Cardinals trending down in see-saw Series
Texas wins strategic battle, pushing NL champs to the brink
ARLINGTON -- A ton of blown opportunities, miscommunications and a jarring 4-2 setback.
Can it get any worse for the St. Louis Cardinals?
The magic they used to improbably win the National League Wild Card and propel themselves to their 18th World Series has gone up in smoke.
Ever since Albert Pujols staged the greatest single performance in World Series history in Saturday night's 16-7 annihilation of the Rangers, the Cardinals have tripped all over their success.
Monday night at Rangers Ballpark, St. Louis repeatedly was unable to come up with key hits, and manager Tony La Russa had issues making a phone call to his bullpen to summon Jason Motte, whom he wanted to face eventual hero Mike Napoli.
Meanwhile, the Rangers have picked up the pieces from Saturday night's debacle and are now just one victory from their first championship.
Maybe Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, the president of the Rangers, had it right when he predicted his team would take home the Tiffany trophy in six games.
They'll try to pull that off as the best-of-seven tournament shifts to Busch Stadium for Game 6, with St. Louis' Jaime Garcia dueling Texas' Colby Lewis.
The Rangers followed Sunday's 4-0 shutout victory in Game 4 with Monday night's dramatic come-from-behind triumph, and have quite simply outplayed the Cardinals.
Talk about a team of destiny. If it was St. Louis coming in, the tag may belong to Texas going out.
Anybody who thought the Rangers were finished after they were blown out in Game 3 was dead wrong. With Monday night's Game 5 victory, Texas joined the 2002 Angels as the only teams in World Series history to rebound with consecutive wins after a loss in which they allowed 15-plus runs.
Speaking of which, this 107th World Series has had so many twists and turns, it would be a shame if it didn't go the distance, like Angels-Giants in 2002.
The Cardinals were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position on Monday night and stranded 12 runners on base. Their futility at the plate kept Chris Carpenter from earning a deserved victory. He gave up just two runs -- both on homers -- during seven strong innings and left with the score tied at 2.
Rangers manager Ron Washington has said he cannot win a chess game with the legendary La Russa, but his strategy was flawless in this game.
Pujols, who blasted three homers among his five hits and six RBIs on Saturday, was walked intentionally three times Monday night.
The Cardinals had taken a 2-0 lead in the second and were attempting to build on it in the third. With Rafael Furcal on third and one out, Pujols was issued his first free pass. Struggling left fielder Matt Holliday promptly bounced into a double play.
In the fifth, with the Cards holding a 2-1 lead, runners were on second and third with two outs. Once again, Washington ordered Pujols intentionally walked. Holliday grounded out to end the threat.
In the seventh, with the score tied at 2, Allen Craig walked, but was easily thrown out attempting to steal second base with Pujols at the plate. Pujols was then intentionally walked for a third time, though the bases were empty and the count was 1-1.
On Craig's attempted steal, La Russa said: "It was just a mix-up, and on our team, nobody gets thrown under the bus. It was a mix-up, and that's all I'm going to say."
"I certainly wasn't going to push Craig to second base," Washington said. "So once first base got cleared up, then I put him on first base."
In the eighth, the Rangers loaded the bases against left-hander Marc Rzepczynski when the right-handed-hitting Napoli came up.
It was here that the miscommunication between La Russa and the bullpen became one of the biggest issues of the night.
Napoli doubled to right-center, two runs scored and the Rangers were en route to victory.
La Russa said he wanted Motte to pitch to Napoli.
"Twice, the bullpen didn't hear Motte's name [over the phone]," La Russa said. "They heard 'Rzepczynski,' and they didn't get Motte up. So I called back for Motte, and they got Lynn up. I don't know if it was noisy, probably real noisy. They just didn't hear the second time."
So the righty Motte didn't face the righty Napoli.
Regardless, the Rangers got key hits when they needed them. The Cardinals, the best-hitting team in the National League this season, didn't.
"You know, the same guys that produce offense one day that don't produce the other day, they don't stink," La Russa said. "We have really good hitters, so if somebody gets them out, give credit to the pitchers. We didn't play perfect at times. So give the other guys credit. I do."
Cold, rainy weather is forecast in St. Louis, a drastic contrast to the comfortable nights in Texas. The Cardinals are more accustomed to bad weather, which could be a plus for Game 6.
The Rangers were able to redeem themselves after Saturday night's loss.
If the Cardinals have any intention of salvaging this World Series, they have to do the same thing.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com; he's covering his 47th World Series. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.