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Super Saturday afternoon slate in wild card races

By Mike Harrington

Today is game 161, the second-last day of the season. Here's our playoff update:

AL divisions/homefield: The Red Sox have a magic number of one to wrap up the top seed after Friday's 12-3 win over the Orioles and would thus meet the wild card winner in the division series. The Tigers would play the A's in the other series, with Oakland having home-field advantage.

AL wild card: Everyone is in action early this afternoon, with Texas hosting Los Angeles at noon, Cleveland at Minnesota at 1 and Tampa Bay at Toronto at 1. The Rays' 6-3 loss in Toronto Friday night dropped them into a tie with the Indians at 90-70, while the Rangers' win over the Angels pushed them to 89-71. Cleveland has won eight in a row, Texas has won five straight and Tampa Bay's loss Friday snapped a seven-game winning streak. All finishing very strong.

NL divisions/wild card: The Cardinals clinched the Central with Friday's win over the Cubs and are tied with the Braves at 95-65. The Dodgers (92-68) will be the No. 3 seed. The Pirates have a two-game lead on the Reds with two to play after Friday's 4-1 win in Cinci and need just one more win to clinch homefield against the Reds in the wild-card game. 

Pettitte's farewell: Nothing involving any of the races going on tonight, with the most significant game being the Yankees' 7:05 contest at Houston on YES. It will be the final start in the career of left-hander and suburban Houston resident Andy Pettitte, as John Harper sets the stage in today's New York Daily News and Ken Davidoff offers a similiar-scene setter in the Post. 

Quick thought: Doesn't Joe Girardi have to send Mariano Rivera out to pull Pettitte tonight?

Playoff scenarios for the final weekend of the season

By Mike Harrington

Games 160-161-162 will be played this weekend and there are plenty of things up for grabs. The quick list:

AL East -- The Red Sox have wrapped it up. Their magic number over Oakland to finish with the best record is 2 (Boston is at Baltimore this weekend while Oakland is at Seattle). The A's have the tiebreaker edge.

AL Central/AL West -- The Tigers and A's have already clinched divisions and will meet in the division series for the second straight year if the Red Sox finish with the best record.

AL wild cards -- Tampa Bay (90-69) leads Cleveland (89-70) by a game, with the Rays in Toronto and the Indians in Minnesota. Texas (88-71) is a game back and hosting the Angels. 

If Tampa Bay and Cleveland finish tied, the Rays would host the wild card game by virtue of their regular season record. MLB announced the following scenario today if all three teams finish tied: The Indians would host the Rays on Monday, with the winner getting one berth. The losing club would then play Tuesday in Texas, with the winner of that game getting the other wild card.

A big developing story from the Indians is that bedraggled Cleveland closer Chris Perez has apparently lost his job, with reporters in Minneapolis saying former staff ace Justin Masterson said before tonight's game he may be part of a closer-by-committee solution. Manager Terry Francona was non-commital to Perez after the Twins got four ninth-inning runs off him Thursday night. Perez is 1-1 with a 7.52 ERA and three blown saves since Aug. 1

NL divisions: The Braves (94-65) and Dodgers (91-68) have clinched while the Cardinals (94-65) have a magic number of 1 heading into tonight's home game against the Cubs. They would also clinch if the Pirates lose at home against the Reds. Atlanta owns a tiebreaker edge for homefield and it's a huge difference because the Braves enter tonight an MLB-best 54-24 at Turner Field.

NL wild card: The Pirates and Reds are meeting in Tuesday's NL one-game showdown. It's just a question if the game is at PNC Park or Great American Ballpark. The teams are meeting this weekend in Cincinnati and whoever takes two out of three games gets to host the playoff, which will be the Pirates' first postseason game since 1992.

From the archives: Links to today's baseball memories

Roberts
Dave Roberts' famous steal of second in the 2004 ALCS (Getty Images).


By Mike Harrington

I'll be joining Dave Roberts and Ernie Young tonight in the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame, and be sure to read my column in today's editions about my top memories on the Bisons/MLB beat the last 20 years. 

I also wrote a story today about Young's memories of Buffalo and Sunday's Inside Baseball column featured a chat with Roberts on his famous stolen base with the Red Sox in 2004. 

Want even more reading material? Jerry Sullivan wrote this column on Young after the 2000 Olympic gold medal game in Australia, four years before he joined the Bisons.

As for my memories list, here's a look back to the stories I produced on the scene at each of the moments in the article: 

1. Yankees-Arizona World Series Game 7 in 2001 -- Luis Gonzalez's game-winner.

2. 2004 ALCS/World Series -- Red Sox beat Yankees and Cardinals
    Game Seven of the ALCS        Game Four of the World Series 

3. Bisons 1997 clincher at Iowa --- Story one: Recap of Sean Casey's home run   Story two: Torey Lovullo presenting Bob Rich the game ball 

4. 2004 IL finals Game Four -- Bisons win title at home

5. 2007 Cleveland Indians -- A feature heading into the postseason

6. 1998 Bisons clincher -- Game Five in Durham

7. 2000 Subway Series -- Story one: The crazy Piazza press conference the day after BatGate. Story two: The Yankees' Game Five clincher. 

8. 2008 All-Star Game -- A web-only version filed at 3 a.m.

9. 2011 World Series Game Six -- Some scorebook pencils bit the dust in the 10th when the Cardinals tied it again.

10. 1995 ALDS Game One -- Ex-Bison Tony Pena sends us home at 2:08 a.m.

What didn't make my cut? Some pretty good ones.

There was Jeff Manto's three-homer game in 1997, the Bisons' 19-inning loss to Scranton in Game Five of the IL semifinals two nights before 9/11, Roger Clemens' one-hitter at Seattle in the 2000 ALCS, the opener at new Yankee Stadium in 2009, Stephen Strasburg's visit to Buffalo in 2011 and my chat with Hall of Famer Bob Feller during Strasburg's outing in Cleveland two weeks later, and last year's Triple-A All-Star Game in Buffalo.

(Bartolo Colon's no-hitter here in 1997 is not on any list because I was off that night, although I was in the ballpark to witness it.) 

Live from Busch: This is it -- It's Game Seven

ST. LOUIS -- Welcome to the ultimate game. Cardinals. Rangers. Game Seven. A first for MLB since 2002. The third for me (Diamonbacks-Yankees in '01, Giants-Angels in '02). It's an incredible moment to be a part of on one hand. And then on the other, you say to yourself: How can we possibly top last night? Well, we're going to try. 

