The St. Louis Cardinals grabbed an early advantage in the 2011 World Series by beating the Texas Rangers 3-2 in Game One.
As the scoreline suggests, it was a tight game between two evenly-matched teams.Â
One of the many baseball phrases that you hear on a regular basis is that â€œbaseball is a game of inchesâ€.Â Small margins can decide big moments in this sport and that was the case in St. Louis on Wednesday (the early hours of Thursday in the UK).
Both teams had their ace on the mound for Game One.Â Chris Carpenter and C.J. Wilson both did a decent job without being spectacular, with Wilson in particularly battling his way through while giving up six walks and a wild pitch.Â The game remained close throughout and that gave both managers the opportunity to play a leading role in the contest.
In this case, it was Tony La Russaâ€™s button-pushing that trumped Ron Washingtonâ€™s work from the dugout.
Both starting pitchers came out of the game at the same point: 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth with two out and two runners on for the Cards.Â La Russa opted to take Carpenter out of the game for a pinch hitter and Washington countered by taking the ball from Wilsonâ€™s hand and passing it on to Alexi Ogando.Â Just like in football, where a manager can look like a genius if the substitute he brings on scores the wining goal, Allen Craig made La Russa look smart as he singled home what proved to be the game-winning run.
Ogando had made two good pitches to Craig, buzzing high fastballs right past his bat, but then went low and away to the right-hander (a questionable decision in retrospect as it looked like Craig was over-matched on the high heat).Â Craig flipped the ball down the right field line and Nelson Cruz attempted to make a sliding catch.Â For a split-second, I thought he had it, but he wasnâ€™t quite able to get the glove on it and was actually lucky that the ball hit his foot, as the Cardinals may have scored more than one run on the play otherwise.Â
As it was, David Freeze came around to score to make it 3-2 and then La Russaâ€™s mix-and-match bullpen approach came into effect.Â Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Arthur Rhodes and Jason Motte combined over three innings to make the one-run lead stand up.
But those aforementioned small margins could have resulted in a very different sixth inning.Â
The Rangers went agonizingly close to taking a 3-2 lead in top of the frame.Â Michael Youngâ€™s ground ball down the right-field line was brilliantly snagged by a diving Albert Pujols, who threw the ball to Carpenter to narrowly beat Young to the bag and to leave Ian Kinsler stranded on third base.
Had Pujols not quite grabbed it, made a very rare poor throw (as he did in the first, leaving Carpenter to make an ungainly dive to tag first base with his glove), had Carpenter delayed in scrambling off the mound or even if the Rangers had received a Tigers-style lucky bounce off the base, the run would have scored and Texas may have come out on top.
Instead, Pujols and Carpenter played it perfectly, the bag didnâ€™t come to the Rangersâ€™ rescue and Ron Washington was left to have all his decisions second-guessed.
There were two questionable calls from the Rangersâ€™ dugout.
Putting on a â€˜hit-and-runâ€™ play in the first inning after Ian Kinsler had led off the game with a single was a risky move that didnâ€™t pay off. Elvis Andrus ended up swinging through a pitch low and away and Yadi Molina threw a customary bullet to second base to catch Kinsler stealing.Â It turned a promising earlyÂ position for the Rangers into a confidence-boosting, not to mention home crowd-lifting, out.
And then there was the pinch-hitting decisions in the seventh inning.Â With runners on first and second and one out, Washington opted to use Craig Gentry and Esteban German to pinch hit and both were struck out by Rzepczynski.Â
Matt Treanor had been added to the Rangersâ€™ World Series roster prior to the game primarily so that Yorvit Torrealba could be used as a right-handed bat off the bench (with Treanor being the back-up catcher if needed).Â This seemed to be the type of situation that Torrealba was there for, so it was something of a surprise to see Gentry and German used instead.Â
Washington should have confidence in using all his players â€“ thereâ€™s no point in them being on the bench otherwise â€“ and Torrealba is not exactly the second coming of Babe Ruth, but entrusting what could turn out to be two of the most crucial at-bats of the Rangersâ€™ season to Gentry and German might turn out to be a move Washington regrets.
After all of that, the Rangers still might have had a chance to tie or win the game in the ninth, but for a missed call by the home plate umpire. Replays, and FOXâ€™s â€˜Hot Spotâ€™ camera that cricket fans will be accustomed to seeing, showed that the ball hit Adrian Beltreâ€™s foot, but the umpires didnâ€™t see it and he was thrown out by the third baseman without leaving the batterâ€™s box.Â The umpires checked the ball and couldnâ€™t see any shoe polish on it, so the call was allowed to stand.Â
I expect the Rangers to be layering on the polish with a trowel before tonightâ€™s game, just in case the same thing happens again.
That umpiring call was unfortunate for Texas, but take nothing away from the Cardinals.Â They fully earned the win and will go into Game Two tonight focused on taking a 2-0 lead to Texas.
MLB International coverage
Since the sad demise of â€˜Baseball on 5â€™ at the end of the 2008 season, I have watched the last two World Series online via my MLB.TV subscription.Â Thatâ€™s much better than not being able to watch it at all, but Iâ€™ve missed seeing Jonny Gould and Josh Chetwynd in their tuxedos and watching the MLB International coverage with Dave Oâ€™Brien or Gary Thorn commentating alongside Rick Sutcliffe (in place of the FOX coverage you get on MLB.com).
This has been the first year that Iâ€™ve subscribed to ESPN America and I was delighted to see that the channel takes the MLB International feed for the World Series (as they did during the NLCS). It was great to hear Gary and Rick again, although a little sad as it brought back memories of â€˜the good old daysâ€™ when they would do a pre-game segment for the British fans while making a joke or two about Jonny and Josh.
Jaime Garcia and Colby Lewis are the probable pitchers for Game Two, with first pitch scheduled for 01.05 a.m.Â Â As always, ESPN America provides live TV coverage while BBC 5 Live Sports Extra provides live Digitial radio coverage.