ST. LOUIS -- The first call was made to the bench, not the bullpen, but it would set in motion the relief rotation that would set the early tone for this World Series.Here was Allen Craig stepping in to pinch-hit in the pitcher's spot with runners on the corners and two out in the sixth. And there was Alexi Ogando galloping in from the bullpen to face him, in the hope of preserving the tie ballgame. Just like that, Game 1 was no longer in the hands of Chris Carpenter and C.J. Wilson, just as the League Championship Series round of the postseason had led you to believe it wouldn't be. This Series is -- and this game, in particular, was -- a battle of two playoff-tested bullpens. Bullpens that had been called upon an astounding 87 times combined in the first two rounds.
Hold that line
|Arthur Rhodes||41 years, 360 days||2011||G1|
|Mike Timlin||41 yrs, 232 days||2007||G4|
|Mike Timlin||41 yrs, 231 days||2007||G3|
|Larry Andersen||40 yrs, 170 days||1993||G6|
|John Franco||40 yrs, 34 days||2000||G1|
|Mike Bielecki||37 yrs, 84 days||1996||G4|
|Grant Jackson||37 yrs, 15 days||1979||G4|
|Paul Assenmacher||36 yrs, 321 days||1997||G6|
|Paul Assenmacher||36 yrs, 320 days||1997||G7|
Because the Cardinals won the battle with a 3-2 victory Wednesday night, the Series lead is theirs."We've been unbelievable," right-hander Octavio Dotel would say afterward. "Sometimes I feel a little pressure, because we've been perfect all the way through." They were perfect on this night, while Ogando was not. That was the difference. Rangers manager Ron Washington trusted his hot hand when he summoned Ogando in that sixth-inning situation. It was, after all, Ogando who allowed just one run in his previous 10 1/3 innings this postseason, retiring 31 of 37 batters faced. It was certainly no coincidence that the Rangers won every game he pitched in during the ALCS against the Tigers. So Ogando it was in the sixth. Though Carpenter had cruised through the top half of the sixth and had a manageable pitch count, Tony La Russa was sending the right-handed-hitting Craig to the plate for Carpenter with this opportunity to eke out the go-ahead run. Washington countered with equal aggressiveness in yanking Wilson, his purported ace. "[Ogando] was my best pitcher, I felt, right there in that situation," Washington explained. "He can command all his pitches." But Washington couldn't control what Craig did with one of them. It was a 1-2 pitch, a four-seamer on the outside edge, that Craig reached out and punched to the opposite field. As the ball sliced and fell in front of a sliding Nelson Cruz in right, David Freese scooted in from third, and the Cards took the 3-2 lead. "It was the right location, outside," Ogando said. "He hit it, and Nelson almost caught it. That is baseball." And that was this ballgame, because the Cardinals, as has become their custom, were stingy late. This is a St. Louis bullpen that challenges the oft-expressed notion that relievers need regular roles to succeed as a unit. Quite the opposite intent is intact here. If anything, the Cards' arms seem to thrive on the unpredictability of their assignments and the hyper alertness it creates. "Nobody has roles in our bullpen," Dotel said. "Nobody. Except Jason [Motte]. And not even Jason." Motte is, of course, the Redbirds' closer who is not their closer. He is a closer, not the closer, as La Russa likes to remind people. But before the Cardinals could turn to a closer in the ninth, they needed six big outs in the seventh and eighth. And for those, La Russa let the wheel of fortune spin. First came Fernando Salas, who spent much of the season as a closer (again, not the closer) in the St. Louis 'pen. But after retiring Adrian Beltre to start the seventh, Salas gave up a first-pitch single to Cruz, and then it only made sense to unintentionally intentionally walk the hot-hitting Mike Napoli, who had homered in the fifth, to bring up the bottom of the order with a chance at a double-play ball. For the last two outs of the seventh, La Russa turned to Marc Rzepczynski. It had seemed his chief assignment would be to neutralize fellow left-hander Josh Hamilton late in these games, but on this night, he would actually face two righties. Washington yanked the left-handed-hitting David Murphy to bring in Craig Gentry, and Rzepczynski caught him looking at strike three on a changeup. Esteban German then came up to pinch-hit in the pitcher's spot, and Rzepczynski got him swinging at strike three on a slider. "He's got great stuff," catcher Yadier Molina said of Rzepczynski. "He's got a good sinker he can throw to righties, a good changeup, a good slider. Great stuff." It was the experienced stuff of Dotel and Arthur Rhodes that would preserve the slim lead in the eighth. The two have a combined 33 years of Major League experience, so it was touching stuff to see them make their first World Series appearance in the same half-inning. The Rangers couldn't touch them. Facing the top of the order, Dotel got Ian Kinsler to ground the ball back to him, and Elvis Andrus struck out looking. Rhodes then entered the scene to face Hamilton, and he got one of the biggest outs of the ballgame when Hamilton lifted a full-count slider to center for the final out of the inning. At this point, there's no sense predicting which lefty La Russa will bring into which spot. But both came through on this night. "I go with the flow with Tony," said Rhodes, who became the oldest pitcher to record a World Series hold. "You don't know what Tony's going to do." But most everything La Russa has done with regard to his bullpen this postseason has worked wonderfully, and Game 1 was no exception. In the ninth, he trusted his -- ahem -- closer, and Motte had a tough assignment in facing Michael Young, Beltre and Cruz. Naturally, Motte retired all three in just 10 pitches. Aside from that lone single served up by Ogando, the Rangers' relievers weren't any worse. Mike Gonzalez and Scott Feldman kept the heart of the Cards' lineup from adding insurance. But the Cardinals continue to dazzle with their ability to lock down late leads. La Russa had said before the World Series started that the bullpen has been the key to his club's miraculous run to the Fall Classic, and the narrative was extended when the bullpen became the key to this opening victory. "You don't want to see a bad outing for our bullpen," Dotel said. "Especially now, because we're in the World Series. We don't want to take that chance. Thank God everything went on our side and our way, and hopefully it keeps going like that."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. Jordan Schelling contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.