BookIII don't have a lot of pithy, memorable things to say at this point in the wake of Game Six. When you have about four different stories slowly go to their extinction before your eyes, it takes the 2:30 a.m. postgame cab ride back to the hotel to really process everything that happened. Especially in a game like that where so much went on.

How much went on? The picture at left is my scorebook from last night. Just the Cardinals half. Everyone has a style and this is how I actually keep track of things. Click on the pic for a better look. I keep 'em all for posterity. Call me a packrat but they're fun to look at during the cold winter months.

Speaking of cold, not much here. The temperature is currently 51 degrees. Skies are clear. The flags are basically limp. MLB made the perfect call not trying to play through the rain Wednesday night. By waiting a day, they got two days of flawless weather that had no impact on the games. It's probably going to be the thought process going forward.

Be sure to read my posts from today's pregame press conferences recapping the managers' thoughts on Game Six and their look-aheads to Game Seven.

Tony La Russa press conference notes here

Ron Washington press conference notes here.

Onward.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

The lineups look like this:

Texas: Kinsler, 2b; Andrus, ss; Hamilton, cf; Young, 1b; Beltre, ss; Cruz, rf; Napoli, c; Murphy, lf; Harrison, p
St. Louis: Theriot,  2b; Craig, lf; Pujols, 1b; Berkman,  rf; Freese, 3b; Molina, c; Furcal, ss; Schumaker, cf; Carpenter, p

Top 1st: The crowd is roaring and twirling their white towels as Carpenter throws the first pitch, a ball to Kinsler, at 7:05 CT. The temperature is 50.

End-1st: Apologies for the absence as I was experiencing some techno trouble. It's all fixed and I was multi-tasking anyway watching another boring inning in this series. Hope you saw the sarcasm there. It's 2-2 through one and you have to wonder how long either starter will last unless they figure things out quick.

Freese Gm7 2bThe first four Texas batters reached base and only Kinsler getting foolishly picked off first by Molina saved a bigger inning. Hamilton and Young posted back-to-back RBI doubles to right (Hamilton's was a screamer down the line past Pujols and Young's was a blooper in front of Berman) to score the Texas runs. Harrison got the first two Cardinals but found big trouble when he walked Pujols and Berkman.

Freese, who has quickly worked into the MVP talk,  worked the count full and then pounded a two-run double up the gap in left-center (left) on a 93-mph fastball as the place went crazy. The inning ended only when Molina took Hamilton to the wall in dead center, where a half-jump hauled in the final out. Game tied 2-2. Carpenter threw 18 pitches while Harrison threw 26 (only 11 strikes). The inning took 24 minutes. Get comfortable,  folks.

End-2nd: We remain at 2-2. The Cardinals don't score and that snaps their streak of five straight innings with runs on the board. Some stat notes -- Freese sets the all-time postseason record with 21 RBIs, snapping the mark of 19 set in 2002 by Scott Spiezio of the Angels. And this is the first Game Seven in Series history that both teams scored more than once in the first inning. (Thanks to Elias/ESPN).

Cruz wallEnd-3rd: Advantage, Cardinals. Carpenter has steadied himself by allowing just one hit the last two innings and the Cardinals have taken 3-2 lead on Craig's one-out solo home run, an opposite-field drive into the Cards' bullpen in right. Cruz tried to climb the wall (right) to no avail. Hey,  where was that wall climb in the ninth inning last night? Craig's third of the series, tying Pujols for the lead. Who had Allen Craig in your most HRs in the World Series pool? Thought so. Through three: Harrison 54 pitches, 31 strikes. Carpenter 51-25.

Mid-4th: Carpenter set the Rangers down in order and that keeps Harrison in the game. Napoli struck out and Murphy grounded out. So with two out and nobody on base, Harrison hit for himself and struck out swinging. C.J. Wilson had been warming in the Texas bullpen but he sat down when neither of the first two Rangers got on base.

End-4th: Harrison keeps it a one-run game despite giving up singles to Molina and Furcal, who is 2 for 2 in the No. 7 hole after entering the game 3 for 25. But with runners at second and third and two out, Carpenter could not help himself as he popped out to Cruz in right. Harrison at 77 pitches through four, so how much longer does he go? Cards still lead, 3-2.

Mid-5th: We're halfway home and the Cardinals lead, 3-2. Feldman coming in to pitch for Texas. Remember when I wrote the other day that Ron Washington was winning the chess match? Now La Russa did fall apart in Game Five but other than that I take it back. All of it.

Why in the world are the Rangers bunting with the top of their order down a run on the road in the fifth inning? Didn't Washington come from the Moneyball A's who said don't bunt. He's even seen the movie. He's portrayed in the movie! So why is Andrus sacrificing after Kinsler led off with a single. Stupid. Inning then falls apart as Freese makes a great catch of Hamilton's foul popper into the camera well off third and Young strikes out, prompting a fist pump off the mound from Carpenter. But gee whiz, that's not the way baseball is supposed to go, Wash. 

End-5th: Good job bunting for the tie in the 5th, Washington. Now you're down three because your bullpen is shot. Two runs on no hits for the Cardinals. Feldman walked two and hit a man (grazing Pujols' jersey) to load the bases. Then Molina took a cloooooooooose 3-2 pitch for a ball to force in a run. C.J. Wilson relieved and drilled Furcal on the hip to force home another run. But Wilson kept the Rangers in range by striking out Schumaker. Cards lead, 5-2. And keep in mind the home team has won the last eight Game Sevens. I'd say the American League might go all-out to win the All-Star Game next year.

Craig wallMid-6th: It's time to start counting outs. The Cardinals are nine away and fate seems to be on their side. With one out, Cruz hits a towering fly to left that just dies at the wall as Craig jumps over the fence (left) and brings it back in. Then Napoli hits a scorcher to right -- right at Berkman for the final out. Cards still lead, 5-2. 

End-6th: The Cardinals were going to pinch-hit Punto for Carpenter but it seems like he changed their minds. Carpenter hits and is back out for the seventh after a 1-2-3 St. Louis sixth.

CarpMid-7th: At God Bless America, it's still 5-2 and the Cardinals are six outs away. Carpenter was taken out (right) to a raucous ovation after a leadoff double by Murphy but the bullpen pieced together three outs, one by Arthur Rhodes and two by Octavio Dotel. Carpenter went six-plus innings and gave up two runs on six hits. Struck out five and walked two. Threw 91 pitches, 53 strikes. Incredibly gutty performance. And remember, he doesn't even go more than an inning or so tonight if there was no rainout. Seems like everything went the Cardinals' way in October other than that bullpen phone gig.

End-7th: A RBI single by Molina, giving him nine RBIs for the series, makes it 6-2 at Clydesdale video time. Rangers have middle of the order up in the eighth. Probably their last chance.

