Texas Rangers left fielder Hamilton celebrates with teammates Cruz and Chavez after the Rangers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 of MLB's World Series baseball championship in St. Louis

Cardinals’ bullpen finally cracks, Rangers stage comeback to even World Series

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Two games in, this World Series has the look of an instant classic. Wednesday’s thrilling Game 1 saw late-inning heroics that sent a 3-2 victory St. Louis’ way. In Game 2 on Thursday, it was the Rangers who benefited from a dose of last-minute magic.

Facing a 1-0 deficit in the top of the ninth inning, and a closer in Jason Motte who had been nearly untouchable all postseason, the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler blooped a leadoff single over the head of Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal to get the ball rolling. Kinsler then swiped second base, beating Yadier Molina’s on-target throw by inches, and Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus followed with a sharply-struck base hit to right-center field that advanced Kinsler to third.

Those back-to-back hits led Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who’s pulled correct string after correct string throughout these playoffs, to fall back into the trap of over-management. Opting for a lefty-lefty matchup on Rangers slugger and No. 3 hitter Josh Hamilton, he pulled Motte from the 1-0 game in favor of 41-year-old southpaw Arthur Rhodes, who promptly surrendered the tying run on a sacrifice fly to right field.

Hamilton only had to flick his wrist to do the deed on a floater from Rhodes. One has to wonder if the game-tying sacrifice would have been so easily converted against Motte, who can touch 100 mph.

Hamilton’s groin injury — the one he’s been battling since the final month of the regular season — limits his ability to turn his core quickly and effectively on pitches. He barely had to budge against Arthur.

Michael Young gave the Rangers their first lead of the Fall Classic one pitching change later, lifting a ball to deep center field against Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn to score the fleet-footed Andrus from third.

That 2-1 score would hold through the bottom of the ninth as the Cards failed to capitalize on a leadoff walk.

The loss shouldn’t fall solely on La Russa, just as Wednesday’s blame shouldn’t center completely around Ron Washington. Motte cracked against the top of the Texas lineup and the Cardinals couldn’t escape the jam. Jaime Garcia was great. Allen Craig again came through. But the results, in the end, weren’t there.

The Rangers awoke in the ninth and stole this one. They shocked a rocking Busch Stadium crowd and surely sent a sting through the St. Louis clubhouse. The Fall Classic is now a essentially a five-game series, and three of those games will be played in Arlington, Texas over the next four days. Advantage: Rangers?

Danny Espinosa reportedly skipped Nationals Winterfest because of Adam Eaton

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Danny Espinosa #8 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after teammate Chris Heisey #14 (not pictured) hits a two run home run in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa declined to attend the team’s annual Winterfest because of his dissatisfaction with management following their trade for outfielder Adam Eaton.

A source told Castillo that Espinosa’s unhappiness stemmed from a belief that the acquisition would jeopardize his starting role in 2017. With Eaton in center field, Trea Turner will likely return to his post at shortstop, leaving Espinosa out in the cold — or, as the case may be, on the bench. The move shouldn’t come as a big surprise to Espinosa, however, as Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo spoke to the possibility of trading the infielder or reassigning him to a utility role back in early November.

Offensively, the 29-year-old had a down year in 2016, slashing just .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs in 601 PA. Defensively, he still profiles among the top shortstops in the National League, with eight DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and 8.3 Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) in his seventh year with the club.

Espinosa will reach free agency after the 2017 season.

Nick Cafardo: Red Sox should deal Pomeranz, not Buchholz

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 18: Drew Pomeranz #31 of the Boston Red Sox pitches during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on September 18, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Red Sox won 5-4. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)
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The Red Sox might be trying to move the wrong pitcher, according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Cafardo revealed that while the Sox have been trying to market right-hander Clay Buchholz, more teams would be interested in trades involving southpaw Drew Pomeranz.

The club appears reluctant to deal Pomeranz, especially because his price tag comes in at a cool $4.7 million to Buchholz’s $13.5 million in 2017. Those who have already expressed interest in the veteran hurlers, including the Twins, Mariners and Royals, also seem put off by Buchholz’s salary requirements as he enters his 32nd year.

Health could be another factor preventing teams from jumping to make trade offers, as Cafardo quotes an AL executive who believes the “medicals on both Pomeranz and Buchholz probably aren’t that great.” Neither pitcher suffered any major injuries during the 2016 season, though Pomeranz missed just over a week of play due to forearm soreness.

Pomeranz outperformed his fellow starter in 2016, pitching to a 3.32 ERA and career-best 9.8 K/9 through 170 2/3 innings with the Padres and Red Sox. He got off to an exceptionally strong start in San Diego, where his ERA dropped to 2.47 through the first half of the year before the Padres dealt him to Boston for minor league right-hander Anderson Espinoza. Buchholz, on the other hand, struggled with a 4.78 ERA and saw a decline in both his BB/9 and K/9 rates as he worked out a career-low 1.69 K/BB through 139 1/3 innings with the Sox.