Riding the pitching arm of Colby Lewis and a three-run homer from the bat of their No. 9 hitter, the Texas Rangers defeated the San Francisco Giants 4-2 to cut their series deficit from two games to one.
To many, starting pitcher Lewis and rookie first baseman Mitch Moreland (their nine-hole hitter) may not sound like World Series heroes, but tonight their stars shined the brightest before a jubilant crowd at Ranger Ballpark in Arlington.
Their heroics guided the American League champions to the franchise's first-ever World Series victory as they served notice to the Cinderella Giants (and the baseball world) that this, indeed, may be a long series.
The Rangers were already in uncharted territory, playing in their very first Fall Classic, and hosting their first game of such magnitude. Adding to the drama were these little stats that may have been quite sobering to a team looking to fight back after dropping the first two games of a series.
The last 11 teams to take a 2-0 lead with home field advantage went on to win the World Series.
In the history of the Fall Classic, teams have taken a 2-0 lead 51 times; 40 of them have become World Series champions.
The last three teams to grab a 2-0 lead not only went on to win, but also went on to sweep the series.
Against these Texas-tall odds, the Rangers sent Colby Lewis to the hill to effectively keep them alive. Lewis, who entered the game with a 2-0 postseason record and a sparkling 1.45 era, was equal to the task, even if he didn't start the game with full command.
After retiring leadoff batter Andres Torres on a bouncer to second, Lewis gave up a two-strike hit to the sizzling Freddie Sanchez. Aubrey Huff flew out to deep right, before Lewis walked Buster Posey. Lewis got left fielder Pat Burrell to strike out (kind of a mean feat as Burrell was 0-for-4 with four whiffs) on a slider that appeared to be a foot aside. Still, a huge out for a team that could not afford to give the Giants even more momentum..
The Rangers almost got to Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez in the bottom of the first frame. Vladimir Guerrero, back in his familiar designated hitter role, put a mighty swing on an inside pitch with two outs and a man (Michael Young, with a single) on first. Vlad may have gotten it off the end of the bat, but Burrell, temporarily redeeming himself, made a fine running catch to keep the game scoreless.
For the next five innings, Lewis was in almost complete control, yielding a total of two more hits and one walk, The one free pass was issued to Cody "Babe" Ross to start the second, but the threat was wiped out by an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play of Pablo Sandoval, started by the nifty glove work of second sacker Ian Kinsler.
While the Rangers may not have made too many "web gems", they were solid all night, committing no errors or misplays after playing two shoddy games in San Francisco.
On the other side of the hill, Sanchez, who at times can be brilliant, faced Nelson Cruz to start the second. The muscular left fielder hit a rocket, best described as a "Cruz Missile" that attacked the center field wall, but did not clear it for a leadoff double.
Sanchez got Kinsler to ground out to short, and Cruz alertly ran on contact to take third, with shortstop Edgar Renteria electing to take the sure out at first. With the infield playing back, Jeff Francouer hit a one-hopper even with the bag, but the normally aggressive Cruz retreated to third, even though the Giants appeared to concede the run on a contact play.
With two outs and Cruz stalled out at third, it would now take a hit (barring a wild pitch, of which the often wild Sanchez has proved capable of dealing) to get on the board. After Bengie Molina walked, in stepped rookie first baseman Mitch Moreland, hitting out of the nine hole.
In the key at-bat of the contest, Sanchez fell behind Moreland 2-1 before getting the benefit of a borderline strike to even the count. The first baseman would foul off four straight pitches before seeing a pitch—the ninth of the climactic showdown—that he liked. Well, Moreland did not miss it, sending it deep into the rightfield seats to give Texas a 3-0 lead that (thanks mostly to Lewis) it would never relinquish.
Josh Hamilton, who had not yet had his big moment in the Fall Classic, would add to the 3-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Again, the Rangers and their prodigiously talented center fielder would strike with two outs. Andrus had started the frame with a leadoff single, which Michael Young followed with a hard one-hopper to third baseman Juan Uribe.
Uribe's throw was high, but Freddie Sanchez turned a sensational pivot, just nipping Young to complete the twin killing. Hamilton would drive a Sanchez fastball well into the bleachers to make the score 4-0 Texas. As well as Lewis was pitching, the blow was a key one in giving the home team some insurance against a team that never gets discouraged.
A Babe Ross homer in the seventh—almost a formality in the craziness of the 2010 postseason—would put the Giants on the board, but Lewis and the Rangers minimized damage all night by retiring the leadoff man eight out of nine times; in this case, Burrell had started the inning by whiffing again.
Things got a little more scary for Lewis after he gave up another one-out solo shot in the eighth, this time a blast by centerfielder Andres Torres. Had Lewis, who prior to this season had done his most effective pitching in Japan, run out of gas?
Manager Ron Washington elected to leave him on the game, and Sanchez hit a rocket to left that looked like extra bases off his bat. Cruz, making one of the best plays of the night, robbed him with a terrific over-the-shoulder catch. Lewis stayed on to face dangerous lefty Aubrey Huff, and hit him on the top of his front foot with an off-speed pitch.
Preternaturally mature rookie catcher Buster Posey stepped to the plate, and Washington elected to turn to setup man Darren O'Day. The resulting showdown would define the game, and indeed, be what postseason baseball is all about.
Top of the second: Rangers 4, Giants 2. Two outs, a man on first, and the momentum trending to the visitors. A less-than-hot reliever versus a great young hitter who had already reached base safely twice on the night.
The mano-a-mano would be epic. After getting up 0-2 on Posey, the side-arming reliever would miss on three straight offspeed pitches that were wide of the outside corner. O'Day would step off the mound three times, continually shake off Molina, and even have a summit conference with his battery mate during the at-bat. It was the kind of high drama that baseball fans love, and non-believers can't stand.
The Rangers ended up loving it, as Posey reached for a 3-2 pitch and tapped it weakly to shortstop Elvis Andrus, who gunned him out at first.
With a well-rested rookie closer Neftali Feliz throwing pure gas in the ninth, the Rangers left their raucous ballpark with a 4-2 victory and the sense that they were truly in this series.
The Rangers will turn to young Tommy Hunter against an even younger (and quite impressive) Madison Bumgarner to try to keep their momentum going in Game 4.
But under the Saturday night lights deep in the heart of Texas, Lewis, Moreland their teammates made the debut of World Series baseball in the Longhorn State a quite memorable one.
Nolan Ryan's ceremonial first-pitch toss to honorary catcher Ivan Rodriguez was clocked at 68 MPH. It was a little short of the plate and outside, but Pudge scooped it with ease, saving the legendary team president a wild pitch.
Babe Ross and Josh Hamilton both hit heir fifth home runs of the postseason; it was Moreland's first.
I realize that FOX pays a ton for the rights to televise the World Series, but they have to give us a better "God Bless America" singer than Martha Plimpton, the star of a FOX series, Raising Hope. She was horrible; I hope she's better in the series, which I've decided to boycott, anyway. Sorry to give it some play here (Kelly Clarkson gave a pretty good version of the national anthem).
One has to think FOX and otherwise neutral baseball fans would like to see a Lincecum-Lee matchup with the teams tied at two apiece. Maybe this one will actually be a pitcher's duel.