La Russa continues to press all the right buttons

Everyone has that annoying neighbor who comes over uninvited and then always seems to stay a little too long.

The St. Louis Cardinals have become that neighbor.

Tony La Russa's crew grabbed a 1-0 World Series lead over Texas Wednesday following the script that has served them so well this postseason.

St. Louis got a key hit from one of the lesser known players on the roster plus three scoreless innings from five relievers en route to a 3-2 win over the Rangers.

Now the team who wasn't even sure they had a postseason spot heading into the final day of the regular season finds themselves three wins away from their 11th World Series title.

Plus history is on the Cardinals' side, as the Game 1 winner has won 12 of the last 14 World Series titles. In fact the last 10 home teams to win Game 1 have also gone on to win a title.

La Russa has reminded everyone in these playoffs why he is one of the best managers of all-time and continued to push all the right buttons on Wednesday.

Never was that more evident than in the sixth inning when La Russa opted to pinch hit for ace Chris Carpenter with Allen Craig, who delivered a two-out RBI single off of Alexi Ogando just out of the reach of a sliding Nelson Cruz to give the Cards the lead.

"It's definitely the biggest hit that I've gotten in my career," Craig said. "It's just a fun experience. I can't really explain it."

How rare was Craig's big hit? Well it was the first go-ahead RBI by a pinch- hitter in a World Series game since Wade Boggs' bases-loaded walk for the New York Yankees in 1996. In fact no one had smacked a game-winning RBI pinch-hit since Ed Sprague did so for the Blue Jays in '92.

"Cold-weather game, sitting on the bench, World Series, Ogando -- it's not a very good situation," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "But he's got a history in our system. That's why we like him so much. He's got a history of taking great at-bats."

From there La Russa did what he does best and that's make perfect use of his bullpen, as he played the matchups using Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Arthur Rhodes and Jason Motte to secure the win.

"We've been unbelievable," right-hander Octavio Dotel said. "Sometimes I feel a little pressure, because we've been perfect all the way through. Nobody has roles in our bullpen. Nobody. Except Jason [Motte]. And not even Jason."

A bullpen that ranked 21st in the majors in the regular season with a 3.95 ERA has been virtually unhittable since surrendering five runs to the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 1 of the NLDS, as the group has now pitched to a 1.47 ERA in 42 2/3 innings since.

"I go with the flow with Tony," said Rhodes, who became the oldest pitcher to record a World Series hold. "You don't know what Tony's going to do."

Texas' bullpen has been equally lights out, specifically Ogando, who had allowed just one run and retired 31 of the 37 batters he had faced this postseason. Craig's RBI was actually charged to starter C.J. Wilson, but it was Ogando who couldn't deliver.

"It was the right location, outside," Ogando said. "He hit it, and Nelson almost caught it. That is baseball."

That is baseball and sometimes there are other things involved. I said before the series that the Rangers are better in almost every area of the game, but the Cardinals just have something going their way right now. They don't think they can lose and it's getting contagious.

Hopefully for people in St. Louis there is enough magic left for three more wins.