ST. LOUIS (AP) — Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals let one get away.
In a messy ninth inning, Pujols failed to handle a cutoff throw after Jason Motte faltered for the first time this October, aiding the Texas Rangers’ two-run rally for a 2-1 victory Thursday night that evened the World Series at a game apiece.
For the first time since early August, there were no chants of “Happy Flight, Happy Flight!” from the Cardinals. They had won 15 in a row on getaway day heading into Game 2.
Nearly everything had gone right for the wild-card Cardinals in the postseason — until the ninth inning Thursday.
“Can’t last forever,” manager Tony La Russa said.
Motte had been virtually untouchable, allowing one hit in nine innings in the postseason, before giving up two hits in the ninth. Ian Kinsler hit a leadoff single, stole second and went to third on Elvis Andrus’ base hit to right-center, ending Motte’s night.
Motte thought La Russa was coming out to talk strategy.
“You always want to finish it off, but sometimes he’s the boss. Not sometimes, he’s always the boss,” Motte said. “It’s a tough loss but we get to come out and do it again.”
Pujols, a two-time Gold Glove winner, ran toward second to take the relay throw from center fielder Jon Jay but he whiffed on the catch, allowing the ball to roll toward the mound. Andrus, who made an aggressive turn at first and then retreated, easily advanced to second to put runners on second and third.
More than an hour after the game, the three official scorers decided to charge Pujols with an error on the play.
Josh Hamilton hit a sacrifice fly to tie it and Andrus advanced to third. Lance Lynn relieved and gave up another sacrifice fly to Michael Young. The result was a rare failure in the postseason by the St. Louis bullpen, which had given up just four runs in 31 2-3 innings since the start of the NLCS.
Pujols left Busch Stadium without speaking to reporters. La Russa said he didn’t get a good view of the play from the dugout, but remembered Pujols talking with catcher Yadier Molina afterward.
“He’s a heady player and obviously we don’t want the lead runner, the back runner, to go to second base,” La Russa said. “I don’t know exactly what happened there but that was an important extra base.”
Jay said his throw could have been better but also said it was important to “get rid of it quick. “It just tailed a little bit, I mean, it was inches,” Jay added. “So it was just the way it went.”
Was Pujols correctly lined up? “I don’t know,” Jay said. “It all happened so fast.”
La Russa has steadfastly refused to name Motte the Cardinals’ closer — he has five saves this postseason after earning nine in the regular season — and he pulled him after the two singles in favor of Arthur Rhodes.
La Russa made it clear that Motte remains his ninth-inning guy, though.
“I know that if we get the lead on Saturday, he’ll be 100 percent ready to go,” the manager said. “He caught a tough break, which is baseball.
“Next time they’ll hit a line drive right at somebody and we’ll get an out,” La Russa added.
The ninth spoiled a stellar performance from Jaime Garcia, the 25-year-old lefty who’s a lot more comfortable on the Busch Stadium mound than on the road.
“It was a tough one,” Garcia said. “I felt like I did a pretty good job against a really tough lineup, so put this one in the past and move forward and get ready to go to Texas.”
Garcia had seven strikeouts and outdueled Colby Lewis for seven innings of three-hit ball, totally taming the Rangers’ big bats and setting the stage another big pinch hit from Allen Craig. Garcia has a 1.93 ERA in three home starts in the playoffs, and allowed six runs in four innings in his lone road appearance.
Garcia was a 14-game winner and finished third in the NL rookie of year balloting last season and the sophomore season was almost as good, moving the Cardinals to sign him to a four-year contract in June. He’s the first Mexican-born pitcher to start in the World Series since the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela in 1981.
Garcia’s home-road splits were fairly drastic in the regular season, 9-4 and 2.55 at home with a pair of shutouts, but only 4-3 and 4.61 on the road. The Rangers got only three singles, and only Adrian Beltre’s two-out hit in the seventh tagged.
Craig’s pinch-hit RBI single off Alexi Ogando in Game 1 was the first go-ahead pinch RBI in World Series play since Wade Boggs drew a bases-loaded walk in 1996. The circumstances in Game 2 were eerily familiar, two men on, two out and the Rangers going to the bullpen to counter the right-handed hitting Craig, just one inning later.
Copyright Associated Press