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Mike Napoli is having a great postseason, and Rangers fans are expressing their excitement. Could they do so while shaming a divisional rival at the same time?
It was Mike Napoli who got the big hit in Game 5 of the World Series, but it's Tony La Russa who is answering all of the questions right now. Here's why.
In Monday night's Game 5, the Cardinals lost to the Rangers in part because Tony La Russa couldn't properly communicate with his bullpen over the phone. Here we offer some potential explanations for how this happened.
For most of the postseason, the Cardinals have followed a simple formula: Have the starting pitcher go four or five innings, then have the bullpen pitch a bunch of scoreless innings in relief. Michael Lewis, if you're out there, you can call the book Don't Expect This Shit To Keep Working Ball. That's on the house.
But when the Cardinals actually get quality innings from their starting pitcher before turning to the bullpen in the eighth inning, like a normal team, that should be gravy, right? Like, that would be even better?
Shoulda stuck to the template, Cards.
Octavio Dotel, who has been excellent since coming over to the Cardinals, came in for the eighth ining for Chris Carpenter. Dotel allowed a lead-off double to Michael Young, then struck out Adrian Beltre on three pitches. That prompted Tony La Russa to order an intentional walk of Nelson Cruz. Again, there was one out, but La Russa was hoping for a ground ball on which the Cardinals could turn two.
The Cardinals got the ground ball. And La Russa quietly thought, "Hooray for being a genius!" The new pitcher, Marc Rzepczynski, deflected the ball with his knee instead of catching it or letting get through to a middle infielder. And La Russa quietly thought, "OH DAMMIT SO MUCH WHAT IN THE DAMMIT OH NO." Or if you want the visual accompaniment:
And that brought up Mike Napoli with one out and the bases loaded.
After seven and a half innings, the St. Louis Cardinals have two runs, and the Texas Rangers have two runs. The Cardinals have batted 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, while the Rangers have gone 0-for-2.
You get a sense from those statistics that this game feels lopsided, even though it isn't, and that's right on. The Cardinals should be winning, and winning by a few, but they are not, and they probably have only themselves to blame.
The Cardinals left the bases loaded in the top of the seventh. In the bottom half, Chris Carpenter pitched around a one-out walk to escape. That took us to the top of the eighth, where Yadier Molina reached leading off when he grounded a ball in the hole, and Mitch Moreland couldn't corral Elvis Andrus' low throw.
So the Cardinals had a guy on first with nobody out. A bunt later, they had a guy on second with one out. But Darren Oliver froze Nick Punto, and then Rafael Furcal grounded out to short. Another wasted opportunity, and now the Rangers have another chance to pull ahead.
Ron Washington has not managed a great game. The Texas Rangers' pitchers have not thrown a great game. It's still 2-2.
The idea behind this .gif was that we were all going to play amateur lipreading sleuths together. This is from the end of the sixth inning:
But, uh, there isn't a lot of guesswork that's left. Carpenter almost certainly says something like ...
(Redacted) yeah, you (redacted) of shit! (Redacted) you!
Never was sure how the whole redacted thing worked, but you get the idea. Who was he screaming at? At first, I was thinking Nick Punto just for being Nick Punto. It's what I would do. But that seems unlikely, so I'm going with Mike Napoli as he was rounding first.
But why would Chris Carpenter scream obscenities at Napoli? No idea. Maybe Mike Scioscia is a warg who's pitching this game through the eyes of Carpenter. Maybe there's some sort of history there, or something behind-the-scenes that happened in this World Series. Or maybe Carpenter has Tourette's.
Whatever the reason, there's a possibility that things will start getting plunky at some point over the rest of the series. Pitchers don't usually scream like that at opposing players, and if they do, there are consequences.
Eh, he was probably screaming at Nick Punto. Because he's Nick Punto, that's why.
So it's only the seventh and this game might last for a long while yet, but the top of the seventh inning has taken the lead in the "Weirdest Half-Inning of Game 5 Pageant".
Alexi Ogando took over on the mound for the Rangers to start the inning, and struck out leadoff man Rafael Furcal. But Allen Craig drew a walk, and with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday and (maybe) Lance Berkman coming up next, this had the makings of a pretty scary and perhaps devastating inning for Texas.
But a moment later, Craig alit for second base and Mike Napoli threw him out by eight feet.
In the radio booth, ESPN's Bobby Valentine said, "I don't get that play at all."
Here in my house, I didn't get the next play at all: With the count already 1-and-1 on Pujols, Ron Washington ordered Ogando intentionally walk Pujols. Because, you know, Matt Holliday's not capable of hitting a single or a double or a home run.
Holliday drilled a single to left-center. Pujols reached third, and Holliday second base on the throw. Washington ordered another intentional walk, this time for Berkman.
