Magic Number: 4
Is this better than a year ago? Is falling in a close one to fall to 0-1 in the World Series better than having it be all but over going in to the final innings?
The Rangers lost the kind of game you shrug your shoulders at in the season. They did not get the breaks. They had some bad luck. Some normally-good players had bad days. They were beaten by a good team with their ace on their mound in their own ballpark. You lose a close one in the regular season, and you can quickly get over the loss by knowing you can't win them all, the team made it competitive.
In the World Series, you don't get that "moral victory" (an awful phrase often used to marginalize good points). You just get 0-1. It does not matter if you looked good losing, or if they looked bad, or whatever, it just matters that your chances of a World Series victory plummeted.
There was not a whole lot to be happy about in the loss, either. So many players were bad. Ian Kinsler had two base hits, but each of the three hitters behind him responded with oh-fors. The combination of David Murphy and Craig Gentry did the same. Chris Carpenter was clearly struggling with command, but the Rangers were incapable of taking advantage of it.
The Rangers defense showed up, particularly Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler, but a lack of the same defense at first base was most costly. With runners on second and third, Michael Young let a Lance Berkman single get past him just fair, giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead; more than the eventual difference. The runs still may have scored with the successive play, and it was a difficult play, but with Albert Pujols making great plays in the field, Young's inability to do the same -- though no surprise -- only hurt more. His bat, of course, did nothing to help things, either.
Speaking of doing nothing to help, C.J. Wilson did nothing to help his growing reputation as a postseason failure. Throughout his five and two-thirds innings, he struggled to find a consistent -- and large -- strikezone, didn't miss a lot of bats, and had six walks. While two walks were intentional, and one kind-of intentional, that is still damaging. With a deep fly ball that would likely have left in most weather or ballparks, and some defensive help, he was probably lucky to have only allowed two runs. It was not that he was terrible, it was that he was not good, and you need your best pitcher to be good if you don't want to pray for someone else to step up in the World Series.
Despite all that, the Rangers had a chance because Mike Napoli did the unexpected. With an ace pitcher -- of the same handedness -- on the mound, in cold weather, in a park with a rightfield that is practically insurmountable, he launched a sinker deep the opposite direction for a two-run homerun, completely changing the game. If Nelson Cruz is able to make a tough sliding catch, the game is probably still being played.
This also can be said of the final inning, when Beltre fouled a ball off his foot, but was called out. Throughout the game, FOX had been forcing the use of their infrared camera, and suddenly they had a use for it, proving the ball hit Beltre. Despite an excellent strikezone, Major League Baseball's beloved Human Element entered in to the game and messed things up. The Cardinals still probably win, but we will never know because the umpires, with their limited eyes and refusal to get help, made the wrong call. How baseball is okay with this in the World Series, I don't know.
Despite some terrible performances, the Rangers had so many opportunities to win. For some, that will keep them up tonight. For some, that can be their silver lining. The preview had this game as slightly favoring the Rangers, but only slightly, and yet still favored them to win the series. Win Thursday and Texas goes home with a 1-1 lead; and splitting at home in the setting of this series would be dramatically in their favor, and all you could ask for.
Clearly, the World Series is not over yet. Things got worse because of a frustrating game, but they can get better even than they were to start just as quickly. Texas is 2-1 in the last two years when losing the first game, and the Mavericks have to have taught Dallas sports fans a thing or two about not giving up with championships on the line. You don't have to be happy, you just don't need to panic.
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