ST. LOUIS -- Nearly five hours before the scheduled first pitch and even before the tarp was placed across the Busch Stadium infield, Major League Baseball decided to postpone Game 6 of World Series given the forecasts of steady rains expected all night.
The Texas Rangers, who lead the World Series 3-2, and the St. Louis Cardinals will resume action Thursday evening at 8:05 p.m. ET.
That the game was called early, before any meaningful precipitation had fallen, was a gamble Major League Baseball decided was worth taking. League executive vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre said the league consulted local and national weather forecasts, which by early afternoon had downgraded the amount of rain from heavy to moderate, but that the primary consideration was making sure that the game was played to completion, rather than be interrupted by rain delays, especially since Game 6 has the potential to be the deciding game.
"We just didn't want to take a chance," Torre said. "You know, we anticipate it's going to rain. If it doesn't rain, you still make the decision on what you knew."
Aiding the decision, Torre said, was that the forecast looks dry for Thursday and Friday, allowing Games 6 and 7, if necessary, to be played without hindrance from rain. He also said that when he informed the two clubs' managers of this possibility on Tuesday, that "they didn't offer any kind of strategy fight on it."
Neither contested the decision, but it did seem clear from remarks on Wednesday that Texas' Ron Washington was more interested in playing the game. When St. Louis' Tony La Russa was asked if he had any input on the postponement, he said no and joked that he was only privy to output in the form of a phone call with the final result. Washington, however, was clear that he would have preferred to play.
"I want to play," Washington said. "I wasn't asked. But I want to play. But I understand the situation. And because the situation is the way it is, once again, I changed my mindset from playing a ballgame to getting work and getting back to the hotel. That's it."
There's no getting around the fact that this decision put the league out on a limb because the rain had not yet hit and no weather forecast is absolute. But surely the league didn't want a repeat of 2008's World Series Game 5 -- when the Rays and Phillies had a rain-interrupted game that took three days to finish -- and didn't want either team to have an outing from a starting pitcher curtailed by a long rain delay rather than by his own performance.
The downsides of trying to play the game in the rain -- possible shorter starts from pitchers, injuries in wet conditions, long delays, etc. -- certainly seem to outweigh the worst-case scenario of the storm system passing, at which point the league would have egg on its face but Busch wouldn't have puddles on its field.
The biggest beneficiary of the rainout is St. Louis, which now has a pretty clear pitching plan for a possible Game 7. With Game 3 starter Kyle Lohse having been ineffective this postseason, La Russa would have had to scramble and piece together his pitching in pieces, but now he has the luxury of returning his best pitcher, Chris Carpenter, on three days' rest if they win Game 6.
La Russa did not commit to Carpenter definitively being his Game 7 starter, but all signs point toward that being the case, including the pitcher having already volunteered for the assignment.
"I was told by Carp that he would be ready to go," La Russa said.
Carpenter has only made one career start on three days' rest and didn't pitch well, giving up four runs in three innings in NLDS Game 2 this year. But he's been brilliant since then, going 3-0 with a no decision in four starts, allowing seven earned runs in 27 innings for a 2.33 ERA. And in a do-or-die elimination game, St. Louis would only really need Carpenter to give four or five innings before everyone in the bullpen -- and rotation -- gets his own turn to chip in for a few outs here and a few outs there.
The rain similarly gives the Rangers the option of returning starter Derek Holland on normal rest in Game 7 -- Holland threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits and two walks in Game 4 -- but Washington is steadfast about sticking to his original plan of using Matt Harrison if the Series extends to Friday's Game 7, even though he allowed five runs (three earned) in 3 2/3 innings in Game 2.
"Because Harrison is my Game 7 pitcher," Washington said. "Harrison has been a big part of this team all year. I am not changing the things that I've been doing all year. That's why we are where we are, and that's why I'm saying Harrison."
In the clubhouse afterwards Harrison said he appreciates the vote of confidence, and Holland said he was on board with the decision because it's what he was told all along would be his plan: be available to relieve in Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 while starting Game 4.
"That's how I feel, too," Holland said. "There's no need to dredge anything up. He's been pitching good all year so why change anything up?"
Much of Washington's success as manager is attributed to his ability to interact with and motivate his players, which explains second baseman Ian Kinsler's response to the decision. "Honestly, it's not surprising that he would say something like that," Kinsler said.
Generally, the thinking in the playoffs is to ride the hot hand, so Washington's reluctance to change pitchers still raises a few eyebrows. Both Harrison and Holland have experience pitching out of the bullpen, so there's no real discrepancy there, but in defense of Washington's decision is how streaky Holland can be.
The Bill James-created metric of game score shows how wild those swings can be. The game score formula turns a pitcher's entire performance into one number, for which 100 is exceptional and 0 is terrible. Holland, who threw an AL-leading four shutouts this season, had six starts with a game score of at least 73, which was tied for 14th in the majors. But he also had seven starts with a sub-30 game score, which was tied for fourth-most.
In other words, it's never clear which Derek Holland is going to show up.
Most of the attention in Wednesday afternoon's media availability revolved around how the weather postponement would affect what-if scenarios for Game 7, and perhaps rightfully so as the strategy for Game 6 hasn't changed. The Cardinals are still handing the ball to Jaime Garcia, the Rangers are still giving the ball to Colby Lewis and both bullpens are already rested after having enjoyed the travel off-day.
The two starters last pitched in Game 2, which is now a break of six days, a full two days longer than their regular turns in the regular season, and that extra rest could benefit Garcia. While some pitchers find that a fifth or sixth day can be too long, Garcia has been much better in his career with six or more days off between starts. He has a 3.23 ERA in 31 starts on four days' rest, 3.86 ERA in 17 starts on five days' rest and a stellar 2.27 ERA in 13 starts on six or more days' rest.
The splits for Lewis, meanwhile, show less deviation. Since returning from Japan before the 2010 season he has a 3.96 ERA in 33 starts on four days' rest, a 4.27 ERA in 19 starts on five days' rest and a 4.00 ERA in 12 starts on six or more days' rest.
Also of note is how both bullpens are swelling in size. La Russa said starters Lohse and Edwin Jackson would be available in Game 6 even changed his answer about Carpenter's availability from "no chance" to "little chance," though it seems highly unlikely he'd pitch in case of a Game 7.
For the Rangers, however, Washington now has Holland and probably No. 1 starter C.J. Wilson both available for relief work in addition to his normal bullpen crew. Wilson, a converted reliever who has 52 career saves, is no stranger to the role and would been a lefthanded weapon. Much of his struggles this postseason have come against righties, who are batting .298 with a .438 on-base percentage while lefties have been held to a paltry .235 average and the same number OBP, as Wilson hasn't walked any lefty in 17 at bats.
Both clubs have a key middle-of-the-order hitter that has been slowed this World Series. For the Rangers, it's Josh Hamilton, who acknowledged that his groin strain would have landed him on the disabled list if this were the regular season. He's 3-for-19 (.158) with two singles and a double.
For the Cardinals, it's Matt Holliday, who was clear in saying that he's "fine" after missing time earlier this postseason with a hand injury, though his performance at the plate -- and his manager -- say otherwise. Holliday is 3-for-18 (.167), also with two singles and a double.
"I think the biggest thing is he missed some at-bats leading up to the crunch," La Russa said," and in the crunch, and all of a sudden it's the most pressure you've faced all year long. I do think he's healthy right now, but he's trying to catch up. It's a tough time to catch up."
Said Holliday, "I've had some good at-bats and I feel pretty good about where I'm at."
An extra day off may not make a difference for either player, but it certainly doesn't hurt.