Mid-8th: Lynn gets the Rangers 1-2-3. Folks in Batavia, where he once played Class A ball,  give a cheer.  Cards have three outs to go with a 6-2 lead.

IT'S OVER: A 1-2-3 ninth for Motte and the Cardinals win it 6-2. Take the series, 4-3.

Game photos: Associated Press

Notes from Washington's pregame presser

ST. LOUIS -- Rangers manager Ron Washington was upbeat, like he always is, when he met the media late this afternoon prior to Game Seven. After his team's Game Six near-miss, Washington said he slept until 10:30 a.m. and was at the ballpark at 1 p.m. like he always is for a 7 p.m. local time start. He said his players are upbeat as well, with all kinds of music blaring in the clubhouse as normal.

Washington said everyone in his bullpen is available except for Game Six starter Colby Lewis. That includes Game Four winner Derek Holland, who went two innings of relief last night, and ace C.J. Wilson, who started Games One and Five. The Rangers' lineup includes Mike Napoli (ankle) and Nelson Cruz (groin), who were both banged up last night. It goes like this:

Kinsler, 2b
Andrus, ss
Hamilton, cf
Young, 1b
Beltre, 3b
Cruz, rf
Napoli, c
Murphy, lf
Harrison, p

Here's some comments from Washington's session:

On the Cardinals' Game Six resilience: "Two champions are playing, and last night was a contest where two champions just kept going at it, and one of them got the last blow. But there's still a game to be played. ... They just wouldn't go away, and that's the heart of a champion. We're champions, too."

Personal thoughts when told Tony La Russa said he was nervous: "Well, if Tony is nervous, then how can Ron Washington not be nervous?"

On working counts against Carpenter, who's going on short rest: "We certainly can't go into this game thinking about building up his pitch count and keep falling behind in the count against him. He let ball go, ball cross plate, in strike zone, we going to hack."

On using lefty Scott Feldman in the 10th instead of bringing back closer Neftali Feliz: "The lineup set up perfectly for lefty lefty, two lefties and a pitcher. The Lord just didn't want this game to end in six. That's all. The matchup couldn't have been better. I give [David] Descalso credit. It's my first time seeing this kid. He battles for his at bat. I give Jon Jay credit. He hit a little blooper down the line, but that happens, and they ended up driving in the tying run in that inning.

"So you've got to give everyone else that came up there credit. But it set up perfectly. We was destined to play seven games."

On Feliz's mental state: "He's very stable. We certainly didn't have to put a respirator on him. We didn't have to shock his heart back. In this game there will be days when you don't have good days, and I think if you talk to Neftali last night, he didn't feel like he it was a good day. My part, if we are in the position tonight to shut it down, I'm giving it to Neftali, and I expect him to close the ballgame down."

For the pregame thoughts from Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, go to my earlier post.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Live from Busch: Rangers go for clinch in Game Six

ST. LOUIS -- Greetings as we are back under the shadow of the Gateway Arch at Busch Stadium on a spectacular night awaiting the start of Game Six of the World Series. The Rangers lead it, 3-2, and there are no weather problems tonight in the wake of yesterday's rainout. 

StanIt's a little on the chilly and breezy side here, but nothing too terrible. And it was sunny and 60 degrees this afternoon. Too bad we don't play 1 p.m. Series games anymore like the old days! At least there's no sign of that white stuff back home that is a four-letter word beginning with 'S' that I refuse to type on a baseball blog.

Great moment here pregame as a clearly frail Stan Musial, who turns 91 on Nov. 21, is driven in a golf cart from right field to join four other Cardinals legends -- Red Schoendienst, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith -- near home plate while 2006 Series MVP David Eckstein throws the ceremonial first pitch after greeting Brock and Musial (above). But wouldn't you know it? Eckstein got the loudest applause. By a lot. Crazy kids in the stands here.

The lineups:

Texas: Kinsler, 2b; Andrus, ss; Hamilton, lf; Young, 1b; Beltre, 3b; Cruz, rf; Napoli, c; Gentry, cf; Lewis, p
St. Louis: Furcal, ss; Schumaker, cf; Pujols, 1b; Berkman, rf; Holliday, lf; Freese, 3b; Molina, c; Punto, 2b; Garcia, p

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Mid-1st: We're under way at 7:06 CT as Garcia throws a called strike to Kinsler. The breeze has definitely died down some and it's still 50 degrees at gametime. And we've already had a major moment in the game as the Rangers take a 1-0 lead but Garcia does a spectacular job minimizing damage. Kinsler walked, Andrus singled him first-to-third and Hamilton singled to right on the next pitch (only Garcia's 10th) to send Andrus first to third. But Garcia bounced back to fan Young and Beltre, the latter on a wicked 3-2 changeup, and got Cruz to bounce into a force at second to end the inning. He needed 23 pitches to get through the inning but the Rangers could have taken complete control right away and didn't. Rangers lead, 1-0.

BerkEnd-1st: See why Garcia's work was so important? The Cardinals immediately go to work to get the lead. Schumaker singles with one out (remember what I posted today about getting on so the Rangers would pitch to Pujols?) but Albert pops to right on the first pitch. Slapped his hands at first base. Just missed it. Berkman didn't miss.

On the next pitch (right), an 89-mph fastball right down the St. Louis main drag of Market Street, Berkman uncoils a no-doubter the opposite way into the seats in left-center to put the Cardinals up, 2-1. The place explodes, just as I was going to write the noise level wasn't even close to Texas. Wrong. First runs Lewis has given up in the first inning in any of his eight career postseason starts. Cardinals lead, 2-1.

Mid-2nd: Garcia is doing his best Houdini here so far. Gave up the tying run but nearly pulled another great escape thanks to the Cardinals' best defensive play of the series. Napoli led off with a full-count walk and Gentry singled him to second. That brought up Lewis and Freese and Pujols were breathing down his neck as he sacrificed. A charging Freese fielded it, double-pumped and fired to Furcal covering third. With the wheel play on, Furcal fired across the diamond to Punto covering first for the easy double play. Like we say 5-6-4s every day.

Garcia was a strike away from escaping the inning but Kinsler worked the count full and then shot a ground-rule double over the wall in left to score Gentry and tie the game. Mitchell Boggs starts warming up in the bullpen so I guess the phone works here (couldn't resist). Andrus lines out to Holliday in right, who jumps to snare it. Garcia not long for this game with 49 pitches (29 strikes) in two innings. Game tied, 2-2.

