Locked in a 2-2 tie with the Rangers in the bottom of the sixth inning Wednesday night at Busch Stadium, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa stuck by the script he’s been authoring since his club snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.
Game 1 starter Chris Carpenter was cruising, fresh of a clean top of the sixth. His pitch count was at a meager 87 and Alexi Ogando, who had been nearly unhittable this October, trotted to the mound with two outs in relief of Rangers starter C.J. Wilson.
But the Cardinals had David Freese on third base, via a one-out double then a wild pitch, and Nick Punto at first base courtesy of a pitch-around-him walk. Hoping to capitalize, La Russa opted to pull Carpenter from the game for pinch-hitter Allen Craig.
Once again, TLR’s quick hook worked.
Craig laced a ball down the right-field line, just beyond the glove of a sliding Nelson Cruz, scoring Freese from third and lifting the Cardinals to a 3-2 lead. Thanks to another fine performance by the St. Louis bullpen, that 3-2 score would hold. Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes combined to throw two scoreless innings before beared saves man Jason Motte closed it out with a perfect ninth.
The Cardinals will take a 1-0 series lead into Thursday night’s Game 2. The staggering storyline rolls on.