October 25, 2011
"Free outs! Get your free outs here!" — Tony La Russa and the St. Louis Cardinals during Game 5 of the World Series
Aside from "miscommunications" with the bullpen that left La Russa scrambling for answers, St. Louis made several decisions on offense that failed to work out — and really didn't make sense at the moment — in what became an agonizing 4-2 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday night.
When totaled up, the Cardinals helped push themselves to the brink of elimination by gift-wrapping and giving away five outs. As Joe Posnanski pointed out on Twitter, a team gets only 27 of those over nine innings. Going 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position and leaving 12 men on base didn't help, but it's impossible to deny the impact that giving away those precious outs had on the outcome.
Here's a chronological rundown of each out, why the decision failed, and why it never made sense to begin with:
Why it didn't make sense: The runner already was in scoring position. You know Pujols is going to be walked regardless of how Craig makes an out, so why wouldn't you give him a chance to start a big inning? A maddening decision even for those without a rooting interest in the series.
Furcal sacrifices runners to second and third with one out in the fifth and the Cardinals leading 2-1.
It didn't work: Craig struck out. Then, after another intentional walk to Pujols, Holliday grounded out.
Why it didn't make sense: Furcal isn't the player he once was, but he still only hit into three double plays this season — so you weren't really risking killing the inning letting him hit. Instead, you lose the out, open the base and put all of your chips on Craig getting the ball in play. Another chance to take command of the game and series is squandered.
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Lost out No. 3: Craig caught stealing for second out in the seventh with the score tied 2-all and Pujols batting.
It didn't work: Apparently there was a miscommunication or a missed hit-and-run sign. Reporter Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch firmly believes it was Pujols who called for the hit-and-run — and then didn't swing (probably because the pitch was so bad). I'm not sure what exactly happened, but either way, Craig was gunned down by Series star Mike Napoli(notes).
Why it didn't make sense: The Cardinals were finally in a spot where Pujols could swing the bat, and that opportunity was lost with Craig being thrown out. Pujols was then walked intentionally with the bases empty, and the Redbirds failed to score despite loading the bases with two outs.
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Why it didn't make sense: If there's anyone due up next other than Nick Punto or a pitcher, it actually makes sense. But the next batter was Nick Punto — and we all pretty much knew how that was going to end.
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Lost out No. 5: Craig again got caught stealing for the second out in the ninth and the Cardinals trailing 4-2.
It didn't work: Another failed hit-and-run with Pujols, only this time with two strikes and the game on the line. A quick and decisive double play for Texas that killed most of the hope for St. Louis (even though they managed to bring the tying run to the plate again).
Why it didn't make sense: Craig's run, by itself, was meaningless. Granted, he's still a potential out and you're hoping to avoid the ground-ball double play, but you got the double play anyway, let closer Neftali Feliz(notes) off the hook, and potentially took a game-changing at-bat away from David Freese(notes) or Yadier Molina later in the frame.
When formulating the five reasons I believed the St. Louis Cardinals would win the World Series, I felt very strongly about the third item on that list, which read: Tony La Russa's masterful maneuvering. Hey, there was no denying La Russa entered the Series with some serious managerial cache. Everything he touched in the earlier rounds seemingly turned to gold, a matchup with Washington seemed to heavily favor the man who has been a major-league skipper since 1979. But just like momentum is the next day's starting pitcher, I guess you're only one bad decision from spiraling downward.
What happened to the Cardinals in Game 5 would best be described as a downward spiral.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not a guy that hates bunting and giving away outs in all scenarios, and I'm all for being aggressive on the bases, too. But man, this debacle in Game 5 for St. Louis might have set the game back 80 years.