It looked bleak early.
Chris Carpenter, who had never started on three days’ rest before getting roughed up by the Phillies to start the NLDS nearly four weeks ago, managed to give up two first-inning runs despite a boneheaded move by Ian Kinsler, who got picked off first base after a leadoff single. Seemingly without his best fastball, he gave up a walk and back-to-back doubles before he retired a batter and eventually escaped the inning.
Who knew then that the entire rest of the game would belong to the Cardinals?
Game 6 hero David Freese delivered a game-tying two-run double in the bottom of the first, and Carpenter bounced back to pitch five scoreless frames as the Cardinals beat the Rangers 6-2 to claim an 11th World Series crown.
St. Louis took a 3-2 lead in the third on an Allen Craig homer. It was in the fifth, though, that the Rangers really gave the game away. A walk, a HBP and an intentional walk to David Freese loaded the bases and then a walk to Yadier Molina and the second HBP of the inning plated runs. An insurance run came in the seventh, as Molina singled in Lance Berkman to make it 6-2.
Carpenter, who received another chance to start on three days’ rest only because of Wednesday’s rainout, got better every inning. He escaped a jam with runners on the corners in the second and then allowed just a HBP and a single over the following four frames. He even talked his way into coming back out for the seventh, only to leave immediately after giving up a leadoff double.
The bullpen finished the job done from there. Arthur Rhodes and Octavio Dotel pitched around the double in the seventh, Lance Lynn worked a perfect eighth and Jason Motte was sharp in the ninth.
The Rangers showed surprisingly little life after the first. Nelson Cruz hit their long drive of the night, a shot to left that may have snuck over the wall if not for a jumping Craig. Still, it only would have been a solo shot. Texas had just one baserunner during the final four innings.
There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.
It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.
Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.
Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.
It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.
On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.
At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.
If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.
Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.
Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.