Apparently the pitchers duel that everyone was expecting to occur Wednesday night caught a late flight to San Francisco and arrived Thursday evening. With Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee facing off in Game 1, no one could have predicted the 11-7 slug-fest that took place in the World Series opener.
In Game 2, the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants sent their secondary aces to the hill to hopefully do the job that neither of their respective No. 1 pitchers could accomplish. With C.J. Wilson of the Rangers and Matt Cain of the Giants taking the hill Thursday evening, the promise of a superbly-pitched game was well within reach.
Through six innings, that scenario unfolded beautifully as each starter had his best stuff working and had command of all his pitches. Cain had the upper-hand, as he continued his amazing run of scoreless postseason innings, extending it to 21.1 innings. However, Wilson nearly matched his effectiveness through six, until he was forced by a blister on his finger to turn the 2-0 game over to the Texas bullpen.
That's when things began to get interesting—primarily if you're a Giants' fan. Texas' bullpen, normally highly effective, imploded in spectacular fashion, helping the Giants to an eventual 9-0 victory in front of an ecstatic home crowd in AT&T Park.
The Rangers were comprehensively shut down by Matt Cain and two San Francisco relievers with barely a whimper. For a team that was only shut out five times all year, Texas was stifled all game by a dominant Giants' pitching performance.
San Francisco continued its trend of finding a different unlikely hero each night, as tonight Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe led the way with both their bats and gloves. New-found folk hero Cody Ross had another great game as he continued to ride his hot streak following his NLCS MVP performance. Technically, the Rangers' bullpen played a massive role in the Giants success as well, gifting several runs to their NL foes to put the once-close game out of reach.
Join me as we examine the key facets of Texas' game and find out where it all went wrong for the visiting Rangers in World Series Game 2.
For six innings, this was a superbly-pitched ballgame by both teams, as C.J. Wilson and Matt Cain dueled each other masterfully and delivered the type of pitching performances that the entire baseball world expected to see in Game 1.
C.J. Wilson eased any fears of ineffectiveness resulting from a long layoff, utilizing all his pitches with precision and poise. Where Cliff Lee was lacking command and sharpness, Wilson was consistently down in the zone, hitting his spots and baffling the Giants' hitters.
The only mistake C.J. would make through six innings would be an elevated fastball on the inner half that Edgar Renteria drove into the left-field bleachers during the bottom of the fifth inning. At that point, with the game at 1-0 San Francisco, the Rangers were still right in the game, knowing that their explosive offense is capable of exploding at any moment.
Wilson would run into trouble in the bottom of the seventh. After C.J. walked Cody Ross to lead off the inning, trainers ran to the mound to discover that the blister problems that had recently plagued Wilson had resurfaced and were causing problems. Cruelly, he was forced from the game and had to watch the remainder from the clubhouse, powerless over the ultimate result.
In six-plus innings, Wilson allowed two earned runs on three hits and two walks while striking out four. Wilson seemed to have corrected the wildness that plagued him in his last ALCS outing as he was sharp throughout World Series Game 2.
I couldn't imagine giving the Texas relief corps anything but a failing grade after what I witnessed at AT&T Park this evening. Five Ranger relievers combined to turn a once finely-pitched affair into a farce that hardly resembled professional baseball of the highest caliber.
To be fair, the first two relievers out of the pen, Darren Oliver and Darren O'Day, weren't as heavily involved in the disaster that was to come. Oliver entered the game in the seventh after C.J. Wilson was forced to exit prematurely. He retired three of the four batters he faced, although he allowed the runner that he inherited from Wilson to score on bloop single by Juan Uribe.
Next up was O'Day, who struck out the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the eighth before allowing a soft single to Buster Posey with two outs.
Then the circus came to town in the form of lefty Derek Holland. Upon entering the fray with a man on first, Holland threw 11 straight balls, loading the bases as well as walking in a run, to make the game 3-0. How he was allowed to last that long is beyond me.
