I remember once hearing author Chuck Klosterman talk about his love for midweek college football - those throwaway MAC games that are on every Wednesday night. Klosterman's reasoning was this: at any time, you could see the biggest moment in a person's life. Some senior quarterback trying to lead a comeback from three touchdowns down, some freshman special-teamer recovering a fumble and running it into the end zone, and all on national TV - it's high drama.
Pro sports aren't like that very often, but come World Series time, they are. You've got guys playing the World Series that may never again play in the World Series, that are experiencing the most important moments of their careers, live and in color. It's impossible not to feel some sympathy for those players, whose limitations are on display for all to see - and especially for a guy like Nick Punto, whose limitations are more on display than most.
Punto was not a divisive figure in Minnesota - he was almost universally despised. No matter how much he hustled or how good his defense, for most fans, anything he brought to the table was outshined by his semi-legendary offensive ineptitude. In a close game, it seemed like he managed to be at the plate every fourth batter, and was able to strike out in key situations upwards of fourteen times per game.
Even so, it's impossible to take any joy in Punto's Game 5 performance. Three times, Punto came to the plate with a runner or runners in scoring position. Three times, he failed to get a hit; twice, he struck out, and twice, the inning ended after his failure. The strikeouts were painful to watch. One swinging, one looking, and in neither situation did it appear that he was anything but completely overmatched.
It was like that for all the Cardinals in Game 5. In the second inning, Yadier Molina singled to score Matt Holliday; it was the only hit St. Louis would get with runners in scoring position. When the dust cleared, the Cards had gone 1-12 with "ducks on the pond," had been caught stealing twice, and had turned seven hits and nine walks into a grand total of two runs. Rangers starter C.J. Wilson skated through five and a third and gave up only two runs, not a dominating performance, but - like the rest of the Texas staff - just enough to keep St. Louis from blowing open the game.
On the flip side, Chris Carpenter finished seven innings and allowed two solo home runs. The first was a shot from #9 hitter Mitch Moreland, a blast to right that landed in the upper deck. The second came courtesy of Adrian Beltre, as the third baseman took a swing I've only ever seen before in cricket - down to one knee to lift a curve ball into the left-field seats.
The bottom of the eighth proved St. Louis's undoing. Michael Young doubled off of Octavio Dotel to lead off, and after Beltre struck out and Nelson Cruz was intentionally walked, David Murphy singled off the pitcher's leg to load the bases. With the crowd chanting "NA-PO-LI! NA-PO-LI!" like he was a Roman gladiator, the Texas catcher doubled to right-center to give Texas its first lead of the evening, two runs that provided the final Game 5 margin.
We get a break tomorrow; the Series resumes Wednesday. Catch your breath.