Series? That was the question at the forefront of Cardinals’ fans minds as LaRussa made the walk out to the mound to bring in left hander Marc Rzepczynski to face the left handed David Murphy.

In a counter move, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington went to his bench with Craig Gentry, a right handed hitter to eliminate the lefty-lefty matchup. It didn’t matter. Rzepczynski would use 7 pitches and strike out Gentry and Esteban German who pinch hit for Rangers pitcher Alexi Ogando.

To start the 8th inning, in came Octavio Dotel. He got Ian Kinsler to ground out and then struck out Elvis Andrus before Tony trotted back out to the mound with another change. In came left hander Arthur Rhodes, in his first World Series (ironically matched up between the two teams he played for this year), to face Josh Hamilton. He got Hamilton to fly out to center field and we were on to the 9th. Three outs remained between the Cardinals and a Game 1 win and early lead in the World Series.

In came the pitcher who just happens to typically come in in the 9th inning of games when it’s a save situation, Jason Motte. Some teams would call him the closer. Motte slammed the door shut on the Rangers, keeping his impressive streak of playoff performance alive. Motte has faced 25 batters over 8 innings of work this post-season and has allowed just 1 base runner.

Carpenter becomes the first Cardinals pitcher to earn a quality start in the playoffs since himself. That would be that complete game shutout that he hurled in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series against Philadelphia.

There was some debate about whether Ron Washington managed his game properly or whether he was trying to out-manage LaRussa. Personally, I think Washington managed the game well. The worst part of it was really that he took a few gambles that didn’t pay off.

First, running on Molina in the top of the first was a huge gamble. It can be a huge momentum turner but, while Kinsler has some speed and steals bases at a better than 86% clip, if you mess the play up you end up turning the tables. In the end, Chris Carpenter gets out of lead off hit and the St. Louis crowd explodes.

Second, walking Nick Punto in the 6th was designed to get Chris Carpenter out of the game. Now, granted Punto did hit .350 with 2 outs and runners in scoring position this season, but I think you need to go after him. For one, you can be sure you’re getting only a base-hit if he gets a hit, after all he’s only hit 14 home runs in 11 major league seasons. Making the Cardinals bullpen work is one of the keys to the series for me for the Rangers, but with Allen Craig being the first man off the bench in those situations, I don’t (intentionally) walk Punto to force that. Especially when Carpenter wasn’t all that sharp tonight. Plus, you may have seen a pinch hitter anyway if Punto had reached.

The third is one that many others have questioned, using Esteban German to pinch hit with two on and two out in the 7th rather than Yorvit Torrealba. While Torrealba hit just .256 against left handed pitchers like Rzepczynski, German (who has hit .292 against left handed pitchers in his career) hadn’t taken at at bat since September 25th. I think Washington made the right decision there. You have to expect that each player on your bench can equally perform to their averages whenever you want to use them.

Trying to take the crowd out of it early and trying to get the Cardinals to use their bullpen, both are things that you’ve got to do to win while on the road. You hope you can catch a reliever on a bad night and capitalize on a mistake. Unfortunately for the Rangers, it didn’t work out for them.

Winning Game 1 puts the Cardinals at a huge advantage as far as history shows. In 13 of the 16 World Series’ in the Wild Card era, the winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the series. When the home team wins Game 1, they’ve won the series every year since 1993. Good news for the Cardinals, but while history shows it will be a difficult road for the Rangers, it’s never over until it’s over.

Game 2 will matchup the Rangers’ Colby Lewis against the Cardinals’ Jaime Garcia.

Lewis is 1-1 in two postseason starts for the Rangers this season. He threw six one-hit innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 4-3 win, unfortunately that hit was a solo home run. Against the Detroit Tigers just over a week ago, he allowed 8 hits and 4 earned runs in 5.2 innings in a 5-2 loss. In the final two months of the season, Lewis was 4-2 with a 5.23 ERA, which could bode well for the Cardinals.

Only 5 current Cardinals have faced Lewis before. Lance Berkman has 13 plate appearances against him, hitting just twice. Gerald Laird is 3-for-8, Nick Punto is 0-for-1, Ryan Theriot is 2-for-2, and Albert Pujols is 1-for-1.

Garcia is 0-2 in three starts for the Cardinals in the playoffs. He allowed just 1 run in 4.2 innings in Game 5 of the NLCS, a game the Cardinals won, but was given a quick hook when the fifth inning began shaping up like that of Game 1 where Prince Fielder hit a go-ahead home run off of him. The advantage for Garcia is that he will be pitching at home, where he is a much more confident pitcher. Garcia finished the season off going 3-2 with a 4.58 ERA in the final two months of the season.

Only 2 current Rangers have faced Garcia before. Coincidentally, their two backup catchers. Matt Treanor, who was just added to the roster for the World Series is 1-for-4 against Garcia with 3 strikeouts. Yorvit Torrealba is 0-for-2.

The question for Garcia and the Cardinals is how will he handle the Rangers. According to ESPN’s Team Stats, the Rangers led the league with a .282 batting average against left handed pitchers and were second in slugging percentage at .459. Garcia also struggles against left handed hitters, allowing them to hit .308 with a .418 slugging percentage. The Rangers have a premier left handed hitter in Josh Hamilton. They also have David Murphy who has had a great postseason so far.

This is the game that I predicted to be a slugfest. Unfortunately, I think the Rangers are better suited for that type of game and will win Game 2, taking us to Arlington tied up at 1 game a piece.

The game is once again scheduled for an 8:05 pm Eastern start on FOX.

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