World Series 2011 Game Five: Rangers are one win away from glory

The Texas Rangers stand one win away from capturing the 2011 World Series.

Their 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Five gives them a 3-2 series advantage as the Fall Classic takes a day off before resuming in St. Louis in the early hours of Thursday UK time.

Game Five marked the final contest at Rangers Ballpark in 2011, but it felt as if the game was being played in Bizarro Land rather than Arlington.

It was a confounding blend of incidents and strange tactical decisions, enough to leave anyone with their head spinning.  The effect was probably even more pronounced from this side of the pond. 

Watching the game in the early hours after limited sleep from the previous two nights made me question whether I could trust my eyes or if I had dozed off and started dreaming. The bemused comments on Twitter at the time were enough to make me realise that it was all really happening.

The most bizarre moment had to be Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn’s contribution with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning.  Manager Tony La Russa called him into the game, ordered him to intentionally walk Ian Kinsler and then called for Jason Motte to relieve Lynn. 

La Russa is well-known for mixing and matching his relievers, bringing pitchers into the game for quite specific roles. I could imagine the British press re-using their nickname for ex-Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri and referring to him as ‘Tony the Tinkerman’, if they were the least bit interested in covering baseball.  La Russa will use a LOOGY from time to time – a lefty one out guy – which is quite a specialized role, but using a pitcher simply to issue an intentional walk is taking the approach to the extreme.

It turns out that his use of the bullpen in Game Five was hampered by miscommunication between himself – or pitching coach Dave Duncan – and the bullpen which meant that Jason Motte wasn’t ready to pitch when La Russa wanted to turn to him.  So he wasn’t intentionally creating a new pitching role, which is a shame in some ways as I had come up with a name for it (IBBM – pronounced ibbum – for intentional base on balls man).   

We didn’t know this at the time, so were left shaking our heads at the strangeness of it all; expressed particularly well by Gary Thorne and Rick Sutcliffe on the MLB International commentary.  They didn’t actually say ‘what the hell is La Russa doing, has he gone completely mad’, but you could tell that was what they were thinking. 

The effect was enhanced by the camera focusing on Cardinals reliever Octavio Dotel, who couldn’t hide his astonishment while looking on from the dugout.  Dotel had himself been asked to issue an intentional walk earlier in the inning and made four incredibly shaky throws that left catcher Yadier Molina needing all his catching talent to snaffle them.  One thing’s for sure: if La Russa ever uses an IBBM again, he won’t be calling on Dotel. 

The Rangers’ manager Ron Washington called for four intentional walks making six overall in the game.  Three of Wash’s walks were reserved for Albert Pujols, one of which coming after Allen Craig was caught trying to steal second base.  That was another decision that had everyone scratching their head.

After the game, Albert Pujols admitted that he had called for a hit-and-run only to then let the pitch go by, leaving Craig a dead-duck.  La Russa then put on the hit-and run-play in the same situation in the eighth inning, only for Pujols to strike out swinging and Mike Napoli to peg a perfect throw to second base to complete the strike him out, throw him out double-play.

All of which made for an immensely frustrating night for Cardinals fans.

Make no mistake, the Rangers battled brilliantly with their raucous crowd spurring them on. Mitch Moreland and Adrian Beltre both went deep, the latter with one of his patented ‘don’t try this at home’ swings while on one knee, to eliminate the Cardinals’ early 2-0 lead and Mike Napoli was the hero yet again in the eighth inning when he drove in two runs.  They fought their way to a victory and within touching distance of achieving their goal.

However, the Cardinals will feel that they lost the game, rather than the Rangers winning it.  They left twelve runners on base and Craig’s two outs on the bases summed up their night.  Despite receiving a very solid start from Chris Carpenter and Rangers ace C.J. Wilson dishing out five walks over his 5.1 innings, the Cardinals couldn’t take advantage of their opportunities. 

You can’t afford to do that in any game, let alone Game Five of the World Series. 

All the Cardinals can do now is use the off-day to put this debacle behind them and focus on winning two games at home.  For the Rangers, they head to St. Louis in the wonderful position of needing only one more win to take the World Series.  If they get the win in Game Six, they will meet their President Nolan Ryan’s prediction, and more importantly mine, that they would win the series in six games

Mind you, Game Five was yet another reminder that predicting anything in this World Series is foolhardy.  Anything could happen in Game Six after this.

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  1. Rounding the Bases: A busy first week of the offseason | BaseballGB - November 6, 2011

    […] Russa’s retirement will probably scupper my hopes of anyone creating the new IBBM pitching role that his management in the World Series suggested he might take up.  The Rangers’ Ron Washington […]

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