In WS opener, La Russa makes the right moves

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In WS opener, La Russa makes the right moves

ST. LOUIS - St. Louis manager Tony La Russa pulled off a masterstroke by bringing in Allen Craig as a pinch-hitter.

La Russa watched as the replacement delivered the go-ahead run that gave the Cardinals a 3-2 win over the Texas Rangers in Wednesday’s World Series opener.

Craig’s slicing hit in the sixth inning fell inches in front of sliding Texas right fielder Nelson Cruz as the go-ahead run came in from third base. The Cardinals bullpen then hung on to deliver a victory on a cold, damp evening.

“Man, he’s tough,’’ Craig said of hard-throwing Rangers reliever Alexi Ogando. “He came right at me with fastballs and I missed the first two. Then that last one I was trying to get the barrel on it, make the defense make a play. Fortunately I kept it fair and Cruz made a great attempt on that. It was a great play all around.’’

It was a game perfectly suited for the National League style - lots of bunts, intentional walks and pitching changes. And in a postseason in which he’s made all the right moves, the 67-year-old La Russa was at the top of his game.

After pulling starting pitcher Chris Carpenter, La Russa coaxed three scoreless innings from his deep bullpen. Five relievers did the job, with Jason Motte closing for his fifth save of the postseason.

A day earlier, Texas manager Ron Washington joked, “I don’t think I can ever live up to matching wits with Tony La Russa.’’

Game 2 is today, with Jaime Garcia starting for the Cards against Colby Lewis. Texas has not lost two straight games since August.

This was the first time Texas had played in St. Louis. Yet Josh Hamilton, Cruz and the big-hitting Rangers looked a lot like the team that fizzled at the plate in last year’s World Series against San Francisco.

Each team wound up with six hits. The wild-card Cardinals just did more with them.

Carpenter earned his eighth postseason win, breaking the team record he shared with Bob Gibson. Of course, all of Gibby’s victories came in the World Series.

“Carp, he did what he usually does,’’ Craig said. “He was our leader out there tonight. He went out there and threw strikes, got early outs and he led us tonight. It was great.’’

C.J. Wilson fell to 0-5 in his last seven postseason starts, dating to last year.

In a postseason in which St. Louis and Texas starters have struggled, Carpenter and Wilson each pitched well enough. They both left in the bottom of the sixth when the managerial wheels started to spin.

The Cardinals took a 2-0 lead in the fourth after Albert Pujols hit - or was hit by a pitch, more precisely. The St. Louis star was plunked on the lower left leg to start the inning, Matt Holliday sliced a double and Lance Berkman chopped a two-run single down the first base line.

Mike Napoli kept up his season of slugging, hitting a two-run homer in the fifth that made it 2-2.

It was 2-2 when the Rangers pitched around eighth-place hitter Nick Punto with a four-pitch walk that put runners at the corners with two outs. La Russa did not hesitate and pulled Carpenter, sending up the versatile Craig.

Washington countered, yanking Wilson and bringing in Ogando. With all the pieces in place, it was time to play - and what followed was the play of the game.

Craig swung through two fastballs, then hit a slicing drive toward the right-field line.

Cruz tried to make a sliding catch, except the ball bounced just before it reached him and thudded off his left leg for an RBI single. The hit scored David Freese, who led off with a double.

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