x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Cruz and Rangers come up short in World Series opener

Nelson Cruz was "inches" from running down an Allen Craig slice which gave St Louis the go-head run to take the opening game 3-2.

St Louis Cardinals supports cheer as Nelson Cruz, the Texas Rangers right fielder, struggles to deal with a pinch-hit from Allen Craig to allow St Louis the go-ahead run in their 3-2 win to open the World Series.
St Louis Cardinals supports cheer as Nelson Cruz, the Texas Rangers right fielder, struggles to deal with a pinch-hit from Allen Craig to allow St Louis the go-ahead run in their 3-2 win to open the World Series.

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI // Nelson Cruz saw the ball slicing off Allen Craig's bat, sprinted to the foul line and slid, desperately trying to run down the tailing liner.

"It was close," the right fielder said. "Baseball is like that. Inches."

He came up just short, and so did the Texas Rangers.

Craig's pinch-hit drive landed an inch or two in front of Cruz's outstretched glove for a go-ahead single off Alexi Ogando, the reliever, in the sixth inning, and that was the difference as the St Louis Cardinals beat the Rangers 3-2 in a chilly World Series opener.

On a night when all the runs were driven in with opposite-field hits to right, Lance Berkman put St Louis ahead with a two-run single in the fourth against CJ Wilson.

Mike Napoli, the Rangers catcher, watched in dejection as Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday scored, but a few minutes later celebrated in the top of the fifth when he tied it to 2-2 with a two-run homer off Chris Carpenter.

"A tough loss," Napoli said. "But we shake things off pretty good."

Indeed, the two-time American League (AL) champions have not lost consecutive games since August 23-25 against Boston.

The high-octane Rangers had their chances. But Texas were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position after rolling up a .302 average (19 for 63) in those situations during the AL championship series against Detroit.

"I don't think we did the job when we needed," Cruz said. "Men in scoring position is when you need to deliver."

Game 1 has been an indicator of success in recent decades: The winner has captured seven of the last eight titles, 12 of the last 14 and 19 of the last 23. In addition, the team hosting Game 1 has won 20 of the last 25 World Series.

Last year, when the Rangers made their first World Series appearance, they lost the opener to San Francisco 11-7, and the Giants went on to win the title in five games.

Now it is up to Colby Lewis, who starts for the Rangers tonight against Jaime Garcia. Lewis will try to send the Series back to Texas tied at a game apiece.

Taking over as ace pitcher after Cliff Lee left to sign with Philadelphia, Wilson dropped to 0-3 with a 7.17 ERA in four post-season starts this year, allowing three runs and four hits in five 2-3 innings with a career-high six walks — two of them intentional.

He prepared for the start by getting in a tank of liquid nitrogen — the treatment is said to aid recovery — but on a blustery, cold night his walks and a key wild pitch got him into some hot spots.

He fell behind after bouncing a pitch in the fourth that hit Pujols on the left foot. That started a streak of three bad pitches in a four-pitch span.

Wilson tried to go inside on Holliday but left the next one over the plate, and Holliday hit an opposite-field double into the right-field corner as Pujols took third.

Then, with the count 1-0 to Berkman, Wilson tried to go inside again but allowed a cutter to drift over the plate. Berkman went the other way and chopped the ball over first base and into right field as the Cardinals took a 2-0 lead. Wilson shook his head back and forth as he walked back to the mound.

"A cutter kind of down and away. He inside-outed it, and it took a weird bounce," Wilson said. "It's not like I'm sitting there serving up home runs. I gave up a couple of singles or whatever. It's just the way the ball bounces."

That lead was short-lived.

Adrian Beltre singled leading off the fifth and, one out later, Napoli hit a no-doubt drive about 10 rows deep into the right-field seats for his second home run of the post-season. A fired-up Carpenter had escaped a two-on, none-out jam in the second when Napoli hit into an inning-ending double play.

Pujols had Cardinals fans cheering in the top of the sixth when he slid to stop Michael Young's grounder behind first and threw to Carpenter for the out, stranding Ian Kinsler at third.

Then in the bottom half, the National League Championship Series MVP David Freese hit an opposite-field double to right with one out and went to third on a wild pitch. Wilson struck out Yadier Molina, then pitched carefully to Nick Punto and walked him on four pitches.

"The plan was not to give in," Wilson said. "I know they had either Carpenter coming up or a pinch-hitter, and with Ogando warming up behind me, I have confidence that he's going to come in and get that guy out."

Ogando relieved, and with many of the Cardinals fans standing and waving white towels, Craig stroked a 1-2 pitch down the right field line. Cruz thought that when he slid past the grass onto the dirt, the friction slowed him down.

"I think the dirt caught me," he said.

Carpenter became the first St Louis starter to reach the sixth inning since the division series. He got the win, allowing two runs and five hits in six innings with four strikeouts and one walk. Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Arthur Rhodes and Jason Motte followed, with Motte getting three straight outs for his fifth post-season save to complete three innings of one-hit relief.

With one out in the ninth, Beltre was called out on a grounder to third on a ball that appeared to bounce off his foot and could have been ruled foul. The call did not go the Rangers' way.

It was that kind of night.

"The pinch-hitter got it done, and ours did not," manager Ron Washington said. "Got to give them credit, they beat us. We didn't give that game away tonight."