ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 20: (L-R) Daniel Descalso #33, Jason Motte #30 and Rafael Furcal #15 of the St. Louis Cardinals walk to the mound in the ninth inning after the Texas Rangers tie the game during Game Two of the MLB World Series at Busch Stadium on October 20, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
If you're thinking to yourself that that was an especially depressing way to lose Game 2 of the World Series, you are correct. It doesn't have a lot to do with the precariousness of the Rangers' offensive attack or the three-outs-away spectacle of it, for me. Maybe this is a side-effect of growing up in the McGwire-Sosa era: Any game the Cardinals lead by a run, especially 1-0 or 2-1, makes me feel almost guilty, like the team is in the process of getting away with something it will not be allowed to get away with, lockdown closer or no lockdown closer.
As it turns out, the Cardinals did not get away with their first four hitters going 2-17, or the awkward, disjointed failure of their various ninth inning relievers to turn a high fly ball into a high, easily catchable fly ball—or, I guess, to get those high, easily catchable fly balls before they gave up the one closest to the Busch Stadium pole of inaccessibility.
As for Tony La Russa's decision to go with Arthur Rhodes instead of Jason Motte, I found it odd at best—I understand the urge to exploit Hamilton's large platoon split (which includes an increased strikeout rate from the left side) and that La Russa's valuation of Rhodes is somewhat higher than our own, but even then the idea doesn't quite work for me.
That said, I think it's a mistake to reduce this game to his eccentric, highly visible bullpen decision—a mistake that comes from the same impulse that's led to a new flood of La Russa The Genius articles for the first time since Men at Work came out. It's pleasant to turn the postseason into a story of La Russa pulling the right or wrong levers because that rejects the role that chance plays in these incredibly tense moments. In a world where Tony La Russa is to blame, this game is no longer about a pop up hit into the wrong defense or a missed cut-off man, just like the NLCS is no longer about multiple relievers playing over their heads at the same moment.
I enjoy that way of thinking about baseball, and I do it, just like I enjoy pitchers wins and RBI and stories about Bob Gibson winning because he was the toughest competitor who ever competed and not because he was an outstanding pitcher who was also outstanding in the World Series. But if you really want the why of this game, or the why of any close baseball game, it isn't about who gave up the sacrifice flies—it's just because.
I'm interested in whether the Cardinals go for Kyle Lohse or Edwin Jackson for Game 3, but I'm not especially hung up on it; Edwin Jackson is probably a better pitcher, but he's not a lot better, and since they'll both be pitching in the series I can't get worked up about the order in which they do it.
As for the possibility of a Jake Westbrook appearance—for all the talk about Tony La Russa's overmanaging that would be the ultimate too-clever-by-half move in this series. It's true that Jake Westbrook gets a lot of ground balls, and it's equally true that Westbrook probably pitched better than his awful ERA indicates. But putting your worst starter—and one without anything approaching a "rhythm"—into a World Series game just because he theoretically profiles better in the ballpark actually is the kind of arrogance people think putting in a left-handed pitcher to face a left-handed batter represents.
In general, I'm not playing a ballpark hunch unless it involves Craig Biggio slapping home runs over the left field fence at Minute Maid Park.