There was far too little "claw and antlers," and the Rangers were given ample reason to "fear the beard."
Many observers had seemingly bequeathed the opening game to Texas, based solely on the fact that Cliff Lee, baseball's newest playoff hero, was on the mound. The man had been 7-0 in his eight career playoff starts; but as the old axiom goes, "That's why they play the games."
It's never wise to underestimate an opponent in the postseason. I'm not suggesting the Rangers did, but Texas looked flat in many key aspects of their play, a far cry from the way they played in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
After Texas jumped out to an early 2-0 lead with Cliff Lee on the mound, most people probably assumed that the Rangers already had Game 1 in the bag. And it's possible that scenario crept into the minds of the Rangers, ever so slightly.
The offense wasn't the issue as they managed to get to Giants ace Tim Lincecum for four runs in a less-than-stellar start for him. Texas tallied seven runs on 11 hits total.
However, the Rangers' normally reliable play in other facets of the game abandoned them, and they were left with a massively disappointing start to the franchise's first-ever World Series.
Of course, it is a best-of-seven set, so there is time for Texas to rebound and create their own momentum in the series. But they have to do their absolute best to put a comprehensively sloppy game behind them and not let it damage their confidence moving forward.
Let's take a look at how the Texas Rangers fared in several key aspects of the game during their inaugural entry in baseball's Fall Classic.
Starting Pitching: C
After last night, we finally discovered that Cliff Lee is, in fact, mortal.
Though his previous performances in the last two postseasons may have suggested otherwise, Game 1 proved that if a pitcher doesn't have his best command, then he's hittable, no matter what his prior numbers or reputation may suggest.
Staked to an early two-run lead, Lee appeared to be in the driver's seat, but he never quite looked like the ace we've become familiar with.
He left several more pitches up than we are accustomed to seeing, and may have gotten away with a few very hittable pitches in the first few innings. The Giants swung through a few mistakes early that could have potentially resulted in big hits. Lee didn't have command of his breaking pitches, and several times missed up and away with those pitches to right-handed batters.
When the Giants finally got to Lee in the bottom of the third, he was hurt by two Michael Young mistakes at third that gave the Giants a little momentum. The leadoff hitter in the inning, Edgar Renteria, hit one right at Young on his glove side that ate up the converted third baseman on a play he should have been made.
Lee was given a gift when Lincecum popped up a sac bunt attempt, but Cliff compounded his own problems when he hit Torres with a pitch. Freddy Sanchez then lined a run-scoring double past Young on a hit that appeared playable if not for Young shifting his weight onto the wrong foot and stepping the wrong direction when the ball was hit. Buster Posey followed Sanchez up with a game-tying single before Lee escaped by striking out Pat Burrell and Cody Ross to end the inning.
Lee was then chased from the game in the fifth, when five of the seven batters he faced in that inning reached base, four of them on hits. His command was off and the Giants feasted on his numerous mistakes when he pitched too near the strike zone.
We'll never know if it was the long layoff between starts that did him in, or simply that he was due for a bad outing after the utter dominance he had displayed in his three postseason starts prior to last night. Whatever it was, Lee will likely shake it off and return stronger the next time he comes to the hill in the World Series, assuming the red-hot Giants don't sweep the series before he gets to atone for his poor outing.
Relief Pitching: C+
Though much of the tone was set early by Lee's lack of command, the bullpen's contribution didn't make matters much easier for Ron Washington. When Lee was removed from the game, it was only 5-2, still easily within reach for an offense as potent as Texas'.
The first reliever, Darren O'Day, normally a reliable right-hander who is death on righties, came in throwing meatballs.
After missing with two sliders to the first hitter he faced, O'Day let slip an 86 mile-per-hour fastball directly over the heart of the plate that Juan Uribe crushed for a devastating three-run home run that thrust the proverbial dagger into the hearts of the Rangers.
Once that happened, it was difficult to envision a miraculous comeback, as it emboldened the Giants and brought roaring approval from the thrilled AT&T Park crowd.
A true bright spot was Alexi Ogando, the flame-throwing righty who shut down the Giants in the sixth and seventh innings, allowing only one baserunner while striking out four.
He regularly blew the ball by San Francisco hitters who had earlier feasted on Texas pitching. Though Ogando was little-used in the first two series, his Game 1 outing should give Washington the confidence to utilize him more often as the games progress.
Mark Lowe, recently added to the Texas roster in place of Clay Rapada, only served to throw fuel on the fire and put the game further out of the Rangers' reach.
