ST. LOUIS — Josh Hamilton and the Texas hitters looked lost. They chased pitches that bounced, broke their bats and seemed totally overmatched.
Until the ninth inning, that is.
Down to their last three outs, and in danger of dropping into a serious World Series deficit, the Rangers rallied against St. Louis’ vaunted bullpen.
Hamilton and Michael Young lifted sacrifice flies in the ninth and Texas startled the Cardinals 2-1 on Thursday night to even the Series at 1-all.
“It wasn’t a Series-saving rally, but it was huge,” said Ian Kinsler, whose single and steal set up the comeback.
In a city excited by a Rally Squirrel, it was Groundhog Day — almost.
For the second straight night, Cardinals pinch-hitter Allen Craig greeted reliever Alexi Ogando with a go-ahead single. This time, Craig did it the seventh. In Game 1, his hit in the sixth sent the Cards to a 3-2 win.
Said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa: “It was almost a great story for us, turned out to be a greater one for them.”
Now, after a travel day, Texas will host Game 3 on Saturday night. Matt Harrison is set to start for the Rangers against Kyle Lohse.
“It would have been hard,” Hamilton said of possibly facing being 0-2. “We would have been comfortable going back to our place, having three games. They’re just like we are, never say die, til the last out is made. It makes it fun.”
Texas has not lost two straight games since Aug. 23-25. They sure waited a while to save themselves on this night that began as duel between starters Colby Lewis and the Cardinals’ Jaime Garcia.
Kinsler opened the ninth with a bloop single against closer Jason Motte. Next up was Elvis Andrus, whose tremendous play at shortstop kept the game scoreless much earlier. Kinsler, though, wasn’t about to wait — he stole second, sliding in just ahead of Yadier Molina’s excellent throw.
Andrus followed with a single to center, sending Kinsler to third. And when the relay throw got away for a moment, Andrus scampered to second.
La Russa, who’s been making all the right moves this October, brought in lefty Arthur Rhodes to face Hamilton. But the slumping slugger, slowed throughout the postseason by a groin injury, hit a solid fly ball that scored Kinsler and moved Andrus to third.
La Russa went to his bullpen again, bringing in Lance Lynn to face Young. The steady Texas veteran did his job, lofting a fly ball that sent Andrus scampering home.
Then it was Rangers manager Ron Washington’s turn. He signaled for closer Neftali Feliz, who worked around a leadoff walk to earn the save. Mike Adams got the win.
The Cardinals broke through against Lewis in the seventh when David Freese singled with one out and took third on Nick Punto’s two-out single. La Russa pulled Garcia and put up Craig, who was injured for most of the season.
Washington then went to Ogando. After a first-pitch foul, Craig lined a 96 mph heater over Kinsler at second base for the go-ahead run.
Up through the ninth, the Texas hitters were flailing.
Hamilton, the reigning AL MVP seemed to be wearing down with every swing in his first three at-bats.
Hamilton shattered his bat the first time up and slowly jogged to first base. Later, he weakly waved and appeared overmatched as he struck out on three pitches. That left him with an 0-for-16 Series slump dating to last October.
Hamilton’s teammates were equally feeble. Maybe it was because none of the Texas starters had ever faced Garcia, maybe it was carryover from the stress that began in last year’s World Series wipeout against San Francisco.
The acrobatic Andrus made a sensational play in the fifth to keep the game scoreless.
After a two-out single by Punto and a walk to the light-hitting Garcia, Rafael Furcal slapped a hard grounder up the middle. Andrus dived to his left to stop it on the edge of the outfield grass, got to his knees and flipped the ball with his glove about 25 feet to second baseman Kinsler, who barely beat Garcia to the bag for a forceout.
Texas batters, meanwhile, couldn’t catch up with Garcia.
Their hardest hit early in the game came in the fourth — rather, it was the hardest a Texas player got hit.
Kinsler was at third base when Adrian Beltre sent a solid, one-hopper down the line. The foul ball nailed a ducking Kinsler in the right shoulder, and he grinned while playfully rubbing it off. No smiling, though, when Beltre took a poor cut at a low pitch and struck out to strand runners at the corners.
Garcia and Lewis dominated at the outset, and no one got a hit until Furcal doubled with two outs in the St. Louis third. Before that, the closest anyone came was Jon Jay, whose bunt danced along the third base line chalk before trickling foul.
