Bullpen Failure Costs Rangers

Scott Feldman's pitch just caught the outside corner of the plate, so close that Yadier Molina thought it was ball four and started toward first base.

The next pitch, another inch outside, really was ball four.

Molina's walk with the bases loaded in the fifth inning Friday night brought in Allen Craig and gave the St. Louis Cardinals a two-run cushion. They added another run when C.J. Wilson hit Rafael Furcal moments later, and the Texas Rangers never managed to match the runs.

The scrappy, never-say-die Cardinals went on to a 6-2 victory, wrapping up their 11th championship in the first Game 7 played since 2002.

A Rangers bullpen that was so tough in the first two rounds of the postseason, had trouble finding the strike zone in the World Series -- and paid for it.

St. Louis wound up scoring 34 runs in the Series, two of them after batters were hit by pitches and 12 more after walks. The 41 total walks issued by the Texas pitching staff broke the World Series record of 40, set by the Florida Marlins in 1997.

"I don't have the answer, because I wish they would have continued to be dominant," manager Ron Washington said. "I wish I did have the answer. I don't. Those are the guys that got us here, they were in a position to take us further, and it didn't get done. That's it."

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Rangers starter Matt Harrison lasted four shaky innings Friday night, but the Cardinals still took a 3-2 lead on the weight of Series MVP David Freese's two-run double and Craig's third-inning homer.

Feldman came in to pitch the fifth inning and quickly set down Ryan Theriot. But he walked Craig and then grazed Albert Pujols across the front of his chest, putting runners on first and second with just one out. Lance Berkman grounded out weakly and it looked like Feldman might survive.

Washington then made a crucial call to intentionally walk Freese, who had driven in a postseason-record 21 runs, willing to take his chances with the bases loaded and Molina at the plate.

The veteran catcher took three straight pitches for balls as the record crowd of 47,399 at Busch Stadium chanted "Ya-di! Ya-di!" The next pitch from Feldman barely caught the outside corner, and Molina was so certain that it was a ball that he ditched his back and started toward first.

Plate umpire Jerry Layne called him back to a chorus of boos from the crowd.

They turned to cheers in a hurry.

Feldman's next delivery missed just outside, and the Cardinals had an insurance run.

That was it for Feldman, whose forgettable line in Game 7 amounted to three walks and a hit-by-pitch in just two-thirds of an inning.

Wilson, who took the loss for Texas in Game 1, emerged on three days' rest to bail him out, but his first pitch plunked Furcal in the hip, giving St. Louis a 5-2 lead. The Cardinals added another run in the seventh against the bullpen, and it turned out to be more than they needed.

The Rangers' meltdown wasn't nearly as startling as the previous night, when a collection of relievers was responsible for one of the most dramatic finishes in baseball history.

The Rangers had three blown saves in the 10-9 loss in 11 innings.

Down to his final strike, Freese connected off All-Star closer Neftali Feliz for a two-run triple that sent the game to extra innings. Josh Hamilton hit a two-run homer in the 10th, but St. Louis matched it with two runs off Darren Oliver in the bottom half of the inning.

Freese finally ended it with his game-winning homer off Mark Lowe in the 11th.

It was the first time in postseason history that a team allowed runs in the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th innings of a single game -- and just the third time in the past 25 years overall.

The result was a sobering atmosphere in the clubhouse Friday night.

"I just told them they're champions, which I believe," Washington said. "Someone has to win, someone has to lose and the Cardinals did it. ... They were the better team."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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