A GIANT STEP

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – Texas beat St. Louis Monday night 4-2 before a crowd of 51,459 to take a giant step forward toward winning the World Series.  The Rangers now lead three games to two.  In the last home game of the best season in Ranger history, Texas came back from a two run deficit with gutty pitching and timely hitting to pull within one game of being World Champions.

C. J. Wilson, eligible to be a free agent this winter, perhaps made his last start as a Ranger Monday night.  He opened the game by retiring the Cards three up and three down in the first inning on eight pitches.  He had just one other perfect inning on his way to a no decision.  Wilson led the staff in wins for the second consecutive year.  In the playoffs though, he has not won a game in five starts, and his pitching has fallen into a predictable pattern.  He simply does not throw enough strikes.

That was his story Monday night after the first inning.  He opened the second by walking Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman.  Both ultimately scored after a single and a ground out, aided by David Murphy’s mishandling of the base hit, which made the second run unearned.  In the three up, three down fourth inning, he threw 21 pitches, and he was in trouble again in the third and fifth.  A double play bailed him out of the third.  A key strikeout followed by a ground out kept St. Louis off the board in the fifth after the first two Cardinals’ batters reached base and were moved into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt.

Wilson’s walked five batters in those five innings running his pitch count to 100.  Surprisingly, he came back out to start the sixth, which he opened with a strikeout.  However, the next batter, David Freese, singled to end Wilson’s night.  He left having thrown 108 pitches.  Only 53% (57 pitches) were strikes.  It was a torturous performance to watch, though in the end, he allowed just one earned run and left with his club trailing by just a run.

On the offensive side, the Rangers seemed to have no answers for Chris Carpenter.  The Cardinal ace retired seven of the first eight Ranger batters.  The weak hitting Mitch Moreland was the ninth hitter.  He stepped to the plate in the third inning with a post season batting average of less than .100, but stroked a pitch well into the right field upper deck estimated at 424 feet to put the Rangers on the scoreboard and cut the Cardinals lead in half at 2-1.  Texas got two more hits in the inning, but Michael Young grounded to short to end the threat.

Carpenter breezed through the fourth and fifth innings.  The only Ranger base runner was Ian Kinsler, who reached on an error by Carpenter.  He still nursed the 2-1 lead into the sixth, retiring Josh Hamilton and Young to start the frame.  Adrian Beltre though tagged Carpenter for a big fly into the stands in left center to tie the game.

The final three innings will be remembered for unusual base running, controversial managerial decisions, and the making of the legend of Mike Napoli.

Allen Craig became the 11th player in World Series history to get caught stealing twice in a game.  (The most recent was Billy Martin in 1955.)  He was caught in both the seventh and ninth innings to capture the dubious distinction.  Both times, Albert Pujols was at bat, and both times the benefit/cost ratio of stealing second base made little sense.  This led to questions as to who put on the steal sign and why.  Different people in the Cardinals’ clubhouse gave different answers, but the best guess is that Pujols put on a hit and run in the seventh, and then didn’t swing at the pitch; while La Russa flashed the steal sign in the ninth.

Texas broke the tie in the eighth amid more managerial controversy.  Octavio Dotel replaced Carpenter to start the inning.  Carpenter left having allowed two runs on six hits (including the two solo home runs), striking out four and walking two.  Dotel promptly yielded a lead off double to Young.  Beltre struck out, and the Cardinals chose to walk Nelson Cruz to set up a potential inning ending double play.

That ended Dotel’s night.  Lefty Mark Repczynski came on to face the left-handed batting David Murphy.  Murphy shot a ground ball up the middle that could have been a double play, but it glanced off Repczynski and bounded softly toward right field.  The infield hit loaded the bases for Napoli.

La Russa said later his intention was for Repczynski to face Murphy and then have right-hander Jason Mott come in to pitch to the right-handed hitting Napoli.  AMAZINGLY, the bullpen did not get the message, and Mott was not warmed up.  Repczynski was forced to stay in the game, and Napoli made the Cardinals pay for the mistake when he doubled to right center to send home two runs and put the Rangers in the lead for the first time in the game.

Neftali Feliz came on to pitch the ninth and record the save, aided greatly by the strike out/caught stealing double play with Pujols striking out and Craig getting thrown out.  Darren Oliver retired the three batters he faced in the top of the eighth to qualify for the win.

In the end, the unusual game had seen six intentional walks, which tied the World Series record.  Three of those were to Pujols, which also tied a World Series record for most to one batter.  Napoli took the lead for series MVP.  He’s now hitting .308, with two home runs and nine RBI’s.  That includes the game winning RBI Monday night.  Coupled with his generally outstanding pitch calling and two caught stealings, it was a masterful game.

The game was at times sloppily played with the teams combining for three errors.  St. Louis had plenty of opportunities to score, but were just 1-12 with runners in scoring position.  Texas wasn’t much better at 2-7, though the Rangers had the Napoli double in the eighth that made the difference.

The teams travel back to St. Louis Tuesday.  Game six is scheduled for Wednesday with a rematch of game two starters – Colby Lewis and Jaime Garcia.

COCKTAIL CONVERSATION: The “Legends Race” was run by the former Major League players and present MLB Network commentators Kevin Millar, Harold Reynolds, Sean Casey and Mitch Williams.  Millar in the costume of Davey Crockett won.  Reynolds (Sam Houston), Casey (Jim Bowie) and Williams (Nolan Ryan) finished second, third and fourth, respectively….Seen at the game:  The Budweiser Clydesdales pranced around the stadium prior to the game.

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