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Pinch-hit decision puts Rangers' Washington in quite a pinch


ST. LOUIS -- A World Series game was there to be won.

Tony La Russa had Allen Craig. Ron Washington had Esteban German.

Or Yorvit Torrealba.

The Cardinals had Craig, whom teammate David Freese calls "a future All-Star -- absolutely."

The Rangers had German, who had five major-league hits this year (and no at-bats in the last three weeks). Or Torrealba, who has one hit in 28 career at-bats as a pinch hitter (and it was five years ago).

Hmmm. Wonder how that turned out?

You know exactly how it turned out. You know that Craig delivered and German didn't, that Craig's hit broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth and German's strikeout in the seventh wasted the Rangers' best chance at coming back, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the World Series.

You know that La Russa was hailed as a genius, and that Washington was asked four questions in a seven-question press conference about not using Torrealba -- the guy whose last pinch hit was in 2006.

"Can you guarantee me that if I used Torrealba he would have done anything different?" Washington finally said. "I used the guy that I thought could get me the base hit."

He made the wrong choice. I said it then. You may have said it, too. Torrealba had a three-hit game last week against the Tigers, while German hadn't even played in the postseason. The Rangers changed their roster for the World Series, adding a third catcher specifically so that they could use Torrealba to hit.

Washington should have picked Torrealba. But I'm not sure it would have made a difference.

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The difference in Game 1, more than the bullpens or the starting pitchers, was that the National League team had a quality pinch-hitter available and the American League team didn't.

That's not exactly a surprise. With no designated hitter, NL rosters are built with pinch hitters in mind. With the DH rule and deep lineups, AL teams never really take pinch-hitting into account.

Craig's pinch hit Wednesday night was the Cardinals' ninth of the postseason (and his third). The Rangers don't have nine pinch hits since the All-Star break -- and none at all since Sept. 13.

Craig understands pinch hitting. He's been asked to do it five times already in the postseason (with three hits), after doing it 23 times in the regular season (when he had seven hits and a walk).

"Last year was tough, because I had never really come off the bench," Craig said. "I kind of had to develop an approach, and now I've gotten opportunities, in big spots and not-big spots."

He got a chance in a huge spot in Game 1, with two out in the sixth inning of a tie game. The Cardinals had runners at first and third, and the Rangers had just brought outstanding reliever Alexi Ogando into the game.

Craig sliced a 98 mph Ogando fastball into right field, where Nelson Cruz just missed making a sliding catch. The go-ahead run -- the final run of the game, as it turned out -- came in to score.

Cruz said he thought at first he'd be able to catch the ball. He said his cleat stuck in the warning-track dirt, slowing his slide and keeping him from getting there.

"I kind of thought that he caught it," Craig said. "I didn't know [it dropped] until he picked it up and threw it in."

It was close. What happened in the top of the seventh wasn't.

The Rangers put two runners on base with one out, when Cruz singled off Cardinal reliever Fernando Salas, and Mike Napoli followed with a walk. With left-handed hitting David Murphy due up, La Russa went to lefty Marc Rzepczynski, and Washington countered with right-handed hitting Craig Gentry (who had the Rangers' last pinch hit, back in September).

Gentry struck out looking. With the pitcher's spot next, Washington chose German, who went down on three straight pitches.

"Righty against lefty," Washington explained. "I thought he had a good chance, with the breaking stuff [Rzepczynski] threw. He beat us. That's all there is to it."

Rzepczynski beat them. Craig beat them.

"Any time you can give a chance to Allen Craig, I'm all for it," Freese said.

And any time you have to choose between Esteban German and Yorvit Torrealba to pinch hit with the game on the line?

Well, it's like the manager with a bad bullpen, choosing between two relievers when he knows there's a good chance neither one can get the job done.

Nothing makes a manager look worse. Nothing, except choosing between German and Torrealba.

"Not to belabor it," a reporter finally asked Washington. "But is Torrealba healthy?"

"Torrealba is healthy," Washington said.

He's healthy, and fully capable of delivering a pinch hit.

He had one, remember, just five years ago.


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