NEAL CONAN, host: The World Series begins tonight in St. Louis. The Texas Rangers return from last year, looking for their first world championship. The Cardinals hope to win number 11. The Rangers cruised atop the American League West most of the season and dismissed Tampa and Detroit in the playoffs, while the Cardinals squeaked into the National League wild card berth and dumped the favored Phillies and Milwaukee's Brewers.
What will you be watching for when the Series gets under way tonight? 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can join the conversation at our website as well. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Bud Kennedy, columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, joins us from a studio there. Nice to have you back.
BUD KENNEDY: Hello, Neal.
CONAN: And deputy sports editor Roger Hensley joins us from the newsroom at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Nice to have you with us.
ROGER HENSLEY: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Bud Kennedy, do the Rangers think the second time is the charm?
KENNEDY: Well, the Rangers were just thrilled to be there last time, and now they'd actually like to win a Series. But, you know, this is a divided loyalty situation for a lot of people in Dallas-Fort Worth. You know, the Cardinals were the closest Major League team up until the '60s when Houston started. So for a lot of the senior citizens here, they grew up following the Cardinals. And I'd say there is - are as many people here from Missouri as anywhere else in the world except Missouri. There are a lot of Cardinals fans here.
CONAN: Well, St. Louis was the westernmost outpost of Major League Baseball until expansion back in the early '60s, so you're in good company.
KENNEDY: Yeah, I think the - you know, a lot of people grew up in - they still talk about Saturdays watching Stan Musial and the trains they used to take from Dallas-Fort Worth to St. Louis to see the Cardinals play. So - but, you know, I know they won a lot of World Series way back then, but now Texas kind of is in a World Series mood to winning some for our own.
CONAN: And Texas has been doing pretty well in sports of late. But, anyway, Roger Hensley, these teams are well-matched. He was talking about Stan Musial. There's a man who, well, does not really like to take the title of El Hombre because of - he defers to Stan Musial.
HENSLEY: That's correct. We started calling Albert El Hombre in the paper a number of years ago. And Albert's made it fairly clear over the last few years that that moniker is clearly for Stan. And Stan is very revered in this town, although Albert has obviously put up hall of fame numbers in his first 11 seasons here as well.
CONAN: There is the lingering question of whether he will be there next year, but that's a question for the offseason. In the meantime, Albert Pujols has been everything any Cardinal fan could ever hope for.
HENSLEY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, he put up historic numbers. I mean, he is the only player in Major League Baseball history, in his first 10 seasons, to hit at least 30 homeruns, bat at least .300 and drive in at least 100 RBIs. So there's been no one like him in Major League Baseball history.
CONAN: And as the Cards fans face this contest, they've got to feel awfully lucky for, I think, until the last week of the regular season. Nobody thought they'd get in.
HENSLEY: Yeah. You know, I think the luck factor has kind of worn off as they've made this run. I mean, you know, on August 25th, they were 10-and-a-half games out of the wildcard. It seemed like they were being read their last rights, and they went on an incredible run, led by a team meeting by Chris Carpenter, who kind of got the troops fired up in the locker room, and got to - got in on the last day of the regular season into the playoffs, and here they are. I think people now aren't feeling so much lucky as perhaps this is a team of destiny.
CONAN: And Chris Carpenter then matched his words by tossing a brilliant shutout against the Phillies to wrap up the first series.
HENSLEY: Quite the gem, wasn't it, nine innings? And he had gone up against Roy Halladay there, who's likely the best pitcher in baseball. And Halladay went eight brilliant innings, only giving up one run, and Carp nailed it down, giving up zero.
CONAN: Bud Kennedy, that's about all the talking about pitching - or at least starting pitching - we're going to do. These two clubs have clubbed their way to the World Series. This has been the most offensive display in postseason baseball, certainly some records set by the Rangers.
