Burwell: Boggs pays for one mistake

Burwell: Boggs pays for one mistake

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ARLINGTON, Texas • In the quiet visitors' clubhouse inside Rangers Ballpark late Sunday night stood two Cardinals pitchers who reminded us of all the odd twists and turns that this 2011 World Series can take.

Starting pitcher Edwin Jackson and reliever Mitchell Boggs stood only a few feet apart, one engulfed by a media horde, the other sitting quietly on the fringe, both responsible for the way Sunday night's 4-0 Game 4 loss to the Texas Rangers had played out.

Jackson, surrounded by TV cameras and microphones, explained how he navigated through a wild and crazy, 109-pitch, seven-walk, 5 1/3-inning ride, which teetered constantly on the brink of disaster, yet he came out of it largely unscathed.

"I was just trying to battle to keep the game close," he said. "Regardless of whether it looked pretty or not, my mind frame was to keep the game close. And the bottom line was, going into the sixth the score was 1-0."

As Jackson answered every question, Boggs was one stall away quietly putting on his street clothes and preparing to explain how his brief 1 2⁄3-inning appearance had gone 180 degrees the other way. The 6-foot-4 reliever threw only 29 pitches, most darned near perfect. He struck out three batters, threw 23 strikes and retired five of the seven batters he faced.

Yet, none of that mattered because of the first pitch he threw Sunday night — a sinkerball that didn't sink. It was 95 mph of pure heat that went right into the wheelhouse of a first-pitch fastball hitter named Mike Napoli, and in the blink of an eye, Boggs' one mistake cost the Cardinals the game.

This time the loud crack of the bat was a blast that made the crazed masses inside Rangers Ballpark let out a joyful roar, not a stunned gasp. This time, a crushing blast sent millions of loyalists in Cardinal Nation groaning in misery. This time as the baseball dropped down into all the outstretched hands in the leftfield bleachers, no one wanted to toss it back into the outfield grass like some wise guy did the night before after Albert Pujols' first monumental blast in Game 3.

This time, there was a mad scramble by so many Rangers fans, who acted like they were in pursuit of some precious gem, which is exactly what it turned out to be.

And down there on the pitcher's mound, Boggs did not have the same joyful reaction. The Cardinals reliever had come into Game 4 with the specific job of quelling a Rangers uprising. But one pitch into his night, Boggs was snapping his head in the wrong direction, watching the unpleasant sight of Mike Napoli sending Boggs' first-pitch 392 feet into the cheap seats in the sixth inning. It was a three-run blast and turned a nervous 1-0 Texas lead into a decisive 4-0 margin.

"I was aggressive and tried to go right at him, run one in on him and just left it up and he was able to get out in front of it," Boggs explained to a small group of reporters. "It was a huge hit and it's disappointing because of the way Edwin pitched. He battled all night long."

Boggs shook his head softly.

"I thought I was ready for that moment," he said. "You gotta come in and make a better pitch than I did. I made the pitch with conviction and with everything I had. (Napoli) was ready for it and he jumped right on it."

Control of this fascinating World Series duel between the Cardinals and Rangers keeps swinging madly every night. Games are being decided in the blink of an eye; missed cutoff throws, daring base steals, pitchers diving headfirst to make a tag. And now we can add one more little detail. A sinker ball that never sunk.

Jackson had just left the game after a typical night's work: He kept a lid on the Rangers with his frustrating style that flirts constantly between danger and outright disaster. Say what you want about Jackson's methods — 5 1⁄3 innings, seven walks, three strikeouts and a hundred grinding moments that feel like you're sitting in a dentist's chair — but when he left the game with two runners on base, he had limited the potent Rangers to only one run.

If he'd had his druthers, manager Tony La Russa would have preferred to go to more reliable middle-relief arms such as Lance Lynn or Fernando Salas. But they pitched the previous night, so Boggs was the next logical man up.

One pitch later, La Russa may have regretted his choice. Boggs grooved a ball right up and in to the power-hitting Napoli, who just happens to feast on first-pitch fastballs. Napoli rocked it on an almost identical path as Pujols' sixth-inning moon shot in Game 3, only not quite as far (392 feet to 423) and with not quite the same historical significance.

But the impact of that Napoli blast sent tremors all around this ballpark, relieving the swallow-your-heart tension that comes from protecting a 1-0 lead when you know your home team is trailing in this best-of-seven series 2 games to 1. Napoli allowed these anxiety-filled Rangers fans, who were still flinching from Pujols' historic Saturday night, to take a deep breath and relax just a bit.

The battle for supremacy of major league baseball is not going to be decided overnight. So now with the series tied at 2 games a piece, the Fall Classic is guaranteed to return to St. Louis on Wednesday night for at least one more game. This wonderfully entertaining Series is bound for no fewer than six games.

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