Just when it looked like Allen Craig had parlayed a pair of pinch-hitting appearances into a stranglehold on the World Series MVP Award, the Texas Rangers staged a comeback against the Cardinals de facto closer to pull even in the 2011 World Series.
HEROES: While the defensive contributions of any double-play combination are inextricably linked, Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus showed tremendous synergy on the other side of the ball as well. After partnering on a pair of breathtaking double plays that helped keep the Cardinals from building a big lead, they ignited the game-winning rally. Kinsler reached to start the road ninth, and then Rangers skipper Ron Washington had Andrus up to bunt. But Kinsler daringly broke for second against Yadier Molina -- who does not suffer baserunners lightly. By just beating Yadi's pinpoint throw, Kinsler allowed Andrus to swing away. His base hit put both runners in scoring position. Kinsler would be driven home by Josh Hamilton for the tying run and Andrus would score on a sacrifice fly by Michael Young.
NO CLOSER: After struggling mightily for the bulk of the regular season, the Cardinals' relievers have been rock-solid in the playoffs. Having winnowed away some of the bullpen chaff and brought in a few new arms at the trade deadline, some of the improvement has been due to the increased stability. At the core of this stability was hard-throwing, right-hander Jason Motte. The bearded Motte has been lights out thus far in the playoffs, but Tony La Russa kept stopping short of officially dubbing him the team's closer. Last night, he showed why. After Kinsler and Andrus reached base, La Russa took the ball from Motte. The move backfired on the field, and, if the dismay of broadcasters like Curt Schilling is to be believed, will also backfire in the clubhouse.
DON'T FORGET: Seeing as how he looked to be in line for the win, most of the starting pitching love during the game went to Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia. But don't forget about Rangers righty Colby Lewis. A journeyman who has found a home in Texas, Lewis went 6.2 frames and left with the game scoreless. Alexi Ogando would allow one of Lewis' runners to score on Craig's hit, but it was still a solid road outing on the game's grandest stage.
FAREWELL? With the Series tied, 1-1, and the next three games scheduled for Arlington, it's entirely possible that Albert Pujols will never play another home game in St. Louis. Had the Cardinals lost Game 2 in less stunning fashion and been trailing heading into the later innings then there likely would have been some sort of just-in-case goodbye like the one that Prince Fielder experienced in Milwaukee. Fittingly, Pujols was playing first base during Fielder's last at-bat. He even called timeout to allow Fielder to soak in some of the applause from the fans. Makes you wonder if Pujols will get a moment like that? Could his fielding blunder in the top of the ninth -- when he deflected but didn't cut off the ball coming back into the infield after Andrus' hit -- be his last act in St. Louis?
PERCEPTION SHAPES REALITY: If Arthur Rhodes had been able to retire Hamilton and if the other pitchers that La Russa would have invariably opted to use had combined to make Craig's pinch-hit RBI stand up then the Cardinals are not only in control of the Series but they are in control of the message. They are the one-for-all team getting contributions from up and down the bench. They are also the team bolstered by the popular belief that it is being led by the "Genius." The Rangers, on the other hand, are the shrinking violets being outhustled and outhtought.
While avoid an 0-2 hole was the paramount goal for the Rangers on Thursday, their ability to change the narrative of the Series may prove nearly as important as the best-of-seven set shifts to Texas. By virtue of Kinsler's steal, the Rangers now feel like the team on the front foot. Meanwhile, the Cult of La Russa has been shaken by the manager's dubious choice to pull Motte for Rhodes. With the scene shifting to Texas, things don't look nearly as sunny for St. Louis as it appeared they would after eight innings in Game 2.
These things all happened. Nouns begat verbs and the occasional adjective was warranted. But those crisp sentences don't do anything to convey the excitement -- or agony -- of watching a sporting event unfold. In real time, each hit is an exclamation and each miscue a hair-pulling disaster. The wild swings of emotion and the camaraderie -- whether in the ballpark, at a sports bar or just on Twitter -- among those riding the roller coaster is as much a part of enjoying sports as the outcome of any particular game. Here are the real-time images and feelings of fans and media members as the second game of the 2011 World Series was unfolding.