World Series Opener: Cards Beat Rangers 3-2

The St. Louis Cardinals won the first game of the World Series Wednesday night. On a chilly, wet evening in St. Louis, the Cards scratched out the 3-2 win over the Texas Rangers. It was a dramatic, hard-fought beginning to what promises to be a close series.

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The St. Louis Cardinals won the first game of the World Series last night. And on a chilly, wet evening in St. Louis, they eked out a 3-2 win over the Texas Rangers. NPR's Tom Goldman reports it was a dramatic, hard-fought beginning.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: At six feet, six inches, St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter stands very tall on the pitcher's mound. But in the first inning last night, Carpenter made, arguably, the coolest play of the game, flat on his face in the infield dirt.

It started with him firing a pitch to a Texas batter, who hit a grounder toward St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols. Pujols fielded the ball, but then underthrew it to Carpenter, who was racing over from the mound to make the play at first base. Carpenter dove for the ball, and as his long frame hit the ground, he tagged the base with his glove hand, at the same time pulling his pitching hand away to protect it from the batter's oncoming cleats.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

GOLDMAN: Cards fans roared their approval. How cool to see a pitcher getting dirty. The play also served notice that the game, perhaps the series, is going to be a diving for every out, clawing for every run affair.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAME BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: First and third, two out, Allen Craig off the bench.

GOLDMAN: Up until the sixth inning, when the Card's Allen Craig stepped to the plate as a pinch hitter, the game largely had been a pitcher's duel between starters Carpenter and CJ Wilson of the Rangers. But then in the sixth, with the score tied 2-2, both came out and the managers took over.

St. Louis's Tony La Russa sent Craig to the plate. The Rangers' Ron Washington countered with fireball-throwing relief pitcher Alexi Ogando. Advantage, Craig.

(SOUNDBITE OF BALL GAME BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That is into right. Cruz will make the catch and now it's dropped. One run scores, Punto holds at third and the Cardinals lead 3-2.

GOLDMAN: Allen Craig's single, heard on Fox TV, drove in what ended up being the winning run. Craig swung the bat, but La Russa set up the moment, as he did several other times during the game, as he's done throughout the postseason. Here's Craig after the game.

ALLEN CRAIG: He's pulling all the right strings, and it's fun to watch, you know. It's working out for us. And you know, it's good right now.

GOLDMAN: La Russa has been particularly aggressive with his bullpen. During the National League Championship series against Milwaukee, La Russa made a record 28 pitching changes in six games. For fans, baseball, when played as chess match, can me maddening. It slows the game to a crawl.

But if you're one of La Russa's relievers who comes in and goes out before even breaking a sweat, as Fernando Salas did in the seventh inning, yours is not to reason why.

FERNANDO SALAS: Now in the playoffs, it's really important, every strike, every out, every inning. I'm ready for everything.

GOLDMAN: How many pitches did you throw tonight?

SALAS: I think 15?

GOLDMAN: Actually, 11. But in La Russa's book, it was a scoreless stretch that got the Cards 11 pitches closer to the money moment at game's end, with St. Louis's closer, Jason Motte, squaring off against the Rangers' hottest hitter, right fielder Nelson Cruz.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAME BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All the tinkering has come down to this. Top of the 9th, two outs, full count against Nelson Cruz. Motte fires, long drive.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

GOLDMAN: Cruz flied out, Cards won. In the Rangers' clubhouse, Cruz underplayed the taut contest. After all, it was only the first. They got the big hit, he said. It was a good game. But you get the feeling there may be more. Game two is tonight.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, St. Louis.

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