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Rangers Head Home With Series Even

For those who fell asleep after the eighth inning, the Cardinals are not heading to Texas with a 2-0 series lead. The Rangers managed just three hits through seven innings before mounting a ninth-inning comeback in a rather unusual manner.

Ian Kinsler singled to open the frame and subsequently stole second base. The play was extremely close, but Kinsler’s hand appeared to touch the base a split second before the tag was applied. In real time, however, the quick tag after a tremendous throw looked to have gotten Kinsler. Kudos to the umpires for getting the call right in spite of the dramatic tag designed to obscure their perception of the play.

Elvis Andrus lined a single to center, sending Kinsler to third. Andrus advanced to second on a missed cutoff/missed catch error, putting runners at second and third with nobody out. The previously lifeless Rangers had a pulse, and with Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Adrian Beltre due up, odds were slim that the Cardinals would escape the frame sans-damage.

While Hamilton and Young didn’t exactly plate runners in a sexy way, their consecutive sacrifice flies got the job done. The Rangers took a 2-1 lead and turned the ball over to Neftali Feliz. After walking leadoff man Yadier Molina — walking the first batter is never a good omen — he struck Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker out and retired Rafael Furcal on a flyball to right.

In a matter of moments the Rangers turned the course of the series. Though three straight games in Texas certainly gave them a shot if down 2-0, taking home field advantage from the Cardinals and then heading back to Texas is a much sweeter feeling.

While the phantom foul ball and odd usage of Esteban German were the Game One storylines, the Rangers baserunning in the ninth inning of Game Two was headline-worthy. Kinsler blooped his way on, but had to time his jump perfectly to steal second. Molina is obviously the best fielding catcher in baseball and likely sports the strongest, most accurate arm. Jason Motte‘s non-traditional windup doesn’t allow much time for the runner to jump either. If Kinsler leaves an eighth of a second later, he’s out at second base.

While Andrus’s liner to center was a clear base hit, it was shallow enough for the Cards to nail him at home. Kinsler wisely held at third, but Andrus then took advantage of a lackadaisical play on the part of Albert Pujols. I’m not entirely sure what he was watching, but it sure appeared as if he wasn’t ready for Jon Jay‘s cutoff throw. Either that, or he expected the throw to go to third for some reason and was caught off-guard.

Pujols was rightly charged an error on the play, but Andrus still had to take advantage of the miscue. Many runners would fail to realize the error occurred until it’s too late to get a good jump. He was then able to advance to third on Hamilton’s sac fly on another heady play, putting him in position to score the go-ahead run. Andrus displayed the perfect amount of baserunning acumen in arguably the biggest game of his life.

Without Kinsler’s well-timed stolen base and Andrus’s heads-up baserunning, the Rangers have a harder time scoring the tying and go-ahead runs. That sounds straight out of the mouth of Captain Obvious, but baserunning like that simply isn’t seen everyday.

Some will say the Cardinals bullpen blew it, but realistically, the combination of Jason Motte, Arthur Rhodes and Lance Lynn did little incorrectly. Kinsler’s single was a perfectly placed bloopy popup that fell right out of Furcal’s reach, but was too close to Furcal for the surrounding outfielders to have a play. The Andrus liner was legitimately hard-hit, but after that the Rangers went flyout, flyout, groundout. It just so happened that two of those flyouts occurred with runners on third base.

The bullpen couldn’t prevent tremendous baserunning, a bloop hit, or the Pujols error. Really, the Cardinals bullpen trio made one joint mistake to Elvis Andrus, and that was it. It’s terribly difficult to fault Rhodes and Lynn for getting their batters out the wrong way when they were able to get batters out, period.

Games 3, 4 and 5 will take place in Texas from Saturday-Monday at 8:05 PM EST. On Saturday we’ll probably see Kyle Lohse oppose Matt Harrison in a battle of pitchers with eerily similar numbers. Both made 30 starts. Lohse was 14-8 while Harrison went 14-9. Both had 3.39 ERAs, both averaged 5.2 innings per start.

Their K/BB ratios were similar as were their ERA estimators. Harrison pitching in the AL gave him a WAR advantage, but their numbers side by side is pretty fun to look at. Sunday will likely pit Edwin Jackson against Derek Holland, with Monday serving as a Game One repeat of Carpenter-Wilson.

The World Series has been very interesting so far, with unusual storylines emerging as potential reasons for victory. Maybe in one of the weekend games we’ll have an old-fashioned ball-demolishing contest.