ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 20: Ian Kinsler #5 of the Texas Rangers steals second base ahead of the tag by Rafael Furcal #15 of the St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth inning during Game Two of the MLB World Series at Busch Stadium on October 20, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The Texas Rangers almost left St. Louis down 2-0 in the World Series, but they got to the formerly impervious Cardinals bullpen, stealing Game 2 and tying the series at 1-1.
The story was almost Allen Craig. Again. For the second night in a row, Craig came up as a pinch-hitter in a key spot with two outs and a runner in scoring position, facing one of the hardest throwers in the game. For the second night in a row, Craig singled to right field off Alexi Ogando to put the Cardinals ahead.
But it's not time to melt down that Stan Musial statue for materials for a new statue. Craig's single gave the Cardinals their only run, and it looked like it was going to be the difference in a win against the Texas Rangers, but the Rangers mounted a furious rally in the ninth inning off the previously unhittable Jason Motte, stealing Game 2 on the road to tie the World Series at 1-1.
It was natural to expect slugfests in the World Series. It really was. The Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals had two of the best offenses in their respective leagues, and throughout the postseason, both teams have followed a similar pattern of their starting pitchers giving up runs early, with their bullpens coming in to clean up the mess for the rest of the game. It looked like a high-scoring series was possible.
But both teams also have some good starting pitching, too. They didn't show up in October with a Gashouse Gorillas roster, having scored 1000 runs in the regular season while allowing 900. Starting pitching might not be the strongest part of the Cardinals' or Rangers' roster, but it is a strength for both, relative to most of the teams in baseball.
In Game 2, both Colby Lewis and Jaime Garcia pitched as well as either team could have hoped. Garcia had the spiffier stat line, going a full seven innings, striking out seven and walking one. Lewis almost matched him, going 6⅔ innings and leaving the game while it was still a scoreless tie. He did get more than a little help from his defense, though:
That was a force out with two outs and a runner on second in the bottom of the fifth. If Rafael Furcal's grounder gets through, the Cardinals would have taken an even earlier lead. As is, it was just the best defensive play of the World Series so far.
The Punto single came on an 0-2 pitch that Lewis will probably replay in his head for the next 30 years. Ron Washington pulled Lewis for Ogando, and Tony La Russa countered with Allen Craig. Again. That brought up déjà vu all over again.
It was a 96-m.p.h. fastball right on the outside corner:
Craig took it to the other side for a single to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. A reminder: two seasons ago, Craig was a 24-year-old in AAA with a sub-par K/BB ratio. Now he's using a smart approach to go the other way against one of the quickest fastballs in the game.
But Craig wouldn't be the hero again. The drama in the top of the ninth inning started when Ian Kinsler blooped a single in front of the no-doubles defense and stole second with nobody out. He just made it into the bag on the steal, too.
That brought up Elvis Andrus, who singled Kinsler to third and took second when the throw home went past Albert Pujols. Tony La Russa pulled Motte for the lefty Arthur Rhodes. Or maybe Darren Oliver. The 49-year-old lefty. That guy. La Russa brought Rhodes in to face Josh Hamilton and his trick groin (woof!).
If the groin is sapping Hamilton's power, it didn't sap it enough to prevent a deep fly ball to score Kinsler. On the sac fly, Andrus took third.
Say, this is a good spot to leave this: John Dewan ranked Andrus as the second-best base runner in baseball over the last three years. Michael Young hit a sac fly on a 3-2 count. If Andrus doesn't take second and third on aggressive maneuvers, he doesn't put himself in position to score. Hamilton and Young haven't had a lot of hits in the postseason so far, but they picked a good time to make contact. The sacrifice gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead, and Neftali Feliz earned the save shortly thereafter.
The Cardinals could taste the victory. It tasted like cinnamon and unicorn fur, which tastes much better than you'd think. But in a postseason dominated by their bullpen, the Cardinals couldn't stay perfect. They'll head to Texas with a 1-1 tie, thinking about what could have been.