End-3rd: We're still tied at 2-2 but the big news is that Fernando Salas is coming into the game for the Cardinals to start the fourth. Tony La Russa can't wait for Garcia to find it tonight, even though the third inning was his best (strikeouts of Hamilton, single by Young and Beltre 4-6-3 double play). Garcia threw 59 pitches, 35 strikes. Pujols ended the third with a long fly ball to left that dies when it looked like it had a chance. Outside of Game Three, Pujols is 0 for 14 in the series. Bizarre.

Holliday-furcalMid-4th: Holliday gives the Rangers a Christmas gift and Texas takes advantage for a 3-2 lead. The Cardinals left fielder flubbed Cruz's routine leadoff fly ball -- looked like he yelled "you take it" to Furcal on the replay -- and Cruz got to second as Holliday let the ball tick off his glove and collided with Furcal (right). Napoli followed with an RBI single just inside the right-field line for his 10th RBI of the series. One out later, Lewis tried to sacrifice by Salas threw high to second base into CF. Napoli was in safe, but didn't slide and turned his left ankle in ugly fashion stumbling into the bag. Salas recovered, however, to get the final two outs. Let's see if the Cardinals try to bunt now on Napoli to see if he can move on that ankle. Rangers lead, 3-2.

End-4th: The Cardinals start runners, stay out of a double play and get the tying run. Berkman reached on a throwing error by Young, who corraled his grounder but threw just wide of the bag and Lewis missed covering (I'd score it E1). Holliday walked but then came through with a gargantuan takeout slide at second on a Freese grounder, nearly flipping Andrus to break up the DP. With men at the corners and a 3-2 pitch to Molina, La Russa starts Freese and Molina grounds sharply to Beltre at third. He had no play at second as Berkman scored. Punto struck out to end the inning and keep Salas in (Jay was going to pinch-hit with Lynn warming). Game tied, 3-3.

Freese  bobbleMid-5th: We're halfway home as the Rangers take a 4-3 lead on another grievous Cardinals error. It was committed by Freese, who one-handed Hamilton's leadoff pop-up in and out of his glove (left) like you'd see on the Mel Ott diamonds in Amherst. Young followed with an RBI double to left-center. Salas intentionally walked Napoli and semi-intentionally walked pinch-hitter David Murphy to load the bases for Lewis, who struck out on three pitches. Texas should be winning this one in a walk: The Rangers have had 14 baserunners but have left eight, hit into two double plays and are just 3 for 13 with runners in scoring position. Yikes.

End-5th: Lewis with a 1-2-3 inning keeps his 4-3 lead. Also means Pujols leads off the sixth with nobody on. Attendance is a ballpark record 47,325. Lynn on to pitch the sixth for the Cardinals. Assume he'll throw more than four intentional balls. Just realized Lewis hasn't given up a hit since the Berkman homer in the first. Cards have an odd linescore right now of 3-2-3.

Mid-6th: Still 4-3 through 5 1/2. Got a couple inquiries on Twitter about the Lewis at-bat and whether they should have pinch hit. Torrealba was on deck but Rangers were playing possum. I don't think Washington was taking Lewis out. But a definite dilemma for an AL manager. He had Holland warming but I think Holland is reserve for Harrison if we have Game Seven.

End-6th: Where's the full moon? The Cardinals tie it at 4-4 on a bases-loaded walk to Molina from Ogando, who relieved Lewis. But with the bases loaded, Holliday is picked off third by Napoli thanks to a great block of the bag by Beltre. Walks to Molina and Punto re-load the bases and brings in Game Four hero Holland in relief. He gets Jay to bounce back to the mound. Jay is 0 for 16 in the series. Game tied, 4-4.

Cruz HRMid-7th: And just as the Cardinals get back to even, the Rangers take control and can start counting the outs to their first title. Texas leads it, 7-4, as Beltre and Cruz burned Lance Lynn with back-to-back homers to open the inning and Kinsler got a two-out RBI single to score Holland, of all people, who had reached on a force trying to bunt and took second on a wild pitch. Another terrible Cardinals play in this one. The Cruz home run (right) was a monster, a 419-foot shot to the third deck. It was his eighth of the postseason, tying Barry Bonds' 2002 record. Puts a bit of a damper on God Bless America for Cardinals fans.

End-7th: Holland sets down the Cards in order. Pujols with a 6-3 to end it. He's 0 for 16 outside of Game Three. Utterly bizarre. Six outs to go for Rangers and not many people here clapping along to the Clydesdales ditty.

Bot-8th: Craig takes Holland deep to left to make it 7-5. The Cardinals load the bases on singles by Molina, Descalso and Jay -- who was 0 for 16. But on the first pitch, Furcal hits a little stub that reliever Mike Adams fields and flips to first. Disaster for the Cards. Furcal is 0 for 5 tonight and 3 for 25 in the series. Rangers lead, 7-5. And the Cardinals are out of position players!

Mid-9th: Still 7-5. Feliz coming in. Three outs to go for the Rangers.

END-9TH: Incredible.  We're going extras. 7-7. Two-out,  two-strike, two-run triple by Freese ties it up. How does Cruz not crash the wall going for that? Molina flies out to right for the third out, leaving the winning run at third. GAME TIED 7-7.

MID-10TH: Double incredible. Two-run homer for Hamilton. Texas up 9-7.

HR FreeseEND-10TH: Triple incredible. Theriot RBI grounder and Berkman two-out, two-strike RBI single. GAME TIED, 9-9. 

ON TO GAME SEVEN: Freese leads off the bottom of the 11th with a solo shot to center (left). Cards win 10-9. See you tomorrow night and eat your heart out, Carlton Fisk and '86 Mets. This was a classic.

Photos: Associated Press

Pregame chatter: On verge of a title, Rangers trying to keep things the same

ST. LOUIS -- When you count spring training, the Texas Rangers have played more than 200 games this year. When you count all the games they've played since moving to Arlington in 1972, they've played more than 8,000. But they've never played one like tonight.

And that's the challenge: Keep everything the same heading into the first game in franchise history that the Rangers can win a World Series.

"I went to bed last night very relaxed, and I woke up this morning very relaxed," manager Ron Washington said in his pre-Game Six session with reporters late this afternoon at Busch Stadium. "I did what I always do; I got up and ironed my clothes, I ate breakfast, I read the newspaper, and I left the hotel at 1, and I came to the ballpark. That's my routine. I didn't feel any different feeling.

"I walked out of the hotel feeling as confident about my baseball team as I've always felt all year. I walked in the clubhouse with the same confidence. I'm sitting right here with the same confidence. The butterflies haven't started yet. I'm quite sure they will once 7:05 rolls around. But the more that [starting pitcher] Colby Lewis goes and gets outs in an inning the more my butterflies will subside."

