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Albert Pujols is good. Will evidence of this wild claim make a difference with the contract he gets as a free agent?
The St. Louis Cardinals hammered the Texas Rangers in Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night to take a 2-1 series lead. Albert Pujols was incredibly, the Cardinals offense was on fire and Texas could do little to stop it. So much for all the close games in this series so far.
While we probably can't point to this one play as the beginning of the end, it does illustrate yet another point about the umpires. On baseball's biggest stage, the following happened in the fourth inning:
It may not have mattered in the end, but this was about as bad as it gets. Yes, the above gif is in slow motion, but notice Mike Napoli tagging Matt Holliday twice. Napoli basically runs his glove up the neck and head of Holliday. The only thing that would've made the tag more obvious is if Napoli knocked Holliday's helmet off in the process.
And yet, Holliday was called safe and eventually came around to score. Because of course he did. St. Louis scored four in the inning and its lead stood at 5-0.
Then again, the Cardinals scored another 11 runs after the inning and pounded the Rangers in a 16-7 win. Unless the blown call was miraculously worth a 10-spot, it probably didn't doom the Rangers on this night. It may have played a role in the ship sinking, but more it was more a reminder of how the "human element" can be ridiculously annoying and flawed at times.
Albert Pujols hit a trio of enormous home runs, other Cardinals hitters did a lot of other good things, and St. Louis moved ahead of Texas 2-1 in the World Series with a 16-7 win.
You could almost see it coming.
But Albert Pujols is an awesomely destructive hitter.
He's even more awesomely destructive against left-handed pitcher.
And believe it or not, the fact that Pujols had already hit two home runs in Game 3 did not make him any less likely to hit a third home run in Game 3.
Which of course he did. Darren Oliver got way too much of the plate with a high-80s fastball, and Pujols drove it 39X feet and beyond the left-field barrier, thus joining Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players with three home runs in a single World Series game.
We'll have more on Pujols later, as will everyone else. The trick, of course, is finding some reasonably original thing to say about a player who's been among the game's greatest hitters for more than a decade.
Meanwhile, this blowout is finally, mercifully almost over, as the Cardinals carry a 16-7 lead into the last of the ninth.
This week's, Wait, Yeah! award goes to Joel Sherman, who twote:
Anyone have any idea why Washington has not removed gimpy Hamilton from this game yet
To which the only response is: "Wait, yeah!" At least if you weren't already thinking it, that's the only response. Is there any reason for Hamilton's barking groin to be in center field, chasing down any fly balls hit in his direction? Remember, Hamilton thinks he might have a sports hernia. It's not like he's fighting though a stye.
The Cardinals scored a run in the top of the eighth on an RBI double from Yadier Molina, marking the fifth straight inning with St. Louis scoring at least one run. Apparently, Ron Washington wanted Hamilton to get one more at-bat in case the Rangers mounted a furious eleventy-run comeback, and that outweighed the potential of him aggravating an already-serious injury.
Hamilton grounded out. There was no furious rally.
Well, I'm just guessing that he was an effete European because he threw like this:
Not to engage in stereotypes, but Europeans are better at kicking things. There's no way that a red-blooded 'Merican -- especially one from Texas, where they inject steaks into their arteries with hypodermic needles -- could throw like that.
That's the guy. In the bottom of the seventh inning, that guy threw a ball at Matt Holliday, who was waiting to catch an Adrian Beltre fly ball. The perp is likely from Germany, Estonia, or Canada. One of those Euro places where they kick things to each other. It's not wrong; it's just different.
There's a lesson to be learned: if you throw like a weenie, you shouldn't throw things in public. What he did was stupid. Throwing things onto a baseball field is stupid. Throwing a gopher nuzzler at 4 m.p.h. is stupid and humiliating.
He also looks like a giraffe licked his head. He should get that checked out too.
Because La Russa clearly isn't going to use Westbrook when the Cardinals are ahead, no matter by how much.
