Quickly On Game 5 Of The World Series

Mike Napoli recoils in terror when second base opens up to reveal a human head! (not pictured)

The St. Louis Cardinals did a remarkable thing in Monday night's Game 5. Against C.J. Wilson and a chunk of the Texas Rangers' bullpen, the Cardinals put 17 runners on base, and brought only two of them home.

That, I think, should be the big story. And maybe that is the big story. But my sense is that the big story is the bad in-game managing, and specifically Tony La Russa's bad in-game managing. At least as far as Twitter and the baseball blogosphere is concerned.

Which, I get it. Tony La Russa did not have a very good game, and where earlier in the playoffs we'd seen so many of his moves pay off, Monday night the bulk of them blew up in his face. It's something to write about, and, analytically, La Russa seemed to do a lot more harm than good.

But still, 17 baserunners, and two runs. Throughout playoff history, there have been 93 games in which a team put 17 runners on base in eight or nine innings. Six times did that team score two or fewer runs. The Cardinals did something that's difficult to do. The Cardinals actually did two things that are difficult to do, the positive first one leading to the sad, ugly second.

For the longest time, this game had the feel of being lopsided without being lopsided, because the Cardinals kept getting chances, and they kept throwing them away. They scored two in the second, but left a runner in scoring position. They got two on in the third before a double play ended the frame. They left the bases loaded in the fifth. They left two in scoring position in the sixth. They left the bases loaded in the seventh. They left one in scoring position in the eighth. They let the Rangers hang around, and you don't just let the Rangers hang around, because if you let the Rangers hang around long enough, they'll decide enough is enough and take over. Late in Game 5, the Rangers took over.

Because the Rangers won the way they did, and because La Russa did some of the things he did, La Russa's strategy became this big thing. But we were one or two hits away from a completely different postgame conversation. Call it one hit and an audible bullpen phone. The Cardinals didn't win this game, but they could've, and they arguably should've.

And then what? And then people are poking fun at La Russa, but they aren't saying he managed the worst game of his life. Ron Washington might draw a lot more criticism. It's been swept under the rug, but Washington had himself a pretty shitty game, too. He left C.J. Wilson in too long. He relived Wilson with Scott Feldman instead of someone else. He intentionally walked Albert Pujols three times to face Matt Holliday. While I understand the playoffs have been the playoffs, Pujols' OPS+ this season was 150. Holliday's was 153. Matt Holliday is really good, too. Results-based analysis suggests that Washington managed La Russa's pants off, but process-based analysis has them both standing naked.

It's late. It's later than I can even believe. The only reason I'm still up is because there are only one or two more nights like this in the year so what the hell. I'm just kind of typing now and I don't know if everything's coming together, or if everything will come together at some point later on. But basically, the Cardinals put a ton of runners on base, they finished 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, and they were tied with the Rangers as late as the bottom of the eighth. It's hard for me to sit here and try to pretend like Tony La Russa is the big story when the Cardinals' offense is the bigger story. It's the less interesting story, and writing about an underachieving offense doesn't allow the author to put on his Intellectual Superiority cap the way writing about a manager does, but the offense was more responsible for the Cardinals' loss than the manager was. That's it, and now the Cardinals are in the unfamiliar position of having to blame their bats for a loss.

It's a funny thing about a series like this. In a playoff series, the idea is that, by the end, one team will have clearly outplayed the other, and will thus either advance or win a trophy. And a lot of times it happens that way. The 2007 Red Sox clearly outplayed the 2007 Rockies. The 2004 Red Sox clearly outplayed the 2004 Cardinals. Pretty much every team that's faced them in the playoffs this decade has clearly outplayed the Twins. But look at the Rangers and the Cardinals. It's been five games, and who the hell is winning? The Cardinals have 22 runs. The Rangers have 19 runs. Three of the games have been unbelievably close. The other two games were close for a while before the winning team pulled away. Based on what we've seen so far, has either team looked better than the other? If you say yes, you're lying. Don't.

It's a handy reminder that the MLB playoffs don't really prove anything, except that one team outscored its opponent 11 times. I just remembered that all four teams who won in the first round were outscored by the teams that they beat. That's crazy, and that's the MLB playoffs - a month when everything suddenly starts to mean so much more, even while everything starts to mean so much less.

Wednesday or Thursday - or Friday, in the event of rain, which is in the forecast! - the Rangers or the Cardinals will win the World Series. They will get a trophy for their efforts. "Congratulations on something" is not engraved on the base, but it should be, and all the little flags should have question marks.

*****

After Mike Napoli's go-ahead double, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver remained silent for a minute - a full, exact 60 seconds - so that the viewing audience could listen to the crowd and watch a series of replays absent distraction. Buck and McCarver catch an impossible amount of shit this time of year, much of it deserved. I liked this maneuver.

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