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Pen, timely hits lift Cards; Craig's single in sixth drives in winner

A couple of key hits at the plate, a lot of key outs from the bullpen.

It's the formula the St. Louis Cardinals have used plenty of times in this unlikely postseason run and it worked again Wednesday night in the opener of the Fall Classic at chilly Busch Stadium.

Allen Craig's pinch single plated the go-ahead run in the sixth inning and manager Tony La Russa cobbled together the final nine outs with a quintet of relief pitchers as the Cardinals held off the Texas Rangers, 3-2, to take the series lead.

"We have to win the National League-style games if we're going to win this thing," said Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman, whose two-run single in the fourth opened the scoring. "Tonight was a National League-style game. It was 3-2, good pitching, good defense, timely hitting. I don't think we want to get into a gorilla ball-type series with these guys."

Game Two is tonight at 8:05 (Ch. 29) as Jaime Garcia pitches for the Cardinals against Colby Lewis. After a workout day Friday, the teams play Game Three Saturday night in Rangers Ballpark at Arlington.

You want some good karma for the upstart Cardinals? The winner of the Series opener has taken the title in 12 of the last 14 years (the exceptions being Philadelphia against New York in 2009 and San Francisco against Anaheim in 2002), and 19 of the last 23.

A towel-waving crowd of 46,406 endured the 49-degree temperature at the first pitch that was the third-coldest for a Series opener since those numbers were compiled starting in 1975. The Rangers, who played in searing Dallas heat all summer, didn't do much at the plate in the face of the cold and a swirling 20-mph wind.

The Rangers scored just 12 runs and batted a paltry .190 in their five-game loss to San Francisco in last year's World Series, their first trip to the game's biggest stage since the franchise was born in 1961 (the club moved from Washington to Texas in 1972).

It was more of the same Wednesday.

Texas had six hits and its only runs scored on Mike Napoli's two-run homer to right in the fifth, an opposite-field bolt that careened into the bleachers about a dozen rows up off Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter.

Carpenter pitched six strong innings. St. Louis relievers Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Arthur Rhodes and Jason Motte combined for one-hit relief over the final three innings and set down the last eight Texas hitters.

Rzepczynski struck out pinch-hitters Esteban German and Craig Gentry to end the seventh and leave two men on. Dotel and Rhodes got through the eighth in order and Motte pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.

"It takes 25 guys to win and obviously you've got your headline players, the guys who are kind of the stars," Berkman said. "But a lot of times, games are won and lost based on how the other guys play. [Rzepczynski] had a great inning and Allen got the big hit. He's been doing that all year long."

Carpenter, who has been battling elbow soreness, was helped by some solid defense.

One great play was his own, as Carpenter dived to catch an Albert Pujols throw at first and tagged the bag to beat Elvis Andrus in the first. Pujols made a stellar play in the sixth on a Michael Young grounder that stranded a runner at third and kept the game tied at 2-2.

"He's just not a great hitter. He's a great player," manager Tony La Russa said of Pujols. "Defensively, he's a Gold Glover several times now and he's clutch."

Energized by the Pujols play, the Cardinals went to work in the bottom of the inning. David Freese doubled to right-center with one out off starter C.J. Wilson and took third on a wild pitch. After Nick Punto walked, the Rangers brought in Alexi Ogando.

But Craig foiled the strategy by singling to right. It was a sinking liner that Nelson Cruz couldn't glove as he dived toward the line.

"Cold weather game. Sitting on the bench. World Series. Ogando. It's not a good situation," La Russa said. "He's got a history of taking great at-bats with runners in scoring position."

Craig's hit was the first pinch RBI to produce a lead in a Series game since Wade Boggs had a bases-loaded walk for the Yankees in 1996, and the first hit to do that since the famous Kirk Gibson home run for the Dodgers that beat Oakland in the 1988 opener. Craig hit .318 with four RBIs as a pinch-hitter during the regular season.

"[Ogando] was my best pitcher right there I felt in all my situations," said Texas manager Ron Washington. "You have to give credit. They beat us."

email: mharrington@buffnews.com