Friday, October 21, 2011

Rangers Rally, Even Series

After eight tense innings in Game 2, Texas was on the brink of going home in an 0-2 hole, a deficit that teams overcome less than 20 percent of the time in the World Series (40 of 52, including the 2010 Texas Ranger edition, went home empty-handed).  With the temperature hovering around 50 degrees once more, the Colby Lewis and Jaime Garcia had battled through six and a half scoreless innings before, as Yogi Berra once said, it was "deja-vu all over again."  Tie game, two outs, runners on the corners, and Alexi Ogando staring down pinch-hitter Allen Craig.  Craig emerged victorious with a go-ahead RBI single under the same circumstances the day before, and the Game 1 hero came through once again by slashing another go-ahead RBI single the other way.  For the Rangers and their fans, the same thought had to be running through their minds:

We make it all the way to the World Series, and the guy who kills us isn't Albert Pujols or Matt Holliday or Lance Berkman, but Allen freakin' Craig? That's like losing to the Celtics on a Rajon Rondo three-pointer, or invading alien armies succumbing to our bacteria micro-organisms.

So although it seemed improbable, in the top of the ninth Texas was three outs away from another loss. Cardinal closer Jason Motte, sporting a perfect 0.00 career postseason ERA, was poised to notch his sixth save of the postseason, but he would have to go through the top of the order first.

And that's exactly when Texas finally snapped out of their funk and returned to life, like one of those zombies on "The Walking Dead." Ian Kinsler blooped a single off the end of his bat that found its way into no-man's land out in shallow left field, then swiped second base a la Dave Roberts in Game 4 of the '04 ALCS.  Elvis Andrus, playing the role of Bill Mueller, roped a single to center.  Kinsler was held at third, but Andrus advanced to second on the throw to the plate and all of the sudden the Rangers were in business.  Two men in scoring position, nobody out, and the big bats coming up.  Josh Hamilton, plagued with injuries and sapped of his power, managed to drive a fly ball to deep right field that plated Kinsler and moved Andrus to third.  Michael Young followed suit with a sac fly of his own, and just like that the Rangers had their first lead of the World Series.

Yadier Molina gave St. Louis a chance in the bottom of the ninth by drawing a leadoff walk from Neftali Feliz, but his potential tying run would be stranded at first as Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker whiffed before Rafael Furcal flew out to Nelson Cruz to end the game and send the series to Arlington all even at one game apiece.

Maybe this change of scenery and weather will help rejuvenate the bats, which have been awfully quiet thus far in the series.  This World Series was billed a slugfest given the contestants' unimpressive starting rotations and hard-hitting lineups, but there has been a scarcity of scoring.  Both teams have crossed home just four times each and managed only one combined home run, a two-run shot from Mike Napoli in Game 1 (no one went yard yesterday, the first homerless World Series game since Game 2 of the 2007 World Series, a match that ironically was played at Fenway Park between the mashing Rox and Sox).  Base knocks have been hard to come by as well: Texas has 11 and St Louis has a dozen through the first 18 innings of this year's Fall Classic. 

But now they'll get opportunities to feast on middle rotation starters like Kyle Lohse and Matt Harrison, so the bats can't stay silent for long. Both offenses, so prolific during the regular season, should dial up in Texas, a hitter's haven especially when compared to the more pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium.  There's simply too much hitting talent on display for every game to be a one-run pitcher's duel, and sooner or later these guys will bust out.  Plus, the DH will be in play for both sides, and hopefully the hitters are getting their timing back after the brief respite between the LCS and World Series. 

I think the next two games (before Chris Carpenter and C.J. Wilson return to the hill) will be closer to expectations, 6-4 kind of games that feature more slugging and less small ball.  I like these tight games and all, but I think we can all agree a little more offense certainly wouldn't hurt.

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