After the events of Monday night, it seems all anyone can talk about is the way Tony La Russa deployed his bullpen during the fateful eighth inning.
It was strange, no doubt about it. Whether the phones weren't working or if La Russa rolled the dice one too many times with his bullpen mixing-and-matching, the whole thing played out like an episode of what not to do in the biggest moment of the biggest game of the season. What's even stranger, though, is that so little attention is being paid to all of the other madness that went on Monday night.
The fact that the Rangers even had a chance to win the game is bizarre in its own right. Mitch Moreland played first base like he had never been on a baseball diamond in his life, botching three separate plays. Normally that would make someone a goat, in this game, though, Moreland became a hero when he crushed a home run on to the second deck of home run porch.
The Rangers also walked nine batters over the course of the contest. That flies in the face of the notion that keeping runners off base gives teams their best chance of winning, especially when four of those walks come intentionally, including walking Albert Pujols with two outs and no one on base in the seventh inning of a tie game. Ron Washington than upped the ante by doing the same with Lance Berkman after Matt Holliday singled, but, of course, loading the bases in a crucial moment wound up working out.
That Pujols intentional walk came after the first of two truly inexplicable baserunning decisions by Allen Craig. With Pujols, Holliday and Berkman coming up, Craig tried to steal second and got gunned down by Mike Napoli. There's some question about whether or not the hit and run was on, but there's no reason that it would be on at that point in that game.
Nor should it have been on in the ninth when Craig was thrown out again (aside: has anyone thought to get Mike Scioscia's comments on why he thought Napoli was a lesser catcher than Jeff Mathis) when Pujols struck out on a 3-2 pitch. You can slam La Russa's bullpen stylings all you like, but it is a much bigger mystery why he was so insistent on staying out of the double play in the spot with the heart of his order coming up to the plate. Craig's run meant nothing and an out meant everything, but La Russa just gave it away.
Of course, La Russa made giving away outs an art form on Monday night. The Cardinals used two questionable sacrifice bunts, one by Craig that ensured the Rangers would intentionally walk Albert Pujols and one by Ryan Theriot who pinch-hit to give himself up in the eighth and left the Cards with no bench. The bunt is defensible, but using a pinch hitter to do it isn't. One might even wonder why Theriot wasn't used in place of Nick Punto with two runners in scoring position in the sixth, but clearly Tony wasn't into trying to score in Game Five.
That was plenty obvious when he had two on and none out in the fifth against a reeling C.J. Wilson and chose to have Rafael Furcal bunt them over. There's no way to spin this as a sensible baseball move, not in a million years, and it wouldn't have been any better if Wilson hadn't fought his way out of the inning.
That's plenty of weirdness and we are just scratching the surface. There's Feliz, a man who throws fastballs as if they give him life, throws a slider to Craig and hits him in the head. There's Adrian Beltre hitting a home run off his knee. There's Berkman reacting late after strike three in the ninth gets away from Napoli and costing himself a chance to beat out the throw. There's Yadier Molina getting three infield singles when he runs like he's carrying four pianos on his back and Chris Carpenter cursing at everyone in sight.
What a game. What a series. We're getting spoiled, boys and girls, so let's enjoy every minute we have left of the 2011 season.