ARLINGTON -- For all the talk about resilience, spirit and togetherness, another trait has defined the 2011 Cardinals from start to finish: It's been one strange, eventful season. But it's hard to imagine them topping Monday night's loss to the Rangers for sheer oddness.
Miscommunication between the dugout and the bullpen led to two missed matchups in the eighth inning. Four intentional walks by Texas pitchers led to zero runs for the Cardinals. Chris Carpenter pitched brilliantly but allowed two solo homers, and the typically sound Cards relief corps sprung a leak. And so the National League champions fell, 4-2, in Game 5 and now trail in the World Series, 3-2.
The Cardinals had so much trouble communicating that Albert Pujols didn't even follow his own hit-and-run call. St. Louis went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, stranded 12 men on base, lost two runners on caught-stealing plays and hit into a double play for good measure.
"I think the more you let them off the hook, the better they feel about their chances, especially at home," Lance Berkman said about the Rangers. "If you're going to beat a good team at their ballpark, you've got to capitalize when you have the opportunity."
A team that made a habit of playing essential games for a month now faces the very definition of must-win. The Cards' next loss ends their season. If they win two in a row, they're World Series champions, but Texas has not lost back to back games since late August. Under the current 2-3-2 World Series format, teams that go home with a 3-2 deficit have won the Series 12 times in 28 tries (42.9 percent).
Mike Napoli's one-out, two-run double in the eighth inning provided the winning runs for Texas. But Napoli was not supposed to face the man he hit against, Marc Rzepczynski, said manager Tony La Russa. Instead, a miscommunication on the call to the bullpen meant that Jason Motte never got up until several batters later than he was supposed to.
With the score tied, 2-2, Michael Young led off the eighth with a double off Octavio Dotel, and Dotel struck out Adrian Beltre. The Cardinals walked Nelson Cruz intentionally to bring up David Murphy, calling on Rzepczynski. Murphy hit a potential double-play ball that instead caromed off Rzepczynski's bare hand and toward second base for a single.
Had Motte been available, he would have come in to face Napoli. He was not. Napoli doubled in two runs, giving the Rangers the lead in the game, and soon after, the Series.
"If we got an out, we were going to pitch around Napoli and then go after the other left-hander [Mitch Moreland]," La Russa said. "And if the worst happens, then we would have stalled and got Motte ready for Napoli. But he wasn't throwing, so we couldn't get him ready. That's when I called the second time and said 'Motte,' and they heard 'Lynn.'"
Lance Lynn was warming, and he came in to face one batter -- an intentional walk to Ian Kinsler -- before Motte was finally ready. He struck out Elvis Andrus to end the inning.
The Texas runs were sufficient because while the Cardinals kept generating chances, they didn't convert on them. St. Louis totaled 17 baserunners by hit, walk or hit batter, and tallied two runs. Texas starter C.J. Wilson was in trouble all night, but never paid for the baserunners he allowed.
"We did have a lot of chances," Berkman said. "But for whatever reason, we didn't capitalize. I think they left 10 or 11 men on base, too, but they got the big hit when they needed it and won the game."
Carpenter's night was just about the exact opposite of Wilson's. He was brilliant, save for two swings. Carpenter worked ahead in the count, had sharp life on his fastball and his curveball, and looked like an ace for nearly the entire game.
But he was on the wrong end of two swings. He made a mistake to Moreland in the third, leaving a fastball up and over the middle of the plate in a 2-0 count for a home run. In the sixth, he made a decent pitch to Beltre, but Beltre went down and got it -- so far down that his knee hit the ground on the swing -- for a tying homer.
The Cardinals languished with men on base all night. They also suffered from a costly caught-stealing on an apparent missed hit-and-run sign in the seventh inning, as Allen Craig was gunned down with Pujols at the plate. Pujols said he called the hit-and-run, but laid off Alexi Ogando's fastball when he saw he couldn't hit it.
And then there were the bunts. With a man on second and no one out in the third, Craig put down a sacrifice. Pujols was intentionally walked and Matt Holliday hit into a double play, ending the inning.
Two frames later, Wilson looked lost as the Cards opened with a single and a four-pitch walk to Nick Punto. The bunt was once again put on, and though Rafael Furcal moved the runners over, the Cards came up empty. Craig struck out, Pujols was again given a free pass, and Holliday grounded out.
Aside from their eruption in Game 3, the Cardinals' bats have been quiet, with a total of six runs scored in the other four games. Unlike Derek Holland the night before, Wilson didn't overpower anyone over his 5 1/3 innings. He changed locations, speeds and pitch types, befuddling Cardinals hitters rather than overwhelming them.
Even when the Texas bullpen took over, the story didn't really change. St. Louis kept piling up baserunners and kept not getting them home. The Cardinals loaded the bases in the seventh, got a man on second with one out in the eighth, and twice had a man on first with the tying run at the plate in the ninth.
"Well, you know, they executed pitches," Texas manager Ron Washington said of his pitchers. "My bullpen has been great for me since the 31st of July. They've been coming in and getting it done. We had a meltdown the other day, but other than that, they've been great."
The Cardinals go home with some history on their side. The previous four times that a Cardinals team has gone home with a 3-2 World Series deficit, St. Louis has won the last two games to finish off the series.
"It's a difficult task, no question about it," Carpenter said. "These guys are good. But we're not going to lie down. It's not over. We've been in this situation for a long time. Our guys are confident in what we can do. We're confident in our ballpark.
"At home, with our fans going, you never know what's going to happen."
That much, at least, is surely true.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.