Home-field advantage is a benefit best enjoyed by the Green Bay Packers, the Premier League, and other footballing enterprises. Baseball, we’ve been told, is different.
At one point, five straight World Series Game 7s — ’65, ’67, ’68, ’71, ’72 — were won by visiting teams.
But on a night when the air was misty and the first-pitch temperature was 49 degrees, the chill in your bones said the St. Louis Cardinals had a decided, Lambeau-like edge over the Texas Rangers.
The Rangers play half their schedule at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark, where the ball carries well on steamy summer nights. They are built to thrive in triple-digit heat, with sluggers who bludgeon opposing staffs and power-armed relievers who miss bats.
During a parched summer in Texas, the Rangers played 27 home games in which the game-time temperature was 100 degrees or higher. And it suited them fine. Texas tied for the most home victories in the American League.
But on Wednesday night, they played the most important game of the season in inverse conditions. The ballpark was bigger. The weather was crummier. The manager was yanking reliever Alexi Ogando — a multi-inning stud in the AL playoffs — after recording just one out because his spot in the order came up. Welcome to the National League.
It was damp. It was cold. It wasn’t the way Texas baseball usually looks. Figures the Rangers were beaten by a team with a third baseman named David Freese.
“I moved here when I was just about to turn 4,” said Freese, who grew up in nearby Wildwood, Mo. “I remember playing when it was snowing sometimes. This is baseball. This is fun. This is part of it. I’ll play in the cold when it’s the World Series any day.”
So, does that help the Cardinals?
“I don’t think so,” Freese said. “We’re all men. I think we all understand the conditions. We all prepare. It’s the same elements out there for both teams. We don’t play in the cold all year. So when it kind of dumps on you, you’ve got to get used to it pretty quick.”
That’s true, to an extent. But I keep coming back to two facts, even if they are based on small sample sizes: The Cardinals are 4-0 in World Series play at the new Busch Stadium, including three similarly soggy wins over the Detroit Tigers in 2006; and the Rangers are winless on the road in their brief World Series history (0-3).
Texas was thumped by the Giants in the first two games of last year’s Fall Classic by a combined score of 20-7. The Rangers looked completely out of place in San Francisco, committing four errors in the opener at spacious AT&T Park. Wednesday’s performance wasn’t close to being that sloppy. But the Rangers also weren’t as precise as they had been in dispatching Tampa Bay and Detroit.
ALCS hero Nelson Cruz had a respectable showing, going 1-for-3 with a walk. Still, he missed a hanging breaking ball from Chris Carpenter in the fifth inning. In right field, he was unable to catch Allen Craig’s sinking liner in the sixth, and it fell in for the game-winning hit. The play was difficult. But Cruz, whose arm was responsible for the series-turning play against Detroit, could have made it.
Asked about the weather, Cruz said, “It was tough. It was tough. We have no complaints — they play in the same conditions.”
Or as Texas left-hander/philosopher C.J. Wilson put it: “I mean, it was cold, but whatever.”
Among all those on the field — for both teams — Josh Hamilton was perhaps most affected by the weather. And that doesn’t bode well for the Rangers. Hamilton has acknowledged that he’s playing through a groin injury, and he looked stiff in his movements at the plate and in center field. He finished 0-for-4, dropping his career World Series average to .083.
Ogando, pitching in shirtsleeves, said that his pitches worked no differently than they had at other times during the postseason. And the Texas relievers were able to stay warm before entering the game, thanks to a heater in the visitors’ bullpen. “We were bundled up pretty good,” veteran Darren Oliver said.
But there was something off about the Rangers in Game 1, and it wasn’t just Carpenter or Albert Pujols or Tony La Russa’s maneuvering. They were out of their element. They didn’t have a designated hitter. Their bats were as cold as their environs.
The good news: They are going back to Texas soon enough.
“We can play good anywhere, but definitely we know our ballpark,” Cruz said. “Everybody plays better at home.”
They’d better. The weather should be windy and cold for Game 2, as well. And if the Midwest chill begets a similar result, the Rangers will return home a desperate team.