The top 21 moments of last night’s thrilling, ugly, preposterous, hilarious, stupefying, impossible 4-2 Game 5 Rangers win, ranked in reverse order, according to a proprietary formula of leverage, entertainment value, and outcomes that couldn’t possibly be true.
21. Mitch Moreland’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad actually half-decent day. After a hot April, the Rangers first baseman fell apart. Moreland hit .241/.300/.367 in the second half, and was 2-for-23 in this year’s playoffs coming into Monday night’s game. Ron Washington started him for the first time this series in Game 4, after Mike Napoli’s ugly defensive performance at first base (following some poor first-base play by Michael Young earlier in the postseason). The alternatives were Endy Chavez or Yorvit Torrealba, so it’s not like there were any great choices for the no. 9 hitter, which is why Moreland was back out there again for Game 5. At least Moreland would do a better job catching the ball at first than Napoli or Young
except for the Skip Schumaker grounder that he booted in the second, negating a potential double play and allowing the Cardinals’ second run to score
and an admittedly bad, one-hopped backhand flip from C.J. Wilson that Moreland still ole’d into two bases for Rafael Furcal
and the very playable scoop he botched that would have completed an electrifying stop and jump-throw by Elvis Andrus deep in the hole.
It was all shaping up as another crappy Moreland performance until he annihilated a ball into the second deck to put the Rangers on the board.
20. Yadier Molina’s mind-control powers. The Cardinals catcher hit 14-hoppers not once, not twice, but thrice into the gap between short and third, collecting three singles on the night. For anyone who still believes that pitchers can control exactly where a ball will be hit, Molina’s night-long Luck Dragon slaying is required viewing.
19. David Murphy’s fine, diving catch. If the Rangers left fielder doesn’t make this play, the Cardinals take a 3-0 lead and the already painful second inning keeps going.
18. Allen Craig’s counterproductive sacrifice bunt. After Wilson’s ill-advised flip, Furcal found himself at second with nobody out in the top of the third. Craig, who’d been the early star of the series by rapping a pair of huge run-scoring singles and a long home run in his first three World Series at-bats, looked to his third-base coach — and got the signal to bunt. Tony La Russa didn’t just take the bat out of the hands of one of his best hitters in ordering the bunt. He also ensured that Ron Washington would take the bat out of the hands of his very best hitter 10 seconds later, as Albert Pujols got the obvious free pass with a runner on third and one out. In related news, the Cardinals failed to score. This would become a theme over the course of the night.
17. The Alexi Ogando Fetish. Ogando had retired just three of the 11 batters he’d faced in the World Series, just one out of seven the last time he’d pitched, in Game 3. Yet somehow, Washington went back to him for the seventh inning in a tie game. Ogando escaped without allowing a run, but only after loading the bases in the seventh, then allowing the leadoff man to reach in the eighth. Our condolences to missing-in-action setup man Mike Adams and his family. No one wants to see a loved one get abducted by a pack of renegade emus, least of all during the World Series.
15. Chris Carpenter’s incomparable potty mouth. We’ve mentioned Chris Carpenter’s propensity for dropping F-bombs during games, loud enough to sneak onto the broadcast. But the Cardinals ace set a new standard last night. After giving up Beltre’s amazing homer in the sixth, Carpenter put two men on with two outs, then had to deal with the very dangerous Mike Napoli. He caught too much of the plate, Napoli swung, drove a ball deep to center, chasing Schumaker back to the track to the 407 sign and caught! After Fox showed the replay of the catch, the camera panned to Carpenter. “Fuck yeah! Piece of shit! Fuck you!!!!!!!!” Carpenter may have been yelling at Napoli. As he described the tail end of the digestion process, he looked Napoli’s way. On the other hand, Ken Rosenthal claimed Carpenter was merely screaming at himself, as evidenced by his tirade continuing into the dugout, with more curse words and a chucked glove. Either way, broadcast gold. Though not as good as the commercial that immediately followed on the local Fox New England affiliate. After the game, we were told Fox would have exclusive coverage of one of their reporters watching the game with Carpenter’s parents in New Hampshire. Awkwaaaard.
