Sunday, October 23, 2011

Offenses Explode, Cards win Slugfest

After a pair of pitching duels in St. Louis, several baseball pundits (myself included) believed there was a good chance Game 3 would finally feature the offensive fireworks we expected from the two slugging contestants in this year's Fall Classic.  These two lineups were like dogs that hadn't been fed or seen the sun in a week, clawing to bust out of their cages, and last night the doors swung open and they both went wild.

The telling stat for Game 3 is the number two, as in the number of scoreless innings (the second and third) that show up in the box score.  Because if you look at the other seven innings, you'll find numbers that make you wonder if Ron Washington and Tony LaRussa shut down their bullpens and tried to neutralize the opposing lineups themselves (I'm kidding, of course; both pens got a full night's work after both starting pitchers left during the fourth inning). 

For the game's first third it looked like we were in for another low-scoring affair on a warm, windless night in Arlington.  Allen Craig, who's single goal in life is to break up tied games, did so for the third straight night with a go-ahead solo home run in the top of the first off Matt Harrison, who was chased from the game when the Cards scored four off him in the fourth.  Texas immediately returned the favor by sending Kyle Lohse to an early shower when they began their half of the fourth with a Michael Young home run, Adrian Beltre single, Nelson Cruz (naturally) home run, and a Mike Napoli single. Fernando Salas, on in relief, escaped a runners on the corners, one out jam when Napoli, whose lack of speed rivals Kevin Millar, got gunned down at the plate by Matt Holliday after attempting to score on an Ian Kinsler fly ball down the left field line.

That play seemed to signal a shift in momentum, as St. Louis began to pull away began to pull away afterwards.  They tagged Scott Feldman for three runs in the fifth to push their lead to 8-3, and then responded to another three-run rally by the Rangers with four runs of their own off Alexi Ogando in the top of the sixth.  Redbird relievers Lance Lynn, Octavio Dotel and Mitchell Boggs proceeded to suppress the Texas sluggers, permitting just one Ranger run over the final four frames while St. Louis tacked on four more insurance runs to make the slugfest a 16-7 laugher.

But in a game with 23 runs, 17 singles, five doubles, six long balls, and every starter not named Jon Jay spending time on the basepaths, the day belonged to Albert Pujols, who tied a World Series record by slamming three home runs as part of his 6-4-5-6 box line.  Even more impressively, he turned the trick in his last three at-bats of the evening, victimizing Ogando, Mike Gonzalez and Darren Oliver in consecutive trips to the plate.  The Machine had a disappointing regular season in his contract year, but the 31 year-old slugging free-agent-to-be is quickly erasing any doubt that he might be declining with a monster postseason that rivals anything Carlos Beltran, David Ortiz, Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth ever accomplished.  Phat Albert has always feasted off enemy pitching in October, but he's turned these games into his own personal batting practice session.

Texas needs to find a way to keep him in check during Game 4, but you can't just pitch around him with Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman waiting on deck and in the hole.  Derek Holland will have to find a way to cool his red-hot bat tonight, or else the Rangers could be looking at another early exit from the Fall Classic.

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