Live Blog: Cardinals out-slug Rangers in wild Game 3

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Game 3 of the World Series is a go, and we’ll be providing live updates throughout the night. Follow along, reading from top to bottom.

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Cardinals magic man Allen Craig, finally drawing a start under American League rules, sent a sky-high blast deep over the left field fence to give St. Louis a 1-0 first-inning lead. It was only Craig’s third plate appearance of the Fall Classic, but the solo shot gave him his third RBI. The Rangers’ Matt Harrison needed 20 pitches to get through the frame.

Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse was a bit more crisp in his side of the inning, striking out Texas leadoff man Ian Kinsler and No. 2 hitter Elvis Andrus before getting Josh Hamilton to ground out weakly to first base.

The seven-game World Series is tied at a game apiece. The Cards have the early advantage in Game 3.

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Lohse ran into some trouble in the bottom of the second inning, yielding a single to Adrian Beltre and issuing a walk to Nelson Cruz. But he battled through, keeping St. Louis’ 1-0 lead intact heading into the third.

The Cardinals could not add to that advantage in their half of the inning as the Rangers finally figured out a way to retire Craig. The Rangers will bat in the bottom of the third still facing an early one-run deficit.

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Kinsler drew a one-out walk off Lohse in the bottom of the third, but Andrus and Hamilton both lined out. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina made sure to keep Kinsler close to the first base bag, at one point attempting a throw-behind-him pickoff. St. Louis still leads 1-0 in Game 3 as we move along to the fourth.

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Albert Pujols opened the top of the fourth with a single to left field. Then came a bit of controversy.

Matt Holliday hit an easy double-play ball to short, but Kinsler’s relay to first base pulled Mike Napoli off the bag. Napoli was able to apply the tag to a charging Holliday, but the first base umpire missed the call. Holliday advanced to second base moments later when Lance Berkman hit a single to right field, then scored when NLCS MVP David Freese trickled a double down the first-base line.

An intentional walk of Molina followed, loading the bases for Jon Jay, who stepped to the plate with an 0-for-8 line in this Fall Classic. Jay hit a soft tapper to first base, but the Rangers couldn’t convert a throw home. The ball went to the backstop and two runs scored, giving the Cardinals a 4-0 lead in the top of the fourth.

The flood gates stayed open in the next at-bat, when Ryan Theriot singled to left field to drive in Molina, securing the Cardinals a five-run lead. The Rangers recorded their second out against the next better, Rafael Furcal, but Harrison was pulled from the game in favor of reliever Scott Feldman.

Harrison allowed five runs — three earned — in just 3 2/3 innings of work. He threw 73 pitches, 42 for strikes.

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In the bottom of the fourth inning, the Rangers finally got on the board when Michael Young launched a leadoff solo home run over the right field fence. The shot awoke the Arlington, Texas crowd.

Beltre followed with a single through the left side of the infield and Cruz moved the Rangers to within two runs just a couple of pitches later, lifting a two-run homer to almost the exact same spot as Young’s. Napoli hit a base hit up the middle in the next at-bat, driving Lohse from the game.

The Cardinals’ first reliever of the night, Fernando Salas, induced a grounder from David Murphy to record the first out of the inning. Yorvit Torrealba then singled, but Kinsler flew out to right field one batter later and Holliday was able to throw out a tagging Napoli with a strike to home plate for the third out.

St. Louis leads 5-3 as this thrilling World Series Game 3 carries on to the top of the fifth inning.

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Pujols led off the fifth inning in the very same way he led off the fourth, stroking a single to left field. Holliday and Berkman then walked, setting up a bases loaded situation for the hot-hitting Freese.

Freese was retired after shattering his bat on a groundout, but Pujols scored from third base to give the Cardinals a 6-3 lead. And Molina made it 8-3 when he laced a two-run double down the left field line.

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In the bottom half of the frame, Texas’ quick-strike offense answered again. Andrus and Hamilton led off with back-to-back singles, then Young hit an RBI double past a diving Freese. The Cardinals pulled Salas and brought in bearded right-hander Lance Lynn to protect their wavering four-run Game 3 lead.

But Lynn couldn’t completely stop the bleeding. Beltre, Lynn’s first batter, lifted an RBI single just over the glove of a jumping Furcal to move the Rangers within three. Cruz struck out in the next at-bat, but Napoli plated Young from third base when he hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field. Cardinals 8, Rangers 6.

Lynn then issued back-to-back walks to Murphy and Torrealba, but got Kinsler to pop out to end the threat.

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In the top of the sixth inning, the Rangers turned to Alexi Ogando. But even he couldn’t quiet the Cardinals’ bats. Theriot drew a leadoff walk, Furcal punched a single through the right side of the infield, and Pujols destroyed a letters-high fastball off the facing of the second deck in left field. Cardinals 11, Rangers 6.

Andrus then fumbled a grounder from Holliday, Berkman singled on a liner to right, and Freese drew a walk to push Ogando from the game. Lefty Mike Gonzalez entered to face Molina with the bases juiced.

Molina came through, hitting a sacrifice fly to right field to score Holliday from third. Cardinals 12, Rangers 6.

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Andrus led off the bottom of the sixth with a single to right field, his second hit of the night, but Hamilton hit into a double play and Young struck out for a rare quiet frame. Lynn, a former starter, looked to be settled.

The Cardinals poured on a couple more runs in the top of the seventh courtesy of Pujols’ second home run of the night — this one a bomb to deep left-center. Craig drew a walk in front of him to set up the two-run blast.

Pujols, who took criticism for ditching the media following Game 2’s late-innings loss, is now 4-for-5 on the evening with three runs scored and five RBI. Our guess is he’ll be talking plenty after this one.

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Beltre opened the bottom of the seventh inning with a leadoff double and advanced to third base one batter later on a Nelly Cruz flyout. As Holliday was throwing the ball back to the infield, a fan in the bleachers threw a wiffle ball near the Cardinals left fielder. That fan was ejected moments later.

Beltre then tagged and scored from third base on a Mike Napoli sac fly. Cardinals 14, Rangers 7.

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Berkman fanned on a 3-2 pitch to open the top of the eighth inning, but Freese then singled and Molina drove in pinch-runner Daniel Descalso with a double to the left-center field gap. Cardinals 15, Rangers 7.

Torrealba led off the bottom of the eight with a single to right, but he was retired at second base on a Kinsler grounder. Andrus followed with a strikeout and Hamilton was set down on a groundout to short.

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Furcal struck out looking as the ninth inning’s first hitter and Craig was retired on a groundout to third. Then Pujols launched his third dinger of the night, a shot into the left field seats. Cardinals 16, Rangers 7. Only Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson had homered three times in a World Series game. Pujols is now the third to accomplish the feat.

Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs closed it all out with a perfect bottom half. St. Louis gets the 16-7 win.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.