14. Ryan Theriot’s bizarre sacrifice bunt. After Molina’s leadoff single in the eighth, Washington brought in
Arthur Rhodes Darren Oliver to face the lefty-swinging Schumaker. La Russa countered by pinch-hitting Ryan Theriot. Makes sense, play the percentages, sure. La Russa then orders Theriot to bunt. Even this, on its own, isn’t all that bad a move. We’re late in the game at this point, a tie game, one run could very well win it. But Schumaker couldn’t get the bunt down? Or hell, Jaime Garcia? With only three non-Gerald Laird players on the bench, La Russa decided to burn one of them to lay down a bunt that multiple players could have accomplished, including the guy originally slated to bat.
13. Rafael Furcal’s infuriating sacrifice bunt. The Cardinals had Wilson on the ropes in the fifth. Schumaker led off the inning with a single. Wilson then walked Nick Punto on four pitches, a jailable offense in 17 states. That brought Furcal to the plate. Though he’d been struggling during the series, Furcal was still a solid hitter facing a pitcher who’d been struggling with command all night and appeared on the verge of unraveling completely. Nursing a one-run lead, here was a golden opportunity for the Cardinals to bust the game wide open. So what did La Russa order? Another bunt! Furcal moved the runners to second and third with one out. Wilson bore down, striking out Craig on a beautiful slider. Two outs, two on, Pujols coming up — cue the intentional walk! The second time the Cardinals manager had forced his best hitter into irrelevance on the night. The struggling Matt Holliday grounded out to short, inning over. Three more men left on base.
12. Elvis Andrus’ amazing play in the eighth. With Molina on second and two outs in a tie game in the eighth, Furcal hit a ball deep into the hole at short. Andrus ranged far to his right (again), planted, then fired a laser to first to end the inning and keep the score tied. Incredibly, MLB.com didn’t post a highlight of this play, presumably because they’re bored of Andrus’ jaw-dropping defense.
11. Octavio Dotel’s complete inability to issue an intentional walk. Attempting to walk Nelson Cruz intentionally in the eighth, Dotel threw lollipops that were so bad, one of them actually bounced in the dirt, nearly skipping by Molina and causing a disaster for the Cards. This wouldn’t even be the craziest intentional walk of the night. Not even close.
10. Neftali Feliz’s bonk job. Facing Craig leading off the ninth, the Rangers gunned a 98-mph fastball and 97-mph fastball for strikes (just under 80 percent of the pitches he threw this season were fastballs). He then decided to hurl a slider (which he threw less than 5 percent of the time during the season) and bonked Craig on the helmet. No big. Tying run now comes to the plate, and it’s Albert Pujols.
9. The Cardinals’ run-scoring in this series. 3, 1, 16, 0, 2.
8. Albert Pujols’ baserunning adventures. Perhaps feeling antsy after being intentionally walked three times (more on that shortly), Pujols took off for third on Holliday’s drive to the gap in left-center then kept right on going, blowing through third-base coach Jose Oquendo’s stop sign even as Hamilton cut the ball off and fired it back to the infield. Pujols stopped halfway home, then scrambled back to third and drew a throw, allowing Holliday to cruise into second. It may not have been intentional, but it was a very effective play, one that, along with several other wacky events, nearly triggered a big inning for the Cardinals.
7. Matt Holliday’s walk in the ninth was the ninth issued by Rangers pitchers in the game, marking the 16th time a team had allowed nine or more walks in a World Series contest. All told, Cardinals and Rangers batters combined to walk 16 times in this game, six times intentionally (four of those by the Rangers). Texas had doled out just 21 intentional passes in the entire regular season, the fourth-lowest total in the majors.
6. Lance Berkman’s lack of awareness and hustle. After Holliday’s two-out walk in the ninth extended the inning, Berkman swung through strike three from Feliz. He might have made it to first base, though, as Napoli couldn’t field the ball cleanly, instead knocking it way out toward first base. Berkman failed to react for the first second or two, giving Napoli time to throw him out and end the game.
