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Who has edge in razor-close series?
The Rangers’ 4-0 victory on Sunday night ensured that the 2011 World Series will last at least six games.
But whom are we kidding?
This is going seven.
“For sure,” Cardinals third baseman David Freese said when asked if he has same feeling. “We know what type of team Texas has. They’re not going anywhere. We’re not going anywhere. Nobody thought this was going to be easy.”
A five-game victory would have been “easy.” There is no chance of that any longer. Mike Napoli vaporized that possibility in the sixth inning Sunday, when he pulverized a Mitchell Boggs meatball into the left-field stands.
The series is tied. The teams are even. The World Series deserves to go the distance for the first time since 2002.
On paper, the Cardinals have the advantage. This has become a three-game series, of which two are in St. Louis. The pitching matchups will mimic those we saw in Games 1-3, when the Cardinals came away with two wins and were three outs from another.
Texas left-hander Derek Holland, whose Game 4 start was the best by any pitcher in this series, won’t be able to work on regular rest again unless Game 7 is postponed until Friday.
Holland delivered the performance of his life on Sunday night, in a way few could have expected. After averaging barely more than four innings per start during the American League playoffs, he pitched into the ninth in Game 4.
The Cardinals — yes, including Albert Pujols — were flummoxed by a sinking fastball that climbed up to 96 mph, along with a biting (and surprisingly consistent) curveball. “It’s not complicated,” Lance Berkman explained. “He’s throwing 95 from the left side. How many guys in the game do that as starting pitchers? There’s a handful of them. They’re all studs — Jon Lester, CC Sabathia, (David) Price. There’s very few out there.”
This, coming from a man responsible for the only two St. Louis hits.
There was precedent for what Holland did, in that he tied for the AL lead with four shutouts during the regular season. Now, the question is whether teammate and fellow lefty C.J. Wilson can be equally dominant in Game 5. If anything, the Cardinals’ experience against Holland should help: Wilson has excellent stuff, but it’s not as dazzling as what Holland took to the mound Sunday.
Wilson, like Holland before Sunday, has had a spotty record in this postseason: 0-3 with a 7.17 ERA in four starts. It’s tempting to wonder if Wilson can bring about a similar reversal of fortune on Monday night. But there is a key difference between the two: Holland had not pitched against the Cardinals — in the regular season or postseason — before Game 4. Wilson, meanwhile, started at Busch Stadium in Game 1 last Wednesday night.
Wilson pitched respectably in the opener, allowing three earned runs in 5-2/3 innings. The Cardinals’ predominantly right-handed lineup will have a better idea of what to expect this time. Wilson’s brief October track record suggests he’s done a poor job of keeping postseason lineups off-balance when facing them two times in the same series. He’s done so twice, against the Yankees (’10 ALCS) and Tigers (’11 ALCS). On each occasion, he allowed more earned runs and struck out fewer batters in the latter of the two starts.
Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals’ Game 5 starter, is a little more practiced at making adjustments within a postseason series. He’s done it four times — and is 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA. That includes a shining example from earlier this month, when he shut out Roy Halladay and the Phillies in the fifth and deciding game of the NLDS.
Both Wilson and Carpenter have good career numbers with Ted Barrett, the Game 5 home plate umpire. Ron Kulpa’s strike zone aided Holland on Sunday, as numerous inside fastballs were called strikes.
The Cardinals noticed. “It makes it tough on us,” cleanup man Matt Holliday said. “You can’t take borderline pitches.” Asked how the bigger strike zone affected what had been a patient approach by the St. Louis lineup, Holliday smiled and said nothing.
In general, manager Tony La Russa and his players credited Holland more than they blamed Kulpa — who made the incorrect call at first base that enabled the Cardinals’ game-turning rally in Game 3. We were reminded anew that gaudy hitting numbers from one World Series game — 16 runs, Pujols’ record-tying three homers — have little bearing on the next.
That said, the Cardinals should shrug off Sunday’s shutout, win Game 5 and take a 3-2 lead back to Busch Stadium. I’m fairly confident in that prediction, but I’m more certain about another one: We’re going to see a Game 7 on Thursday night.