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More musings on La Russa

TonyST. LOUIS -- It's still hard to fathom what happened at the end of Game Five and how Tony La Russa spent Tuesday afternoon trying to explain it away. Was this is all a staged show so La Russa could protect pitching coach and dear friend Dave Duncan? Did La Russa really make the calls to the bullpen like he said he did? Was bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist to blame for hanging up before La Russa -- or Duncan? -- were done giving instructions?

This is Game Five of the World Series, for God's sake. In the eighth inning of a tie game. This isn't March 15 in Jupiter, Fla. But in one of the more cataclysmic braincramps of recent times, the Cardinals somehow butchered the use of their bullpen, be it via a wonky phone, Lilliquist's inability to hear in the noise or whatever.

Be sure to read my column in Wednesday's paper comparing La Russa's fiasco to the job Ron Washington has done so far. A few secondary thoughts:

---Albert Pujols: La Russa was asked how long Pujols has had the right to call a hit-and-run on his own and his answer was "It's been three or four years. It could have been his rookie year, maybe not his rookie year, second year." Seriously. That was La Russa's answer. Pujols was a rookie in 2001. So did he get this privilege in 2001 or 2002? Or 2007-08? 

More La Russa on Pujols: "So as long as baseball has been played, when you have a player that really understands the game, that player gets a lot of leeway and ability to be involved, based on how he's reading what's going on. It happens to pitchers that are really smart, Tom Seaver. It happens to catchers that when the benches are defending the running games. And you have a catcher like Yadi [Yadier Molina], he can call a pitchout because they're really smart and they sense it."

Memo to La Russa: A catcher calling a pitchout is hardly the same as a batting calling a hit and run and getting his team run out of an inning in a tie game.

Derek Lilliquist: Why didn't the Cardinals bullpen coach ask La Russa if he really wanted Lance Lynn up when he was supposed to be on emergency-use only? Because coaches clearly don't have that right to question La Russa. Said the skipper: " I would be disappointed if Derek would have been saying, 'You know, Tony, I mean, do you know what you're doing?' "

Offense: La  Russa has got to do something here. The Rangers are going to walk Pujols and let no one else beat them. Lance Berkman (7-18) is the only Cardinal doing anything, so he's going to protect Pujols in the No. 4 slot.

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

Photo: Associated Press 

 

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.


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Live from Rangers Ballpark -- It's Game Five

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Greetings on another spectacular summer night at ... oops, it's Oct. 24. Easy to forget with this great weather. Another sunny, 80-degree day and another perfect night for the World Series as we get set for Game Five at Rangers Ballpark.

We have an off day tomorrow in St. Louis and it's supposed to be 82 there, which is terrific considering how it rained and rained and we froze in Games 1-2 as the temperatures got down into the 30s. I endured some frigid winds and rain to get to my trip up the Arch last week, and I'll probably enjoy a little walk in the park tomorrow.

As for Game Six on Wednesday? Good lord. The temperatures are going to be in the mid-50s and there's an 80 percent chance of rain all day. It doesn't look good at all but things are fine for Thursday and Friday so all of us covering this series are bracing for an extra off day in St. Loo. 

Roger Staubach just got a big roar with the first pitch, down and away and scooped by former Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers (who by now probably washed his 2006 vintage pine tar from his hand). As for the anthem: Demi Lovato? Ugh. Terrible.

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

Cardinals lineup: Furcal, ss; Craig, rf; Pujols, 1b; Holliday, lf; Berkman, dh; Freese, 3b; Molina, c; Schumaker, cf; Punto, 2b.....Carpenter pitching
Rangers lineup: Kinsler, 2b; Andrus, ss; Hamilton, cf; Young, dh; Beltre, 3b; Cruz, rf; Murphy, lf; Napoli, c; Moreland, 1b....Wilson pitching. 

End-1st: The first pitch, a ball from Wilson to Furcal, came at 7:09 CT and it's 72 degrees. It feels warmer. Very nice. On the third pitch, Furcal lines a rocket right into the glove of Beltre at third -- just like he did to lead off the first inning last night. Bizarre. Wilson pitches 1-2-3 first, getting Pujols for the third out on a line drive to center field that saw the Cardinals give their star the green light on a 3-0 pitch. Pujols is 0 for 11 in Games 1-2-4-5 of this series. Of course, there's that matter of Game Three.

