Forgetting About Last Night and Entering Must-Win Mode: Texas Rangers-St. Louis Cardinals World Series Game 4 Preview and Open Thread

Categories: Sports

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St. Louis Cardinals
Albert Pujols joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit three home runs in a World Series game. He also became the third player to have six RBI and the second player to have five hits in a World Series game. Oh, and he set a record for total bases as well with 14.
Well, that didn't last long.

One day, the Texas Rangers and their fans are basking in the glow of a dramatic ninth-inning comeback win against the St. Louis Cardinals to tie the World Series at 1-1, with the next three games to be played at home in Arlington.

The next day, that same team and those same fans are licking their wounds following a 16-7 ass-kicking in Game 3, with 25-year-old Derek Holland and his Jekyll-and-Hyde routine on the mound in what has become a must-win Game 4.

The momentum's entirely back in the hands of the 10-time champion Cards, but there's still hope for the Rangers in this series, even though they're faced with the uphill battle of winning three of the next four games.

After all, the Dallas Mavericks just pulled off a similar feat in the NBA Finals. Down 15 points to the Miami Heat in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and trailing 0-1 in the series, they rallied back to win 95-93 and even the series at 1-1. Then the Mavs lost an 88-86 heart-breaker at home in Game 3, but they would prevail in the next three games in a row to win the championship.

There's also the stat that refuses to die: Texas hasn't lost consecutive games since August 24 and 25 against Boston. And the Rangers have alternated wins and losses in their last eight games, so they should be due for a win, right? Right?

Need another reason to be optimistic? Even though last night's game felt worse, the Tampa Bay Rays -- led by 22-year-old rookie pitcher Matt Moore, who had just one career big-league start before the game -- unleashed a similar display of team dominance when they hammered Texas 9-0 in Arlington to take Game 1 of the ALDS. But, not only did the Rangers rebound to win the next three games, they defeated James Shields, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson -- one of the best trio of hurlers on any team.

The Rangers can do this, but three things must happen to ensure a victory tonight.

First and foremost, the entire club has to look at Game 3 as one collective fuck-up. While there are plenty of individuals at fault, including manager Ron Washington once again, this team can't win this evening if anyone's still cheesed-off that first base umpire and St. Louis native Ron Culpa (who's behind the plate tonight) blew a call or that Mike Napoli made a bad throw to home plate in the fourth inning.

Once you start feeling like you've been getting screwed by the umps or that one defensive miscue cost you a chance to win a 16-7 game, you're toast. Might as well cancel the trip back to St. Louis.

And before we grab our pitchforks and lynch Culpa, let's remember that he's the same ump who called Ian Kinsler safe after he stole second base in the ninth inning of Game 2 -- an extremely close play with much more at stake. Making calls like that at full speed isn't easy, and the wrong call there likely costs Texas a win, but the right call last night wouldn't have made a lick of difference.

While I understand why that four-run top of the fourth inning by the Cards is an easy place to play the blame game, the top of the fifth was actually the Rangers' most catastrophic half inning of the game, as I said in last night's open thread.

The Rangers had just rallied back from a 5-0 deficit in the bottom of the fourth with homers from Michael Young and Nelson Cruz to cut the lead to 5-3, and the heart of the Cards' lineup -- Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman -- was up next for the Cards.

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Texas Rangers
Feldman was just one of countless bad things that happened last night for Texas in Game 3.
Even though Scott Feldman had thrown just five pitches in relief of Matt Harrison to end the top half of the fourth, I hoped Alexi Ogando would be warming up because you can get into trouble in a hurry facing those three, not to mention that NLCS MVP David Freese and Yadier Molina were looming if anyone got on base.

Much like he did to start the fourth, Pujols led off the fifth with a single. Feldman then mostly concentrated on keeping the ball low to Holliday and Berkman, but eight of his 10 pitches to them were out of the strike zone. Both walked on five pitches. Only when the count reached 3-0 on Berkman did Mark Lowe, who hadn't thrown a pitch in the playoffs this year and gave up five runs in less than an inning in last year's World Series, start warming up in the bullpen.

But, like several other times in the postseason, Washington was too late. He needed someone ready to replace Feldman with the bases loaded, no outs and a red-hot Freese at the dish, but no one else was ready.

