Guts, Not Gaffes Give Texas an Opportunity for the Kill Shot: Rangers-St. Louis Cardinals World Series Game 6 Preview and Open Thread
The intellect of one of the best managers and greatest players in baseball history short-circuited at the worst possible times for the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the World Series, but Monday night's match-up wasn't won or lost on brain farts by Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols.
Texas Rangers Mike Napoli celebrates his game-winning double in the eighth inning of Game 5.
In a game the Texas Rangers had to win to avoid needing victories in Games 6 and 7 on the road to claim their first championship in franchise history, the guts of C.J. Wilson and Ron Washington and bat of Mike Napoli prevailed.
Wilson was hardly efficient or dominating in what I expect to be his last start in a Rangers uniform, but his ability to minimize the damage in the second inning and wiggle out of third- and fifth-inning jams kept Texas alive.
As I watched the top of the second inning unfold from the third deck in right field at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, I couldn't have imagined myself giving Wilson credit for much of anything upon his eventual exit from the game.
It sure looked like the beginning of yet another postseason meltdown by the team's supposed ace, as Wilson walked Matt Holliday (hitting only .167 in the series) and Lance Berkman after retiring the Cards in order to begin the game.
With NLCS MVP David Freese at the plate, Wilson threw a 91-mph fastball on the inside part of the plate that Freese turned into a harmless fly ball to Nelson Cruz. But a single to left field by Yadier Molina brought Holliday home to give St. Louis an early 1-0 lead, and then the Rangers defense started looking like it was falling apart too.
Molina's slow roller to David Murphy slipped past his glove, and he dropped the ball after retrieving it. The error enabled Berkman to take third base, but Molina, who's never been mistaken for Elvis Andrus on the base paths, didn't advance to second.
The once frenzied crowd became silent as everyone braced for the worst.
Light-hitting Skip Schumaker followed with an easy grounder down the first-base line to Mitch Moreland, but the ball deflected off the top of his glove and fell in front of him. Had Moreland fielded the ball cleanly and thrown to second, there's no question it would have been a double play to end the inning. At the very least, he would have nailed Berkman heading home, but the error (although technically not ruled one) allowed Berkman to score and extended the lead to 2-0.
Murphy stopped the bleeding and began his path to redemption by making a diving catch on a liner by Nick Punto to end the inning, but Wilson was at it again in the top of the third.
Rafael Furcal bunted to Wilson, who could have had the out at first with a good throw, but his toss bounced in front of Moreland, and Furcal advanced to second on the error (although the bunt itself was ruled a base hit). A sacrifice bunt by Allen Craig moved Furcal to third, and then Pujols was intentionally walked for the first of three times, putting runners at the corners with one out for the cleanup hitter.
Wash, who has been hesitant in the postseason to be proactive with his bullpen, wisely had Scott Feldman warming up, but he wouldn't be needed, at least not at this point in the game. After Wilson threw nine pitches to Holliday, he grounded a 3-2 Wilson offering into a double play to Adrian Beltre.
I took a really deep breath, and it felt like most of the stadium did too. Whew. Tragedy avoided -- for now.
Moreland neutralized his early gaffe with a 446-foot blast -- the longest World Series homer since MLB began tracking them in 2006 -- in the bottom half of the third to cut the lead to 2-1, but Wilson found himself right back into trouble in the top of the fifth.
This is when I was absolutely convinced Wilson's wheels were about to fly off.
He began by allowing a single to Schumaker -- a career .210 hitter against left-handers. Not a good way to start an inning. Then he issued a four-pitch walk to the ninth-place hitter, Punto. Really not a good way to start an inning. Furcal predictably sacrificed them to second and third base, and Pujols headed to the dish. Using more smarts than guts this time, Wash walked him intentionally again.
Photo by Sam Merten Albert Pujols warms up before Game 5.
Wilson got ahead of Holliday 1-2, but he threw two out of the strike zone to make the count full. Holliday undoubtedly had the upper hand, yet somehow, someway Wilson induced another double play to end the threat.
Unbelievable. Two DPs on full counts from a five-time All-Star and .315 hitter with runners on first and third. That's some ballsy pitching right there to get outta both of those situations without allowing a run.
Had I known before the game that Wilson would allow nine base runners (four hits and five walks) and throw 108 pitches in 5 1/3 innings, I would have guessed the Cardinals would put at least four runs on the board, if not more. But Wilson made pitches when he had to, and Wash refused to let Pujols beat him. Wilson managed to give up just one earned run, with an unearned run resulting from miscues by Murphy and Moreland. No Rangers fan could have reasonably asked for much more from Wilson given his postseason history.