YadiMid-2nd: The Cardinals must not have liked me cracking on the offense as they've gotten to Wilson -- who. is. working. sooooooooo. slowly. -- to take a 2-0 lead. Wilson opened with walks to Holliday and Berkman, then gave out a one-out RBI single to left to Molina (right), which Murphy booting and dropping the ball in left for an error that allowed Berkman to third. Schumaker then grounded to first to Cruz, who dropped  it while eyeing home and had to step on the back as Berkman scored. Murphy then redeemed himself with a sensational play for the final out, a headlong dive to his left Ron Swoboda style, to snare Punto's liner and save another run. Cards lead, 2-0. Early lead for Carpenter. It was a 30-pitch inning for Wilson after an eight-pitch first.

End-3rd: Wilson continues to struggle and even made an error, flipping Furcal's topper past Cruz at first. After a sacrifice, an intentional walk to Pujols helped the get the Rangers out of the inning as Holliday grounded into a 5-4-3 DP with runners at the corners. Texas then came back to break through against Carpenter in the bottom of the inning as Moreland, batting 2 for 23 in the postseason, sent a one-out bomb to right, a 424-foot laser into the upper deck. Cards lead, 2-1.

Napoli-WilsonMid-5th: We're halfway home with the Cards still up, 2-1, but the Rangers are using the walk-Albert strategy to perfection. They've done it twice,  giving Holliday a chance with five men on base, and haven't given up a run. This was a 24-pitch inning and No. 100, a full-count offering to Holliday with the bases loaded ended up as a routine grounder to short, leaving the Cards 1-7 in RSP situations tonight.

Wilson got in trouble by giving up a leadoff single to Schumaker and a four-pitch walk to Punto that brought Napoli to the mound (left). You wonder how long he is for this game. But the folks here are happy as we head into "Deep in the Heart of Texas" time. Wilson at 100 pitches, just 52 strikes. Survival mode, but certainly not the way to get a big payday in free agency either.

Mid-6th: Wilson is mercifully out of the game but with no further damage. He gave up a one-out single and was relieved by Scott Feldman, who gave up a single to Molina. A Schumaker grounder sent runners to second and third but Punto struck out to end the inning. The Cardinals are 1-9 in RSP situations and have left seven. Wilson went 5 1/3 innings, allowing four hits,  two runs (one earned),  five walks and three strikeouts. He threw 108 pitches, 57 strikes.  Ugly. But he survived.

End-6th: And the Cardinals' lack of run production is officially haunting them now as the game is tied. With two out and nobody on, Carpenter hung a 75-mph curveball and Beltre was waiting for it, corkscrewing himself into the ground and even going down on his right knee to golf it into the seats in left.  Carpenter then gave up singles to Cruz and Murphy and got a visit from pitching coach Dave Duncan. Napoli got the crowd jazzed with a long drive but Schumaker hauled it in near the 407-foot sign in center field. Game tied, 2-2.

Mid-7th: Allen Craig has been great in this series but what did he just do? He walked with one out off Alexi Ogando and tried to steal second with Pujols batting. I don't care if he's safe or out, that was just stupid. In this case, he was out and the Rangers still went ahead and walked Pujols. Holliday singled him first to third, taking second as Pujols forced a throw home and Berkman was walked intentionally. Freese then lofted the first pitch for a fly to center and Texas escaped again. St. Louis' damage tab: 1-10 in RSP situations with 10 LOB -- eight in scoring position.

End-7th: La Russa shows faith in Carpenter, keeping him in against Hamilton with two out and a man on first. Faith rewarded. Fly ball to center on the first pitch. It was Carpenter's 101st pitch. I say he comes out for one more inning. Game remains tied at 2-2.

End-8th: The Cardinals played with fire too long but not driving in runs and they got burned. Napoli did the damage with a two-run double to right-center with the bases loaded. He's got nine RBIs in the series and is the leader in the clubhouse for MVP honors. The Rangers lead, 4-2, and they're three outs away from the series lead.

IT'S OVER:  Neftali Feliz gets the save, striking out Pujols in the ninth in the process, and Texas has a 3-2 lead in the series with a 4-2 win. See you Wednesday in St. Louis.

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 Rangers Ballpark -- It's Game Four

GeorgeARLINGTON, Texas -- Greetings,  albeit a little on the late side, as I've gotten through some early print-edition stories and some Internet trouble in the auxiilary press box to (hopefully) bring you some thoughts and updates on Game Four.