Washington said he can't press to win tonight and avoid a Game Seven. He has to simply keep putting his team in position to win like he's done all year.

"I am going to manage this game according to the way the game says I have to manage it," Washington said. "Of course our intentions are no different than they've always been, to go out there and win the ballgame. I'm certainly not going to go out there and start trying to outsmart the game of baseball. I'm just going to go out there and whatever the situation says needs to be done, I'm going to try to make sure I put my guys in a position that we can be successful."

Be sure to check my earlier post on the Cardinals' thoughts heading into Game Six and join me for the live game blog in the 8 p.m. hour.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Rainy day podcast: La Russa, rain and Game Six

Tony frontpageST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa was a giant front-page topic in Wednesday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch (right, click for bigger view) but we were all forced to wait another day to see if his Game Five meltdown will prove to be a turning point in the World Series for the Texas Rangers. 

Longtime Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz had some interesting insight Wednesday on La Russa at 67 and wonders if health issues (La Russa has been dealing with shingles and medication issues all season) and Father Time are slowing one of the game's great minds, like happened with legendary Dallas Cowboys football coach Tom Landry.

As for the postponement of Game Six, it adds to the pitching intrigue if we can get to Game Seven. Hear my thoughts on all the latest at the Series in my rainy day podcast by clicking below.


Download audio

--Mike Harrington
(twitter.com/bnharrington)

Game Five audio recap: Cardinals can't get out of their own way, Rangers find a way

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Mike Harrington provides postgame thoughts from Game Five of the World Series, including the bullpen phone fiasco that capped a night of mistakes for the Cardinals, the hot hitting of Rangers catcher Mike Napoli and the possible pitching scenarios for Games Six and Seven.


Download the audio

Game Four audio recap: The Rangers get even

Click below for Mike Harrington's final thoughts on Game Four of the World Series, a 4-0 win for the Texas Rangers that evened the series at two wins apiece.


Mike Harrington on Game Four

Live from Big D (OK, the suburbs), it's Game Three

DSCN1721ARLINGTON, Texas -- Greetings from Rangers Ballpark, where we're getting set for Game Three of the World Series between the Cardinals and Texas Rangers on an incredible, 80-degree night. I hear what's going on back there, I know. So I'll think of you right now if you think of me when I'm in Winnipeg in January. Deal? Good. Now let's move on.

DSCN1734We've got a crazy-looking red sunset and some heavy clouds moving in (right) There is up to a 40 percent chance of rain so we'll see how this goes.

The teams are tied at a win apiece and, frankly, I'm sick about all the talk of who's talking, who's not talking. Albert Pujols doesn't know why people are mad he didn't talk after Game Two (seriously?), Josh Hamilton isn't talking about his injury -- which may, in fact, be a sports hernia and not a groin problem. Nobody really cares what any of the starting pitchers say because no one figures Matt Harrison and Kyle Lohse will be around very long tonight.

Play ball already. And somebody score. The teams combined for just eight runs in frigid St. Louis, the lowest combined total in the first two games since 1950. Something tells me they'll heat up tonight.

The lineups look like this:

St. Louis:  Furcal, ss; Craig, rf; Pujols, 1b; Holliday, lf; Berkman, dh; Freese, 3b; Molina, c; Jay, cf; Theriot, 2b.
Texas: Kinsler, 2b; Andrus, ss; Hamilton, cf; Young, dh; Beltre, 3b; Cruz, rf; Napoli, c; Murphy, lf; Torrealba, c

The wireless was basically a disaster in this ballpark last year but it's been terrific so far (knock on my work table). There are signs everywhere instructing people not to use their own networks or things like Verizon MiFi, which was a big problem during the 2010 NCAA Tournament in Buffalo and last year's Sabres-Flyers playoff series in Philadelphia (memo to Flyers beat writers -- very rude)

So assuming the techno end holds up, keep it here for thoughts and updates on Game Three.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

End-1st: Who was the dope who mentioned the words Verizon MiFi? That was me. As soon as I said it, one popped up and the wireless popped down. We seem to be back up and I can tell you that nothing has interrupted Allen Craig in this series. Who is this guy? If the series ended right now, he'd be the most unlikely MVP ever. He gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead in the top of the inning by roping the second pitch he saw from Harrison deep to left for a solo home run. That's 3 for 3 with three RBIs in three games. Harrison also gave up a single to Holliday. Lohse, meanwhile, pitched a 1-2-3 first. Cards lead, 1-0.

End-3rd: The Cardinals hold their 1-0 led as they have two hits and the Rangers have just one. Through 21 innings of this series, we have only played four outs where either team led by more than a run. That came in Game One, after Berkman's two-run single in the fourth gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. St. Louis made the next three outs and Texas made one out in the top of the fifth before Napoli's two-run laser to right tied the game. The Rangers are hitting just .174 in the series thus far (12-69), while the Cardinals are at exactly .200 (14-70). Nobody could have predicted this after the way the teams pounded the ball in the LCS.

Napoli-kulpaMid-4th: I have been saying all season MLB should institute a replay challenge system, perhaps one a game for each club. It would take less time that seeing a manager trot out to a base to argue. Case in point: The top of the fourth tonight, where a moment of blindness from first-base umpire Ron Kulpa has cost the Rangers four runs and put the Cardinals in command, 5-0. With no outs and a man at first, Holliday hit a routine 6-4-3 double play ball. But Kinsler's throw to first was high (no excuse for that). Still, Napoli brought it down and clearly tagged Holliday high on the way by, before the runner hit the base and tumbled to the ground. Napoli couldn't believe the call (left) and neither could Ron Washington.

Everyone in the park saw it except Kulpa.  From there, the Rangers crumbled. A single by Berkman, an RBI double by Freese, an intentional walk to Molina, a crippling two-run error as Napoli threw wide of the plate to Torrealba's right, and an RBI single from Theriot. Inexcuseable. Washington challenges, Holliday is out and there's two out and nobody on.

Another aside: Kulpa is a St. Louis native. Bad appearance for MLB -- even if Kulpa correctly called Kinsler safe at second on a steal in the 9th inning Thursday. Cards lead, 5-0.

Bot-4th: Good for the Rangers to answer right back. Home run for Young, single for Beltre and a screaming line drive the other way to right over the wall by Cruz, his seventh of the postseason (one shy of Carlos Beltran's record of 8 in 2004). Napoli singles and Lohse is gone, replaced by Fernando Salas. Suddenly, Cards lead 5-3. In less than four innings, we have eight runs -- or, the total we had in 18 innings in St. Louis. The inning ends with the score 5-3 as Murphy grounds out, Torrealba singles to right (Napoli held at third) and Kinsler lofted a fly ball to left just inside the foul line, with Napoli gunned down at home on a great one-hop throw by Holliday. There were nine runs scored in the first 21 innings of the series and seven in the fourth inning tonight.