Which gave the Cardinals a bases-loaded opportunity for the third time in three innings ... and for the third time in three innings, they didn't score; this time, David Freese drove a routine fly to center field, where Josh Hamilton squelched yet another St. Louis rally.
The Cardinals were leading the Rangers 2-1 going into the bottom of the sixth, but one sensed that the Rangers were lucky to still be that close, given that the Cards had stranded so many baserunners by going 1-for-9 with RISP. The Rangers had been playing with fire, but somehow, they hadn't yet been burned too bad.
If the Rangers were lucky to have the score 2-1, they must be extra lucky to have the score 2-2. Chris Carpenter retired the first two batters he saw in the bottom of the sixth with ease. He then got ahead of Adrian Beltre with a terrific low fastball. Ahead 0-1, Carpenter threw Beltre a curveball, and
Carpenter didn't hang it. It wasn't a bad curveball. It was a good curveball. And Adrian Beltre maimed it to tie the score. It's not the first time Beltre has hit a home run while going to his knee, and it's not the tenth time Beltre has hit a home run while going to his knee, but every time he does it, it still feels fresh.
The Rangers would threaten some more, following the homer with consecutive singles, but Carpenter escaped the inning by getting Mike Napoli to fly out to the deepest part of the ballpark, just like he was trying. Carpenter meant for Napoli to hit the ball 400 feet and get out.
2-2. Seventh inning. Wow!
In the top of the fifth inning, C.J. Wilson got into all sorts of trouble. He gave up a single to Skip Schumaker before walking Nick Punto. All that was missing was an appearance by Ryan Theriot. Good lord, La Russa breeds these guys like tribbles.
But Wilson clawed and scrapped and clawed to get out of the inning without allowing another run. He struck out the suddenly mortal Allen Craig, and he induced a weak grounder from Matt Holliday with the bases loaded. Whew. And Wilson, with 100 pitches, went to sit in the dugout for the rest of the game, cheering his teammates on with some ice wrapped around his shoulder.
Except he came out for the sixth.
The gambit worked about as well as expected, with Wilson getting an out before allowing a base runner. He was on the ol' allow-a-runner-and-get-yoinked plan, as Ron Washington replaced Wilson with Scott Feldman, the official long reliever of the 2011 MLB Postseason.
Feldman then got into similar trouble, giving up a single to Yadier Molina to put runners on first and second with one out. But Feldman's hands, slippery from all the churned butter, were made to throw a sweet curveball. Skip Schumaker grounded out and Nick Punto struck out, and the rally ended. This doesn't feel like a 2-1 game, but a 2-1 game it is.
You'll remember, I am sure, that St. Louis starting pitchers struggled terribly against the Brewers in their National League Championship Series. Nobody lasted more than five innings, and the starters finished the series with a 7.03 ERA.
Of course, a lot people also ignored two salient facts:
1. St. Louis starters were exceptionally unlikely to continue pitching so poorly, and
2. The Rangers' starters weren't much better against the Tigers, finishing their ALCS with a 6.59 ERA.
Of course it's all turned around in the World Series. We're five innings into Game 5, and the two teams' starting pitchers have combined for a 2.91 ERA.
Tonight, C.J. Wilson is exceptionally lucky to have allowed only one earned run. Chris Carpenter has been much better, allowing a run on Mitch Moreland's home run but not much else. And tonight we're seeing the real Chris Carpenter.
In Game 1, Carpenter gave the Cardinals six strong innings, giving up only two runs and earning the victory. But it was a cold night in St. Louis, Carpenter was usually pitching behind in the count, so he threw only seven curveballs in those six innings.
Tonight he's thrown 18 curves through five innings, and looks better than he's looked since pitching that brilliant shutout against the Phillies to clinch the Division Series.
Still, Carpenter can hardly relax, as the game's still Cardinals 2, Rangers 1 after five innings.
C.J. Wilson's postseason track record is spotty. He came in with a 5.32 ERA over eight starts, and in those eight starts, the Rangers have gone 2-6. Monday night's Game 5 could be the last start the free-agent-to-be makes in a Rangers uniform, and so all eyes were curious to see if he would deliver, or if he would again come up short.
Well, Wilson's wound up somewhere kind of in-between. I'm assuming that his day is done, having allowed two runs in five innings of work. But it could have been much worse.
The Cardinals came to bat in the top of the fifth ahead 2-1. Skip Schumaker led off with a single. Nick Punto followed with a four-pitch walk, which at least seemed longer than four pitches thanks to a pair of pickoff attempts. That brought Rafael Furcal to the plate and Furcal, like Allen Craig earlier, was instructed to give up an out to move the baserunners along even though Wilson was struggling. Furcal succeeded, bunting the ball directly to Adrian Beltre. Beltre spun around and looked to throw to third, but Elvis Andrus wasn't covering, so Beltre threw to first instead.
