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Rangers should be scared of tired bullpen, not Cardinals

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ARLINGTON, Tex. -- It's not Albert Pujols that should scare the Rangers.

Or perhaps I should say it's not only Albert Pujols that should scare the Rangers.

He's not the biggest issue the Rangers face going forward in a World Series they now trail, two games to one. He's not the big question they were left with after Game 3.

Let everyone else talk about Pujols and his historic night, about a 16-7 Cardinals win that was basically only watchable whenever Pujols stepped to the plate. Let the Rangers wonder if their fantastic bullpen is finally too worn down to save them again.

Is Alexi Ogando, the secret weapon through two rounds, now so tired that he becomes a reason the Rangers lose games instead of being one of the biggest reasons they win?

The Rangers have played 13 postseason games, and Ogando has pitched in 10 of them. Ogando faced 37 batters and allowed just four hits in the first two rounds of the playoffs. He has faced 11 batters and allowed five hits and two walks, leading to six runs, in the World Series.

When he gave up the first and longest Pujols home run Saturday, Game 3 was basically over.

"When Ogando couldn't come in and get it done, then we knew we were in trouble," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.

Yes, but in trouble for one night, or in trouble in the World Series?

Washington would no doubt say the former. But you sure do wonder about the latter.

You sure do wonder if Ogando is so tired that it's showing.

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"Possibly, man," bullpen mate Mike Adams answered honestly. "He's thrown a lot. He was a starter in the regular season, and we've ridden him in the playoffs."

They've ridden the entire fantastic bullpen, so much that even though Derek Holland made it through just 7 1/3 innings combined in his two American League Championship Series starts, the Rangers ended up winning both games.

Holland starts Game 4 of the World Series Sunday night. If he's gone by the third inning, is this bullpen now too tired to rescue the Rangers?

"The innings add up," said Adams, who didn't pitch Saturday. "It's a long season. It catches up. Did it have anything to do with what happened [Saturday]? Who knows?"

Who knows, indeed. And yes, the Cardinals have ridden their bullpen hard, too. Yes, the Cardinals got two fewer outs from their Game 3 starter (Kyle Lohse) than the Rangers got from Matt Harrison.

But it's the Rangers bullpen that allowed Saturday's game to get out of hand. And it's the Rangers who now trail in this series.

"As an offense, we knew if our bullpen could stop their offense, we'd have a chance," Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said.

On this night, it never happened.

Harrison can say that the Cardinals may never have scored in the fourth inning if not for first-base umpire Ron Kulpa's horribly missed call. He could (but didn't) say that two runs came home as a result of first baseman Mike Napoli's poor throw.

But the fact is that Harrison couldn't get out of that fourth inning, and the fact is that it was the seventh time in 13 postseason games that a Rangers starter has recorded 15 outs or less.

The Rangers trailed 5-0 when Harrison left. They got back to within 8-6 before Washington went to Ogando to start the sixth inning.

It wasn't until Pujols hit the first -- and longest -- of his three home runs off Ogando that the Rangers stopped having a real chance to win this game.

But you've really got to wonder if it turned because Harrison couldn't give the Rangers more innings. You've got to wonder if it turned because the Rangers had already asked their relievers (and especially Ogando) to throw so many pitches and so many innings just to get them to this point.

And mostly, you've got to wonder if what happened Saturday is a sign of what's to come, unless the Ranger starters can pitch deep into games for the rest of this World Series.

"I think what you saw from the first two games is that if the starter pitches well, the score's going to be under control," Game 1 starter C.J. Wilson said. "As a starting pitcher, you're trying to prevent that phone call down to the bullpen."

As a Rangers pitcher, you've also got to find a way to prevent Pujols from making more history.

"I think [Game 3] turned when Pujols was at the plate," Rangers reliever Darren Oliver said. "That's what he does."

Fair enough, but the Rangers faced a very dangerous hitter in the last round, too.

In fact, when Washington was asked Saturday night about Pujols' performance, he immediately referred to Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera.

"Between [Pujols] and Cabrera, you need to outlaw them," he said. "They're that good."

Cabrera hit .400 in his six ALCS games against the Rangers. He hit three home runs, drove in seven runs. And the Rangers, in large part because of their bullpen, won the series.

Pujols, with his great night Saturday, is now hitting .417 in the World Series, with the three home runs and six RBI.

Cabrera had a big night to beat the Rangers in Game 3 of the ALCS. The bullpen helped them recover to win the series.

Can it happen again?

"We're not going to be perfect every night," Adams said.

What you wonder after Saturday is whether they have enough left in the tank to be perfect a few more times.

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