KENNEDY: The Rangers fans, they're worried about all their starting pitchers. There is no starting pitcher that they really feel comfortable with. You know, C.J. Wilson has a chance tonight to become the first Major League pitcher in history to lose a first-round playoff game, a league, a divisional series playoff game, a World Series game and the All-Star game all in one season. And so, you know, there's no pitcher that the Rangers fans feel comfortable with.
But they feel very comfortable about Nelson Cruz. Nelson Cruz, six homeruns and, you know, my gosh, you know, Nelson Cruz has played so well that Governor Perry has announced that if Nelson Cruz continues to hit homeruns like this, there will be in-state tuition for everyone from the Dominican Republic.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CONAN: I think that'll be an interesting platform for him, maybe running for re-election. I'm not sure. But Nelson Cruz does have to be the best number seven hitter in baseball.
KENNEDY: You know, I think that he's going to stay there although there is now talk of moving him up in the lineup. You know, just having these - the Rangers in the playoffs again turned out to be such a surprise this year, though, because, I mean, you look at last year, Cliff Lee pitched them in the World Series, and everybody thought when they lost Cliff Lee that that would be it. Now, if you look at the start of the season, Cliff Lee is gone, and Josh Hamilton's been hurt most of the year.
And early in the season, the most notable thing that happened was the very sad moment at the stadium when a fan actually fell out of the stands on the field and died. And this was a season that was just marked by tragedy and uncertainty. And then all of a sudden, they pulled everything together in the last few months and really thundered through to the World Series.
CONAN: And Nelson Cruz, well-known reputation for hitting, yes, thunderous homeruns but always popping a hammy sometime in June and then sitting out for six weeks.
KENNEDY: Eleven years he played in the minors and all of a sudden he's become the hero.
CONAN: Let's see if we could get some callers in on this conversation. 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. Frances(ph) is on the line with us from Kansas City.
FRANCES: Hi. As a longtime Rangers fan, first of all, I just want to say that up to two years ago, you know, we couldn't even say that we had won a pennant, so that, in itself, is so exciting. But I'm going to be looking for Ron Washington's enthusiasm in the dugout.
CONAN: Ron Washington, the manager of the Texas Rangers, played, in his days, as a coach with the Oakland Athletics in the movie "Moneyball." And, Bud Kennedy, this has got to be sweet vindication for Ron Washington who admitted, what, a couple of years ago, that he used cocaine. A lot of people thought he would be fired.
KENNEDY: You know, and that was early in the season. He put it out of the way, and he has just become this kind of, you know, beloved celebrity figure here. And, you know, really, the Rangers play next door to that other big sports stadium here that's like the, you know, the monument to Jerry Jones' ego. And there are a lot of people who say Jerry Jones should go out and find a coach who works as hard and has as good a rapport with his players as Ron Washington.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Frances. And then we turn, Roger Hensley, to the genius Tony La Russa, the man who invented the all-time quickest hook, as he replaces pitcher for pitcher in the late innings, matching up lefty-righty.
HENSLEY: Oh, yeah. Tony is known for getting the closer's role started in the game of baseball. Now, he's taken it a little far in this series. We've had starters in the league championship series go just two innings, three innings. In fact, none of the starters went more than five innings. And, you know, your last caller referenced seeing Ron Washington being active, you know, in the dugout. If it's anything like the league championship series were for both Texas and St. Louis, both dugouts will be very active as those managers had to use that phone a lot calling the bullpen.
CONAN: Is there any - Texas a relatively new team in baseball lineage - is there any animosity, any history between these two teams?
HENSLEY: Well, Texas has actually never played here at Busch Stadium. This - tonight will be their first trip here.
KENNEDY: So, Roger, I'll point out, in Texas, the Bush is a presidential library. It's not a stadium.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
HENSLEY: Yes, I don't know if there's a lot of animosity. I mean, Lance Berkman had a few things to say this past offseason when he chose to come to St. Louis and play for the Cardinals rather than go on to the Rangers. He had a few dicey things to say about the Rangers. But he's taken that back, make - tried to make good at the All-Star game. And then also has had some very nice things to say this week about the Rangers.