Mid-5th: Feldman is on for the Rangers and gives the three runs right back. A single by Pujols (his second in two innings after opening the series 0 for 7), two walks, an RBI groundout by Freese and a two-run double into the left-field corner by Molina. Kind of puts a damper on one of my favorite moments here, the "Deep in the Heart of Texas" sing-a-long. Here's a YouTube of what that sounds like, taken during last year's Series. Cards lead, 8-3.

End-5th: So lemme get this straight. In the first 21 innings of this series (counting the first three tonight), there were nine combined runs. Well, we've just put up 13 between the teams in the fourth and fifth tonight. The Rangers answered the Cards' three in the top of this inning with three more of their own so the Cards lead it, 8-6, through five. There were four straight singles in the inning, the first three off Salas including an RBI drive to left by Young, and the fourth one (by Beltre) drove in Hamilton, who had snapped an 0-for-18 drought in Series play the last two years with a single of his own. Napolis' sac fly made it 8-6 and Lynn walked the next two men to load the bases. But Kinsler popped to Furcal at short and the Cardinals escaped.

I'm listening to the Cards' radio broadcast on MLB.com because of the legendary Mike Shannon, whose steakhouse near Busch Stadium may be feeding me Tuesday night if I return to St. Louis. Said Shannon during Kinsler's at-bat: "This feels like a trip to the taxidermist and we're getting stuffed." The guy is a classic.

End-6th: Exactly three hours after the first pitch, we've played six innings and the Cardinals lead, 12-6. St. Louis got four runs in the top of the sixth off Alexi Ogando and there was some bitter irony for him in the inning as the only man he retired was Craig, who burned him twice in St. Louis. The key blow in the inning was a three-run homer to left by Pujols, a 423-foot moonshot that careened off the facing of the club level here, where only two visitors have reached in the ballpark's 18 seasons (one was Mark McGwire, then with Oakland). Cynics in the media horde, myself included, clearly believe Pujols will stick around to talk after this one. Boo. 

Third home runMid-7th: That's it for the suspense tonight as Pujols goes deep again, crushing the first pitch he sees from Mike Gonzalez 406 feet to dead center. The two-run shot makes it 14-6 and gives him five RBIs as part of his 4-for-5 night. Guess he'll be in the interview room tonight.

End-8th: It's 15-7 as the Cardinals are three outs away from taking the lead in the series and I'm pouding the print story.

Mid-9th: Pujols does it again. A solo homer to deep left (left) to make it 16-7. It goes 397 feet. The fourth three-homer game in Series history (Babe Ruth in 1926 and 1928 against the Cardinals and Reggie Jackson in 1977). The first by an NL player. Just the second in the postseason by an NL player (Bob Robertson of the Pirates in the 1971 NLCS against the Giants. He ties the Series record with five hits and six RBIs too. Wow.

 

FINAL SCORE: Cardinals win 16-7 in a game that will live in on in Series annals thanks to Pujols.

Game photos: Associated Press

Workout Day podcast: The scene shifts to Texas

ARLINGTON, Texas -- A long day of workouts and interviews at Rangers Ballpark, and there was basically no news of any note from either side.

Josh Hamilton stayed home to nurse his sore groin for Texas and Rangers veteran Michael Young and Cardinals vet Lance Berkman were named the DHs for Game Three. If I had some news, I'd share it. Not much going on except for the relatively bizarre on-field sniping session between Albert Pujols and dozens of reporters. That was a bit of a spectacle to say the least.

The Rangers hosted a gala Friday evening at the Fort Worth Zoo but, frankly, after a 4:30 a.m. wakeup call and a long day of travel and writing, I'm not up to the 30-mile plus drive in the dark on the crazy Texas freeways. No armadillo races to share this year. Sorry about that.

Click below for a podcast of some of my thoughts heading into Game Three:


Workout Day

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

 

Live from Busch: Rangers-Cards Game 2

ST. LOUIS -- Greetings from Busch Stadium, where we had a bright, sunny day and will be enjoying a clear, crisp night for Game Two of the World Series. The wind doesn't seem to be nearly as harsh as it was last night, when it was swirling around the park. Seems to be blowing more out to center, which means the park is blocking some of it from the fans and us media types on the outdoors.

(I'm in the Stan Musial room in Section 313 down the right-field line. A terrific view, and we have a dedicated Diet Coke line in the suite behind me so that's clutch!).

I've been tied up on early print duties so be sure to read my report in Wednesday's paper on Josh Hamilton's nagging groin and the unusual season of Cardinals reliever Arthur Rhodes, who started the year with Texas and is just the third player in history to play for both Series teams in the same year (Bengie Molina, 2010; and Lonnie Smith, 1985).

Funny pregame scene: Cardinals outfielder Allen Craig, whose pinch single drove in the winning run in Game One, was brought into the media interview room prior to Thursday's game. Reporters were told Craig was not fielding any questions about his pet tortoise, which actually has its own Twitter account (@TortyCraig).

Tweeted the tortoise on Thursday: "The media's focus should be on Master Allen's high level of play & not on me. During the regular season he hit .315 with a .917 OPS!"

Then he followed with this recap of a "conversation: "Merry World Series, Master Allen." "Did you like your gift?" "The hit?" I asked. "Yep," he said. I'm a bit misty eyed."

Odd. Anyway, we're getting set to go and I'll give you some updates and thoughts as this one gets going.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Top-1st: We're under way at 7:06 CT as Jaime Garcia throws a strike to Ian Kinsler. It's warmer than last night's 48 degrees but I didn't hear the announcement of the temp (muffled PA..sorry)...Update: In fact, it's a balmy 50. The Rangers went down 1-2-3. Hamilton ended it with a broken-bat grounder to third. The bat shattered everywhere and Hamilton barely ran to first. He checked a swing a pitch earlier -- something he said before the game he was no longer going to do -- and the FOX camera clearly caught him exhaling and in pain after  it.

Almost forgot to relate the best pregame scene: The famous Budweiser Clydesdales paraded around the warning track and the crowd roared as flashbulbs popped and the organist rocked the famous Bud ditty. Great fun.

End-1st: Both teams go 1-2-3 in the first. There is a Hardee's hamburger stand here on the upper level behind third base with a beautiful red Cardinals marquee on either side of the Hardees sign. Smells great. How do I know? Some burgers must be well done because there is a ton of smoke coming out of that side and wafting across the field.