Perhaps both sides could have used some hitting tips from Stan Musial. A month shy of his 91st birthday, Stan the Man was sitting in a Busch suite. The Cardinals Hall of Famer was shown on the video board and drew a big cheer.
NOTES: Garcia was the first Mexican-born starter in the World Series since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981. … The Cardinals hit into the most double plays in the majors this year, Texas was second. … Rangers president Nolan Ryan, before the game, on why he thought Texas would win in six games: “When I looked at St. Louis’ pitching, I don’t look at their pitching like a (Detroit ace Just in) Verlander, where you say boy, ‘Verlander is on, we’re going to hope that something good has to happen.’ I’m not downplaying the Cardinals’ pitching by any means.”
CARPENTER’S GRIT: There was so much discussion about the degree of difficulty on Chris Carpenter’s daring, go-for-it dive in Game 1 that the condition of his much-discussed elbow didn’t come up.
A day later, the Cardinals can joke about it — even if Carpenter narrowly escaped getting his pitching hand stomped on by the Rangers’ Elvis Andrus.
Manager Tony La Russa said his ace’s background as a youth hockey player no doubt influenced the decision to make a play that rivaled the toughness of Curt Shilling and his bloody sock in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees.
On the second at-bat of the game, first baseman Albert Pujols ranged far to his right to glove Andrus’ grounder and Carpenter needed a headfirst dive to catch an off-balance throw. During his slide he touched the bag with his glove and then his right hand, pulling it away just in time.
“The only thing I kidded him about was if he should have put his face in front of that spike and then he could have been bleeding the rest of the game and could have been another Curt Schilling,” La Russa said. “That would have been a hell of a sight, because he’s always talked about how hockey players, they get gashed and they’re still out there playing and baseball players get taken out.”
Pinch hitter Allen Craig got the go-ahead hit in the sixth inning after La Russa removed Carpenter with two men on and two out. The move worked out strategically, and the Cardinals didn’t have to push the guy who led the National League with 237 1-3 innings pitched this season.
As for the problematic elbow, La Russa said he hadn’t asked Carpenter how he felt.
“I just know that it is that part of the season where it’s not smart,” La Russa said of leaving him in the game. “He had done enough for us.”
ALPHABET SOUP: Marc Rzepczynski’s stuff was tough enough to hit for the Texas Rangers in Game 1.
Manager Ron Washington wasn’t even going to try pronouncing his last name.
For the record, it’s Zep-chin’-ski. But the Rangers would just as soon not have to learn it. The left-hander struck out consecutive pinch hitters to end the seventh in the Cardinals’ 3-2 victory.
“I don’t know how to pronounce his last name, so I’m not even going to try,” Washington said before Game 2 on Thursday night. “You’ve got to give credit to Marc. Marc executed his pitches, and when pitchers execute, usually the results that we got is what you get.”
Washington doesn’t need many pinch hitters in the regular season because of the DH, and Texas was just 12 for 61 (.197) with a homer and 12 RBIs as a team. Three Cardinals had more than 20 pinch hit at-bats and St. Louis was 51 for 224 (.228) with three homers and 32 RBIs.
Pinch hitter Allen Craig delivered the go-ahead RBI in the sixth inning Wednesday night.
NOT GONNA MISS THIS: Country music star Trace Adkins is originally from Louisiana, so most would assume he’s a Rangers fan. That would make the most sense in terms of proximity.
Turns out he’s a big Cardinals fan.
The Grammy-winning singer of such hits as “You’re Gonna Miss This” is friends with St. Louis assistant trainer Barry Weinberg, and has become close to manager Tony La Russa. So it made sense that Adkins was on hand to sing the national anthem before Game 2 on Thursday night.
Adkins also performed the anthem before Game 3 of the 2006 World Series between the Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers. St. Louis wrapped up its 10th title in five games that season.
“American Idol” winner Scotty McCreery performed the anthem before Game 1 on Wednesday night, and Ronnie Dunn is scheduled to sing it when the series shifts to Texas for Game 3 on Saturday.
Dunn didn’t flaunt his fandom when he took in batting practice Thursday, though he did greet Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols on the field. Adkins stuck with his trademark cowboy hat, black boots and a beige World Series jacket, and said he was pleased the weather was better than Game 1.
Temperatures were still in the low-50s, but any chance of rain had moved away.
“I had this all planned,” Adkins said.