World Series Game Two: Texas 2, St. Louis 1
1. As the first eight innings wore on, maybe the most difficult eight innings I’ve ever watched in person, all the things I was thinking about writing this morning were starting to erode, and the only thing I planned on putting in this report was not four things, but four words:
“Sorry about baseball, Colby.”
It was a familiar plot, Texas facing a left-handed junker for the first time and doing absolutely no damage. Jaime Garcia was special, limiting the Rangers to three singles and one walk over seven innings, fanning seven with a dazzling mix of cutters, sliders, and changeups to complement an average fastball.
Colby Lewis was virtually his equal, allowing one run (when Allen Craig got Alexi Ogando once again) on four hits and two walks in 6.2 innings, fanning four. Lewis is now 4-1, 2.22 in seven post-season starts for the Rangers the last two years, holding the opposition to a .182 batting average. The extra gear he kicks into in October has just been remarkable.
Still, in the seventh inning, St. Louis claimed a 1-0 lead, and things looked bleak for Texas.
But in the ninth, as he’s done for seven months, Ian Kinsler made things happen. Ducksnorting a 2-2 Jason Motte cutter for a leadoff single that fell between Rafael Furcal and Matt Holliday (playing very deep) despite a lot of hang time, he then narrowly stole second off Motte despite an extraordinary catch-and-throw from Yadier Molina.
Elvis Andrus’s inability to get a bunt down in that sequence turned out to be massive, as he fell behind Motte, 1-2, and proceeded to foul off a 98-mph fastball and a 95-mph fastball, watching a 97-mph heater miss inside in between to run the count to 2-2. Andrus saw his first breaking ball in the seventh pitch of the at-bat, stayed inside the ball, and rocketed a single to center.
Kinsler made a wide turn around third and was a sitting duck once Dave Anderson threw up the stop sign, but Albert Pujols (who remains hitless in the series, by the way) failed to cut off John Jay’s weak plateward throw. You could tell Jay got his hand on the side of the ball, as it had some curve action to Pujols’s glove side, ducking down and away and ultimately under Pujols. As the ball dribbled to Molina, Kinsler was able to scamper back to third base, while a heady Andrus took second on the miscue.
If Jay makes a better throw and Pujols cuts that ball off, Kinsler is very likely out and Andrus remains at first base, and everything’s different.
Thank goodness Andrus failed to execute the bunt.
Tony LaRussa, possibly outsmarting himself, didn’t leave Motte in to pitch to the ailing Hamilton (who told reporters Thursday afternoon that he’d be on the disabled list with the groin strain if this were the regular season), or to put him on first with Michael Young on deck, instead calling on lefthander Arthur Rhodes to pitch to Hamilton. One pitch, sac fly, tie game — and Andrus moved up to third.
In came righthander Lance Lynn to face Young. Another sac fly, and a Texas lead in a game that felt out of reach for eight innings despite it being tied for six frames.
After all the struggles that the Rangers have been getting from the 2-3-4 spots, those three guys did their job in Game Two — if only in the ninth inning — and in doing so the allowed the club to take advantage of the work Kinsler continues to do almost every night on offense.
2. It was an unusually subpar night on defense for Kinsler, who muffed one Lance Berkman grounder to his right and let another Berkman grounder that he’d normally smother get under him to his left. But he was on the receiving end of two crazy-great plays by Andrus ranging to his left, one that followed Kinsler’s error in the fourth and resulted in a great-looking 6-4-3 double play to erase Berkman and hitter Matt Holliday to end the inning, and the other with two runners on in the fifth and Rafael Furcal at the plate.
Furcal smoked a ball just wide of the mound on the shortstop side and Andrus laid out to snare the missile on a short hop, propping himself up just enough to free up his arm and shovel the ball with his glove 25 feet, not so much to Kinsler as to the bag, where a sprinting Kinsler grabbed the ball on the dead run as he crossed the bag with his foot a split-second before Garcia slid in safely.
It was a play that, if Derek Jeter had made it, especially in that context, would be featured in his next Gatorade commercial.
Extraordinary isn’t the right word. Not sure what is.
3. So Texas nails down its first-ever World Series road win, and in doing so turns this into a Best-of-Five, with home field advantage. Kyle Lohse (Saturday, against Matt Harrison) and Edwin Jackson (Sunday, against Derek Holland) start Games Three and Four for the Cardinals, and Texas has seen both former American Leaguers a bunch (the current roster has 72 plate appearances against Lohse, 130 against Jackson), making the prospect of facing them in Rangers Ballpark much healthier than the prescription of a finesse lefty like Garcia on the road.
Texas still hasn’t lost two straight games in nearly two months, and now it has three straight at home (Game Five will pit C.J. Wilson against Chris Carpenter), and if a Game Six is needed, there will be a Busch Stadium encore between Lewis and Garcia, with one team poised that night to win the World Series.
Stakes like that are about the only thing that could possibly make Game Six more harrowing — by which I mean sports-awesome — an experience than Game Two was.