Elvis Andrus, entering the 9th inning of Game Two, did not have a storied postseason career.
In 28 games and 129 plate appearances prior to facing Jason Motte in the ninth inning of Thursday’s contest, Elvis Andrus owned a .247 batting average, a .318 on-base percentage, and a .274 slugging percentage. Elvis Andrus is not necessarily employed for his bat, but with a -0.48 WPA in at-bats totaling about a fifth of a full season, Andrus had not been either good nor clutch at the plate in these all-important playoff games.
So, naturally, it was Elvis Andrus who sparked the two-run rally which gave the Rangers the Game Two victory.
It was just a little single up the middle in any other situation and against most other pitchers. But it was the ninth inning of a World Series game, and it was Jason Motte on the mound. Three weeks ago, nobody would be all that impressed by a hit off the Cardinals’ (non) closer. But last night, Motte was in the midst of arguably the best postseason ever by a relief pitcher — one hit allowed in 10 innings, including five saves. Of 31 batters to come to the plate against Motte — all from the two best regular season National League teams, until a three-up three-down inning against Texas in Game One — only one had reached base.
Obviously, Motte isn’t this good — nobody can be this good — but regardless, Motte’s 97-plus MPH gas and good breaking ball have been hell on right-handed batters for months, holding them to a mere .160/.227/.234 line. There was a clear path for Motte through the ninth inning even after Ian Kinsler recorded only the second hit of the postseason off the fireballing righty and proceeded to steal second base. And that path started with Elvis Andrus.
Andrus had none of it, putting together a terrific at-bat, taking pitches and fouling pitches off until Motte finally made a mistake, hanging an 87 MPH slider right down the middle of the plate. Andrus lined it into center field, and as he scampered to second as the ball slipped past a statue resembling Albert Pujols, the scene was set for the Rangers to stage their comeback.
It’s easy to place blame entirely on Pujols and Jay for the play, and both sides should have performed better — Pujols should have knocked the ball down; Jay should have made a better throw. But let’s not lose Andrus’s excellent baserunning in the mix here. With Yadier Molina and his rocket arm behind the plate, it took a near-perfect read for Andrus to make it to second on that play, and he deserves credit for showcasing great instincts and great speed on the play.
Although the runs were not yet home, at this point, it would have been an abject failure by the Rangers’ star hitters to leave either Kinsler or Andrus stranded with nobody out. The Rangers can’t ask for more than the sacrifice flies they earned from Josh Hamilton or Michael Young, but they couldn’t settle for anything less, either.
Andrus only earned +.253 WPA for his part in the inning, but I think there is a very fair argument he deserves even more. Not every player has the speed to take third on Hamilton’s fly ball to right, and, perhaps more importantly, his move to second base set up a situation where all Hamilton and Young had to do was hit the ball in the air, and they knew this. In many cases, it doesn’t make much sense that the sacrifice fly doesn’t count as an at-bat — the hitter was not trying to to hit a sacrifice fly (unlike the sacrifice bunt), he just happened to fail in a manner that allowed a run to score.
Hamilton and Young earned a combined +.209 WPA on their consecutive sacrifice flies to give the Rangers the lead. I would argue that Andrus deserves a significant portion of that credit — without his heads up baserunning, his speed, and his hit to chase Jason Motte from the game, the Rangers most likely are not able to strike in the ninth inning, and they could very well be heading back to Arlington facing a 2-0 deficit.
With a line drive base hit and some excellent baserunning in the ninth inning, Elvis Andrus effectively won Game Two of the World Series for his team. That’s an inning that lasts a lifetime.