The Rangers have gotten some early inspiration with a first pitch tossed by former President and team owner George W. Bush (left), which was a little high and outside away of the reach of Nolan Ryan. Bush got a huge ovation when he was introduced and the flashbulbs were popping all over the park on his delivery from the bottom of the mound. You might remember when he threw at Yankee Stadium prior to Game Three in 2001, he did it right from the rubber and followed Derek Jeter's instructions to not bounce it. As we say at the rink, game on.

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

Bot-1st: Things started well for the home side, from the Bush pitch to a 1-2-3 first from Derek Holland that included a grounder to short by Albert Pujols. The first two batters were easily retired and there was a clear murmur in the crowd as Pujols stepped up. With one out in the bottom of the first, Elvis Andrus singled to left and Josh Hamilton roped an RBI double into the corner in right, with Andrus streaking around the bases to score the game's first run without a throw.

Michael Young walked but Adrian Beltre (whose 4-for-4 game last night was totally wiped out by The Pujols Show) struck out. Nelson Cruz walked on a full-count pitch to load the bases, but Edwin Jackson escaped the game's first critical moment as David Murphy jazzed the crowd with a deep fly to left that Holliday got on the edge of the warning track. Rangers lead, 1-0.

End-3rd: Derek Holland is giving the Rangers exactly what they need. Their bullpen is shot and he's retired nine of the first 10 hitters, giving up only a Berkman double in the second. Even better, he's needed just 43 pitches to do it. Think Ron Washington would love to see Holland go seven, use Mike Adams in the eighth and Neftali Feliz in the ninth? That would be the formula tonight for Texas. Jackson, meanwhile, recovered from a shaky first and has set down all six men he's faced the last two innings (although Kinsler singled in the second and was picked off by Molina). Rangers still lead, 1-0.

DSCN1724End-4th: It's still 1-0 for Texas. Another  1-2-3 inning for Holland and Jackson issued two-out walks to Murphy and Napoli before striking out Moreland. This place doesn't get a lot of national pub but it's great (OK, I realize it probably isn't so great on a 115-degree day in July but humor me). The Texas Lone Star is everywhere on the concourse and even on the side of every single seat, all 52,000 of them (right).

DSCN1725End-5th: The crowd of 51,539 is seeing quite a pitchers' duel. The 1-0 score remains. Jackson has given up three hits,  just one since the first, and Holland has given up two. Berkman is the only St. Louis baserunner, with a double in the seond and single in the fifth. 

More on the ballpark: My favorite part is the right field section, shown at left in this shot I took yesterday (click pic reminder for a bigger look).  It's a double-decker with poles holding up the green roof on both levels and it's an ode to old Tiger Stadium. You close your eyes and look at it and it's shocking. I used to love going to that place. First time I saw a roving hot dog vendor with the steel cart, the weenie dogs, the roll compartment and the mustard. Awesome. 

End-6th: Jackson was relieved after walking seven men, including passes to Cruz and Murphy with one out. That brought in Mitchell Boggs and out went the game for the Cardinals on one pitch. A 95-mph fastball that Napoli turned on and clubbed out to left for a no-doubt three-run blast. Sounded good off the bat. Yes, sounded. Rangers now lead, 4-0, and it looks pretty good that we'll be going back to St. Louis for Game Six.

Mid-7th: At GBA time, Holland continues to work on his two-hitter with only Berkman standing in his way of history. Pujols is 0 for 3 in this one with two grounders and a foul pop. Super job by Holland attacking each hitter and making no mistakes. He's gotten 12 groundball outs thus far. He's at 91 pitches. They could certainly get another inning out of him to save the pen even more.

The Series is Even: The Rangers win it 4-0 as Holland and Feliz comine on a two-hitter. Holland goes 8 1/3 with seven strikeouts.

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

Weather watch: It's a little iffy for Game Three

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's spectacularly bright and sunny this morning in the Dallas area and temperatures should be close to 80 -- 80! -- around the 7:05 CT first pitch tonight for Game Three of the World Series. But there's a growing chance of rain during the game, with a 30-40 percent chance on this hourly forecast at Weather.com and upwards of 50 percent according to some other sources.

