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"IT'S HARD TO EXPLAIN HOW THIS HAPPENED," SAID ST. LOUIS MANAGER TONY La Russa shortly after his club had won its 11th World Series. And it was: hard to explain how the Cardinals had climbed back from a 10½-game deficit in the wild-card standings; hard to explain how they had beaten Philadelphia—with its vaunted rotation—in the Division Series; hard to explain how they had vanquished the Brewers, who had finished six games ahead of them in the NL Central, to win the pennant.
It was hardest of all to explain how the Cards had eked out a seven-game World Series victory against the powerful Rangers, especially when, in Game 6, St. Louis twice had been down to its final strike, trailing by two runs in the bottom of the ninth and by two runs again in the 10th. But by prevailing the Cardinals proved that despite having been left for dead so many times in 2011, they had the mettle of champions all along. And as the Cards piled on top of one another in celebration before a record and euphoric Busch Stadium crowd of 47,399, well, the meaning of that scene required no explanation at all.
GAME 1 at St. Louis
CARDINALS 3, RANGERS 2
THIS WORLD SERIES HAD BEEN BILLED as a matchup of virtual twins, of clubs that deeply resembled each other in construction and quality. So it made sense that in Game 1 the difference between winning and losing came down to the length of a finger, more or less. In the bottom of the sixth inning on a chilly and rainy St. Louis night, with the game tied 2--2 thanks to worthy efforts from the starting pitchers, the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter and the Rangers' C.J. Wilson, St. Louis's Allen Craig stepped to the plate, pinch-hitting for Carpenter. There were men on first and third with two outs, and the Rangers' fireballing reliever, Alexi Ogando, was on the mound.
After taking ball one, Craig swung through a 96-mile-per-hour fastball. Then he swung through a 97-mile-per-hour fastball. Ogando's next pitch came in at 98, low in the zone, and Craig sliced it down the rightfield line. Nelson Cruz, the Rangers' rightfielder, raced after it as it tailed away from him. Cruz slid feetfirst and thrust out his glove—but the ball fell inches beyond his reach. The score was 3--2 thanks to Craig's single, and it would remain that way, giving the Cardinals a 1--0 Series lead.
"I thought it was a hit right off the bat," said Craig as he stood in front of his locker after the game, still wearing his rain-dotted ball cap and sweatshirt. "Cruz made an unbelievable effort getting that close to it. But it fell in."
Craig's success was the result of yet another successful strategic move by La Russa, who admitted that even he thought the odds might be stacked against his pinch-hitter. "Cold-weather game, sitting on the bench, World Series, Ogando—it's not a very good situation," he said.
But it worked to the Cards' advantage, in a way that Rangers manager Ron Washington's decisions did not for his club. Texas had a chance to strike back after Craig's go-ahead single, putting men on first and second with one out in the seventh. Then, against lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski, Washington pinch-hit for David Murphy with righty Craig Gentry, who struck out on four pitches. Washington then pinch-hit for Ogando with little-used utilityman Esteban German. This time Rzepczynski needed only three pitches.