Let's think about this ... Heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, you're ahead by eight runs. You've got two more games in the next 48 hours, and your No. 4 starter is pitching the first of them. Both games will be played in one of the game's friendliest places for hitters. There is every indication that you'll need your best relief pitchers to give you some good innings, in these next 48 hours.
Given all that, would you let Lance Lynn throw (another) seven pitches in the bottom of the seventh? Would you replace Lynn with Octavio Dotel?
Tony La Russa obviously would, because he just did. You would, maybe. I would not.
I say there's little point in carrying Jake Westbrook if you're not going to use him in exactly this spot. He might not be good. But there's 99-percent chance he's good enough to not blow an eight-run lead.
Mike Gonzalez was so danged close to baseball history. So danged close. With two outs in the seventh inning, he could have tied the all-time World Series record for fewest runs allowed in an inning. It would have been an oasis of brilliant pitching in the middle of a bog of runs and offense and runs.
Then Albert Pujols had to spoil it all by hitting another bazillion-foot home run, this one to left-center field. So greedy, that Pujols.
The Pujols home run was probably the last kick to the Rangers' cadaver in Game 3. After the Cardinals extended the lead to 12-6 in the top of the sixth inning, Elvis Andrus led off the bottom-half of the inning with a single. The Texas crowd roared, thinking that the cycle of unstoppable offense was going to keep spinning.
Then Josh Hamilton hit into a double play.
Then Albert Pujols hit that bazillion foot home run.
And that sucked most of the remaining life out of the Texas crowd. It is Texas, though, so they aren't giving up entirely. They know that a couple of deep posts and a two-point conversion is all the Rangers need to get right back in this.
The assumption was that, when the Rangers and Cardinals shifted from the NL, pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium to the AL, hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark, we'd start to see a little more offense. There was, after all, a total of just eight runs scored through the first two games.
Well, through the first five innings Saturday night, there was a total of 14 runs scored. And the Cardinals only added on more in the top of the sixth.
Unfortunately for Ogando and the Rangers, he had to pitch to other guys as well, and against those other guys Ogando did much much worse. He walked Ryan Theriot to lead off. Rafael Furcal followed with a very weak ground ball that nevertheless squeaked through to the outfield. Then Craig struck out, bringing up Albert Pujols.
Note first the intended location. Now note the actual location. Ogando was trying to throw Pujols a fastball down and away, but instead he threw him a fastball up and in, and Pujols obliterated the mistake. Albert Pujols can't stand mistakes. Albert Pujols is a perfectionist, not just with himself but also with others, and whenever Albert Pujols sees anybody make a mistake, he takes it upon himself to teach a lesson.
So, 11-6. But wait! Matt Holliday followed Pujols with a grounder to short that Elvis Andrus fumbled. Then Lance Berkman singled. Then David Freese walked, and Ogando was removed in favor of Mike Gonzalez with the bases loaded. Gonzalez retired the two batters he saw, but the first of them lifted a sac fly, so it's 12-6 St. Louis going into the holy crap it is still only the sixth inning.
Fernando Salas certainly wasn't the answer. Maybe Lance Lynn is.
The Cardinals went ahead 8-3 in the top of the fifth; the Rangers made it 8-6 in the bottom of the fifth.
Salas entered relieved Kyle Lohse in the fourth, and did escape that inning without giving up any more runs, though he was certainly helped by Matt Holliday's (good) throw and Mike Napoli's (poor) slide.
Michael Young, who got the Rangers on the board with a homer in the fourth, delivered a double into the right-field corner that scored Andrus and would have scored Hamilton if Hamilton were anywhere close to 100 percent. Young's double also kayoed Salas, who was replaced by Lance Lynn.
Not that Texas was finished. Lynn struck out Nelson Cruz, but not until after Adrian Beltre's looper into left field plated Hamilton. And Mike Napoli followed Cruz with a sacrifice fly that scored Young. The inning finally ended when Lynn retired Ian Kinsler -- with the bases loaded, no less -- on a pop fly.
So here we are after five innings: Cardinals 8, Rangers 6 and it doesn't feel like this game will ever end.
