Saturday night, the 2011 World Series resumes in Arlington, Texas where the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers will battle to break the series 1-1 tie after the teams split the first two games at Busch Stadium.
The word “pivotal” gets thrown around a lot during playoff series in all sports. For instance, Game 2 of this World Series was pivotal because a 2-0 series lead for the Cardinals would look immensely different than the current 1-1 deadlock the series is at now. Similarly, Game 4 on Sunday will be pivotal because one team will be looking to take a 3-1 advantage while the other tries desperately to keep that from happening. Pivotal games tend to be tense, and the most mundane mistake—like botching a throw/cut-off from the outfield, allowing the runner to take an extra base—can turn into a game changer, if not a series changer.
But Game 3 of this series may have a bit more tempered feel to it, for a number of reasons. And it is these reasons that the Cardinals should take to heart so they can shake off the disappointing Game 2 loss and play loose and easy baseball.
First, the winner of the game earns a modest 2-1 lead in the series. Better than being down 1-2? Certainly. But two wins in a best of seven series is far from insurmountable. Toss around all the historical stats you like about “When the series is tied 1-1, the winner of Game 3 goes on to blah blah blah…” Numbers like that are borderline meaningless. Maybe a slight psychological tilt can be felt when a team loses the series lead or tie, but in reality the leading team is only halfway home. And if you believe your team can’t win three games before the other team wins two, you probably don’t belong in the World Series to begin with.
Second, everyone is bound to be a little more relaxed going into Saturday anyway. The Cardinals and Rangers defied pretty much all logic by locking horns in two pitchers’ duels in unseasonably cool October weather. These two teams had the top batting averages in their respective leagues during the regular season, and had guys like Albert Pujols and David Freese and Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre tearing things up throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs. Yet so far in this World Series, each team has scored a total of four runs. But that may change in Arlington, where the weather will be warmer, the winds will be swirling, and the park plays a little more favoritism toward the hitters than Busch Stadium.
Finally, any “feeling-out period,” whether real or perceived, is long gone by now. These teams have no surprises for each other. It seems the only thing that hasn’t already happened in this series is a slug-fest game, and it’s not like either team would shy away from that. In fact, it’s possible all the games at Rangers Ballpark could be mini-Home Run Derbies. And if both sides are knocking the ball around, the games become toss-ups really.
Make no mistake about it: A 2-1 lead in the World Series is a great thing to have. But Game 3 is far from a must-win for either side. And since the Cardinals are the team that lost the last game in heartbreaking fashion, they’ll be the team most looking to re-gain momentum. Still, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they lost Saturday. It would just make Sunday more of a must-win game.