Commentary

Sanity finally returns to postseason

Little things matter as Cardinals win a more conventional, low-scoring Game 1

Updated: October 20, 2011, 3:40 AM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS -- This is a Budweiser town, but thankfully Wednesday night's World Series opener wasn't a beer league game. No big innings. No big blowout.

Sanity at last returned to the postseason, courtesy of starting pitchers who actually lasted longer than the pregame warm-ups, the continued dugout genius of Tony La Russa and weather conditions perfect for keeping shrimp cocktails chilled.

In other words, St. Louis Cardinals 3, Texas Rangers 2.

Nothing against the ALCS and NLCS, but there are only so many 12-6 and 15-5 games you can take before wanting to stick knitting needles in your eyes. So it was almost comforting to see the Cardinals and Rangers play a low-scoring, high-drama game in which the Busch Stadium scoreboard operator didn't have to worry about double digits.

Offense is fun, but so is trying to keep up with the mental pingpong game between Cards manager La Russa and Rangers manager Ron Washington. So is watching Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter grind his way through six innings and become the franchise's all-time leader in postseason victories. And so is marveling at the pinch-hit at-bat of Allen Craig, whose sixth-inning RBI single on a 1-2 count gave St. Louis a lead it would never relinquish.

"It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out," Cardinals right fielder 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. And I don't think that we want to get into a gorilla-ball type series with these guys."

Berkman, who gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead with a two-run single in the fourth, knows deep down that his team is better equipped for these kind of games. It can score runs (the Milwaukee Brewers can provide all the details), but so can the Rangers. Lots of them (just ask the Detroit Tigers).

But this was a night when the Cardinals won by doing the little things rather than the long ball thing. And on a dreary, damp, 49-degree evening that felt much colder than the announced temperature, those little successes made just enough of a difference.

[+] EnlargeCardinals
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonDavid Freese, right, scored on Allen Craig's pinch-hit, go-ahead single in the sixth inning.

First inning: Ian Kinsler leads off with a single, but Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina throws him out at second after Elvis Andrus flails on a hit-and-run play. Then Andrus cues a ball between first and second, forcing Albert Pujols to soft-toss a throw to Carpenter, who is racing over to cover the bag. Except the throw is too far out in front. Carpenter dives, makes the catch, does a semi-face plant and slides over the base just before Andrus' cleats reach first.

Little things.

"Carp goes diving … two feet in the end zone … great catch," Cardinals second baseman Nick Punto said.

"That ball in the first, I think we need to work on that one next spring in [pitchers' fielding practice]," said Carpenter.

Fourth inning: Pujols takes a C.J. Wilson pitch off the foot, followed by Matt Holliday driving a pitch to right field for a double, followed by Berkman driving another outside-ish pitch also to right field for two runs.

Little things.

Fifth inning: Carpenter gives up a one-out, two-run home run by Mike Napoli. But then he regroups and does what you're supposed to do with the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters in an order: Get them out. He strikes out David Murphy and gets Wilson to ground out to second.

Sixth inning: The Rangers unintentionally/intentionally walk Punto to force La Russa to make a decision: Let Carpenter hit, or bring in Craig to pinch hit. La Russa pulls Carpenter from the on-deck circle and replaces him with Craig. Washington brings in Alexi Ogando, who goes 1-0 on Craig and then throws 96 mph and 97 mph fastballs past him.

"He kind of blew me away with the first two," Craig said.

But on the next pitch -- a 98 mph fastball -- Craig singles to right, bringing home David Freese from third.

"Allen Craig should be in about every starting lineup in this league," Freese said.

[+] EnlargeMike Napoli
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireMike Napoli accounted for both Texas runs with a two-run shot in the fifth inning to tie the game.

Also in the inning, Pujols somehow snares a grounder by Michael Young and throws a perfect strike to Carpenter at first.

Seventh inning: La Russa keeps left-hander Marc Rzepczynski on the mound to face right-handed hitters Craig Gentry and Esteban German. Two strikeouts later, the Cardinals are out of the inning.

"He's hitting all the right buttons right now," Punto said of La Russa.

Eighth inning: Reliever Arthur Rhodes, released by Texas earlier in the season, gets 2010 American League MVP Josh Hamilton to fly out to center to end the inning.

"In the postseason, you think low-scoring ballgames," Rzepczynski said.

You think it, but it doesn't always happen. In the Cardinals' NLCS against the Brewers, four of the six games had eight or more runs combined. Three of them had a combined 15 or more.

In the Texas-Detroit series, four of the six games had a combined 10 or more runs. Game 6 featured 20 runs.

Carpenter and Wilson -- and the cold weather -- had a lot to do with a return to normalcy. At least, for one night.

"When you get in the postseason, you've got to win games in so many ways," Freese said.

In Game 1 of this World Series, the Cardinals won it the more conventional way.

Welcome back, sanity.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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Gene Wojciechowski | email

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