For the first time in eight years, the World Series comes down to a best-of-three. A few thoughts and observations on the Cardinals-Rangers battle:
• If there’s been a better defensive play by a pitcher in World Series play than the diving catch-and-putout by Cardinal ace Chris Carpenter in the first inning of Game 1, it happened before 1979, when I started paying attention. Not known for his athleticism, Carpenter made a dive — to catch an errant throw from Cardinal first-baseman Albert Pujols — that would impress Ozzie Smith, then narrowly avoided catastrophe when Texan runner Elvis Andrus brought his foot (and 200 pounds) down inches away from Carpenter’s pitching hand, curled near his body atop the first-base bag.
• “Courage” is an overused word when describing the feats of pro athletes, but Ranger second-baseman Ian Kinsler displayed a surplus in the ninth inning of Game 2. With his team down a run, three outs from a two-game deficit, and in clear view of Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina (a right-handed batter was at the plate), Kinsler took off for second base. Remember, Kinsler had been gunned down by Molina in Game 1. This time, Kinsler beat Molina’s throw by the length of his ring finger. Two batters later, he scored the tying-run on a sacrifice fly. Somewhere, Whitey Herzog — the maestro of “small ball” — had to be smiling, even if it hurt.
• After two days of reading and hearing his leadership called into question, Albert Pujols put St. Louis on his back in Game 3, becoming only the third player to hit three home runs in a World Series game (and only the second to deliver five hits). You have to wonder if Pujols was fueled by the national criticism over his leaving the Cardinal clubhouse before speaking with the media after Game 2. Unlikely. He was brought back to earth by Ranger hurler Derek Holland in Game 4. The word “Pujolsian” will soon make its way into the baseball lexicon, much as “Ruthian” did in the 1920s. When it does, Saturday’s game in Texas will be the point of reference.
• Baseball remains the most unpredictable game on the planet. A day after the Cardinals knock the ball around like the 1927 Yankees, a pitcher who sported an 8.59 ERA in the ALCS shuts them down, giving up only two hits (to the same batter) over 8 1/3 innings. Holland’s outing must have Texas manager Ron Washington regretting the decision to send Matt Harrison to the hill for Game 3. If the Series goes the distance, Harrison would be on schedule to pitch Game 7 Thursday night, unless Washington chooses to send Holland to the mound on short rest. The nightmare scenario for St. Louis is a rainout that postpones a Game 7 to Friday, in which case Holland could return on full rest.
• Among the recent Memphis Redbirds to play a part in the Series — Allen Craig, David Freese, Jon Jay — the best story may be Lance Lynn. The 24-year-old righty started 12 games for Memphis this season, going 7-3 before earning his first promotion to the big club. Having recovered from an oblique injury, Lynn narrowly made the Cardinals’ postseason roster. But in Game 3 Saturday night, with the game taking on the look of slow-pitch softball, Lynn managed to get seven outs while giving up only one run. If the Series goes to a decisive seventh game, Cardinal manager Tony LaRussa should consider starting Lynn over the struggling Kyle Lohse. It’s just a matter of time before Lynn is starting in the St. Louis rotation. Why not now?
• Watching Ron Washington’s exuberance in the dugout when the Rangers rally is infectious. He manages the game the way I would, the way my baseball-loving friends would, the way, yes, a child would. With joy. He won’t win as many games as Tony LaRussa or as many championships as Joe Torre, but no manager, I’m convinced, will have more fun on baseball’s biggest stage than Ron Washington. He’s healthy for a game that needs an infusion of emotion now and then.
• Dirk Nowitzki of the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks threw out the first pitch before Game 3 in Arlington. In case you were wondering, the last time the same metropolitan area could claim both the NBA and World Series champion was 2002, when the Los Angeles Lakers won their third straight crown and the Anaheim Angels won their first Fall Classic.