It was two weeks ago tonight, during Game One of the ALCS against Detroit, that there were two rain delays in Arlington that pushed the final out to about 1:30 a.m. Eastern time. Let's hope that doesn't happen again.

And we should all remember the time-tested caveat of Bisons GM Mike Buczkowski: If the weather man says there's a 50 percent chance of rain, that means there's a 50 percent chance it won't rain!

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

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) 

 

Game Two audio recap: Rangers rally to pull even

ST. LOUIS -- Click below for Mike Harrington's analysis of Game Two of the World Series, the Texas Rangers' come-from-behind, 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.


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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) 

 

No weather issues for Game Two

ST. LOUIS -- It's cold again and the wind is howling downtown but it's been bright and sunny all day and it's expected to stay clear tonight for Game Two of the World Series. Keep it here for some updates from the pregame pressers of Ron Washington and Tony LaRussa, which begin in the 5 p.m. ET hour.

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

Game One audio recap: The Cardinals do it again

Click below to hear Mike Harrington's audio recap of Game One, a 3-2 win for the St. Louis Cardinals over the Texas Rangers at chilly Busch Stadium.


Download the audio

To the top of the Arch

DSCN1717ST. LOUIS -- Tonight will be the opener of my 14th World Series for The Buffalo News -- including every pitch in this century (a cool stat I like).

It's a lot of travel, a lot of hotels and a lot of long, late nights. And, as you probably guessed, I would not trade it one iota. You don't have a lot of time to do much but go to the games, but I try to carve a couple hours at least one day in each place and I've been pretty fortunate in that regard.

I've taken a boat out into San Francisco Bay and escaped from Alcatraz with colleague Bob DiCesare after visiting the famed prison in 2002, walked Miami's South Beach in 2003 and to the end of St. Petersburg Pier in 2008, talked about ex-Bison and Angel Bartolo Colon during a chance lunch meeting with former Angels owner and honorary AL President Jackie Autry at the famous food counters of Boston's Faneuil Hall in 2007.

I got a tour of the humidor and climbed to the mile-high row of seats at Coors Field in 2007 (OK, so that was at the park, but it was still cool), watched the bleachers at Wrigley Field get quietly rebuilt as Chicago was crazy over the White Sox in 2005. There was also a haunting trip to the smoldering ruins of Ground Zero in 2001, just a month after the planes downed the Twin Towers.

Last year was a good one, as I strolled a quiet McCovey Cove in San Francisco and then found time in Texas for a Dallas Cowboys game and a media/sponsor party at a Texas ranch, complete with armadillo races.

Today's side trip -- the ride up the famous Gateway Arch on the banks of the mighty Mississippi.

Before you head inside though comes the requisite photos from directly underneath the thing (above left), which is 630-feet high at its apex. How in the world does it stay up?

CapsuleYou ride up to the observation deck in these tiny capsules (left), five people to a car and eight cars to a ride. There's no room for claustrophobia here. It's tight. When the door shuts, you can see out to the steel innards of the Arch and the emergency stairs (hope we don't need those!). It's a jerky, over-and-up ride for a bit and then the final part of the four-minute jaunt is straight up to the observation deck.

Once you get up there, it's really a set of portholes looking out on either side. It's not a large deck like you'd have atop a tall buliding like the CN Tower in Toronto for instance. It's only about three people wide! Again, claustrophobics need not apply. And it's not flat either. The floor is curved so you kind of hold on to the wall as you walk up and down.

DSCN1691They tell me you can see 30 miles on a clear day. I still got great views of downtown at least today even though it was cloudy. Busch Stadium (tarp on today at right), the famous old court house and the Edward Jones Dome, home of the Rams, on one side. The river on the other, with the casinos of Illinois and a large barge being pushed by a riverboat. Pretty cool.

When it's time to go, you head down a few stairs and line up again for the same tram back. At the base (it's all underground between the two legs) is a large Museum of Westward Expansion, movie theaters,  gift shops and the like.

It's a must-do in St. Louis, akin to riding the Maid of the Mist if you're in Niagara Falls. 

Add it to the list. And enough talking. It's time to play ball soon. Stay tuned for more on the pregame press conferences and our live blog from Game One, which begins at 8:05.

---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.

Ten years later, Herd's 19-inning loss resonates as 9/11 anniversary nears

Ten years ago tonight -- Sept. 9, 2001 -- the  Buffalo Bisons played their last game before the world changed forever. And what a doozy it was.

