ST. LOUIS — Rangers manager Ron Washington joked about not being able to match wits with Tony La Russa.
Who can, these days?
The Cardinals boss looked like a genius again in Game 1 of the World Series, especially when Allen Craig pinch-hit for ace Chris Carpenter and delivered a go-ahead single that sent St. Louis past Texas 3-2 Wednesday night.
Craig's slicing hit with two outs in the sixth inning fell inches in front of sliding rightfielder Nelson Cruz. The game was just that tight throughout a cold, damp evening.
It was a game perfectly suited for La Russa: lots of bunts, intentional walks and pitching changes. And the 67-year-old manager and Tampa native was at the top of his game.
"It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out," Cardinals rightfielder Lance Berkman said. "But I feel like we have to win the National League-style games if we're going to win this thing, and (Wednesday night) was a National League-style game: 3-2, good pitching, good defense, timely hitting.
"I don't think that we want to get into a gorilla ball-type series with these guys. We'll see what happens when we add the DH and go to the American League ballpark, but I think when we have the National League style and we have the advantage, we have to capitalize."
The Cardinals did, barely. A sliding stop by first baseman Albert Pujols helped prevent Texas from taking the lead on Carpenter's final pitch in the sixth.
In a postseason in which St. Louis and Texas starters have struggled, Carpenter and C.J. Wilson pitched well enough. They both left in the bottom of the sixth when the managerial wheels started to spin.
It was 2-2 when the Rangers worked around eighth-place hitter Nick Punto with a four-pitch walk that put runners at the corners with two outs.
"I know they had either Carpenter coming up or a pinch-hitter, and with Ogando warming up behind me, I have confidence that he's going to come in and get that guy out," said Wilson, who fell to 0-3 this postseason and is the first pitcher to lose Game 1 of the World Series and the All-Star Game in the same season since the Pirates' Dock Ellis in 1971.
La Russa did not hesitate, pulling Carpenter and sending up Craig, a versatile player who was injured for much of the season. Washington countered by bringing in hard-throwing reliever Alexi Ogando.
La Russa liked Craig's chances.
"Cold weather game, sitting on the bench, Ogando. It's not a very good situation," La Russa said. "But he's got a history in our system, that's why we like him so much."
Craig swung through two fastballs, then hit a drive toward the rightfield line. Cruz tried to make a sliding catch, except the ball bounced just before it reached him and thudded off his left leg for an RBI single.
Ahead, La Russa coaxed three scoreless innings from his deep bullpen. Five relievers did the job, with Jason Motte closing for his fifth save of the postseason.