5. Allen Craig’s flights of fancy, Part 1. After rapping a one-out single against his personal batting practice pitcher, Alexi Ogando, Craig broke for second on an 0-1 fastball. The best-case scenario in that spot would have been to take the bat out of Pujols’ hands yet again, with an intentional walk following a steal. Instead, the Cardinals got the worst-case scenario: Napoli gunned down Craig for the second out of the inning. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver speculated that Pujols may have flashed the hit-and-run sign himself, which is how Craig got thrown out by a mile (with Pujols not even swinging at a pitch around his eyes). This was a charitable explanation in La Russa’s favor, particularly given what transpired a little later in the game.
4. Ron Washington really, really, really, really, really didn’t want to pitch to Albert Pujols. So much so that after Craig got thrown out, the Rangers intentionally walked Pujols for the third time in the game with two outs and nobody on base. This was the first time in World Series history that a manager had ordered an intentional walk with nobody on base. There is no run expectancy scenario that could possibly make this move make sense. But La Russa kept granting opportunities to avoid Pujols, and Washington was more than happy to seize them. The Cardinals would go on to load the bases after a Holliday single and a Berkman walk, before David Freese flied to center on the first pitch to kill the threat. Washington’s decision-making never seems to make any sense. But he still fared better than La Russa (oh, just wait), and the Rangers still find a way to win.
3. Marc Rzepczynski’s terrible luck. With runners on first and second and one out in the bottom of the eighth, David Murphy hit the most tailor-made of tailor-made double play balls, headed right for Furcal or Punto. Only Rzepczynski instinctively threw his glove at the ball, deflecting it away from Punto and resulting in an infield hit to load the bases. The Official Tony La Russa Schadenfreude Club now has its official moment of Zen.
2. Allen Craig’s flights of fancy, Part 2. After Craig’s HBP, Feliz jumped ahead of Pujols 0-2, only to see El Hambre fight back to 3-2. Down two runs, Pujols represents the potential tying run. Craig’s run means absolutely nothing. So what does La Russa do on 3-2? He sends Craig running to second. Pujols swings and misses on a fastball out of the zone, and Napoli shoots down Craig trying to steal for the second time. The third-winningest manager of all time apparently lost his mind. But wait, it got worse.
1. Bullpenphonegate. Napoli has been much better vs. lefties than righties in his career, hitting a very good .253/.343/.498 vs. right-handers and an off-the-charts .294/.400/.555 against southpaws. So why did the lefty Rzepczynski stay in the game to face Napoli, when La Russa could have gone instead to his closer and best reliever, Jason Motte, with the game on the line? Simple. La Russa made the right move, as he always does. But no one heard him.
According to TLR, he called down to the bullpen to order Motte into the game against Napoli. But no one heard him, presumably due to the crowd noise. With Motte not ready, Rzepczynski was forced to stay in the game. Napoli responded by crushing a two-run double that proved to be the game-winner for Texas. With the game likely decided, La Russa still had a chance to at least prevent things from getting worse. He called the bullpen again. Again, no one heard him, according to La Russa. So Lance Lynn, the right-hander who labored through 47 pitches two days ago, got the call instead. Only Lynn was never supposed to enter the game. So he faced just one batter, intentionally walked him, then got pulled. Motte finally got in the game and struck out Andrus to end the threat, but not before a mistake that may end up costing the Cardinals the World Series.
Did La Russa make a tactical error by saving his closer for a later situation and leaving in his lefty to face Napoli with the game on the line, then bringing in Lynn as a stalling tactic when he realized too late that, oh yeah, Motte should probably be in there? Or was this simply an unfortunately communication breakdown? I’d like to believe the latter. Not because I don’t think La Russa would ever want to admit that he made a mistake (or 14) in a huge game. But because the latter explanation means he apparently forgot about this amazing new technology they have now called text messaging. Not to mention semaphore, smoke signals, and any number of other ways to get someone’s attention from 375 feet away and the fate of a season hanging in the balance.
FYI, it’s Mike-Oscar-Tango-Tango-Echo. Just so you know, for next time.
Jonah Keri’s new book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First, is a national best-seller. Follow him on Twitter at @JonahKeri.
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