ST. LOUIS — As if there weren’t enough layers of intrigue already surrounding Game 6 of the World Series — which could simultaneously produce the first World Series title in the Texas Rangers’ history, the final game in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform for Albert Pujols and the assurance that the Great Bullpen Phone fiasco of Oct. 24, 2011 will be a permanent, defining part of Tony La Russa’s legacy — they had to go and postpone Game 6 nearly five hours before the scheduled first pitch, because of the presumption of rain.
“We just didn’t want to take a chance” on starting Wednesday night’s game only to have it delayed or suspended by rain, said Joe Torre, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations, at 3:15 p.m. local time, with overcast but dry conditions outside. “You know, we anticipate it's going to rain. If it doesn’t rain, you still make the decision [based] on what you knew.”
Game 6 will now be played Thursday night, with Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia facing Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis, as the Rangers stand one win away from the title. Should the Cardinals win Game 6, Game 7 would be Friday night.
Such a postponement, of course, has major implications beyond the juggling of Fox’s prime-time TV lineup. Suddenly, with their extra day of rest, pitchers who otherwise might have been off-limits for either game — beginning with the respective aces, Texas left-hander C.J. Wilson and St. Louis right-hander Chris Carpenter — will be available for relief duty or even a short-rest start in Game 7.
“It gives us another day of rest for our main guy, which is Carp,” said Pujols, standing by his locker late Wednesday afternoon in Busch Stadium’s home clubhouse. Pujols quickly added that the decision as to whether or not Carpenter would start Game 7 rests not with him, but with La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan.
While Rangers Manager Ron Washington held firm on his choice to start left-hander Matt Harrison in a potential Game 7 — “Because Harrison is my Game 7 pitcher,” Washington said when asked why he wouldn’t consider Derek Holland instead — La Russa remained noncommittal. By turn, the game belongs to right-hander Kyle Lohse, who, like Harrison, started Game 3, but few would be surprised if it were Carpenter instead who starts Game 7, should it be necessary.
“I know [MLB] will ask for our [Game 7] starter tomorrow,” La Russa said. “If Bob Gibson is there, we’ll send Bob.”
While both managers expressed their understanding of MLB’s tough situation — no one wanted a repeat of 2008, when the Phillies and Rays slogged through six messy innings of Game 5, only to have it suspended by rain for what turned out to be 48 hours, or of Game 1 of this year’s Tigers/Yankees Division Series, when respective aces Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia were forced out of the game by a lengthy rain delay — some players were not quite so gracious.
“I’m not even sure why they canceled it,” Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman said. “This is better weather than we had for Game 1. I’m actually kind of upset about it.”
Although logic says the Cardinals have more to gain from the rainout — because it brings Carpenter, the best starter on either team, back into play for a Game 7 start — they were also the ones more in need of the sanctuary provided between the white lines of the diamond. For the Cardinals, neither the events of the past few days, nor the issue looming over the first few days of the offseason, can provide much comfort.
Another day of waiting around means another day of digesting the Cardinals’ grotesque bungling of Game 5 — which, aside from La Russa’s much-dissected bullpen-phone escapades, also drew pointed questions about the fact Pujols has the authorization from La Russa to call hit-and-run plays on his own from the batter’s box. On Wednesday, Pujols said he has put on the play at least two other times this season, including one other instance in the postseason.
“It’s not about having special privileges,” he said. “It’s about the trust the manager has in me. . . . It’s something that didn’t go our way [in Game 5]. People can throw blame, but it’s a part of the game. We don’t let that game ruin the rest of the series.”
In St. Louis, as well as in the front offices of teams around the game, the great subtext of this World Series is Pujols’s upcoming free agency. If you thought Pujols has been at the center of every story in this series — from his critical error that helped the Cardinals lose Game 2, to his skipping out of the clubhouse without speaking to the media after the same game, to his historic offensive performance in Game 3, to his botched hit-and-run in Game 5 — wait until you start seeing the escalating, nine-figure dollar amounts floating around Pujols’s name in the coming weeks.
The Cardinals believe Pujols, deep down, wants to stay in St. Louis — where he stands behind only Stan Musial as a civic icon — although they think he also wants to see what the open market says. Already, he is believed to have turned down an offer from the Cardinals of nine years and somewhere around $200 million in February, at which point the sides shut down their talks.
The Cardinals also believe a World Series title, which would be Pujols’s second in St. Louis, would help in their efforts to keep him. There is a reason that, in all of baseball history, there isn’t a comparable player to Pujols, with multiple MVP awards and a championship title, who has walked away from a team where he has long roots while he is still a productive player.
“I’d like to think the team’s success has some bearing on” the player’s decision, Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said. “But it isn’t the only, or the biggest factor.”
Pujols, of course, has refused to discuss his free agency during this postseason or, except for a brief address with reporters at the start of spring training, all year. He is too focused on the task at hand, he has said, to think about such things.
But Thursday and Friday’s weather calls for dry (but cold and blustery) conditions, and there will be baseball played eventually, and then it will all come to an end. A big part of Pujols’s legacy will have been written, and another part will move out the shadows and into the light.