|There'll be plenty of fireworks on display for the World Series at Rangers Ballpark. (US Presswire)|
ARLINGTON, Tex. -- World Series, meet Extreme Makeover.
A Fall Classic with early buzz and the makings of a, yes, classic is about to get caught in a jet stream. Next stop: The stratosphere.
"I played here for five years," Cardinals backup catcher, pinch-runner extraordinaire and all-around savvy veteran Gerald Laird said Friday afternoon. "You don't see many 3-1 and 2-1 games.
"It can be totally opposite for Games 3, 4 and 5."
Forget scene-setter, the prevailing winds at the moment are blowing scene-shifter. The Rangers and Cardinals are about to go from Bunt 'Em Over to Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em. Hoo, boy. Busch Stadium is to the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington as the Grand Canyon is to backyard Wiffle ball.
The riveting Game 2 in St. Louis that went 1-0 into the ninth inning? You'll see Taylor Swift playing center fielder for the Rangers before you'll see a 1-0 game in Texas.
"I'd say this ballpark is like the New York Yankees' ballpark. It's a joke," said St. Louis reliever Arthur Rhodes, the 20-year veteran who pitched for Texas this season through August, when the Rangers released him and he signed with the Cardinals. "Everybody knows it's a joke.
"You've got to keep pitching your game. You can't be afraid. You've got to go do what you do."
According to ESPN Park Factors, Texas' is the most hitter-friendly park in the game. Busch Stadium ranks 25th. The fly ball Albert Pujols banged to right field in the eighth inning of Game 2 Wednesday night is as good a barometer as we've seen in this series in the difference between these two parks that elicit completely different reactions in hitters and pitchers.
"Albert seemed like he got into that ball pretty good, and it was caught at the wall," Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "That ball probably is 10 rows deep here."
"I thought the air in the park in Busch Stadium [Thursday] night and the night before was pretty heavy," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "So I was really hoping that it wasn't. But the way he swung at it and the reaction from him after he hit it, he thought it was gone and I was just hoping it wasn't."
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As Kinsler said, that moment would have turned out far differently deep in the heart of Texas. Pujols should love it here, though a small sample-size of stats reveals he doesn't. So far, at least. The Cardinals have played just one interleague series here, in June of 2004, and Pujols went 1 for 14. The hit was an RBI single, Pujols' lone total base in the Lone Star State.
As Rangers outfielder David Murphy notes, this park plays fair to left field (354 feet down the line, 390 to the power alley) and to center field (404 toward left-center and 407 toward right-center) and like a bandbox to right field (340 down the line).
Add the prevailing winds here to the short pop down the right-field line, and look out.
"St. Louis, it was tough to hit there," Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "Especially with the cold weather."
It was 48 degrees for the first pitch of Game 1 and 50 for Game 2. Forecasts in Arlington call for a very comfortable 76 degrees when Matt Harrison throws the first pitch of Game 3.
While the 26-degree increase will make for better hitting conditions, it's nowhere close to what the Rangers saw earlier in the hottest summer in a century in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Temperatures soared to 100 degrees or more for 71 consecutive days.
"It's not really warm for Texas," Rangers reliever Darren Oliver quipped. "It's chilly. You guys should have been here two months ago."
One challenge the Cardinals will face right off the bat -- so to speak -- is that Kyle Lohse, their Game 3 starter, and Edwin Jackson, Game 4, both are fly ball pitchers. Ground balls work far better in this place.
"You make mistakes, you walk guys or don't get your pitches down, you're going to see a lot of crooked numbers," Laird says. "It's tough on pitchers. Lohse has been here before [3-2, 6.75 ERA in six career appearances, five starts, with eight home runs surrendered in 28 innings pitched]. You've got to keep the ball down with no walks."
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa acknowledged the fact that it might have made more sense to start Lohse and Jackson at home in Busch, where, as Cardinals infielder Skip Schumaker said, "no doubt about it, our place doesn't get enough pub about how much of a pitcher's park it is. It's not easy to hit it out at our place."
"I think it's accurate to say they can get the ball in the air more than Carp or Jaime, but I don't think it would have been our best shot to have pitched them in Games 1 and 2 and then those other guys here," La Russa said.
Truth is, this is where Allen Craig, who will break into the lineup in right field for Game 3, can become important for the Cardinals. And Lance Berkman, who will slide over to designated hitter, and Matt Holliday and, yes, Pujols.
"You put our lineup, our meat of the order, here in this park, I think we can put up some serious numbers," Schumaker said.
As much as the meat falls off the bone in the delicious barbecue joints in this part of the world, he's right.
Thing is, that goes for both teams.
"You've got two very powerful lineups," Laird said. "You're going to see some runs scored these next three games."
Yeah, no kidding. Probably the most important word that can be uttered over the next few days is, duck.
Duck, and enjoy.