By BEN WALKER, Associated Press
ST. LOUIS -- Sometimes, it seems Tony La Russa wishes he could put a dozen more players in his dugout. Just imagine how many moves he could make then.
The St. Louis manager employed most of his roster Wednesday night, mixing and matching his way through Game 1 of the World Series and guiding the Cardinals to a 3-2 win over the Texas Rangers.
La Russa looked like a genius once again, especially when Allen Craig pinch-hit for ace Chris Carpenter and delivered a go-ahead single in the sixth inning. The slicing drive of reliever Alexi Ogando fell inches of sliding right fielder Nelson Cruz – the opener was that tight throughout a cold, damp evening.
It was a game perfectly suited for La Russa – lots of bunts, intentional walks and pitching changes. And in a postseason in which he's made all the right moves, the 67-year-old boss who's spent more than half his life as a big league manager was at the top of his game.
With David Freese on third and two outs, the Rangers opted to walk switch-hitting Nick Punto to get to pitcher Chris Carpenter. With runners on the corners, Tony La Russa pulled his ace from of the game, choosing right-handed Allen Craig to pinch-hit. Ron Washington countered by pulling his starter, southpaw C.J. Wilson, for young fireballer Alexi Ogando. Craig singled to right field to drive in Freese for what would turn out to be the game-winning run.
After pinch-hitting for Carpenter in the bottom of the sixth, La Russa chose Fernando Salas for the top of the seventh. The righty got Adrian Beltre to ground out with an 84-mph changeup. But a single by Nelson Cruz was followed by a walk to Mike Napoli. That walk inspired La Russa to again make the short stroll from the dugout to the mound. Next?
La Russa replaced Salas with two men on and just one away. The 26-year-old Marc Rzepczynski, nicknamed "Scrabble," ably cleaned up the mess that he inherited. Fortunately, he faced two mediocre pinch-hitters; Craig Gentry and Esteban German. He struck out both of them.
To start the top of the eighth, La Russa went with the 37-year-old journeyman Octavio Dotel. He also replaced third baseman David Freese with Daniel Descalso. The right-handed Dotel needed just two pitches to get Ian Kinsler out before freezing Elvis Andrus on three straight called strikes. With left-handed slugger Josh Hamilton coming up, it was time for another change.
With the reigning American League MVP digging into the box in a one-run game, La Russa decided it was time to bring in 41-year-old Arthur Rhodes. The lefty, who has been in the Majors for 20 years with 900 appearances, made his World Series debut. And it surely couldn't have been a taller task. But the veteran was up to the challenge. After throwing five four-seam fastballs in a row in the high '80s, Rhodes got Hamilton to fly out to center field with a slider. One more inning to go..
Finally, it was time for Jason Motte. The 29-year-old righty had been dominant throughout the postseason, pitching eight innings and allowing just one hit. Although La Russa refuses to officially name Motte the closer, the bearded reliever did nothing to shake La Russa's faith here. He continued his outstanding play in Game 1 of the World Series, recording a 1-2-3 inning against Michael Young, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz.
"It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out," Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman said. "But I feel like we have to win the National League-style games if we're going to win this thing and tonight was a National League-style game – 3-2, good pitching, good defense, timely hitting.
"I don't think that we want to get into a gorilla-ball-type series with these guys. We'll see what happens when we add the DH and go to the American League ballpark, but I think when we have the National League style and we have the advantage we have to capitalize," he said.
Texas star Michael Young could appreciate that. Sort of.
"This is real baseball. Your pitcher has to hit. More decisions come into play. A little more strategy comes into play," he said. "I enjoy this style of baseball a little more."
St. Louis used 17 of its 25 players, including five relievers.
The Cardinals even won without their Rally Squirrel. There were no sightings of the elusive critter still roaming Busch Stadium – good thing for the rodent, too, because La Russa probably would've devised a way to catch him.
Game 2 is Thursday night, with Jaime Garcia starting for the Cards against Colby Lewis. Texas has not lost two straight games since Aug. 23-25.
