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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Mother Nature proves to be more clutch than Cards hitters


Matt Holliday is hitting just .167 with no homers and no RBI in the World Series. (Getty Images)  
Matt Holliday is hitting just .167 with no homers and no RBI in the World Series. (Getty Images)  

ST. LOUIS -- Rain, gloom and general sogginess arrived in St. Louis before Wednesday's scheduled Game 6, but enough about the Cardinals hitters with runners in scoring position.

You were thinking we were going all Weather Channel on you?

Oh, no. As Albert Pujols said as everyone made alternate plans for a rainy evening, "One thing you can't do is mess with Mother Nature."

True. But at least Mother Nature proved Wednesday she can get a runner in from third with less than two out. That's one thing about the unscheduled night off that benefited the Cards: At least they couldn’t come up short in the clutch again.

Not to beat a dead Cardinal, but in keeping with the (dial) tone of this World Series, these guys right now with men on base are as effective as a dropped cell phone call: The Cardinals were 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position in Game 5 against Texas, and they're hitting .186 (8 for 43) in those situations overall in the World Series.

If that doesn't change, the Cardinals don't win.

"Nobody I know is up there footloose and fancy free" in pressure situations, Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman said. "You're feeling it.

"I've always said, if you can't hit in the fetal position, you shouldn't try and play in the big leagues."

How sensational is that?

First, who says either "fancy free" or "footloose" in a major-league clubhouse? What, is Berkman part of that six-degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon thing?

Second, Berkman did not mean anyone in particular is curling up and sucking his thumb when C.J. Wilson or Alexi Ogando is dealing with ducks, er, Cardinals on the pond.

He actually meant the opposite, that St. Louis hitters aren't scared, they're just not getting it done. And it is a growing issue that is threatening to end their season title-less unless they figure something out, pronto. The missed opportunities have occupied manager Tony La Russa's mind over the past 48 hours far more than the Ma Bell bullpen moments the other night, and it's easy to see why.

If the Cardinals even went, say, 3 for 12 with RISP in Texas the other night, they probably win and the bullpen issue is moot. Operator, that's just the way it feels.

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Matt Holliday, in particular, is struggling. He's hitting just .167 (3 for 18) with no homers and no RBI in this World Series. That, in particular, has been one of St. Louis' biggest problems. He's hit fourth, behind Pujols, in four of the five games. And given that Texas has started giving Pujols the Barry Bonds treatment -- every time you look up, Rangers manager Ron Washington is waving four fingers -- Holliday's struggles are magnified.

He says the tendinitis in his right hand is much better than it was in the first round of the playoffs against Philadelphia. La Russa thinks he's fine, too, but playing catch-up.

"I think the biggest thing is he missed some at-bats leading up to the crunch, and in the crunch, and all of a sudden it's the most pressure you've faced all year long," La Russa said. "I do think he's healthy right now. But he's trying to catch up, and it's a tough time to catch up."

La Russa had flip-flopped Holliday and Berkman for Game 6 Wednesday and said he will leave it that way when the game is played on Thursday. Berkman will hit fourth and Holliday fifth. La Russa also says he thinks Holliday is going to do something big before this series is over.

"I've had some good at-bats," Holliday said. "I feel pretty good with where I'm at."

It's not just Holliday who has missed in the clutch. Berkman, David Freese, Yadier Molina, Rafael Furcal, Nick Punto ... the list pretty much is all-inclusive.

No small part of it is, Texas is pitching very well and pitching coach, Mike Maddux, is as good as there is in the game. The Rangers are pitching smart, away from St. Louis strengths and in spots conducive to where the Texas defenders are positioned. La Russa and his staff have been very impressed with that.

"We've had some misses with runners in scoring position because we weren't aggressive with pitches to hit," La Russa said. "We've had some bad at-bats because we've gone outside the strike zone, which is not good hitting. You want to be aggressive in the strike zone.

"And then we've also been ready to hit and they've pitched the ball right on the edges, with movement. That's to their credit, and it's tough to hit.

"That's the beauty of what we do. There's no easy answer, you've just got to watch every at-bat. In most of the cases, I tip my hat to the Rangers pitchers. They've made really good pitches in key situations."

Holliday, Berkman, somebody is going to have to step up because the Rangers intend to continue to make Pujols a non-factor.

"I don't think any manager, when the games are dwindling down -- now we're down to three -- will allow Albert to swing the bat to beat you," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "That's not taking anything away from Holliday or Berkman, because we know what they're capable of doing.

"But we're just not going to let Albert do it."

The Cardinals know this. Now it's up to them to do something about it.

"Clearly, they feel like they have a better chance if they're getting Albert out of the way than me," Berkman said. "I know that's the case.

"But as a competitor, it rankles you a little bit."

Consider the Cardinals rankled. Next move is theirs. Best thing is, it doesn't even involve telephoning anyone.

Unless they, um, maybe want to dial long distance with a couple of runners aboard.


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