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Good, right? Five scoreless appearances, with five total baserunners allowed. That's straight up Rivera-ian, except Feldman was handling a couple innings at a time.
Well Feldman's numbers ain't so pretty so more. Feldman took over for starter Matt Harrison with two outs in the top of the fourth. At that point, it was 5-0 Cardinals. Feldman returned to the mound in the top of the fifth, with the score 5-3 Cardinals. The Rangers badly wanted Feldman to come through with a shutdown inning.
Whoops! The Cardinals got back the three runs the Rangers had just scored, with Yadier Molina delivering the big blow with a two-run line drive double to left that just stayed fair. That boosted the St. Louis lead to 8-3.
No further damage was done, but while Rangers Ballpark is a hitter's ballpark, that was a demoralizing frame for the hosts.
Of players with more than 100 at-bats in 2011, only three had an OPS over 1.000: Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, and Mike Napoli, the latter of whom is playing in this World Series. So we know that Napoli hits a baseball well. Here are some things he doesn't do especially well:
1. Play first base
Most of the time, you take the bad because the bat more than makes up for it. It's not even close. Tonight, though, everything's going against Napoli. His error in the third allowed two Cardinals to score, and in the bottom of the fourth, he was at third base with one out. Ian Kinsler hit a fly ball to medium-deep left, and Matt Holliday caught it a little flat-footed.
That set up this:
Napoli runs like Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan in a sack race. That's the first problem. The second is that he slid to the inside of the plate. In the replay, you can see a Rangers player gesturing "DOWN DOWN DOWN", but the correct answer was "DOWN AND TO THE RIGHT DOWN AND TO THE RIGHT."
It's always tough to end a rally on a double play, but that one stung just a little bit more.
Not even close.
Michael Young led off the bottom of the fourth with a solo home run, just over the right-field wall.
And after Adrian Beltre singled, Nelson Cruz hit a high change-up to almost exactly the same spot.
Three batters in, and the Rangers had turned a 5-0 blowout into a 5-3 contest.
Entering the fourth inning of Game 3, the starting pitchers for both teams had combined for a sub-2.00 ERA in the World Series, threatening to completely turn around the trend that we saw in the League Championship Series.
But now Matt Harrison is gone and so is Kyle Lohse, who gave up another hit after Cruz's homer; Lohse didn't even last as long as Harrison. So with Fernando Salas taking over on the mound, it's now Cardinals 5, Rangers 3 ... and we've got another long battle of the bullpens.
It's always tough to be hyper-critical of umpires. It's easy to be critical after watching a few slow-motion replays, but things happen pretty quickly down at field level. They do the best they can, dang it.
But this was an unbelievably awful call:
That's the back-end of a double player that wasn't, and it's Mike Napoli clearly applying a tag to Matt Holliday. Clearly. The best part is Napoli tagging him on the back, and a split-second later tagging him on the back of the helmet. Nope. Safe.
After Ron Kulpa blew the call, Lance Berkman took a Matt Harrison pitch to right field for a single, and that was followed by a double from David Freese to score the ill-gotten runner. An intentional walk to load the bases -- gee, I love those -- set up a slow chopper to Napoli at first, who threw wildly to home for a two-run error.
I keep telling everyone that the Napoli trade was a mistake, but no one will listen.
I'm not sure how much of this is Matt Harrison's fault, but I'm pretty sure the answer is between "not a whole lot" and "not a whole bunch." The best defensive play of the inning came on his last play of the game, when he flipped a comebacker back to home plate for the second out of the fourth.
Harrison is out, Scott Feldman is in, and the only thing to do is feel badly for the young lefty. He deserved a little better. And this is how the Rangers feel right now:
That's about a 120-frame .gif, times 1,000 words per picture ... yeah, that's a novella, at least.
Certain things never get old for me. Thinking about Vernon Wells every single time Mike Napoli does something that resembles anything? Never gets old. In order for Mike Napoli to be on the Rangers, there needed to be someone willing to take on the Vernon Wells contract. That's insane -- who would willingly take on that contract? Yet there Napoli is, doing hitter things for the Rangers whenever he gets the chance.