CONAN: Comeback player of the year, as it happens. But in any case, let's see if we could go to Matt. Matt, with us from Vernon in New Jersey.
MATT: Yes, how are you doing?
CONAN: Good. Thanks.
MATT: I just had a comment. It doesn't - I hate to take away from the mood, but being a Phillies fan, winning 102 games this season, going to the playoffs, playing a five-game series and getting - only getting three-game home advantage over two after winning 102 games kind of takes away from the from the sport, I believe, having the right team in the playoffs at the right time. I know that...
CONAN: Would you have felt the same way had the Phillies won?
MATT: Probably not, judging the fact that they were given a, you know, just a five-game series. The only thing I would have to suggest is possibly moving it to a seven-game series. I'm just curious if they'll ever do that.
CONAN: Well, interestingly, there is a proposal - and we'll ignore the point about sour grapes from a Phillies fan, and I won't have any sour grapes as a Yankees fan. But, Bud Kennedy, there is a proposal that maybe as soon as next year, there will be an additional wildcard team, and the two wildcard teams will play a one-game playoff. That will make a big premium on winning the division championship and make it really scary to get in as a wildcard team.
KENNEDY: Neal, you know, the only compassion we have here for the Phillies is for Cliff Lee, who pitched so well last year but has his home - at home in Arkansas this year. And I'll point out he lives not far off the interstate. And all the fans driving back and forth from St. Louis to Arlington can drop right in and visit Cliff Lee. He is at home, and these teams are in the series.
CONAN: He's at home, and the teams are in the series. Let's see if we go next to Daryl(ph). Daryl, calling us from St. Louis.
DARYL: Yes, thank you for taking my call.
DARYL: You know, every year, it's like the Cardinals (unintelligible) Midwest. It's always New York or California and all that. And here we are again, you know? It's like you cannot dismiss the Cardinal, ever.
CONAN: Well, the Cardinals, they won not so long ago. But it's interesting, Roger Hensley, if the Cardinals or the Rangers win, I think we will then have 10 out of the last 11 years a different champion in baseball. Everybody talks about the Yankees and the Red Sox, but all these different champions.
HENSLEY: Yeah, you know, and especially when you talk about the Yankees and the Red Sox, and then - and people in the Midwest I know feel there's an East Coast bias as to how these things are covered. But, you know, take the Yankees, for instance. You know, the Cardinals have been to the World Series three times now in the last eight years, and that's two more times than the Yankees have. So, you know, I think it is true sometimes that these Midwestern teams get overlooked. But at the end of the day, it's about winning, and the Cardinals obviously have a history of doing that, both recent and in past history.
KENNEDY: Roger, I think, that's the question. Will the East Coast may be even cover the World Series at all? I mean, we have a Middle America World Series this year. No team from either the East or West Coast. I don't know. Was it in the Times today? I didn't get a chance to look.
CONAN: Well, we've told that Fox TV executives are standing on the ledge, waiting to jump off at the ratings. We're talking with Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from the newsroom there. The World Series gets underway later this evening in St. Louis. Bud Kennedy is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and joins us from Fort Worth. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Let's go next to Len(ph). Len with us from Sand Springs in Oklahoma.
LEN: Hey, Bud. How are you doing? This is Len from Fort Worth, but I live in Tulsa now.
KENNEDY: Len, I'm glad you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION.
LEN: Very good. I'm just hoping C.J. can go more than four innings and maybe our starting pitching can kick back in again.
CONAN: Well, that is the interesting thing about the Texas Rangers. C.J. Wilson is who he's talking about, the starting pitcher for the Rangers in tonight's ballgame. The Rangers always were a tremendous offensive club. They were never able to put together a pitching staff. And, Bud Kennedy, a lot of people give Nolan Ryan a lot of credit. The general manager there also deserves a lot of credit as they have drafted and brought up pitchers through their system and were able to replace Cliff Lee.
