Blown call sets stage for Cardinals
We'll never know if Ron Cupla's missed call altered the course of Game 3
The Cardinals again showed their lineup is as deep an any in either league
The Rangers have held the lead in one of 27 innings during the World Series
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers knew they had been robbed in the top of the fourth inning, and first base umpire Ron Kulpa was culpable.
Until that point, Game 3 of the World Series had been progressing in a manner similar to that of Games 1 and 2. It was 1-0, and the Cardinals and Rangers seemed headed for yet another close, tense affair. Then, with no outs and Albert Pujols on first, Matt Holliday hit a certain double-play ball to Elvis Andrus at shortstop. Andrus flipped to Ian Kinsler, who threw high to Mike Napoli at first base -- but Napoli lept and caught the ball, and on his way down applied a swipe tag to the back of Holliday, who was clearly short of the bag.
That Napoli had tagged Holliday with plenty of time to spare was immediately clear to everyone in the Ballpark at Arlington -- and even clearer, once the replay was shown -- except to Kulpa, whose opinion was the only one that mattered. Kulpa spread his arms, signaling Holliday safe. "He was saying [Holliday] was on the bag when I tagged him," Napoli said of Kulpa's explanation. "I thought he was out when the play happened."
"I saw a replay when I walked off the field, and the tag was applied before his foot hit the bag," a regretful Kulpa would say.
It is impossible to know for certain whether the mistaken spreading of Kulpa's wings initiated a chain reaction that resulted in an offensive earthquake by the Cardinals that resulted in a 16-7 victory, and a 2-1 lead for St. Louis in the Series. The Cardinals went on to score four runs in the fourth, and at least one in each of the five innings to follow. Perhaps none of that would have happened had Kulpa made the correct call. "The game could have turned out different," said Matt Harrison, the Rangers' victimized starter.
What is certain is that after Kulpa's call, the Cardinals once again showed that they have a lineup that ranks among baseball's best in either league, and that their club is not one, like many past representatives of the National League, that suffers when the World Series moves to an American League city, meaning that they are forced to fill a designated hitter spot that many have been ill-equipped to fill. With Allen Craig freed from his pinch-hitting shackles, the Cardinals made Lance Berkman their DH, and their lineup in Texas was, if anything, better when compared to their opponent's than it was in St. Louis. Craig, starting in right field, confirmed that in the top of the first, when he took the second pitch he saw from Harrison deep for the game's first run.
Pujols led the onslaught, as Pujols so often does. On this night, he went 5-for-6, with six RBIs and a World Series-record 14 total bases, and he became the third player ever, joining Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson, to slug three home runs in a World Series game. But after the game, Pujols -- whose World Series resume entering Saturday had been, for him, thin (in 11 previous World Series games, he was batting .222, with one home run and two RBIs) -- rightly spread the credit around.
"I mean, there's so many guys in the lineup that had a huge night, starting with Allen -- right away in the first inning, he kind of took the crowd out of the game," he said. "It was just a great team win. Everybody contributed. We had good, quality at-bats. We just took our game plan out there, and we executed, pretty much."
Earlier this postseason, Berkman again and again talked about the top-to-bottom quality of the Cardinals' offense. "Take a step back, and forget about what we had to do to get here," Berkman said of his club's last-ditch scramble past the Braves in the wild-card race. "Look at our lineup, and you'd think that it's the best in the National League. The fact that we're here, it's not surprising."
On Saturday night, the Cardinals again proved Berkman correct. Every hitter in their starting lineup except for center fielder Jon Jay had at least one hit, with four RBIs coming off the bat of catcher Yadier Molina. Through 14 postseason games, Cardinals non-pitchers who are not Pujols, Berkman or Holliday are now hitting .268, with seven home runs and 44 RBIs. "I don't know, compared to Boston when they were rolling everybody, or New York or whatever, I don't know really how they compare to those guys," said Rangers starter C.J. Wilson. "But obviously, they're an American League-quality lineup. They'd be a good lineup in our league as well."
The Rangers attempted to battle back, scoring three runs in the bottom of that fateful fourth inning and three more in the fifth, but they could never take the lead in a game that featured the sort of offensive output that had been expected from these two teams, a game in which runs were scored in 10 of its 18 half-innings. The clubs not only combined to score nearly three times as many runs as the sum that they had scored in the series' first two games, but they combined for more hits -- 28 -- than they had in total mustered in Games 1 and 2. Most of those runs, and most of those hits, were produced by the Cardinals. "They kept pouring it on us," said Napoli.
"They swung the lumber, and there wasn't much we could do about it," lamented Rangers manager Ron Washington. "I don't know what combination I could have used to stop them. We just couldn't stop them. We fought. We didn't give in to that ballgame. We kept fighting. We kept trying to get back in it. But it was just a little too much for us tonight."
It was more like a lot too much for them, and the concern for Washington is now whether the Cardinals' offense will continue to be as such. Washington's own high-powered lineup has given his club a lead in just one of 27 innings so far in the series. That it was the right inning -- the ninth of Game 2 -- is the only reason that his club is not in a 3-0 hole. Kulpa's call set the Cardinals up for the win, but it was an offense that extends far beyond Pujols that sealed it, and it will be incumbent on Washington -- and on his Game 4 starter, Derek Holland, who has thus far in the postseason allowed eight earned runs and 18 hits, five of them homers -- to somehow, some way, try to find a way to stop it.