Shortly after 8:00 PM on the East Coast, Rafael Furcal lined out to Adrian Beltre to begin Game 5 of the 2011 World Series. Shortly before midnight, Lance Berkman swung and missed at a ball that kicked off of Mike Napoli's shin-guard. Napoli chased the ball down almost to first base and flipped the ball to Mitch Moreland to close out the Rangers' 4-2 win. What happened in between was pure madness.
Once upon a time, it looked like CJ Wilson's lack of control and Ron Washington's fear of Albert Pujols was going to be the story in Game 5. Wilson walked two hitters in the second inning, and that, coupled with some bad Mitch Moreland defense, lead to a 2-0 Cardinal lead. In the third, Washington ordered an intentional walk of Albert Pujols with Rafael Furcal on third, one out, and Matt Holliday on deck. Holliday hit into a double play. That double play turned out to be huge, because Moreland made up for his miscue at first with a monster home run in the fourth to shave the Cardinals' lead in half.
Wilson's control struck again in the fifth, when he walked Nick Punto after a leadoff single by Skip Schumaker. Despite the fact that the Cardinals were having no trouble reaching base to that point, Tony La Russa ordered a Rafael Furcal sacrifice bunt to move the runners over. After an Allen Craig strikeout, Washington ordered another Pujols intentional walk to load the bases up with two outs. Once again, though, Holliday bounced into an inning-ending out.
It seemed certain Wilson was done at that point, but Washington brought him out for the sixth inning. He went to Scott Feldman after a one-out Skip Schumaker single and the Cardinals once again wasted a chance to add on to their lead when they stranded runners on second and third. Adrian Beltre took advantage of the opportunity by dropping down onto his back knee to hammer an 0-1 Chris Carpenter curveball into the stands and even the game at 2-2.
To this point, it was clear we had a classic game brewing. The game was tied 2-2 with the World Series already similarly knotted. Both teams were squandering base runners, pitchers on both sides were getting big outs, all of the big things you'd expect in such a huge game. If only we knew what was coming next.
In the top of the seventh, Allen Craig drew a one-out walk from Alexi Ogando. That brought Albert Pujols to the plate. The same Albert Pujols that hit a home run off of Ogando in Game 3 that still hasn't landed. Craig, for some undetermined reason that we may never fully understand, tried to steal second on what seems like it may have been a botched hit and run. Mike Napoli cut him down at second for the inning's second out. Ron Washington decided at this point that he'd rather put the go-ahead run in the pivotal game of the World Series on first base rather than pitch to Albert Pujols, which lead to a Matt Holliday single. Pujols went to third, made a wide turn, and drew a throw that let Holliday move to second. So Washington intentionally walked Lance Berkman to pitch to the NLCS MVP David Freese, who promptly responded with a flyout to center.
In case you failed to follow or register the ridiculous series of events, the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2011 World Series, a point in which both the game and the series were tied at 2-2, included a runner caught stealing with Albert Pujols at the plate, two intentional walks, and zero runs. Things proceeded to get crazier.
In the bottom of the eighth, La Russa sent Octavio Dotel to the mound to face Michael Young. Dotel held righties to a .411 OPS this year, so the move made plenty of sense. Young responded with a beautiful inside out swing that resulted in a double into the right-center gap. Dotel stayed out to pitch to Adrian Beltre, though, and struck him out with some high heat. For some reason, though La Russa elected to intentionally walk Nelson Cruz. The same Nelson Cruz who struck out 116 times in 513 plate appearances this year. Facing the same Dotel, who's poison to righties and just struck out Beltre. Ostensibly, the move was made to bring in Marc Rzepczynski to face the lefty David Murphy. Rzepczynski stayed in after Murphy singled off of his glove, though, to face Game 4 hero Mike Napoli. Rzepczynski, who's OPS-against against righties is 300 points higher than against leftes, stayed in to face right-handed masher Napoli. Napoli responded with a two-run double. The Rangers wouldn't be able to bring the final two runs in, even after La Russa employed the rarely used "Bring in a reliever to intentionally walk a guy, then yank him for a different reliever" move, but Napoli's hit gave the Rangers and Neftali Feliz a 4-2 lead.
The insanity wasn't quite over, though. Allen Craig got hit by a pitch to lead off the ninth, but got thrown out at second when Albert Pujols chased a 3-2 pitch out of the zone. It's again not clear what happened: the FOX broadcast team seemed to think that a hit-and-run was on, but with Pujols at the plate and a two-run deficit, a hit-and-run would've been inexplicable. Finally, after a Matt Holliday walk, Feliz got Berkman swinging and Napoli chased the ball down to finish the strikeout and close out the win.
What really matters is this: the World Series is heading back to St. Louis and the Rangers only need one win in the last two games to bring home the franchise's first World Series. What I'm going to remember, though, is a tense, back-and-forth World Series game full of big hits, intentional walks, bunts, and pitching changes. Both managers meddled like crazy, making decisions that made almost no strategic sense and giving the game a weird, surreal, Twilight Zone quality. In the end, though, the Cardinals couldn't capitalize on the extra base runners the Rangers insisted on giving them, while the Rangers pounced on both the Cardinals' terrible base running decisions and La Russa's failure to optimize his pitching matchups.
The Rangers are one win away now, and if Game 6 is anywhere near as entertaining as the first five games of the World Series, we're going to be talking about the 2011 World Series for a while. If there's a Game 7, this Series will be an all-time classic.