CardsEnd-2nd: Two hitless innings so far. Closest call was when Texas' Cruz missed a home run by inches with a low line drive that screamed barely outside the left-field foul pole.

We're so peppered with Yankees and Red Sox on the East Coast that it's easy forget what a great baseball town this is. I loved their statue garden by the team shop I blogged about yesterday (you didn't see it? Go back and check it out!). And I love how they can trot out legends.

Bob Gibson and Bruce Sutter threw out first pitches last night and tonight's turn went to 88-year-old Red Schoendienst, left, and Lou Brock, who is now 72. (72?? I grew up watching him in the 70s. Not possible). And they just announced that Stan Musial is here and put his picture on the jumbotron. The 91-year-old gave a big wave. They should have left his picture on the board longer so the ovation would have been stronger. Adam Wainwright got a bigger roar last night when he threw a first pitch. Kind of like when Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez can bring the house down at Yankee Stadium and guys from the 60s and 70s, other than maybe Reggie Jackson, get barely a ripple. People simply think of them all as "old fossils", one of the great Jeff Manto-isms I learned in the late 90s Bisons clubhouses.

GarciaEnd-3rd: Locked in a scoreless duel. Furcal got the game's first hit for the Cardinals, a two-out double down the RF line,  but was stranded there. Garcia (right) has thrown only 35 pitches (21 strikes). Lewis is at 45-29. Great job by both thus far. Garcia, the first Mexican to start a Series game in 30 years, is doing Fernando Valenzuala proud.

Mid-4th: Garcia is no longer perfect and he had to work hard -- throwing 21 pitches -- to escape without a run. He walked Kinsler on 3-2 pitch to end the perfect game and lost his no-hitter on Young's two-out single that Jay short-hopped in center as Kinsler went first-to-third. Beltre then fanned on a full-count pitch with the crowd roaring and waving their white towels. During their at-bat, Beltre scorched a one-hopper foul down the third-base line and it rocketed off the back of Kinsler's right shoulder. Undaunted, Kinsler got up and gave the brush-off motion to his teammate like it was no biggie. Sorry. That's gotta hurt.

Halfway home: Still zip-zip through 4 1/2. The Rangers have one hit and they're 7-46 thus far in the series, or a robust .152. They hit .190 last year and said they would definitely do better. Uh-huh.

End-5th: Elvis Andrus flashing a GOLD GLOVE two innings in a row. He ended the fourth by starting a spectacular 6-4-3 double play, with Kinsler taking his flip and firing bare-handed to first. This was even better as Furcal lashed what looked like an RBI single up the middle with men on first and second and two out. Andrus gloved it behind second and flipped with the glove to Kinsler, who took the ball in stride and ran to the bag to beat Garcia after the pitcher had kept the inning going with a walk. Sensational play.

End-6th: Still scoreless and, for once, some starters are going to the seventh inning in this postseason. Huge outings from both guys as each is spinning a two-hit shutout. Garcia has struck out six, walked one and is at 75 pitches (47 strikes). Lewis has fanned three walked two and is at 86-46. So he's looking at one more inning most likely.

This just in from MLB: This is just the second time in Series history (joining Reds-Yankees, 1961) that Games 1 and 2 have been scoreless through three innings. And at God Bless America, we're still scoreless and the Rangers are batting .170 for the series.

Bot-7th: Suddenly, both pitchers are out. With two out and Freese on first, Punto lined a one-hopper that Young butchered at first on the backhand. Freese went first to third on the ball, somehow scored a hit and not an error. With Garcia's spot up, the Cardinals are pinch-hitting Game One hero Craig. And Ron Washington comes out to lift Lewis for Alexi Ogando. Same matchup as last night. And Craig does it again with an RBI single to right to put the Cardinals up 1-0 and the place is absolutely shaking. Just like last night, a decent pitch, down and away. A fastball at 96 mph and Craig beats Ogando.

Rangers winEnd-7th: So it's 1-0 for St. Louis. Final lines are:
Lewis 6 2/3 IP, 4-1-1-2-4/96-65;
Garcia 7-3-0-0-1-7/87-56

End-8th: Another 1-2-3 inning for the Cards bullpen. Three outs away from a 2-0 lead.

RANGERS WIN 2-1. Sorry, folks. When the game changes, you're hitting the delete key on large chunks of your print story and you won't hear from me here. Motte blows the save, sac flies in the ninth by Hamilton off Rhodes and Young off Lynn gives Texas a clutch victory. The series is tied. First time a team reversed a deficit in its final at-bat since Arizona came back on the Yankees in Game Seven in 2001.

Photos: Associated Press

Hamilton sore but no way he's coming out

ST. LOUIS -- Josh Hamilton has been dealing with a balky groin for nearly two months and hasn't hit a home run since Sept. 23. The Texas outfielder bluntly told us at Tuesday's Media Day, "it hurts" when asked about the injury. Sure looked it in Game One, when he was clearly limited and grimacing after swings.

Hamilton will be in left field tonight instead of center but Texas manager Ron Washington was actually asked during his pregame presser today if he thought about taking him out of the lineup.

In the World Series? Seriously? You should have seen the look Washington shot that questioner.

"You know, at this point of the year we've all got nagging injuries," Washington said. "He had one, and he'll figure out a way to get through it, and we'll figure out a way to help him get through it. ... I can't afford to take Hamilton out of my lineup. Even if Hamilton doesn't do anything, he makes a difference just with his presence in our lineup, and I want his presence in it, and it's in there tonight. Don't be surprised if he comes up big, because I certainly won't."

No other major news. Washington said he's going with Matt Harrison and Derek Holland in Games 3-4 in Texas. Stay tuned for the first pitch at 8:05. Back to writing print stories.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

 

A podcast and your picks on the World Series

ST. LOUIS -- Click below to hear my thoughts on Media Day and the opening of the 2011 World Series and then make your pick in our poll below. I got the Rangers in six but five wouldn't surprise me either.


Mike Harrington on Media Day

Media Day quick hits

Ham pix

ST. LOUIS -- Media Day at the World Series is great. You have tremendous access and don't have a lot of people who don't belong there getting in the way. One negative: You have a lot of notes and tape recordings to transcribe.

Still have a lot of print edition work I'm in the midst of and we're an hour behind here, of course. So here's some quick updates on what the teams said:

---Rangers manager Ron Washington goes with C.J. Wilson in Game One and Colby Lewis in Game Two. Tony LaRussa counters with Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia, the first Mexican starter in a series since Fernando Valenzuela. Neither team has announced starters for the games in Texas. There were a lot of questions about Carpenter having a sore elbow. Said Carpenter: "Everybody has got soreness and everybody has got aches. {LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan) would not throw me out there if it wasn't good and neither would the trainers or doctors. ... I'm fine to go Wednesday. I wouldn't go out there if I wasn't."

