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La Russa’s moves pay off, Cards win Series opener

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Ben Walker
October 20, 2011
— Texas manager Ron Washington joked about not being able to match wits with Tony La Russa.

No joke.


Who can, these days?


The St. Louis boss looked like a genius once again in Game 1, especially when Allen Craig pinch-hit for ace Chris Carpenter and delivered a go-ahead single that sent the Cardinals past the Texas Rangers, 3-2, on Wednesday night.


Craig’s slicing hit with two outs in the sixth inning fell inches in front of sliding right fielder Nelson Cruz. Game 1 was just that tight throughout a cold, damp evening.


It was a game perfectly suited for La Russa—lots of bunts, intentional walks and pitching changes. And in a postseason in which he’s made all the right moves, the 67-year-old manager was at the top of his game.


“It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out,” Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman said. “But I feel like we have to win the National League-style games if we’re going to win this thing, and tonight was a National League-style game—3-2, good pitching, good defense, timely hitting.


“I don’t think that we want to get into a gorilla ball-type series with these guys. We’ll see what happens when we add the DH and go to the American League ballpark, but I think when we have the National League style and we have the advantage we have to capitalize.”


The Cardinals did, barely. A sliding stop by first baseman Albert Pujols helped prevent Texas from taking the lead on Carpenter’s final pitch in the sixth.


Game 2 is tonight, with Jaime Garcia starting for the Cards against Colby Lewis. Texas has not lost two straight games since Aug. 23-25.


In a postseason where St. Louis and Texas starters have struggled, Carpenter and C.J. Wilson each pitched well enough. They both left in the bottom of the sixth when the managerial wheels started to spin.


It was 2-all when the Rangers worked around eighth-place hitter Nick Punto with a four-pitch walk that put runners at the corners with two outs.


“I know they had either Carpenter coming up or a pinch-hitter, and with (Alexi) Ogando warming up behind me, I have confidence that he’s going to come in and get that guy out,” Wilson said.


La Russa did not hesitate, pulling Carpenter and sending up Craig, a versatile player who was injured for much of the season. Washington countered by bringing in hard-throwing reliever Alexi Ogando.


La Russa liked Craig’s chances.


“Cold weather game, sitting on the bench, Ogando. It’s not a very good situation,” La Russa said. “But he’s got a history in our system. That’s why we like him so much. He should have a really good career.”


All the pieces in place, it was time to play—and what followed was the play of the game.


Craig swung through two fastballs, then hit a drive toward the right field line. Cruz tried to make a sliding catch, except the ball bounced just before it reached him and thudded off his left leg for an RBI single.


Craig’s single scored NL championship series MVP David Freese, the St. Louis area prep star who led off with a double. Freese has hit in 11 straight postseason games.


“Man, he’s tough,” Craig said of Ogando. “He came right at me with fastballs, and I missed the first two. Then that last one I was trying to get the barrel on it, make the defense make a play. Fortunate, kept it fair, and Cruz made a great attempt on that. It was a great play all-around.”


Ahead, La Russa coaxed three scoreless innings from his deep bullpen. Five relievers did the job, with Jason Motte closing for his fifth save of the postseason.


This was the first time Texas had ever played in St. Louis. Yet Josh Hamilton, Cruz and the big-hitting Rangers looked a lot like the team that fizzled at the plate in last year’s World Series against San Francisco.


Each team wound up with six hits. The wild-card Cardinals just did more with them.


Berkman put St. Louis ahead with a two-run single in the fourth. Mike Napoli tied it with a two-run homer in the fifth.


Carpenter earned his eighth postseason win, breaking the team record he shared with Bob Gibson.


Cardinals relievers Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Arthur Rhodes and Motte finished.


Wilson fell to 0-5 in his last seven postseason starts, dating to last year.


The Texas lefty recently spent 2½ minutes in a Dallas cryotherapy chamber, where liquid nitrogen lowered the temperature to 295 degrees below zero trying to speed body recovery. It was a bit warmer at the ballpark, at 49 degrees for the first pitch.


Wilson became the first pitcher to lose an All-Star game, an AL division series game, an AL championship series game and a World Series game in the same year, STATS LLC said.



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