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Communication Issues For Cardinals In Game 5 Loss

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: In Texas last night, game five of the World Series went to the home team. The Rangers beat the St. Louis Cardinals four to two, and now they could close out the series as play moves back to St. Louis. The Rangers came up with big hits, and they were also the beneficiaries of an unusual communication breakdown on the part of the Cardinals. NPR's Mike Pesca was at the game, and has this report.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: There is, in World Series history, the Merkle boner and the Snodgrass error. They occurred in 1908 and 1912, respectively, but it's not like baseball fans hold a grudge. Perhaps what transpired in Texas last night was more in line with umpire Don Denkinger's error in judgment in 1985, because that, too, concerned a missed call.

Last night, with the score tied at two in the eighth inning, Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa faced a choice. Mike Napoli, who provided the Rangers go-ahead homerun the night before, was facing the Cardinal's Marc Rzepczynski.

Rzepczynski is an excellent pitcher against certain kinds of hitters: lefties. He's a pretty lousy pitcher against righties. Mike Napoli is a righty. So it doesn't take the smartest manager in baseball - which is a label often applied to LaRussa - to figure out the strategy. Bring in the right-handed reliever to face Napoli. But Rzepczynski stayed in. The Rangers broadcast team of Eric Nadel and Steve Busby were bewildered.


PESCA: As Napoli fouled off Rzepczynski's pitches, the disbelief of the broadcasters just deepened.


PESCA: It turns out that Rzepczynski was in the game for a reason that is both mundane and bizarre. LaRussa's call to the bullpen was simply misheard.

TONY LARUSSA: Well, what happened was that twice, the bullpen didn't hear Motte's name. You know, they heard Rzepczynski, and they didn't get Motte. I looked up there, and Motte wasn't going. So I called back for Motte, and they got Lynn up.

PESCA: The phone in the visitor's bullpen, a sturdy silver unit like you used to see on so many city streets, doesn't operate on coins. Nevertheless, Mike Napoli made the Cardinals pay. Let's let those prescient Rangers' broadcasters handle the call. They didn't see it coming.


PESCA: LaRussa said mishearing a pitcher's name - twice, in fact - happens. He credited the loud crowd. None of the pitchers involved in the sequence said they ever questioned the manager's decision. Jason Motte, who should have been in the game, said he pitches, LaRussa thinks.

JASON MOTT: He didn't tell me anything.


MOTT: It's not my job to know. It's my job to just pitch when he calls me. Tony's got this thing under control. I'm just along for the ride.

PESCA: There were other plays and blunders in this game that could have affected the outcome. The Cardinals left scads of runners on base. A groundball before the phone fiasco could have gotten the cardinals out of the inning entirely. Though St. Louis dropped the game to put themselves on the brink of elimination, they did give them maximum effort - if only they had just phoned it in. Mike Pesca, NPR News, Arlington, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.