---Look for the Rangers to move Nelson Cruz up out of the No. 7 hole in the lineup, at least for the games here where pitchers will hit. Six homers and 13 RBIs in the ALCS probably warrant a boost up the card, don't you think?

---The teams haven't met in interleague play since 2004, quite a scheduling quirk. So there's plenty of video work and poring over advance scouting reports.

---Albert Pujols again pushed away questions about his impending free agent status as he has all season. I was in a small group that had a great chat with hitting coach and former home run king Mark McGwire about Pujols. Cheap Plug Alert: Be sure to read McGwire's comments in my story about Pujols in Wednesday's paper.

---The Rangers feel their offense will be ready this time. Remember, they hit just .190 last year against the Giants and Josh Hamilton (above) was 2 for 20.  The whole experience of going to the Series last year for the first time really helped them. They were a confident group today.

"When you play for an organization that's never been that far, never got into that kind of territory, you think you're making history and it all becomes bigger than it should be," second baseman Ian Kinsler told me when I asked about the club's swagger. "To be able to experience that is huge for us coming into this year. We didn't panic or got out of our element but there was a little lack of focus."

---Lots of questions to the Rangers about president Nolan Ryan, who predicted his team would win its first title in six games during an interview earlier in the day on a Dallas radio station. Ryan's predictions the last two years have all been pretty good, other than last year's World Series.

"If he says it, trust him," said Cruz. "He's good at that."

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Photo: Hamilton gives an answer to, lo and behold, the Buffalo News! The shot is from the MLB PR department's Twitter account. Also there is MLB Network reporter Matt Yallof, who formerly worked at Ch. 7.

It's World Series Media Day

DSCN1651ST. LOUIS -- Greetings from the Gateway to the West as we're under the shadows of the famed Arch at Busch Stadium for Media Day of the 107th World Series. The Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals will both hold Super Bowl-style sessions today with reporters -- minus the usual freeks and geeks and alleged "media" that show up at the NFL's event a few days before the game. The managers and Game One starters (C.J. Wilson and Chris Carpenter) will hold separate sessions in an adjacent interview room.

The National League won the All-Star Game so that's why we're here but let's just assume that no one figured we would be in this town. Not with the Cardinals 10 1/2 games out of the wild-card on August 24. Not when they faced the Phillies in the division series. And not when they faced the Brewers in the NLCS. But lo and behold, here we are in The House that Albert Built. One of the best managerial jobs of Tony LaRussa's career.

DSCN1653And Albert Pujols figures to be a major center of attention today. He's spent most of the season not talking about his impending free agency but good luck to him on that front today. There are statues of famous Cardinals all around the park and Pujols would get one for sure someday -- if he stayed and finished his career. He's almost the kind of free agent that it seems the team can't possibly let go but we'll  see how that goes.

It's chilly and dank here today. But the weather is supposed to be fine for Game Two on Thursday night and likely fine (only a 20 percent chance of rain for Game One tomorrow). Well, fine provided you like the cold. We're talking lows dipping into the 30s. Brrrr. Look for plenty of FOX shots of fans bundled up in red hats and scarves.

Keep it here all day for updates. Here's today's schedule, with the times listed as Eastern:

2:45-3:30 -- Rangers team availability
3:15 -- C.J. Wilson news conference
3:30 -- Ron Washington news conference
3:30-5:00 -- Rangers workout
4:00-4:45 -- Cardinals team availability
4:45-5:15 -- Tony LaRussa and Chris Carpenter news conferences
5:00-7:00 -- Cardinals workout 

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

(Photo reminder: Any pictures I post on the blog during the series will be clickable for a bigger view.)

AL champions: The Rangers do it again

CruzAfter a summer of talk that was basically all Yankees and Red Sox all the time, after a September marked by the dominance of the Tigers, the rise of the Rays and the colossal fall of the Sox, we are left with this:

The Texas Rangers are the best team in the American League. Again.

No AL club has gone to the World Series in back-to-back years since the Yankees went to four straight from 1998-2001. No AL West team, in either the two- or three-division setup, has been a repeat pennant winner since the A's took three straight from 1988-1990.

That all changed Saturday night as the Rangers pounded the Detroit Tigers, 15-5, to win the ALCS in six games. Texas will open the World Series Wednesday night in either Milwaukee or St. Louis. Pretty awesome accomplishment.

I'll admit I slept on the Rangers as a team that could get back to the Fall Classic. I picked them to lose against both the Rays and the Tigers. Yikes. Still, it is hard to gauge a team that played 38 games against the Mariners and A's and has the Astros as a chief interleague rival. They were clearly the best in the AL West but how far could they go after that?

But the Rangers are so balanced offensively with speed, for-average hitters and power numbers, and have such a deep bullpen that they've been by far the best team in the playoffs in either league. They're the favorite no matter who the NL produces.

No one gives manager Ron Washington much credit either but he's been terrific. You have to love, for instance, what he did with Alexei Ogando. A reliever with a 1.30 ERA last year, Ogando started 29 games this year and went 13-8, 3.51 with 126 strikeouts in 169 innings. With fewer starters needed in the postseason, he's back in the pen. He made three scoreless appearances in the division series against the Rays, and pitched to a 1.17 ERA with two wins against the Tigers.

In a bizarre regular season, the Rangers survived the discord about whether to bring back the beloved Michael Young, some of the worst heat in Dallas' history and even the trauma of seeing the fatal fall from the bleachers of one of their fans. They won their division, took out the Rays and got a postseason all-time record six home runs in a series from Nelson Cruz (above). Now they're four wins away from their first title.

The Mavericks. TCU in the Rose Bowl. And now the Rangers. Pretty good run for Big D.

Cheap plug alert: I'll be somewhere (either Milwaukee or St. Louis) for Media Day on Tuesday. Follow all our World Series coverage in print and online. Game One is Wednesday night.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

AP Photo: The celebration is on for ALCS MVP Nelson Cruz in the Rangers' clubhouse.

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About Inside Pitch

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has covered the Buffalo Bisons since 1992 and Major League Baseball since 1995. A member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Harrington has reported on more than 30 MLB postseason series — including every game of the World Series in this century — and all three of the Bisons' championship runs in their modern era. He is a connoisseur of the famous Stadium Mustard at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered the Bisons for The Buffalo News since 2002. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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