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Middle infield at heart of Texas win

ST. LOUIS -- Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler does a lot of things on a baseball field. But "lying low" is not among them.

Game 2 of the World Series on Thursday night will go down as a vintage Kinsler ballgame. He contributed two singles and a walk in Texas' 2-1 victory over St. Louis, and provided the big stolen base that might have saved the Rangers' season. His uniform, as always, was caked with dirt by the middle innings.

Kinsler booted a ground ball for an error but compensated with some terrific collaborations around the keystone with shortstop Elvis Andrus. And he provided some comic relief as a baserunner at third base in the fourth inning, when a hot smash by teammate Adrian Beltre ricocheted off his shoulder into foul territory. Unfazed by the blow, Kinsler stared back toward the batter's box and flicked his hand off his shoulder as if brushing away a few stray flakes of dandruff.

Some players are natural magnets for attention. Like Boston's Dustin Pedroia, Kinsler approaches every game, every at-bat, every pitch with the same fearless mindset. If he messes up, he invariably goes twice as hard the next time. It's part of his baseball DNA.

"He's a hot mess, man," Texas first baseman Michael Young said, laughing. "He really is."

A hot what?

"A hot mess," Young said. "He's just all over the place. He finds a way to get in the middle of something all the time.

"It's a good lesson for a lot of people. In this game, you just have to cut loose. Baseball is designed to have you screw up every now and then. It's just too hard a game. But you just have to shake that stuff off and keep going hard. It's fun being on a team with a bunch of guys like that -- who go hard all the time."

The Rangers consider it a mandate from manager Ron Washington to lay it all out there from the first inning through the ninth. They're now tied in the World Series because they never strayed from their mantra of aggressive play all the time, regardless of setbacks. They can thank their dynamic double-play combination of Kinsler and Andrus for setting the tone as top-of-the-order catalysts.

If the Rangers come back to win this series, they'll point to a rapid-fire sequence Thursday as the turning point. It was highlighted by Kinsler's very own Dave Roberts October moment.

After dumping a single to center field to lead off the ninth against Cardinals closer Jason Motte, Kinsler got a strong jump and beat the throw from Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, the game's premier stolen-base deterrent. He advanced to third on an Andrus single and came around to score on a Josh Hamilton sacrifice fly.

Andrus, who had alertly taken second base on the throw from center fielder Jon Jay, scored on Young's sacrifice fly to give the Rangers the lead. Then closer Neftali Feliz came on to nail it down in the ninth, and sent the crowd of 47,288 home stunned and disappointed.

Score one for persistence. When Kinsler was cut down by Molina on a stolen-base attempt in the first inning of Game 1 on Wednesday, it provided him with a rare glimpse of failure on the bases. A stolen-base success rate of 80 percent is considered very good. Kinsler, with 136 career steals in 158 attempts, is at 86 percent. Carlos Beltran (87.7 percent) is better, but he's the rare player who is.

From late April through late September this year, Kinsler successfully stole 28 bases in a row to set a franchise record. To a man, his teammates credit his success to his ability to dissect pitchers' moves and deftly pick his spots -- which is a must, because he sure isn't a track star.

"I don't think he's that fast," Andrus said, "but he's smart. He's always watching video and paying attention to every little thing."

Indeed, Kinsler seems to regard his ability to steal bases efficiently without the benefit of blazing speed as a badge of honor.

"We've talked about it," outfielder Nelson Cruz said. "He's told me he's not that fast."

In the middle infield, success for a double-play combination is more a reflection of athleticism, instincts and anticipation. In his first three years with the Rangers, Kinsler developed an impressive synergy with Young up the middle. Then in 2009, he had to learn to bond with Andrus, who had come over from the Atlanta organization in a trade for Mark Teixeira.

In Game 2, Kinsler and Andrus put their stamp on the proceedings with a pair of stellar defensive plays. In the fourth, Kinsler made a bare-handed snag and quick pivot to turn a jaw-dropping double play. An inning later, Andrus topped that with one of the more stunning defensive plays in recent World Series memory: He ranged up the middle to make a diving stop on Rafael Furcal and flicked the ball to second base from a healthy distance with his glove. Somehow, it arrived at second base in perfect harmony with a sprinting Kinsler for the forceout.

"It doesn't get any better than that," Kinsler said. "I mean, the play was ridiculous."

Andrus shows exceptional maturity for a 23-year-old, acknowledging that he hasn't been swinging the bat particularly well this postseason. He is hitting .196 in 46 at-bats in October but said he needed to keep separate his offensive issues from his defense, because good glovework can be just as vital to a team's success at this time of year.

Has he been pressing at the plate at times this month? Well, yeah. That tends to happen when you're human.

"There are lots of things going on, especially in the World Series," Andrus said. "You want to do so good. You want to get a base hit. You want to do everything, and you forget to relax and make good contact. That's what I did my last at-bat. I just took a big breath and went out and made good contact and did my job."

After doing their jobs en masse, the Rangers are now a looser, more emboldened bunch. Having skirted a worst-case scenario of getting swept at Busch Stadium by earning a split instead, they'll return home to Texas this weekend to play in front of a supportive crowd, under American League rules, and ready to make a statement. The Cardinals better be careful, or they might wind up in the middle of a hot mess in Arlington.

Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via email.

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