Feldman threw a great pitch to Freese, shattering his bat with a groundout to Adrian Beltre, but Pujols scored to give St. Louis a 6-3 lead, and Holliday and Berkman advanced to second and third on the play.

With Molina at the plate and one out, it made sense to pitch around him (meaning throwing four pitches in the dirt and hoping he swings at a couple) to face a lesser hitter (John Jay) and set up the double play. In fact, Wash had made a similar move in the infamous top of the fourth, choosing to intentionally walk Molina after Harrison fell behind him 2-0 while pitching around him. The situation was exactly the same: one out and runners on second and third.

Not only did Wash change his mind and decided to face Molina, but he kept Feldman out there, presumably because Lowe wasn't warmed up yet.

Molina made Texas pay big time, smashing a double down the third-base line and scoring both runners.

After managing to cut the lead to two, the Cards were back up by five. And that was before Pujols went berserk and clubbed three homers.

Which leads me to the second key to victory for Texas: Keep Pujols off balance.

I've already mentioned this before, and it's kinda pointing out the obvious after his historic night with the stick, but it bears repeating.

Sure, it's painful, but watch the pitches to Pujols on those three homers. They're all right there in his happy zone. Simply inexcusable location every time.

Holland and the Texas relievers must work the fringes of the strike zone against Pujols, and if they miss, give him first base and move on to the next hitter.

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Texas Rangers
All eyes on Derek Holland tonight.
And there's the third key: The Dutch Oven. He's gotta give Texas at least five solid innings, hopefully six.

Holland can't be the pitcher he was in last year's World Series, the one who walked three batters and allowed three runs in zero innings of work in Game 1.

He's got to be the pitcher who dominated in the second half of the regular season this year, with a 9-1 record and 3.06 ERA.

Holland can't be the pitcher he was in the ALCS, the one who gave up 11 hits, four walks, seven runs and four homers in two starts against Detroit.

He's got to be the pitcher who earned a victory in Game 2 of the ALDS with one earned run allowed in 6 1/3 innings against Tampa Bay.

If Holland's Mr. Hyde, it's gonna be a long night for the Rangers. But if he somehow channels Dr. Jekyll, Texas can steal back the mojo in this series and tie this sucker up at two games apiece.

My heart tells me we'll see Jekyll, but my mind's convinced Hyde will rear his evil face.

It's only the most important game in franchise history, so no pressure.

Three more wins. Just three more wins.

Quick Hits

-- After getting burned by the defense at first base by Young and Nappy, Wash finally wised up and inserted Mitch Moreland into the lineup. He'll bat ninth, and Murphy and Napoli switch places at seventh and eighth to avoid having two-consecutive left-handers batting.

-- Much like Kyle Lohse, I don't view starter Edwin Jackson as a threat to the Rangers' ability to score a decent amount of runs tonight. The 28-year-old has bounced around several clubs already (Dodgers, Rays, Tigers, Diamondbacks and White Sox), posting a 60-60 record, 4.46 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in his nine seasons in the bigs. He also gave up four runs in just two innings of Game 6 of the NLCS, but he does have a 3.25 ERA in four career starts in Arlington.

-- Holland led the major leagues among pitchers who threw at least 1,000 fastballs this season with an average break on his fastball of 11 inches. Of course, Harrison's fourth on that list at 9.7 inches, so I'm not sure how much success that will translate into.

-- As I mentioned in my series preview, the Cards have the advantage with the DH in Arlington. So far, adding a DH has given Allen Craig two starts, including today, and Texas has countered with Yorvit Torrealba and Moreland. Yuk.

-- In case you're wondering, Wash has just one more year on his contract. If the Rangers throw up another stinker tonight, I can see Jon Daniels moving in another direction and cutting ties with him in the offseason.

-- In the Game 2 open thread, I suggested that the Rangers sign Pujols in the offseason. I'll have more after the series, but there are several reasons why this makes sense. It primarily would allow Texas to part ways with Hamilton when he becomes a free agent at the end of next season. Sure, Hamilton's been great here, but his injury history poses too much of a gamble for the kind of dough he'll be looking for. (Still unsure why he's batting third again tonight.)

-- One of the many things lost in last night's game was Beltre's 4-for-5 performance at the plate. Good to see him finally heating up again.

