By Steve Kallas
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There are plenty of unbelievable stories and stars in the amazing 10-9 win by the Cardinals over the Rangers in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. Lance Berkman – unbelievable with a home run here and a clutch hit there. Allan Craig – a subtle home run to make it 7-5. Albert Pujols – a huge double for his first hit (yes, with many walks) since his game for the ages. Josh Hamilton of the Rangers had his potential Roy Hobbs (dare I say, Mickey Mantle) moment – fighting off injury to hit a tie-breaking, extra-inning two-run homer.
But Hamilton’s heroism was all dashed by yesterday’s star of stars: David Freese, with both a two-out, two-strike, bottom of the ninth, two-run, game-tying triple and a game-ending, game-winning home run leading off the bottom of the eleventh inning to force Game 7.
WHAT ABOUT THE SIGNIFICANT, BUT ALREADY FORGOTTEN, PLAY IN THE BOTTOM OF THE EIGHTH?
Yeah, you won’t hear much, if anything, about this play. But it had a huge effect on the game.
Two out, bottom of the eighth, 7-5 Rangers, Yadier Molina on first, two out (this is all after Craig hit his home run to make it 7-5). Righty Gerald Laird is announced as the pinch-hitter against lefty Derek Holland. Ron Washington decides to bring in righty Mike Adams. Tony La Russa counters with lefty Daniel Descalso.
On the first pitch, Descalso hits a ground ball to short. Elvis Andrus fields it cleanly, then looks to second for the easy force. Ian Kinsler, playing Descalso to pull, has to rush to second, but he’s going to get there well in time. Inexplicably, Andrus decides to throw to first, but takes his time on the throw and it goes in the dirt. It’s scooped out cleanly but Descalso, a fast runner, beats the throw for an infield hit.
John Jay follows with a single to left but Mike Adams gets Rafael Furcal to ground out 1-3 to close out the inning. No additional run, no problem, right?
WHAT’S THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DESCALSO HIT (OR THE ANDRUS MENTAL MISTAKE)?
Well, that’s escaped many experts. But here’s how it greatly affected the game: If Descalso is thrown out (or, more likely, if Andrus just throws to second to get the force), the inning is over. Because no out is recorded on the play, not one, but two more batters come to the plate.
What does this mean in the course of this epic game?
If the out is recorded, here’s who closer Neftali Feliz faces in the bottom of the ninth: John Jay, Rafael Furcal and Ryan Theriot. The nine, one and two hitters in the order (Theriot didn’t start the game). None of them is really a threat at the plate. Pujols would have batted fourth in the inning (but only if someone had reached base).
What actually happened? Well, because of that play, Feliz has to face the heart of the Cardinals order, two, three and four: Ryan Theriot (not a threat), Albert Pujols (a huge threat) and Lance Berkman (a huge threat). Allen Craig (a threat) was fourth up in that inning and David Freese (a threat) was up fifth (rather than seventh, which is where he would have been in the order had Andrus made the easy play for the force).
That, of course, is a POTENTIAL gigantic difference BEFORE the bottom of the ninth started. And, of course, it became a REAL gigantic difference when the inning was actually played and Pujols doubled, Berkman walked and, after Craig struck out, Freese tripled (yes, a catchable but tough ball).
As another result of the two extra batters, the line-up simply turned over better for the Cardinals in the 10th and 11th innings, where the Cardinals continued to have to score to stay in the game (two in the 10th) and then had to score to win the game (one in the 11th).
With all of the heroics, it was pretty clear that this significant play would be overlooked. And while you don’t know what Feliz would have done in the bottom of the ninth against nine, one and two, as opposed to two, three and four, you don’t have to be a brain surgeon (or a baseball “expert”) to understand the significance of Andrus’ decision not to go the easy way for a force at second in the bottom of the eighth.
Just another reason why baseball is the greatest game. Yet, few understood how this non-play helped set up the major plays later in the game.
HAS RON WASHINGTON ALREADY LOST THE WORLD SERIES FOR THE RANGERS?
Quite possibly. When asked about starting Derek Holland in Game 7 of the World Series since, because of the rainout, he could now pitch on full rest, Ron Washington had a strange answer. Essentially, he said that Matt Harrison was going to start because “that’s how I’ve done it all year” and “I’m not going to change now.”
Well, that, almost inexplicable quote, might come back to kill the Rangers.
As you know, Holland pitched (maybe, but at least the equal of Chris Carpenter’s gem to beat the Phillies, 1-0) the most dominant game in this post-season, dominating the Cardinals while holding them to two hits in eight-and-a-third innings in Game 4 of the World Series. Now, with the “gift” of rain that will allow the Cardinals to start Carpenter on short rest (and he wasn’t that good against the Phillies on short rest in Game 1 – 3 IP, 5 hits, 4 earned runs, elbow problem?), this also gave Ron Washington the opportunity to start the best pitcher (so far) in this World Series on FULL rest.
Inexplicably, he announced, with strong conviction, that he was going to do it the way that he has done it all year. Which raises the question: How many times during the regular season did you have an opportunity to start a guy (who had dominated a team in a huge game) on full rest when that next game against the same team meant EVERYTHING? Answer: By definition, it hasn’t come up this year.
After all, Game 7 of the World Series only comes along once a year (if that). Hard to believe that Washington dashed that possibility by bringing in Holland for two innings yesterday.
But that’s exactly what he did.
Does this poor decision kill the Rangers’ chance to win their first World Series title?
No, but it certainly, in this writer’s opinion, hurts those chances.
What do you think? Is Ron Washington to blame? Leave a comment below.