The other thing that doesn't get old is thinking about the Mark Teixeira trade every time Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, and Elvis Andrus do anything of note. Without any stats to back me up, it seems like 90% of all superstar-for-prospect swaps are lucky to get just one player of quality back -- the Rangers got three. And it might not stop there, as one of the players the Rangers got from the Red Sox in the Jarrod Saltalamacchia deal had a pretty sweet year in low-A.
Harrison gave up the early home run from Craig, but he's been in command since then, striking out three without allowing a walk.
Lohse has been better at keeping runs off the board, but he hasn't been quite as sharp. He walked Ian Kinsler with one out in the third, for example, losing him on a pair of inside sinkers. But he retired Andrus on a fly ball, and Josh Hamilton on a line drive right to Albert Pujols.
If I had to guess which pitcher will leave the game with fewer runs allowed? Harrison. But which pitcher has allowed fewer runs through three innings? Lohse. Baseball's silly like that.
Kyle Lohse pitched brilliantly in the first inning, striking out two of the three Rangers he faced.
The second didn't go quite as well. Michael Young led off with a grounder to shortstop, but Adrián Beltré lined a single into right-center field and Nelson Cruz walked. But Lohse got Mike Napoli on a pop fly and David Murphy on a grounder to Pujols, and so the score remained Cardinals 1, Rangers 0.
Meanwhile, there was at least one moment of oddness in the bottom of the second, when Joe Buck described Michael Young as "the ultimate team player".
I won't argue that Young isn't a team player; he is a player, on a team. But has Buck really forgotten that Young has thrown huge public fits twice? First upon being moved from shortstop to third base, and next upon being moved from third base to a super-utlility role?
I'm not saying he didn't have good reasons for all his complaining. Maybe he did. But it seems like the ultimate team player would have said something like, "I don't care where I play, as long as I can help the team win."
Or something similar.
The postseason and especially the World Series does funny things to baseball announcers.
Kyle Lohse isn't quite as funny as he used to be. See, this is a pitcher you can make fun of:
But this isn't:
How rude. It was much funnier when he was just abysmal. Dave Duncan doesn't let us have any fun. The strikeout rate is identical, but the walk rate was almost halved. The good news for the Rangers is that they do well against "finesse pitchers":
The definition of "finesse" that Baseball Reference uses is pitchers who are in the bottom third of the league in strikeouts plus walks. That's good news for the Rangers against Lohse! The bad news: Lohse threw like a power pitcher in the first inning:
In Game 2 of the 2006 World Series, the Cardinals hit zero home runs. In Game 3, they hit zero home runs. In Game 4, they hit zero home runs. In Game 5, they hit zero home runs.
In Game 1 of the 2011 World Series, the Cardinals hit zero home runs. In Game 2, they hit zero home runs.
In Game 3, they have hit a home run. And it took them all of two batters! Rangers Ballpark, y'all.
Matt Harrison took the mound for Texas and quickly retired Rafael Furcal to lead off. The next batter was Allen Craig, and after Harrison threw a good first-pitch fastball, he threw a terrible second-pitch fastball.
Harrison missed, but Craig didn't, and the Cardinals' early top candidate for World Series MVP gave St. Louis a quick 1-0 lead.
No more damage was done in the inning, although Matt Holliday singled on a grounder the other way. Harrison threw 20 pitches in the frame, and now it's on Kyle Lohse to keep the Rangers' bats quiet in the bottom half. I am optimistic about Kyle Lohse against this team in this ballpark. I sure am.
The Cardinals get to put Lance Berkman at DH in their lineup for Game 3, which is a good thing for everyone involved. Except the Rangers.
The Texas Rangers have released their lineup for Game 3.
The World Series heads to Texas on Saturday, with the Rangers now holding homefield advantage after a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday. Matt Harrison will take the mound against Kyle Lohse of the Cardinals.
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