But Saturday night, returning home to familiar surroundings and 51,462 adoring fans, coming off a dramatic victory in Game 2, the Rangers produced a clunker. It was a highly public failure of pitching and defense. It was not worthy of the talent on hand, and it certainly didn't fit the time or place. Rather than rising to the occasion, the Rangers sunk away from it. The result was a 16-7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals that left the Rangers behind, 2-1, in the Series.
All it might have taken to prevent this pummeling was one relief pitcher somewhere in the fourth-through-seventh-inning range to stop the Cardinals from scoring yet again. The Rangers went in the logical relief-pitching directions, but nothing worked when it mattered.
"We got beat tonight," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They swung the lumber, and there wasn't much we could do about it. I don't know what combination I could have used to stop them. We just couldn't stop them."
The Rangers kept pace in this game, for a time, after a fashion. They were down five runs; they brought it back to two. They were down five runs again, and again, they reduced the margin to two. It was 8-6 in favor of the Redbirds after five innings, but there was still hope.
"We fought," Washington said. "We didn't give into that ballgame. We kept fighting. We kept trying to get back in it. But it was just a little too much for us tonight."
The Cards kept scoring and the Rangers didn't. Four St. Louis runs in the top of the sixth represented the effective end of this contest. When Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn put up a zero in the bottom of the sixth, the spell was broken. The Rangers ceased their repeated uphill climbs, and Rangers Ballpark settled into the dispiriting realization that the only question about this contest was just how bad the final score would be.
There was a moment, but only a moment, when the Rangers could have blamed this on an umpire. It was in the fourth inning, in the good old days when the Rangers were trailing just 1-0. With none out and one on, Matt Holliday hit a grounder to short. The force at second was made routinely, but second baseman Ian Kinsler's throw to first took Mike Napoli off the bag. Replays showed clearly, however, that Napoli got a swipe tag on Holliday's upper back well before Holliday reached the bag.
When first-base umpire Ron Kulpa ruled Holliday safe, he was mistaken. The Cardinals went on to score four runs in the inning, so there was the momentary appearance that an umpire's ruling had cost the Rangers dearly.
But even here, two of the four runs were unearned due to a throwing error by Napoli. And subsequent events pushed this game way beyond the territory in which that one call made all the difference. The Cardinals went on to score in six consecutive innings, and in the last five, there were no controversial calls in their favor. When Albert Pujols hit three home runs, the umpiring crew didn't have much to do with that, either.
Postgame, Kulpa acknowledged that he missed the call. To his credit, Washington said that the missed call could not be used as an excuse for the Rangers.
"[Kulpa] missed the play, and I knew he missed the play when I went out there," the manager said. "We still had an opportunity to get off that field with maybe them just pushing one run across the plate. We just didn't make the plays. I mean, I don't think you can just start all of a sudden making excuses about things. We had a chance to get off the field with them scoring one run in that inning right there, and we just threw the ball around in that inning, and it really messed up [Matt] Harrison's outing, because he was throwing the ball well."
This entire performance was out of character for the Rangers. It was atypical for the Rangers. It was nothing like the Rangers. But it happened to the Rangers. They now have to regroup, get a sizable start from Derek Holland in Game 4 to give the battered bullpen a break, and move on, in a big hurry. This won't happen twice to the Rangers in the same World Series. Nobody even thought it could happen to them once.