KENNEDY: Well, of course, Daniels has been the general manager since the age of 28. He's one of the youngest. He, you know, he came in with a philosophy of just trying to scrap and pull this team together. Nolan - although Nolan has been involved with the pitchers, obviously, Nolan is mainly involved with pulling this team out of bankruptcy. And with the help of a lot of the natural gas money here, some of the gas executives invested and pulled the business-end of the team back together. You know, it's great to see Nolan out there, but, you know, this is not the kind of pitching staff that reflects Nolan's career. This is just some relievers that just kind of, you know, pull a few innings here and a few innings there. You know, my gosh, Derek Holland is starting pitcher.
CONAN: Derek Holland. He was on my fantasy team, and we winced every time he was out there starting, though he had that great run toward the end of the year. Len, thanks very much for the call. Bud Kennedy, as you look ahead to this series, is there something in - everybody looks for omens in the first game. What are you going to look for?
KENNEDY: I think that the question is whether, you know, the Rangers are the ones that have every reason in the world to have stage fright. The Cardinals have a great legacy and a great deal of experience. You know, the Rangers are playing tonight in a colder-weather city. The Rangers have - the biggest thing the Rangers have done in the last two years, they've broken the legendary story that the Rangers could never win because they play in the hottest stadium in Major League Baseball. The outdoor stadium, where it's 105 degrees all summer, the Rangers are traditionally (unintelligible) in August. You know, they're used to playing when it's 105. They're just not used to playing when it's 45. And it'll be interesting to see if they can handle that weather in St. Louis.
CONAN: Well, Roger Hensley, what are you going to look for if - when the Cards take the field?
HENSLEY: Well, I tell you, I think just looking at this series, it's obvious there is going to be a lot of offense. I mean, these are the top two hitting teams, the top hitting teams in America league versus the top hitting team in the National League. So, you know, I'm really looking at this game one and how Chris Carpenter looks when he comes out and steps on that mound tonight. I mean, he's the staff ace. He is the guy that needs to come through for them. So, you know, it's going to depend. Both teams are going to hit. I mean, that goes without saying.
The one advantage I would say that the Cardinals may have and will be looking to see if it carries over is that the Cardinals had the lowest ground bar percentage of any pitching staff in Major League Baseball this year. Can they contain Nelson Cruz and the rest of those big bats in that Texas lineup?
CONAN: It's also a contrast. The St. Louis Cardinals, interestingly, for team that comes from the National League, which, traditionally, boasted the base stealing and hit and run, that sort of thing, they are a station-to-station team. Bud Kennedy, the Texas Rangers will run your socks off.
KENNEDY: You know, the Texas Rangers wait for the big inning and they'll run. They'll play hard, and, you know, that's the way Washington's always coached them. And, you know, every season, almost every series and every game, everyone's going, oh, why did they send that runner? Why did they, you know, why did Washington send him? You know, what is Washington doing now? And yet sometimes it works out, they have a big inning, and they win.
CONAN: First Lady Michelle Obama, will attend tonight's game. Roger, I understand security at Busch Stadium is going to be similar to trying to get into the Pentagon.
HENSLEY: Yeah. Unfortunately, that's the case. It's, you know, not just for the fans, for us media sorts too. I know nobody cares about that, but they're trying to get everybody to get out there a couple of hours early today because, I mean, it's going to be essentially TSA-type patdowns to get you into the stadium today. So it'll be a mess.
CONAN: Well, enjoy yourself. Are you going to get to go to the game?
HENSLEY: Oh, yeah. I'm out the door as soon as I hang up here.
CONAN: Well, we'll let you go then. Have a good time.
HENSLEY: All right. Thank you very much.
CONAN: And Roger Hensley is deputy sports editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and currently leaving the newsroom of the newspaper to get on his way to Busch Stadium. And, Bud Kennedy, thank you for your time, and good luck to your Rangers.
KENNEDY: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and joined us from a studio there in Fort Worth. Tomorrow, we're going to take a look at bankrupt cities and what happens after bankruptcy. Join us for that. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.