Lowe, who hadn't even pitched for the Rangers until the last week of the season, was added to provide another right-handed veteran arm in the bullpen to combat San Francisco's predominantly right-handed lineup. He faced only five batters, but allowed three hits and three runs. Of course, his poor outing was helped along by two Vladimir Guerrero errors within the span of four plays; but regardless, Lowe's performance was less than confidence-inducing.
In light of the Rangers' scoring three runs in the ninth, if Lowe hadn't helped the Giants expand their cushion from 8-4 to 11-4, it's possible the game could have turned out differently.
Offensively, the Rangers didn't fare badly as they scored seven runs total on 11 hits.
They faced two-time defending Cy Young winner, Tim Lincecum, and hit him relatively well, scoring four runs on eight hits and two walks in only 5.2 innings. If not for the Giants' battering Lee and the Rangers' own miscues, Texas may very well have been happy with their offensive performance.
The Rangers may have had an opportunity to blow the game open in the top of the first, when Lincecum mysteriously didn't throw the ball when he easily had Young trapped in no-man's land between home and third. That mental miscue loaded the bases for Ian Kinsler, but he was impatient and swung at a first-pitch slider, grounding into a rally-killing double play that let the Giants off the hook early.
A few of the big bats, Young and Hamilton specifically, were quiet and left five men on base between them. Cruz and Kinsler combined to leave seven on between them as well, though Cruz had two RBIs. Lower in the order, Bengie Molina and Mitch Moreland had two hits apiece, continuing the hot hitting that each has enjoyed throughout the playoffs, which greatly lengthens the Texas lineup and makes it dangerous throughout.
Overall, the Rangers offensive performance was good enough to have won on most days, as they had 11 hits, 15 baserunners and scored seven runs. The Texas hitters were also 4-of-12 with runners in scoring position, and they produced two sacrifice flies with a runner on third.
Usually, with Lee on the mound, that's plenty of offensive production, but on this day, it wasn't enough. Lee had an uncharacteristically poor performance, and the Texas defense let the team down in the biggest game in Rangers franchise history.
The most upsetting part of the game for the Rangers has to be their defensive failings, which helped build momentum for the Giants' various rallies.
Without several key errors, the game could have possibly been vastly different. Three of the Rangers' four errors led directly to Giants runs.
Young made two misplays in the Giants two-run third that led to runs, although only one was an error.
The inning's leadoff hitter, Renteria, hit a ball right to Young's glove side that ate up the inexperienced third baseman. Three batters later, Sanchez lined a run-scoring double right by Young's glove that appeared catchable if not for a bizarre play by Young. He didn't appear quite ready as the ball was hit, and he shifted his weight heavily onto his right foot, as if he expected Sanchez to pull the ball down the line. Once it was hit to his glove side, Young had no chance to play the liner with his body moving in the opposite direction. It may not have been obvious to everyone watching, but it was surely a ball Young had a much better chance on than first appeared.
Vlad's two errors in the eighth inning were massively damaging and contributed heavily to an inning that saw San Francisco balloon its lead from four runs to seven.
The first one, on Renteria's leadoff single to right, was a serious misjudgment. Vlad should have just casually played it for the single it was instead of approaching it so aggressively—it was a ball he had no play on. His poor outfield play will lead to further discussion over whether his bat outweighs his potential for fielding miscues in right when the Rangers play in the National League park.
Elvis Andrus contributed another error in the disastrous fifth inning, but his—mercifully—didn't contribute to any more scoring. But by that point, the damage had already been done.
One bright spot was Ian Kinsler ranging deep into right center on a first-inning Buster Posey pop-up to make a spectacular running play and double Freddy Sanchez off second.
As aggressive as the Rangers had been through the first two rounds of the playoffs, they didn''t get many opportunities to run on the Giants last night. The game situations didn't yield many chances for them to steal bases, and once they were behind, they deemed it too risky to run.
Early in the first inning, the Rangers may have run themselves out of a chance to build an early cushion to deflate the Giants' hopes.
With runners on first and third, Nelson Cruz hit a tapper to Lincecum. Young seemed slightly indecisive and got a poor jump from third. It appeared that they had the contact play on and he was going to advance home on any ball hit. He did head toward home, but relatively slowly, and by the time Lincecum got the ball, Young had changed his mind and returned to third. Fortunately for the Rangers, the Giants' ace misplayed the run-down, and Young was able to harmlessly return to third. The next hitter, Kinsler, grounded into a double play on the next pitch, and the Rangers may have missed an opportunity on Young's indecisive running.
Later in the game, Kinsler made a colossal baserunning mistake.