So that brought Craig up with one down and a pair of runners in scoring position. The Cardinals were hoping for at least one run, but Craig swung right through a hanging 1-2 slider for a huge strikeout. Albert Pujols drew a predictable intentional walk, so it was up to Matt Holliday with two outs and the bases loaded.
At this point, by the way, Scott Feldman was up and ready in the Rangers' bullpen. Wilson was quickly approaching 100 pitches, and didn't have his command. Holliday's a righty and Feldman's a righty, while Wilson's a lefty. I have to think that the proper move would've been to bring in the help.
But Ron Washington didn't bring in the help, and on Wilson's 100th pitch of the game, he gave Holliday a 3-2 fastball that jammed him, and Holliday grounded out to short.
Wilson has thrown just 52 strikes out of those 100 pitches. He has five walks (albeit two intentional), and the Cardinals have given him two outs. But for five innings, he survived, and if his night is done, well, there were pluses and minuses. He's given his team a chance to win, which isn't worth nothing.
In the top of the second inning, C.J. Wilson walked the first two hitters he faced, and both of them scored. This is because that's how baseball is supposed to work. For a few minutes, it was a luck-free meritocracy. You get into the mess yourself, you pay for it.
In the fourth, though, Wilson pitched like he does when things are going well for him. Courtesy of MLB GameDay:
When he missed, he didn't miss by much, and when he caught the zone, he used his movement to catch the corners of it. That's the template. That's what makes Wilson good. What makes him less than great are the spurts of wonky command. We've seen both versions tonight.
Other than a Mitch Moreland homer, Chris Carpenter has been free of any such problems. He's featured a nasty curve at times ...
... and he's thrown 55 pitches through four innings compared to 76 for Wilson. The Cards are holding a 2-1 lead into the fifth.
Hey, a Mitch Moreland sighting!
Moreland's been awful for roughly four months and didn't do anything when given the start at first base in Game 4.
But Ron Washington sent him out there again in Game 5, and it paid off big.
With one out in the bottom of the second inning against Chris Carpenter, Moreland got ahead in the count 2-and-0. And then Carpenter threw a batting-practice fastball and Moreland did what big first basemen are supposed to do with BP fastballs ...
424 feet, and the Rangers were finally on the board.
Still, the Rangers have scored, they've hit a few balls hard, and suddenly Carpenter looks vincible.
Meanwhile, C.J. Wilson's settled down and it's Cardinals 2, Rangers 1 after three full innings.
The St. Louis Cardinals got out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the second thanks in part to poor defense from the Rangers, but the inning ended with a full-extension diving catch by David Murphy in left field. Did the catch give the Rangers any momentum?
No, stupid, momentum doesn't exist in baseball and the Rangers went 1-2-3 against Chris Carpenter. That sent us to the third inning with the score 2-0.
And in the third inning, things got off to a rocky start for the hosts:
That's C.J. Wilson fielding a leadoff bunt from Rafael Furcal and making a terrible throw to first, and that's Mitch Moreland doing a terrible job of knocking the terrible throw down. The ball got by, and Furcal wound up at second base.
Then Tony La Russa made the curious decision to bunt Furcal over to third with Allen Craig, playing for one run even though Craig's a good hitter who had the platoon advantage. Craig succeeded, then Albert Pujols was walked, and then Matt Holliday grounded into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play, because Adrian Beltre is pretty much a perfect defender who doesn't make mistakes.
The top of the third, by the way, was taken over by Derek Holland on the broadcast, who offered impressions of both Harry Caray and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The impressions weren't half-bad, but they were distracting, and they led to the following consecutive tweets:
If part of your job is to go on national television, and you decide to grow a pencil-thin mustache, you're either ...
a. kind of a character who doesn't care what other people think, or ...
b. hiding pennies under his mom's front porch, like Vern in Stand by Me. And by "pennies", I mean "bodies."
Turns out that Holland is the former. He's a character of sorts, a gregarious sort who knowingly plays up the stereotype of a wacky lefty. In the top of the third inning, Holland was miked up and chatting with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. The discussion turned to the various impressions that Holland likes to do, and suddenly he was doing a pretty impressive Harry Caray impression for 15 million people.
This was a welcome change of pace for those of us who were bored silly about the game. Pitcher throws it to the catcher, who throws it back to the pitcher, who throws it back to the catcher, unless the hitter makes contact and starts running. Soooooooooooooooo borrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring. And this crap goes on for three hours?
Luckily there's a baseball player with a sliver of personality to talk to instead. In the inning, the Cardinals had a few runners on or something. Didn't catch that. But Derek Holland had pizza last night! Gonna tweet that, be right back.
This was going to be an item about how well the starting pitchers have performed in the World Series, at least relative to what each team's starters did in their League Championship Series.
But then C.J. Wilson walked Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman too. He threw a bunch of curves to Berkman, none of which fooled Berkman, which shouldn't be a big surprise if you've seen Wilson's PaintoMatic ...
