ARLINGTON -- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said it was "just a mix-up" in the seventh inning at Rangers Ballpark on Monday night when Allen Craig was thrown out by Rangers catcher Mike Napoli on an attempted steal of second with Albert Pujols at the plate. "On our team, nobody gets thrown under the bus, and that's all I'm going to say about it," La Russa said afterward. But there was no reason for such intrigue. Pujols admitted that he had personally signaled the hit-and-run on a play in which Craig did a belly-flop slide that fell short of the bag as he was tagged out. The Rangers then walked Pujols intentionally and Matt Holliday followed with a single -- one that could have scored Craig had he still been on the bases.
The "mix-up" was a key moment for the Cardinals in their 4-2 loss to the Rangers, who took a 3-2 lead in the 107th World Series. Texas can wrap up its first World Series title in Game 6 back at Busch Stadium at 8:05 ET on Wednesday night. Pujols was up front about his own decision to have Craig moving when asked about it in a one-on-one interview situation outside the main portion of the clubhouse on Monday. "A hit-and-run was put on," Pujols told MLB.com. "By who?" he was asked. "By me, is that a problem?" added Pujols, who apparently relayed his signal through third-base coach Jose Oquendo. The Rangers had hard-throwing Alexi Ogando on the mound, and as Craig took off, Pujols never offered at the pitch. "It was a 99-mph pitch away that I couldn't even get my bat on," he said. "So I let it go." Again in the ninth with Neftali Feliz on the mound, Craig on first base and Pujols at the plate, La Russa called a hit-and-run from the bench. Pujols swung through the pitch for strike three, and again Napoli nailed Craig at second base. "That was a team play," Pujols said. "Yeah, I trusted Albert could put the ball in play," La Russa explained. "In fact, two swings prior, he fouled the ball off with the second baseman going over [to cover the base]. The hole was there, and all of a sudden, it would have been first and third with nobody out. On the last pitch, [Feliz] has a very live arm, and it sailed on [Pujols] and he missed. I liked sending him and having a chance to open that inning up, and it didn't work." In the critical seventh inning with the game tied at 2, Ogando walked Craig with one out and pitched carefully to Pujols, getting a called strike before delivering the pitch that Craig ran on. Many wondered if Craig had simply missed a sign. "It was a hit-and-run and an unhittable pitch," Craig said. "It was a perfect play for them." Asked how he got the sign, Craig said he received it from Oquendo. "I got the sign and I ran. It's as simple as that," Craig said. Almost immediately after, Craig and La Russa had an animated discussion in the dugout about the play. "He just wanted to make sure I got the sign," Craig said. It's not out of the ordinary for Pujols to flash his own hit-and-run signs during the course of a game. Sometimes it works, but on the big World Series stage on Monday night, it didn't. "Sometimes Albert will put a hit-and-run on from the plate for himself," Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman said. "I think he put the hit-and-run on and recognized that the pitch was so up and away that he couldn't really hit it. I don't think he wanted to give a strike away right there." After Craig was caught stealing, Pujols was walked intentionally -- for the third time in the game. Holliday followed with a single and advanced to second on a missed relay as Pujols rounded third aggressively, but stopped. With first base open, Berkman was intentionally walked to load the bases and bring up David Freese, who flied to center on the first pitch from Ogando to end the key threat. The Cardinals finished 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, leaving them on the precipice of losing the World Series. Nobody, though, was thrown under the bus.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.