The Eric Wedge-led Bisons lost, 6-2, to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons in 19 innings in the decisive Game Five of the Governors Cup semifinals at then-Dunn Tire Park. It still stands as the longest game in both innings and time (5:13) in the ballpark's history.

A two-run triple in the top of the 19th by No. 9 hitter Jason Knupfer, who was 0 for 16 in the series to that point, snapped a 2-2 tie. Scranton went on to add two insurance runs to wrap up the best-of-five series, three games to two. The Buffalo offense struggled because cleanup man Chris Coste, who had a series-high eight hits, didn't play the last 15 innings after getting ejected arguing a call at first base in the fourth.

Scranton advanced to meet Louisville in the IL finals and lost Game One, 2-1, the next night at Slugger Field. That was September 10. The next morning was September 11.

Game Two was canceled due to the terrorist attacks and the entire series was called off the next day, with Louisville declared the winner. I've often pondered the 19-inning game because I would have been in Louisville on 9/11 had the Bisons won. All air traffic was grounded, of course, and I would have driven home from Kentucky. (I know some New York reporters who drove all the way home from Denver after the Giants' Monday Night Football game on Sept. 10).

"I talked to a lot of fans the day after we lost and you thought losing a 19-inning baseball game was devastating," Bisons GM Mike Buczkowski told me the day the IL canceled the series. "Then you get jolted to reality. Baseball games aren't significant given what's going on right now."

The Bisons made the finals the next year and hosted an emotional pregame ceremony prior to Game Two against Durham on Sept. 11, 2002, the one-year anniversary. Coste recalled starting the drive home to North Dakota the day after the 19-inning loss and stopping for the night in Toledo, Ohio, then watching events of 9/11 from his hotel room.

""We woke up in the morning and all that happened,'' Coste said. ""I thought about a million things and baseball was obviously way in the background but you wondered if they were going to finish the season. As the days went on, you started thinking, "I wonder what it would have been like if we had been stuck in Louisville.'''

When the calendar flipped to October, I was fortunate enough to cover the Yankees' emotional ALCS win over Seattle and the incredible '01 World Series against Arizona. And I got a first-hand look, even several weeks later, at the shocking aftermath at Ground Zero. 

Be sure to read about my reflections on baseball in New York and elsewhere in the wake of 9/11 in Sunday's Inside Baseball column.

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

Herd to face alum of Rays' World Series team

The Buffalo Bisons have posted a trio of four-game winning streaks this season and will try to do it for a fourth time in the opener of tonight's doubleheader against the Durham Bulls in Coca-Cola Field. To do it, they'll have to beat one of the key cogs of the Tampa Bay Rays' 2008 World Series team.

SonnRight-hander Andy Sonnanstine, a 13-game winner for the '08 Rays, will be the starter for Durham in the opener. Sonnantine has struggled to find his '08 form as he went 6-9 for the Rays in 2009 and 3-1 last year in 41 appearances (23 starts). He was 0-2, 5.71 this year in 14 games (four starts) before being optioned to Durham, where he is 2-3, 4.17 in six games (five starts).

In '08, Sonnanstine was the starter and winner in Tampa Bay's Game Four division series clincher over the Chicago White Sox. In the picture at right from the St. Petersburg Times, Sonnanstine is wearing the goggles while getting doused from behind by Rocco Baldelli and hugged by Rays outfielder Fernando Perez -- who will be starting in center field and batting ninth tonight for the Bisons. Small world this game is sometimes.

Sonnanstine also pitched 7 1/3 innings to get the win in Game Four of the ALCS over the Red Sox in Fenway Park. His Game Four luck ran out, however, in the World Series at Philadelphia as he gave up five runs in four innings and took the loss in a 10-2 defeat.

The Bulls, by the way, already have one canceled game on their schedule (a May contest at Syracuse) and need to get these two in as they open play today 1 1/2 games ahead of Gwinnett in the IL South. The weather forecast gets a little dicey as the night goes on.

Here's the Bisons' lineup:

Jordany Valdespin, ss
Josh Satin, 2b
Zach Lutz, 3b
Valentino Pascucci, 1b
Fernando Martinez, dh
Jesus Feliciano, lf
Mike Nickeas, c
Bubba Bell, rf
Fernando Perez, cf
----
Mark Cohoon, p

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

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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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