Trailing by four runs in the top of the eighth inning, Kinsler led off the frame with a chopper over the mound for a leadoff single, precisely what the Rangers needed to mount a comeback. Freddy Sanchez, while trying to make the tough play, threw wildly to first, but Aubrey Huff made a spectacular diving play to snare the errant throw. Kinsler, assuming the throw was heading elsewhere, aggressively rounded first, thinking that he was on his way to second.
However, the ball never made it out of the infield thanks to Huff's brilliant play, and Kinsler was easily tagged out while attempting to return to the bag.
It took a great diving stop by Huff, but when trailing by four late in the game, the absolute last thing a team needs is to be overly aggressive on the basepaths, running themselves out of potential rallies. It was reminiscent of Kinsler's error in getting picked off after leading off the bottom of the eighth while down by only one run against the Yankees in ALCS Game1. Mistakes like those are critical and can drain the life from any potential rally.
It becomes easy to question a coach's decisions and planning when things don't work out as well as you had originally hoped. Unfortunately, even the best-laid plans don't always yield positive results. In hindsight, maybe playing Vlad in right field doesn't appear to have been the best move, but how can you fault Washington for wanting one of his most potent bats in the lineup as often as possible?
Most coaches would have made the same move, as it is difficult to leave your team's most productive RBI bat out of the lineup, even if he is best-suited for the designated hitter role.
Washington isn't planning on using Vlad full-time in right during the games in San Francisco, but last night seemed a logical time to do it.
In the first game of the World Series, it would be desirable to get out to an early lead, and having your best hitters in the lineup to face the ace of the Giants' pitching staff is a reasonably logical move. Of course, the move will be heavily scrutinized in hindsight, but it's hardly a decision that wouldn't have been made by most other managers.
The rest of the decisions were fairly reasonable, nothing out of the ordinary for Washington throughout most of the game.
His relief pitching maneuvers were fairly standard. Bringing in O'Day to face Uribe after Lee was chased would normally be the proper move, but on this day, O'Day simply didn't execute. He left a very hittable fastball right over the plate and Uribe didn't miss it.
Later, I would question using Lowe when the game was still reasonably close in the eighth. With an offense like the Rangers', a four-run deficit is certainly not insurmountable. It would be desirable to keep the game close to allow your potent bats the opportunity to mount a late comeback.
Using Lowe, a hurler who hadn't pitched in 24 days, and who had really only thrown three times since May due to injury, seemed like a risky proposition at best. After Ogando had done such a splendid job shutting the Giants down for two innings, I would have expected Washington to opt for a different arm, but he went with Lowe, who proceeded to allow three more runs, putting the game further out of reach. Of course, it may not have mattered anyway, but it certainly left the Texas manager open to questioning.
Looking ahead to Game 2
Maybe it was jitters from playing in the first World Series for most of the Texas players.
The Rangers played far below their capabilities last night, especially on the defensive side of the game. If they expect to win the first World Series in franchise history, they will need to tighten up the glovework drastically to shut down this Giants team and their growing confidence.
Unfortunately, they simply got a bad night out of Cliff Lee, and they can likely expect much better from him if he gets another opportunity to pitch in the series.
The Rangers will send C.J. Wilson to the hill against San Francisco tonight, which should present a slight challenge to the Giants' hitters. Lee, who is normally near the strike zone all night, allowed the free-swinging Giants to be aggressive and capitalize on Lee's mistakes over the plate.
Wilson, a pitcher with less impeccable command than Lee, will force the Giants to be more patient, making sure they're swinging at quality pitches and not expanding the zone, chasing his stuff off the plate.
Offensively, Texas needs to continue doing precisely what they have been, hitting and more hitting.
Even in their two losses to the Yankees, they still hit plenty enough to win, and last night was no different. They'll face a challenge in San Francisco's other ace, Matt Cain, but the Rangers have shown that they are a dynamic offensive ballclub capable of putting up crooked numbers, so their confidence should remain high. If they get the opportunity, they will likely look to reignite their running game in an effort to fluster Cain and the young Posey behind the plate.
It will be interesting to see what Washington does with the Vlad situation in right. Though he failed spectacularly in Game 1, it's difficult to leave a 115-RBI man out of your lineup.
If C.J. Wilson comes out strong early and maintains his command, I would expect the Rangers to follow suit and play a much crisper game than they did last night. Though the Giants appear to have some mojo working in their favor right now, Texas looked the same way when dispatching the Rays and Yankees over the first two rounds of playoff games.
The Giants were slightly sloppy themselves in Game 1, so, overall, expectations for a cleaner, better-fielded game from both sides should be high. Both pitchers are capable of shutdown performances that could produce a pitchers' duel.
But the way both of these teams have been swinging the bat, we could very well see a slugfest of the type we witnessed last night.
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