Cardinals break Alexi Ogando's spell

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Alexi Ogando who made opposing bats disappear in the first two rounds of the postseason isn't the same one throwing in the World Series right now.

And it's odd to see. Ogando is armed with a fastball that hums at 97 or 98 mph and usually finds the low part of the strike zone. Get keyed up to hit the hard stuff, and the slider will fool you. Ask the Tampa Bay Rays. Or the Detroit Tigers.

Ogando was the critical X factor for the Texas Rangers against those teams in the ALDS and ALCS. If a starter could go five, Ogando could pitch two efficient and productive innings and let the late-inning arms take it from there. He was nearly automatic.

But things have changed in this World Series. A big reason is that Albert Pujols and Allen Craig don't play for the Tigers or Rays. Both have damaged Ogando and, consequently, taken the intimidation edge away from the hard-throwing righty.

In Games 1 and 2 in St. Louis, Ogando didn't have the benefit of coming in for a fresh inning. He was asked to get Craig out twice in run-scoring situations and wasn't able to do it. Fastballs in the same location -- outside corner and lower than Ogando wanted -- allowed Craig to hit RBI singles. Craig's hit in Game 1 provided the winning run. His hit in Game 2 would have if not for the Rangers' memorable comeback in the ninth.

In the Cardinals' 16-7 Game 3 win Saturday night, Ogando's job was to keep the Rangers' momentum going after they staged a second straight three-run inning to cut a five-run deficit to two. He was supposed to be the stopper. It didn't happen.

With the Rangers down 8-6, Ogando came in to pitch to the Nos. 9, 1 and 2 hitters in the Cardinals' lineup in the sixth inning. He walked Ryan Theriot on a 3-2 fastball and gave up a single to Rafael Furcal. After finally getting Craig out, striking him out with some early sliders and late heat, Pujols stepped to the plate.

Pujols has the capability of making a bad night miserable for a pitcher, and he did it to Ogando in Game 3. With a 1-1 count, Ogando threw a 97 mph fastball a little higher than he wanted, and Pujols absolutely crushed it. As the ball launched toward the right-field seats, several players in the Cardinals' dugout (and a few Rangers in the field) dropped their jaws. The ball careened off the fa├žade of the club level, a blast of approximately 431 feet, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker.

It was the first of three Pujols home runs, putting him in an elite group with Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit three homers in the same World Series game. But that shot off Ogando once again took the momentum away from the Rangers, and they never regained it. Only 15 home runs in the history of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington have reached the club level seats in left. And while Pujols' didn't officially get there, it was close enough to quiet a sellout crowd.

It also left Ogando shaking his head a bit.

"He got a ball up to Albert and he didn't miss it," manager Ron Washington said.

In the ALDS against Tampa, Ogando pitched the sixth inning of Game 2, the seventh inning of Game 3 and the eighth inning of Game 4. The Rays were just 1-for-9 off him.

In the ALCS, Ogando pitched more innings with the same results. Of the 28 batters he faced, only five reached base (two via walks) and only one scored.

But in this World Series, the Cardinals have gone 5-for-9 with two walks against Ogando, who has allowed three earned runs in just one total inning.

Ogando left the clubhouse without talking to the media Saturday night. A few of his teammates wondered if he was tired, while others felt he was just a little off on his location and that he'd find it.

"I just think he had a bad day," said Mike Gonzalez, who gave up two runs in his 1 2/3 innings of work. "Overall, he's been pitching a lot. But the kind of pitcher he is, the more he pitches, the more comfortable he is. His velocity has been there. I just think the guys have seen him a little bit and read his reports. I don't want to say he's fatigued. I just think he had a bad day.

"Albert Pujols is a good hitter. He's one of the best in the game. You miss your spots and he's going to take advantage of that."

Washington said he still believes in his young pitcher.

"He's a strong kid and no one felt worse than Ogando when he didn't get the job done," Washington said. "But it's our job to make sure that his confidence doesn't wane. No, we've got his back."

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.