Small Turnout for Cardinals’ Bullpen Bloopers

Game 5 of World Series draws 14.3 million viewers

In the final analysis, the 2011 World Series is likely to be remembered less for the heroics of Albert Pujols in Game 3 than for Tony La Russa’s downright goofy management decisions in Game 5. Then again, to recall the Fall Classic, one would have had to watch it.

Through five games, the Rangers-Cardinals series is averaging 13.8 million viewers, only a smidgen more than the all-time low-water mark. In 2008, the Phillies and Rays slogged through a rainy five-game set that delivered a mere 13.6 million viewers.

Monday’s comedy of errors delivered 14.3 million viewers and a 4.2 rating in the 18-49 demo, making Game 5 the third most popular option on television for the night. ABC’s Dancing With the Stars averaged 17.2 million viewers from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., while CBS’s Two and a Half Men drew 15.3 million in the 9 p.m. time slot.

The 4-2 Rangers win took fourth in the demo behind the CBS comedies Men (5.5), 2 Broke Girls (4.5), and How I Met Your Mother (4.3), tying Mike & Molly with a 4.2 rating. Numbers for ESPN’s Monday Night Football were not immediately available; on Tuesday evening, Nielsen informed clients that technical issues with its encoders had scrambled data for the Ravens-Jaguars broadcast.

Four of Fox’s deliveries rank among the 10 least-watched World Series broadcasts of all time. Pujols’ historic three-home run performance in Game 3 averaged just 11.2 million viewers, the smallest audience for a World Series outing behind only Game 3 of the Phillies-Rays skirmish (9.84 million viewers).

Unfortunately, disappointing World Series ratings are nothing new. But for a few notable exceptions (Yankees-Phillies in 2009, Red Sox-Cards in 2004), deliveries have been in steady decline since the mid-1990s. That the Cards and Rangers represent relatively small markets isn’t helping matters either.

For all that, this year’s World Series has been compelling throughout. The first two games were decided by a single run, and then Pujols lit up Arlington, Texas, with an homage to Reggie Jackson that ended in a 16-7 Cards victory. And until Mike Napoli’s three-run blast in the bottom of the sixth, Game 4 was a tense 1-0 affair.

Then came Monday night’s jaw-dropping Bizzaro World managing, with Texas skipper Ron Washington handing out free passes to first base—Rangers pitchers issued a record six intentional walks on the night—and the Cardinals' La Russa allowing himself to be bested by a bullpen phone.

Long story short, La Russa said that his calls to the pen went unheeded and/or misinterpreted, leaving lefty Marc Rzepczynski stuck on the hill to face Napoli, who boasts a career stat line of .294/.400/.555 against southpaws. The catcher belted a game-winning two-run double, and the Rangers are now one win away from earning their first World Series title.

Before Phonegate, La Russa was already having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. The Cards burned up five precious outs on three sacrifice bunts and two astonishingly foolhardy stolen base attempts, effectively making the skipper responsible for 19 percent of the team’s outs. He also had an intentional walk blow up in his face.

Fox’s Game 6 coverage begins tonight at 8:05 p.m. Colby Lewis takes the mound for the visiting Rangers, while the Cards will counter with Jaime Garcia. In Game 2, Lewis gave up one earned run on six hits in six-and-two-thirds innings, while Garcia was nearly flawless, yielding zero runs on three hits over seven frames.