Ron Washington then turned to Mark Lowe, the late roster addition, who would pitch for the second consecutive evening after not pitching for 24 days. He too walked the first man he faced, the difficult to walk Juan Uribe. The next hitter, Edgar Renteria, would hit a two-run single past Michael Young to make the contest 6-0.
Michael Kirkland, the last remaining lefty in the Texas pen, was brought in and promptly allowed a run-scoring triple to Aaron Rowand and a run-scoring double to Andres Torres to drive the score to 9-0. Freddy Sanchez then struck out to mercifully end the inning.
Somehow, Washington managed to use everyone in his bullpen, while fire-ballers Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz watched the action. It seems as though either of those potentially shut-down hurlers should have been of some use at some point.
Though the Texas offense was shut out for only the sixth time all season, they didn't do anything particularly wrong in Game 2. Unfortunately for them, they simply ran into an emerging ace in the midst of an incredible hot streak who dominated them thoroughly.
The Rangers caught an incredibly unlucky break in the top of the fifth, when Ian Kinsler drilled a ball to dead center that appeared to have a chance to leave the yard. Amazingly, the ball had a significant amount of backspin on it and hit right on top of the center field fence. Likely less than an inch from being a home run, the ball instead spun back toward the field, ending up a lead-off double rather than a go-ahead solo home run.
Texas wasted the lead-off runner in scoring position, as the next batter, David Murphy, lined out to short without moving Kinsler to third. The remaining hitters went down easily to Cain.
In the very next inning, with the score 1-0 after Renteria's solo shot, the Rangers had another opportunity to at least tie the game that they were unable to capitalize on. With runners on second and third with one out, Nelson Cruz fouled out to Aubrey Huff, and Kinsler flew out harmlessly to right field. That missed opportunity would haunt them, as San Francisco continued to build on its lead unanswered.
Through nine innings, Texas managed only four hits, three singles and one double along with three walks against Matt Cain and two relievers.
Despite being down two games to none, Texas has to like its chances heading back home to Arlington. As the No. 2 highest-scoring American League offense in their home park, the Rangers will look to exact some revenge in Saturday's Game 3. Over the next three games, they will have the added benefit of including Vlad Guerrero in their lineup, without the terror of watching him play defense.
In light of the utterly dominating performance by Matt Cain, the Rangers had little opportunity to display their aggressive base-running tactics that have worked so well for them so far throughout the playoffs.
Since only seven Rangers reached base, the Texas running game played little part in the evening's contest. The only time a Ranger attempted to steal a base was when Elvis Andrus swiped second in the eighth inning. Though he was safe, if Giants' short-stop Renteria had caught the ball, Andrus was out by a few feet. There appeared to be slight mix-up between Renteria and Sanchez, allowing Andrus to reach safely.
It's possible that Michael Young made a poor read on Josh Hamilton's sinking liner to right in the top of the sixth. But without being on the field, it's difficult to judge Young's decision. When Cody Ross came up short on his diving attempt, and the ball caromed off his neck, it appeared that Young had the opportunity to go first-to-third, but he cautiously remained at second.
I would expect the Rangers to attempt to employ their dynamic running game in an effort to jump-start their offense when they return home.
The improvement in grade is primarily because of the stark contrast between Game 1's awful display and tonight's solid performance.
There wasn't much to be done beyond the ordinary, but the Rangers made all the routine plays a night after making four errors in the series opener.
Texas' defensive player of the game was Matt Treanor, the back-up catcher, who masterfully blocked everything in the dirt all night. In the second inning, while the game was still a pitchers' duel, Treanor threw his body to the ground to stop a 58-foot pitch that Wilson unleashed, with Cody Ross anxiously waiting on third. Ultimately Treanor's efforts would be for naught, but he certainly performed his duties capably all night.
Ian Kinsler made a nice play on an awkward ball while falling down to his left in the hole between second and third. But it appeared as if he made it harder than it needed to be, as he stepped in the wrong direction as the ball was hit.
