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ARLINGTON -- The greatest individual performance in World Series history wouldn't have been possible without one of the more spectacular bullpen implosions you'll see on this stage.
Even more than the threat of Albert Pujols, who can't reasonably be counted on to repeat his performance here in Game 3 of the Fall Classic, that point about the 'pen is what ought to be a worry for the Rangers as they look forward to Game 4 and beyond.
Manager Ron Washington sent five of his seven available relievers to the mound Saturday night. None came out unscathed. Scott Feldman, Alexi Ogando, Mike Gonzalez, Mark Lowe and Darren Oliver combined to allow 10 earned runs on nine hits with five walks 5 1/3 innings in the 16-7 loss.
Maybe it was just one of those nights you chalk up to the elements in a game that got out of hand. And certainly Pujols, whose record-tying three home runs all came off the bullpen, was swinging with enough authority to ambush even the most ample arms.
But what's become abundantly clear about the state of the Rangers' bullpen is that its key cog is corrupted. In a Fall Classic with such uncertainty in the rotation, Ogando is the most pivotal point man on the pitching staff, and he's bumbling in a big way.
"It's our job to make sure that his confidence doesn't wane," said Washington.
Washington, though, could be forgiven if his confidence in Ogando has waned in recent days. And if that's the case, he'll have to rethink his approach to his relief usage.
He'll also have to do so fast.
The Rangers' Game 4 starter is Derek Holland, he of the 5.27 ERA, 1.76 WHIP and .316 average against this October. Holland has gotten, on average, 10.25 outs in his four postseason starts. He's gotten through the fifth exactly once. So unless Holland changes course, the threat of Washington having to dip into his bullpen early Sunday night is a real one.
"Each time the starters go out there," said Washington, "it's important that they go deep."
It's especially important after all that transpired Saturday.
Rangers relievers had not been charged with any runs allowed in the first two games of the World Series, but Ogando showed cracks, letting an inherited runner across on consecutive nights by giving up two pinch-hit RBI to folk hero Allen Craig. And then in Game 3, everything fell apart -- for Ogando and the others.
Matt Harrison's short start -- a product not just of his own ineffectiveness but also that of the infield defense and a blown call at first base -- put Washington in a bind. For the last out of the fourth and into the fifth, Washington turned to Scott Feldman, the big right-hander who had been a lockdown arm for the better part of the second half and October.
Feldman had allowed no runs and just four hits with no walks in 10 1/3 previous innings this postseason. But he imploded in the fifth inning against the Cards, loading the bases on a single and two walks, then giving up an RBI groundout to David Freese followed by a two-run double to Yadier Molina.
In the context of what became a blowout, those runs can get lost in the shuffle. Yet they were significant, considering they came after the Rangers had responded to the Cards' four-run fourth with three runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. It was a 5-3 game when Feldman arrived and an 8-3 game when he exited. The Rangers needed a shutdown inning, and he was not up to the task.
"We all want to be good when we get in there," Feldman said. "Especially a game like tonight, where it came down to bullpen vs. bullpen, we all expect ourselves to do a better job."
Those expectations would again go unmet an inning later. And this time it was Ogando coming up empty.
Once again, the Rangers' bats atoned for some of the ills of their pitching by posting three runs in the bottom of the fifth to make it 8-6. But Ogando took all the air out of the building with a monumental mistake to Pujols. He left a four-seamer up around the letters, and Pujols absolutely crushed it for a three-run homer off the facade in left field.
The irony was that Ogando actually succeeded in retiring Craig this time around, finally mixing in his slider against him to notch a strikeout with two on. That, however, was a mere blip on the radar. Ogando had walked the leadoff man -- always a no-no -- and served up a single to Rafael Furcal to put two on. And with one out, Pujols capitalized on the opportunity -- in a big, big way.
Ogando could not be asked about the game-changing blast because, like Pujols after a Game 2 gaffe, he ducked out of the Rangers' clubhouse without talking to reporters. His teammates were left to do the talking for him.
"He's a big reason why we're here, obviously," Feldman said. "In the playoffs, he's been huge for us. Everybody is going to give up a hit or give up a run, so he'll be fine."
Ogando was the middle-inning pillar upon which the Rangers' American League Championship victory over the Tigers was built. But here in the World Series, Ogando has looked more like the fatigued and ineffective arm he was at the tail end of his first season as a starter.
"He's got great stuff, and he's the kind of guy that's getting them to the back of their bullpen and they've used him to bridge the gap between their starter and their closer," Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday said. "So it's been good that we've been able to beat him."
The beatings continued against the rest of the relievers, and the only saving grace in the blowout was that Washington didn't have to burn Mike Adams or closer Neftali Feliz, both of whom will be fresh for Game 4 after two days of rest. Still, the Rangers have seen their relievers give up 13 hits and seven walks in 10 innings over the first three games in a World Series in which the bullpens have been tested nightly.
The Rangers can't afford to let the relief woes continue. They know that from experience. The battering of the bullpen was among the many reasons they were beaten by the Giants in last year's World Series. Texas relievers surrendered 13 earned runs on 19 hits with seven walks in 13 2/3 innings of work over the course of that five-game set.
A rebuilt relief corps is a perceived strength of this Texas team. It's supposed to be separator from the squad that came up short in the Fall Classic one year ago.
But the Rangers are trending in the wrong direction in the bullpen department. And the Ogando trend, in particular, is unsettling.