In an otherwise stellar World Series matchup, Game 5 was messy and confounding, albeit with a close finish. Tony LaRussa made some bad calls on the field and apparently some indecipherable calls to the bullpen. Flying in the face of Billy Beane’s famous sabremetrics approach, there were six intentional walks issued between the two teams. Only one of those runners scored. St. Louis had seven hits and an astounding nine total walks, yet could only get two runners home.
So what kept the Cardinals out of the game? Rangers starting pitcher CJ Wilson didn’t pitch particularly well. Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter actually did pitch pretty well. Only one Rangers hitter, Daniel Murphy, had more than one hit, and Murphy only had two. But two key events occurred: Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa and his staff apparently forgot their morning coffee, and Albert Pujols was essentially eliminated from the competition.
In the 8th inning, LaRussa wanted righty reliever Jason Motte to come in for lefty Rzepczynski to face the right handed Mike Napoli. But apparently he had not communicated well to his bullpen coach, because Motte had not been told to warm up yet. So LaRussa had to stick with the lefty pitcher/righty batter matchup that he did not want. Napoli then doubled in the winning runs. Calling for Jason Motte again, LaRussa’s coaches instead handed him Lance Lynn. Somehow the message to get Motte ready had still not been communicated. Surely it is grim foreshadowing when a team’s Manager finds himself standing on the mound, baffled, in the 8th inning of a World Series game. And there was LaRussa, asking Lynn ‘What are you doing out here?’ when the reliever arrived at the mound.
Perhaps this miscue, blamed on a noisy crowd that made the name ‘Motte’ sound like ‘Lynn’, will usher in some new technology to the bullpen. Maybe a text message system in the case of loud fans? Heck, how about running a batboy with a piece of paper over there? It amazes me, really. If the noise was such that the bullpen thought they heard ‘Lynn’, then it had to have been noisy enough for them to question what they heard. ‘Motte’ doesn’t sound at all like ‘Lynn’. Given it is the World Series, it might have been worth a double check.
As bemusing as the bullpen drama was, it was really only a small part of why the Cards lost the game. Honestly, as helpful as it is to play the righty/lefty percentages, there is no way to guarantee that Motte would have gotten Napoli out. And the Rangers had already taken the lead for good when Lynn was accidentally called to the mound, and they didn’t score again. The reason the Cardinals lost was the fact that they could only get two of their 16 baserunners around to home plate. And this failure was highlighted by the complete neutralization of Albert Pujols.
Pujols came to the plate five times during the game, four of those with runners on base. Two of the at bats with runners on were ruined by the Cardinals themselves, and in the other two the Rangers simply walked him intentionally. The first came in the 3rd inning, with one out and a runner on third. Pujols was intentionally walked, to be doubled up moments later on a Matt Holiday grounder.
In the 5th inning and the score 2-1 in favor of the Cards, Skip Schumaker singled and Nick Punto walked. With two on and nobody out, Rafael Furcal bunted Schumaker and Punto up one base a piece. The next batter, Allen Craig, struck out, leaving first base open to walk Pujols. I have heard some analysts say that the Furcal bunt took the bat out of Pujols’ hands, but really it was a reasonable move by LaRussa, as it erased the concern of an inning-ending double play grounder. If Craig had even so much as flied out to right field and a run had scored, nobody would have questioned the bunt. Nonetheless, the result was no swings for Pujols.
In the 7th inning, the score 2-2, Furcal struck out and Allen Craig walked. Pujols came to the plate, and in an odd turn of events, watched as Craig took off from first, only to be nailed at second base by Rangers’ catcher Mike Napoli. FOX tv broadcasters Joe Buck and Tim McCarver could only assume that Pujols himself had called for the hit-and-run, only to be foiled by a pitch so far out of the strike zone that he could not even attempt a swing. Why else would the less than speedy Craig be running, essentially minimizing Pujols’ potential? Surely Tony LaRussa would not take the bat out of his star’s hands! Well, what happened was a mistake, wherever the blame should be placed. With two outs and nobody on, Pujols was again intentionally walked.
The Cardinals experienced some nightmarish deja vu in the 9th inning, down by two runs with speedball closer Neftali Feliz on the mound for the Rangers. The first batter of the inning, Craig, was hit by a pitch. Things must have looked relatively good to the Cardinals at that point, with a runner on and Pujols coming up in a clutch situation. And yet, a headshaking turn of events left the bases cleared with two outs. With two strikes already against him in the count, Pujols forced a bad swing on a pitch far outside the strike zone in an attempt to protect the running Allen Craig. Unbelievably, the Cards had again tried the hit and run. Why on earth they would hit and run instead of letting their slugger potentially tie the game on one swing is beyond me. At the very least they should have tried it earlier in the count, protecting Pujols from the strikeout. As it was, Craig was nailed at second, again, by Napoli. The game was effectively over.
Ron Washington couldn’t have dreamed of an easier road to victory. Every scenario worked to remove Pujols from the Cardinals offensive equation, and the other Cardinals hitters, when faced with a clutch at bat, managed to strikeout or ground into a double play.
On an entirely different note, I have grown to not mind the rambling of Tim McCarver in the broadcast booth. At this point, his mispronunciations and incorrect interpretations sound like the kindly, erroneus chatter of a grandpa in storytelling mode. He is, after all, 70 years old now. And I have become numb to the edge on Joe Buck’s voice.