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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Rangers win because Hamilton does his job, while Pujols does not

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ST. LOUIS -- One superstar did his job in the ninth inning. One didn't. And because of that, the Texas Rangers won Game 2 of the World Series, 2-1, tying the series at a game each.

But Thursday night was so much more complicated than that. So much more ironic, uplifting, depressing. Wonderful. Cruel. All of it.

The superstar who did his job, Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, tied the game at 1 with a sacrifice fly in the ninth. He's playing on a pulled groin that is so bad, he said before the game he'd be on the disabled list if this were the regular season.

The superstar who didn't do his job, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, might have been playing his final game as a Cardinal at Busch Stadium when he made the biggest defensive mistake to date in the 2011 World Series. The box score shows an error for Pujols in the ninth, after the official scorer reviewed the play. The Rangers' second run in the ninth, the run that won the game?

That's on Pujols.

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You saw it, right? You know what happened. With nobody out in the ninth, the Rangers' Ian Kinsler was in scoring position after singling and stealing second when Elvis Andrus lined his own single to center. On that play, Pujols has cut-off duty. That's spring training stuff, Baseball 101, and Pujols messed up. Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay threw toward home, and Kinsler held at third.

Pujols has two options on that play. One, he can cut the ball off. Two, he can let the throw go home. Pujols did neither -- or both. He tried to cut it off, missed it, but got just enough of his glove on the ball to slow it down and knock it off line. By the time it bounced three or four times to the catcher, the ball was 25 feet up the line and Andrus had taken second on the throw.

"I'm not sure exactly what happened," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of the Pujols miscue, but "obviously we don't want [Andrus] to go to second base. I don't know exactly what happened there, but that was an important extra base."

The most important extra base of the season, to date. Because when Hamilton followed with his fly ball to right, his out became a two-for-one deal -- not just scoring Kinsler, but also advancing Andrus from second base to third. Now Andrus was in position to score on a fly ball, and that's what Michael Young provided for the winning run.

Hamilton did his job. Pujols did not. Baseball can be a complicated game, but Game 2 of the World Series was as simple as that.

But it's not so simple, because Hamilton definitely was playing hurt and because Pujols might have been playing his last game at Busch Stadium as a Cardinal. Crazy, right? That's what baseball, at its best, can do -- it can provide plot twists that defy the imagination.

Until the ninth inning, Hamilton had been overmatched at the plate. He probably has no business playing in games as important as these with a groin injury he said affects everything he does, from swinging to defense to running the bases. Checked swings, he said, are the worst. They can cause pain to shoot through his groin for 15 or 20 minutes. They can destroy an at-bat.

But he's playing in the most important games of the season, playing at 75 percent by his own estimation -- hitting third and clogging the order with bat speed that is so slow, thanks to his useless lower body, that he was blown away by mediocre velocity for three at-bats before guessing right and getting the barrel of the bat on an Arthur Rhodes slider in the ninth.

Hamilton was privately happy to face the lefty specialist, Rhodes, because he wasn't sure he could get his bat around against the harder-throwing righty Rhodes replaced, Jason Motte.

"I figured [La Russa] would stay with [Motte], to be honest with you," Hamilton said. "A guy that throws close to 100 [mph] rather than brings in Rhodesy, who throws 89. But he didn't. I don't get paid to make those decisions, and I'm glad he made that one."

Some people would call Hamilton courageous for playing in such important games, despite being overmatched against certain pitchers. And Hamilton was courageous, yes. But the decision to play him was questionable, a gamble that worked out. Rangers manager Ron Washington predicted beforehand that Hamilton would do something to help the team, and he gloated afterward to the media, "I know my players better than you guys."

Fair enough, but only time will tell what price Hamilton pays for these nine innings on that DL-able groin. Hamilton is getting worse by the day, seemingly worse by the at-bat. Maybe he finishes the rest of the World Series. Maybe he doesn't. Considering he wouldn't answer a question about pregame painkillers, it appears he's using injections to get through the pain. That lasts only so long. Will it last the rest of the World Series? Time will tell. That is the gamble the Rangers took by playing Hamilton in Game 2, a gamble that cannot be labeled a success just yet, not if the stubborn Hamilton misses any playing time going forward because the wishful Washington insisted on playing him.

"Health-wise, it is what it is," Hamilton said. "I'm tired of talking about it. I'm going to hurt until the season is over."

Could end in three games. The series now goes to Texas, and it isn't guaranteed to come back to Busch Stadium. And if it doesn't come back -- if either team wins all three games, but especially if the Rangers win all three -- it's possible that Albert Pujols' last major contribution at Busch Stadium was the defensive mistake that helped the Cardinals lose control of the 2011 World Series.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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