The key sequences in Game 1 came in the sixth inning. In the top half, first baseman Albert Pujols helped prevent Texas from taking the lead on Carpenter's final pitch in the sixth, making a sliding stop on Young's bid for a hit.
It was still 2-all in the bottom half when Rangers starter C.J. Wilson worked around eighth-place hitter Nick Punto with a four-pitch walk that put runners at the corners with two outs.
"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," Wilson said.
La Russa did not hesitate, pulling Carpenter and sending up Craig, a versatile player who was injured for much of the season. Texas manager Ron Washington countered by bringing in the hard-throwing Ogando.
Rather risky lately, trying to play baseball chess with La Russa. As Washington said a day earlier: "Well, I don't think I can ever live up to matching a wit with Tony La Russa."
La Russa liked Craig's chances, even though not everything was tilted in his favor.
"Cold weather game, sitting on the bench, Ogando. It's not a very good situation," La Russa said. "But he's got a history in our system, that's why we like him so much. He should have a really good career."
All the pieces in place, it was time to play – and what followed was the play of the game.
Craig swung through two fastballs, then hit a drive toward the right field line. Cruz tried to make a sliding catch, except the ball bounced just before it reached him and thudded off his left leg for an RBI single.
"It was close. I think the dirt caught me," Cruz said.
Craig's single scored NL championship series MVP David Freese, the St. Louis-area prep star who led off with a double. Freese has hit in 11 straight postseason games.
"Man, he's tough," Craig said of Ogando. "He came right at me with fastballs, and I missed the first two. Then that last one I was trying to get the barrel on it, make the defense make a play. Fortunate, kept it fair, and Cruz made a great attempt on that. It was a great play all around."
Ahead, La Russa coaxed three scoreless innings from his deep bullpen. Jason Motte closed for his fifth save of the postseason.
This was the first time Texas had ever played in St. Louis. Yet Josh Hamilton, Cruz and the big-hitting Rangers looked a lot like the team that fizzled at the plate in last year's World Series against San Francisco.
Each team wound up with six hits. The wild-card Cardinals just did more with them.
Berkman put St. Louis ahead by chopping a two-run single in the fourth. Mike Napoli tied it with a two-run homer in the fifth.
Carpenter earned his eighth postseason win, breaking the team record he shared with Bob Gibson. Of course, all of Gibby's victories came in the World Series.
Wilson fell to 0-5 in his last seven postseason starts, including last year.
The Texas lefty recently spent 2 1/2 minutes in a Dallas cryotherapy chamber, where liquid nitrogen lowered the temperature to 295 degrees below zero, trying to speed body recovery. It was a bit warmer at the ballpark, at 49 degrees for the first pitch.
Wilson became the first pitcher to lose an All-Star game, an AL division series game, an AL championship series game and a World Series game in the same year, STATS LLC said.
"I felt like I was throwing the ball pretty well tonight, giving up a ground ball right there that scores two runs. That's unfortunate. Other than that, I minimized the damage and pitched pretty strategically to the guys I wanted to," Wilson said.
NOTES: Wilson issued two intentional walks in a game for the first time in his career. ... Rhodes, in his 20th big league season, made his World Series debut. ... This was the Cardinals' 106th World Series game, breaking a tie with the Dodgers and Giants franchises for second-most in history. The Yankees lead with 225. ... Garcia is 0-2 with a 5.74 ERA in three postseason starts. ... Lewis is 4-1 in the postseason. His loss came this year to Detroit in the ALCS. ... The team that has won the Series opener in 12 of the last 14 years has gone on to take the crown. ... This was the first AL Central vs. NL Central matchup in the Series since baseball went to six divisions in 1994. ... Young had his 35th birthday. Cardinals infielder Daniel Descalso turned 25. ... NBA All-Star Dirk Nowitzki of the champion Dallas Mavericks is set to throw out the first ball at Game 3.