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Top of Cards' lineup bottoming out in front of Pujols

The Cardinals entered Game Six of the World Series with a .229 team batting average and needing to find a way for slugger Albert Pujols to get pitches to hit.

The Texas Rangers figured to keep walking Pujols at every opportunity, and that was especially true if the players in front of him in the batting order continued to struggle to get on base.

A lot has been made about St. Louis' 8-for-43 showing with runners in scoring position the first five games. But perhaps a bigger issue is the fact the Cardinals' top two hitters entered Game Six just 4 for 37, so manager Tony La Russa inserted Skip Schumaker into the No. 2 spot for Game Six hoping to spark the offense.

Rafael Furcal, just 3 for 20, stayed in the leadoff slot but Schumaker took over the 2-hole, where John Jay and Allen Craig had gone 1 for 18.

"We have to occupy first base," Schumaker said prior to the game. "That's the No. 1 goal for me and Raffy [Furcal] because of how they do pitch Albert. Obviously last game shows they're not going to pitch to him at all, even with guys not on base. It's probably pretty smart. We're talking about the best hitter in the game.

"If I'm hitting second, which I [did Thursday], usually they're not trying to walk you, I know that. Because they don't want that base to be occupied, and that means they have to pitch to him. It's a different spot in the lineup. It's usually a place where Tony puts guys to get hot during the season because they see more pitches to hit."

Pujols got walked intentionally three times in Game Five but has not done the kind of damage the Rangers feared aside from his three-homer game in Game Three. Pujols went 5 for 6 in that game -- and is 0 for 12 in the other four in the series.

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Pujols confirmed to a small group of local reporters after Wednesday's rainout that he called the hit-and-run in the seventh inning Monday that led to Craig being thrown out trying to steal because Pujols couldn't get to Alexi Ogando's fastball high and away. He said he's probably called the play 150-200 times during his 11 years with the Cardinals.

"I don't have a problem with that play," Pujols said. "I know there was a lot of discussion about 'if he put the play on why didn't he swing?' Look at the pitch. It was high and away and I wouldn't have been able to touch it. If I would have been able to put the bat on it, I would have swung at the ball.

"People can throw rocks and blame Tony or myself. It's just part of the game. If it had worked out like it had in the past we wouldn't be talking about this. I can tell you out of those 200 hit-and-runs, believe me, we've won a lot of games. This time it didn't work."

The Rangers and Cardinals both entered Game Six with a pair of players who have collected at least 14 RBIs in the postseason. Pujols and David Freese have 16 apiece for St. Louis, while Nelson Cruz has 15 and Mike Napoli 14 for Texas.

Until this year, that had happened only three other times in the wild-card era. The 1996 Yankees had Bernie Williams (15) and Cecil Fielder (14), the 2002 Giants had Rich Aurilia (17), Barry Bonds (16) and Benito Santiago (16), and the 2007 Red Sox had Manny Ramirez (16) and Mike Lowell (15).

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Rangers manager Ron Washington on closer Neftali Feliz, who has a penchant for difficult ninth innings despite a 0.87 ERA and six saves this postseason:

"He will get me the three outs I'm looking for. I've just got to settle my heartbeat down and put up with it. Sometimes I get off the bench and walk away, but he is my guy, and he has gotten me three each time I've put him out there as we have gone down this stretch here. I just have to put up with it. That's Neftali."

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The Rangers have endured two postponements in the postseason after having just one (May 11 against Oakland) during the entire regular season. Oct. 27 marked the end of the World Series the last two times the Cardinals were involved, the Game Four sweeper for the Red Sox at old Busch in 2004 and the Game Five win for the Cardinals over Detroit in 2006. When Craig was thrown out trying to steal twice in Game Five, that marked the first time that's happened in Series play since Billy Martin of the Yankees was nailed twice in the 1955 opener against Brooklyn.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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