Wilson's curveball was his third-best pitch this season. Which doesn't mean he shouldn't throw it. But all those curveballs to Berkman seemed, at least in retrospect, a bit excessive.
And of course the walks came back to haunt Wilson and the Rangers, as both Holliday and Berkman wound up scoring. After David Freese flied out, Yadier Molina grounded a single into left field; Holliday scored and Berkman went to third when David Murphy let the ball get past him. And Berkman scored a moment later on Skip Schumaker's grounder to first baseman Mitch Moreland (which Moreland fumbled, but probably to little effect).
I was just asking my colleagues in our editorial chatroom whether the Rangers still do the whole claw and antlers thing, because I haven't noticed them all month. Turns out they don't, and they have a new thing instead: slapping the hell out of one another.
Cameras caught Ron Washington slapping Derek Holland in the dugout prior to Sunday's Game 4. Prior to Monday's Game 5, we had this:
It's all fun and cutesy until Nelson Cruz knocks out three of Craig Gentry's molars because he doesn't know his own strength.
In Game 1 of the World Series, Chris Carpenter retired the Rangers in order in the top of the first, throwing 11 pitches.
In Game 5 of the World Series Chris Carpenter walked Josh Hamilton and needed 16 pitches to get through the bottom of the first.
Are there any conclusions to draw from this data? You might not think so, but there truly is. Just based on each sentence, you can tell that Carpenter was pitching at home in the first game, and he's on the road tonight. That makes a big difference.
But of the four hitters, two worked a three-ball count, and one hit the ball extremely hard. The only at-bat that wasn't impressive was that of Elvis Andrus, who grounded out to short on one pitch.
Maybe, if you squint, you can make too much about Carpenter not getting any swinging strikes in his 16 pitches, but it's almost certainly too early to start thinking about that sort of stuff.
In Monday night's Game 5, the Cardinals got the start they wanted against C.J. Wilson when Rafael Furcal led off with a blistering line drive. However, it was caught at third base by Adrian Beltre. And today is Furcal's birthday, too!
The rest of the half-inning was familiar, too. Sunday, Holland started 1-2-3. Monday, Wilson started 1-2-3. After Furcal's out, Allen Craig grounded out, and then Albert Pujols launched a 3-0 high fastball deep but not deep enough to straightaway center. So while Wilson didn't exactly generate weak contact, he did generate three outs, and now it's the Rangers' turn to try to get out to an early lead against Chris Carpenter.
There's no easy way to put this. But, well, enjoy the baseball tonight. It might be the last game you see for a couple of days.
That's the weather forecast for St. Louis this week, with Game 6 set to be played on Wednesday. A lot can change in 48 hours, but right now things aren't looking so good. This has strategical implications too, as a rain out on Wednesday would push a possible Game 7 to Friday. The extra day of rest might have allow Derek Holland to come back for another game. Is that something Ron Washington is thinking about?
"It's Harry's game," Washington said. "I'm going to stay consistent. That's Harry's game."
Harry is Matt Harrison, and regardless what happens in Games 5 and 6, he's the starter for a potential Game 7. Harrison was the starting pitcher for Game 3, which the Cardinals won by 4,401 runs, but he did suffer from some outrageously bad luck, umpiring, and defense. Holland is the star of the present, but Harrison could be the star (or goat!) of the feature.
C.J. Wilson gets the start in Monday night's Game 5 of the World Series, and his performance could go a long way towards shaping how he's remembered as a Texas Ranger.
1. Rafael Furcal (S) SS
2. Allen Craig (R) RF
3. Albert Pujols (R) 1B
4. Matt Holliday (R) LF
5. Lance Berkman (S) DH
6. David Freese (R) 3B
7. Yadier Molina (R) C
8. Skip Schumaker (L) CF
9. Nick Punto (S) 2B
Hey, what's Skip Shumaker doing in there?
Skip Shumaker's in there because Jon Jay, easily the Cardinals' best defensive center fielder -- their only defensive center fielder, really -- is 8 for 57 in the postseason and hasn't reached base since the National League Championship Series.
Things have to be pretty bad for La Russa to give Schumaker a shot, considering Skip bats left-handed (like Jay) and started only one game in center all season long. There just isn't anyone else, though. Because he's carrying three second basemen -- Schumaker, Punto, and Ryan Theriot -- on the roster and a backup third baseman (Daniel Descalso), La Russa's got only four outfielders. And one of them is DHing tonight.
Getting Jay out of the lineup isn't the worst thing in the world, especially against a lefty. It's just too bad for La Russa he doesn't have a right-handed-hitting alternative.
One of the teams in the World Series will take a three games to two lead after Monday night's game. Will it be the Cardinals or the Rangers?
Just what is causing C.J. Wilson to pitch poorly this October?
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