Cardinals have reason for optimism as series heads to St. Louis
ARLINGTON, Texas -- For the second time this World Series, there was no "happy flight" for the Cardinals. They had won 15 straight games on getaway day before blowing a ninth-inning lead in Game 2 and letting a late-inning tie in Game 5 slip away.
St. Louis now trails the Rangers 3-games-to-2 in this year's Fall Classic, but recent history is actually on their side.
Though nearly two-thirds (27 out of 41) of the tiebreaking Game 5 winners ended up winning a World Series that was knotted 2-2, oddly six of the nine most recent Game 5 winners actually lost the series.
Notably, all six of those teams -- the 1982 Brewers, '86 Red Sox, '87 Cardinals, '91 Braves, 2001 Yankees and '02 Giants -- played their final two games on the road, just as the Rangers will have to do when traveling to St. Louis for Game 6 scheduled on Wednesday.
What's more, in the nine previous World Series in which the Cardinals were tied 2-2 through four games, they won the championship in seven of them, including four times after losing Game 5.
Not that the Cardinals are focused on the work of their predecessors at the expense of their own play.
"History's great and all, but I don't think it has much bearing on what's going to happen in this particular series," Cardinals rightfielder Lance Berkman said. "You can ask the '04 Yankees about that."
Berkman was invoking the sport's greatest statistical outlier, the 2004 Yankees who led the Red Sox 3-0 in the ALCS before losing the next four games, evidence that nothing really is set in stone.
"If they get a great starting pitching performance and we don't, they're going to beat us," said Berkman. "If we get a good pitching performance and we can put some runs together, we might win the game."
The Cardinals, of course, need to win two games, and to do so will need to follow the formula laid out by Berkman. Thus far, they have gotten good enough starting pitching -- a 3.17 ERA from their starters -- but need to get more out of their offense. After scoring 16 times in Game 3, the second-highest single-game total in World Series history, St. Louis has scored only two runs since, and only six runs combined in Games 1, 2, 4 and 5.
In the past two games, the Cardinals have gone 9-for-56 (.161) with just one extra-base hit. For the series, Matt Holliday is hitting just .167 with only one extra-base hit and no RBIs and while Albert Pujols had a monster Game 3 (five hits, three home runs, six RBIs) he is 0-for-12 in the other four games -- and may not get any more chances to levy multi-run damage.
Manager Ron Washington's strategy of not letting Pujols beat the Rangers seems to be working. Pujols came to the plate four times with men on base in Game 5. He was intentionally walked three times, once after the only base runner had been erased on a caught stealing. Only once did the Rangers have to pitch to him -- Pujols represented the tying run with no outs in the ninth inning -- striking him out as part of a strike-'em-out-throw-'em-out double play. In none of those four innings did the Cardinals score.
Now St. Louis may have to warm their bats in chilly environs. The weather for Game 6 calls for temperatures in the low 50s with some forecasts predicting as high as a 90-percent chance of rain. In similarly cool circumstances in the first two games (and rainy in Game 1), the Cardinals managed just four runs and 12 hits total, including four hits and one run off Colby Lewis, the Game 6 starter, in Game 2.
The Rangers won that game 2-1 thanks to the first blown save from the Cardinals' bullpen this postseason. That was the first lost save opportunity and the first crack in what had been an October strength for the Cards. St. Louis had entered Game 2 with a 2.38 postseason ERA from its relievers, but in that contest and the three succeeding ones, it allowed nine runs (eight earned) in 11 2/3 innings, a 6.17 mark.
The possibility of rain casts some doubt about whether the game will be played and, if so, under what conditions, though that could also wind up helping the Cardinals. Another low-scoring game Wednesday night -- fueled by cold weather, a pitcher's park and no designated hitters -- is a distinct possibility. That gives a slight advantage to the Cardinals. St. Louis was 76-19 (.800) when allowing four or fewer runs while Texas was 76-22 (.776). Similarly, the Cards were 31-53 (.369) when scoring four or fewer, and the Rangers were 26-51 (.338).
At the moment, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa has a dilemma for a potential Game 7. He could start Game 3 pitcher Kyle Lohse (three runs on five hits and two walks in three innings), or bring back Game 4 starter Edwin Jackson (three runs on three hits and seven walks in 5 1/3 innings) on three days' rest or, even give veteran Jake Westbrook (one scoreless relief inning in the postseason) his first October start.
But if Wednesday's game is washed out and Games 6 and 7 are moved to Thursday and Friday, a win by St. Louis in Game 6 would give La Russa the chance to bring back his ace, Chris Carpenter, on three days' rest for Game 7.
Washington was clear on Monday that he would still start Matt Harrison in that game, although he could change his mind and turn to Derek Holland, who threw 8 1/3 shutout and two-hit innings in his Game 4 win and would have had four full days of rest by Game 7.
For the Cardinals to win their 11th world championship, they will have to do something no team has done since the Red Sox pulled it off from Aug. 23-25: beat the Rangers in back-to-back games. Since that modest three-game skid, the Rangers have played 45 regular- and postseason games without having lost two in a row.
Coincidentally, it was during that streak -- on Aug. 24, to be precise -- that the Cardinals fell to their lowest point in the NL wild card race, 10 ½ games behind the Braves. They finished the year on a 23-9 tear to earn a playoff berth on the season's final day.
"The only historical stat I looked to this year is where we started [our comeback] in August," St. Louis reliever Marc Rzepcynski said. "Obviously we came back from 10 1/2 games back. After that, all the flukes and all the statistics, we're not worried about [being behind 3-2]."
Now back home and sleeping in their own beds, the Cardinals must find a way to wake up their bats. If they do, there'll be no need for a happy flight but there will be a joyous parade.