Michael Young appears to bizarrely shift his weight onto the wrong foot rather often, stepping toward the foul-line, therefore limiting his range on balls to his glove side. It happened again tonight, and it's something that needs to be corrected so he can successfully play third over the next few years of his career.
In the bottom of the fourth, Aubrey Huff scorched a ball to right-center that Nelson Cruz tracked down in the gap on a solid running catch that likely would have gone for extra bases if Vlad was in right.
While nothing spectacular was required, the value of making the plays you should make should not be underestimated. Often in tight playoff games, simple mistakes can be the difference between winning a championship and an offseason of heartache and regret.
Some will question Ron Washington's reluctance to use Vlad Guerrero again in the outfield, citing the need for his potent bat in the Rangers' lineup. Others feel the exact opposite and feel that his atrocious fielding last night outweighs any potential contribution his bat could make. Either way, Washington stuck to his guns and followed through on his stated plan to use Vlad in right field during only one of the games in San Francisco.
The issues with the coaching tonight stem from the massive mismanagement of the bullpen arms. No one can fault Washington or any of the other Texas coaches for the pitchers not executing. But once they weren't, the Rangers' coaching staff appeared to be caught unaware and ill-prepared to make further changes.
After using Oliver and O'Day to decent effect, Holland clearly didn't have anything working for him and blew up the game that was close shortly before that. Inexplicably, the young lefty was then allowed to throw 11 consecutive balls as he forced in another run with a walk. Once again, it's not the coaches' fault that Holland couldn't locate a single pitch. But as he was struggling, they scrambled to ready Lowe, instead of having a righty warming in the first place. No one seemed ready for the situation that occurred.
The next move that was baffling was using Mark Lowe with the bases loaded after Holland was terribly ineffective. Lowe is a fine pitcher, but he was awful in Game 1, and choosing to pitch him on consecutive nights after he hadn't pitched in 24 days seems questionable at best. Lowe walked the first man he faced as well, forcing in another run before serving a two-run single to the next hitter he faced.
Following Lowe, Washington turned to Michael Kirkland, who proceeded to turn the game into a laugher, as Aaron Rowand and Andres Torres lit him up for run-scoring extra-base hits.
All of this occurred while strikeout specialist Alexi Ogando and closer Neftali Feliz watched from the bullpen. Now, I can understand the reluctance to use his closer, but if a save opportunity never presents itself, what use is a dominant closer?
Washington and the Rangers need to re-evaluate their game plan before heading into Game 3. Otherwise this will be a short series, and they will have several months to formulate a new plan of attack over the offseason.
The good news for the Rangers is that they now head home to Arlington for the absolutely critical Game 3. Unfortunately, the bad news is that they trail the World Series two games to none. History is not on their side, as 40-of-51 teams to go down 0-2 eventually lost the World Series.
Fortunately for Texas, it is a dynamic offensive force at home, as the Rangers led all teams in batting average and were second in the AL in home-scoring, only trailing the Yankees. The Rangers know how to hit at home, and Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner will have their work cut out for them. Containing the Texas offense is no easy task, as both the Rays and Yankees found out in the first two rounds of the 2010 playoffs.
Colby Lewis will have to follow C.J. Wilson's lead and pitch a superb game to control a Giants' team now brimming with confidence. San Francisco is full of the belief that the World Series is its destiny, and the Giants are prepared to bring their city its first-ever World Series title.
In addition to Lewis, the Rangers also need to sort out the mess that their once-powerful bullpen has become. The indecision cannot remain, and specific roles need to be sorted out to eliminate the confusion and lack of preparedness.
I expect the Rangers to rebound and take two-of-three in Arlington, with a return to form by their potent offense and some well-pitched games by their starters. They didn't get to where they are by being a sloppy, confused team, and Ron Washington must re-instill the belief that they are capable of winning this World Series. Otherwise, the Giants stand primed and ready to take full control of the series in an effort to win during the course of the next three games. No one in Texas wants to see a celebration on the Rangers' home turf.