ST. LOUIS – When he reached first base in what looked like another loss, after the ball he'd hit landed just over the shortstop and just in front of the outfielders, Ian Kinsler(notes) allowed himself a glance toward his dugout.
They wouldn't hold him now, would they? They couldn't, could they?
In almost all circumstances, Kinsler is left to his own guile on the basepaths. He is a base stealer, among the best in baseball. He goes when he believes he can go. Or should go.
Once in a while, though, the hand signal comes from the bench: Don't.
So, in Game 2 of the World Series, in the ninth inning, with nobody out and the St. Louis Cardinals closer on the mound and the league's finest defensive catcher behind the plate, his duty was to look. He didn't want to know, but he had to look.
Nothing. Take it if you can. Get thrown out, and Game 2 is all but over. It's up to you.
Talk to three Texas Rangers officials and get three different answers. Jason Motte(notes), the Cardinals' closer, is slow-ish to the plate, is average, is actually pretty quick even with that leg kick.
Kinsler had to cover 90 feet against that thing. If he were going to bring the Rangers back from a 1-0 deficit – in the game and the series – he'd have to go through Molina.
Elvis Andrus(notes) was the batter. His task was to move Kinsler to second base, and so he was squaring to bunt. Under orders from the bench, he'd play it safe and leave the heroism to the middle of the lineup. Ball one from Motte was a fastball, 96 mph.
Kinsler measured that against Motte's delivery, Molina's arm, the moment.
Motte threw to first base, and now Kinsler had the pickoff move, too.
Strike one to Andrus was another big fastball.
Kinsler returned to first, then stepped off his lead. Albert Pujols(notes) held his mitt toward Motte, who went to the plate, big kick and then release. Andrus saw that Kinsler had a running start, had timed it just right. Ready to bunt, he drew back his bat, let the moment play.
[Slideshow: Check out photos from World Series Game 2]
The Rangers beat the Cardinals in that split second. They scored two runs in the ninth inning, shocking the Cardinals and the city, 2-1, because Kinsler stole the base that couldn't be stolen, not on Molina's watch, not in October, not on a 95-mph fastball that arrived perfectly – slightly to Molina's glove side. And not on a throw by Molina that hissed past Motte and toward shortstop Rafael Furcal's(notes) glove.
"The throw that Yadier made," Kinsler said, trailing off. "I mean, honestly, I thought I had that bag extremely easy."
He arrived headfirst to the outfield side, his left hand clutching the base. Furcal jabbed his glove at him. Kinsler had beaten it, had taken what base stealers call "a quality bag," the one you absolutely have to have and the one the other team will refuse to give.
Dave Roberts was in New York City on Thursday night. Seven years and three days earlier, in a ninth inning at Fenway Park, he took one of those bags and beat the New York Yankees. That was in the American League Championship Series, and sparked a week and a half that fought off decades of failure. This turned a World Series game, and maybe the entire series and, in that case, a franchise, one that's never raised that flag.
Having seen Kinsler's steal, and reminded of that night by text, Roberts responded gleefully, "I love it!"
Rangers first base coach Gary Pettis saw Kinsler go and was not surprised. He knows Kinsler's spirit. More important, he loved the jump. Kinsler would steal that base on the pitcher, churning out four, five, six steps before Molina could take his shot.
In the moment, watching Molina spring to the ball and fire to second, Pettis admitted, "I'm still worried."
But, he said, "Sometimes you have to try and push the envelope. When things aren't going well you have to create something."
Over eight innings, the Rangers had one runner in scoring position – Kinsler – and he died at third base in the fourth. In a blown hit-and-run the night before, in Game 1, Molina had thrown out Kinsler by a yard. In fact, Molina had thrown out five of seven base stealers in the postseason.
With his arm alone, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had said of Molina pregame, "He's a weapon."
It was again.
"Yadier," Andrus said, "made a perfect throw."
What followed then disrupted the Cardinals' plans to show up in Texas with a two-games-to-none lead, commanding in a series most had picked them to lose. Andrus, trying to move Kinsler to third, shot a single to right-center field, then advanced to second when the throw from the outfield got loose. Kinsler was held at third. Josh Hamilton(notes) hit a long fly ball to right that not only scored Kinsler with the tying run, but advanced Andrus to third. And Michael Young(notes) drove in Andrus with another fly ball.
The Rangers had their two runs. They'd be enough, by just barely. But that's how it works.
Asked by how much he'd stolen that base, Kinsler smiled.
"Enough," he said.
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