-- Ogando's probably the only reliever not available for tonight's game, so there's no excuse for Wash not to have guys warming and ready for key situations.

All right. This is it. Biggest game ever. Let's do this. Join me in the comments, won't you?

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Jamie Gentry777
Jamie Gentry777

 first base umpire and St. Louis native Ron Culpa (who's behind the plate tonight) blew a call or that Mike Napoli made a bad throw to home plate in the fourth inning.  there shouldn't  be anyany St. Louis ( or Texas Rangers) natives anywhere on the field in an officiating role WHAT SO EVER!  Should have impartial umps.

ShortHop
ShortHop

Cut ties with Wash because the team didn't deliver last night as you blame the Molina double on him? Two consecutive World Series appearances and Daniels is cutting him loose if the Rangers play another stinker? I call major BS on that one. How many teams are loaded with big money talent that never even made the post season? How many teams without consecutive loses since August?

Wash kept the team focused all last season and all this season. That is his main contribution, day in and day out over the entire 162 haul. I don't think one game is going to send him packing. JMHO.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Easy to say now that the series is tied up, but I stand by what I said: If Texas would have suffered another blowout loss, Wash mighta been a goner, and it wouldn't have been because he didn't walk Molina in Game 3. He's had plenty of managerial missteps in the postseason that have cost his team dearly.

CrackerDaddy
CrackerDaddy

Ifs and buts........I think Wash is safe for now.

Tad Banyon
Tad Banyon

They do love him. While you can find a manager with stronger game time tactical abilities, they might not play as hard for him as they do for Wash. I think you tinker with that chemistry at your own risk.

MushMouth1
MushMouth1

Big difference is Francona had lost some big names in the clubhouse. Ryan knows how important it is to have a manager the players fully support.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Agreed, Wash is safe at the moment, especially after the win last night.

But Terry Francona won two World Series championships in Boston, and now he's outta there, so stranger things have happened.

MushMouth1
MushMouth1

Thanks everyone. Good conversation with just the right mix of goofiness. Once again tip of the hat to Sam and Robert for hosting.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Great having you aboard, as always.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Nappy: "I got a good fastball and did a good thing with it." Indeed.

Guest
Guest

Thanks again for doing this!

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Thanks for joining the conversation.

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

I've said it before: Makes watching these games easier. For me, at least. 

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

Deep, cleaning breaths. 2-2. Already better than 2010. Sam, preview tomorrow -- but y'all are stuck with me tomorrow. Unless I can corral Schutze -- he's lurking, I discovered tonight, but not chiming in. Let's see if we can rectify that. Sam's got tickets to tomorrow's game. Bring good luck, Merten.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Will do. So effin' excited as you can imagine. Perhaps I'll send occasional dispatches from the ballpark via text.

MushMouth1
MushMouth1

Start the wave for us! /ducking, just joking

Guest
Guest

"Feliz means happy in Spanish and these fans have been happy throughout."  Really?  That's the best Buck could muster?

MushMouth1
MushMouth1

So when is Jon Daniels Junior or Juniorette supposed to make an appearance?

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Don't do it again, Neffy. Don't!

Chuck G.
Chuck G.

I've had it with Moreland.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Awful route to that ball by Moreland.

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

Does he really play baseball? Like, professionally?

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Yeah, I'm done with him. Let's get Young back there tomorrow.

MushMouth1
MushMouth1

Sure as heck don't want Josh stretching out for throws.  And certainly don't want MY and his falling down range there. Prefer Napoli behind the plate so by default Mitch is the guy.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

You have a better suggestion? Perhaps Esteban German?

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

I'd put Josh there and have Chavez play center.

Guest
Guest

Or did I miss the sarcasm?

Guest
Guest

Then who is DH?

Potrzebie Fonebone
Potrzebie Fonebone

God damn mother fucking Nefty sonm of a bitch asswipe dickwad shitface cocksucker

Potrzebie Fonebone
Potrzebie Fonebone

Feliz likes to nwalk the lead off guy... don't do it Nefty. DONT DO IT

MushMouth1
MushMouth1

Busby just pointed out why it was a perfect time to pull Holland. Not critical if Feliz is off for the first batter and has some wiggle room.

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