After being shut out by the San Francisco Giants in World Series Game 4 on Halloween night, the Texas Rangers now stand perched upon the precipice of defeat as they trail the best-of-seven series three games to one.
On a night when two former presidents, George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. participated in throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, the Rangers were held scoreless by Giant's rookie left-hander, Madison Bumgarner, and fiercely bearded closer, Brian Wilson.
Bumgarner, 21-years-and-91-days-old, became the fourth youngest pitcher in baseball history to win a World Series start. He followed in the footsteps of his more experienced, fellow Giant starters with another in a series of strong postseason starts from the men in black and orange.
With their 4-0 victory over the Rangers, San Francisco took a commanding 3-to-1 lead, the 45th time in World Series history that a team has done so. In the previous 44 occurrences in which a team took a 3-to-1 lead, the leading team went on to win the series 38 times. The last time a team rebounded from such a deficit was the Kansas City Royals, when they returned from the edge of agony to overtake the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1985 Fall Classic.
Over eight strong innings, Bumgarner allowed only three singles, two walks and no runs, while striking out six in his commanding performance. He benefited from strong defensive backing, receiving spectacular glove work from second-baseman Freddy Sanchez and left-fielder Cody Ross to stifle the Rangers offense.
The Rangers' starter, Tommy Hunter, became the first pitcher in postseason history to have three consecutive starts of four innings or fewer. His outing wasn't terrible, as he threw strikes and only allowed two earned runs on five hits and one walk, but the hook for him was quick as the Rangers found themselves down early in Game 4. Ron Washington turned to his bullpen to keep his team in the game, but they weren't able to shut down the Giants, who added two more runs, though they already had enough for the victory from Aubrey Huff's third inning two-run home run.
In addition to Huff's deep drive off Hunter, rookie catcher, Buster Posey hit his first career postseason home run in the eighth to seal the 4-0 victory. The San Francisco offense was paced by shortstop Edgar Renteria and center fielder Andres Torres who each had three hits. Everyone else, aside from those four Giants, were held hit-less.
Facing a difficult road ahead, the Rangers have one more chance at home in Arlington to prolong the series and send it back to San Francisco. In the must-win Game 5 on Monday evening, Cliff Lee will be looking to exact revenge for the beating San Francisco laid upon him in Game 1. Lee's only career playoff loss, in which he allowed seven runs, six of them earned, will surely serve as motivation as he looks to extend the Rangers' season for at least one more game.
While we wait for Game 5's action, let's review the Rangers' performance in Game 4 and see where it all went wrong.
Tommy Hunter certainly didn't have a terrible start in Game 4, but he added another in a string of early exits in his thus far disappointing postseason career.
Over four innings, he allowed five hits, walking one, and was only scored upon when Aubrey Huff hit a deep drive into the Arlington night for a two-run home run in the top of the third inning.
Hunter may have been unfortunate in that inning, as the leadoff batter, Andres Torres hit a grounder down the first-base line that a diving Mitch Moreland appeared to have a bead on, but the ball hit the first-base bag and shot past Moreland for a double. He would come around to score on Huff's blast two batters later.
Unfortunately for him, Hunter never got the chance to attempt to earn a victory, as Ron Washington utilized a quick hook to remove him from the game in favor of flame-throwing reliever Alexi Ogando to begin the top of the fifth inning.
Overall, Hunter threw a solid 55-of-83 pitches for strikes and threw first-pitch strikes to 11 of the 18 batters he faced through his four innings.
He will have to hope that Cliff Lee can defeat the Giants in Game 5, so that he can get a chance to redeem himself by possibly pitching out of the Rangers' bullpen if the series progresses beyond Monday evening's game in Arlington.
Though the Rangers were defeated for the third time in four games in the World Series, at least this time they couldn't blame it on their bullpen. With consecutive meltdowns in Games 1 and 2, the Texas relief corps earned heavy criticism, but they appear to be rounding into form with solid performances in Games 3 and 4.
After starter Tommy Hunter was lifted to begin the fifth inning, four members of the Texas bullpen combined to throw the last five innings of Game 4. In those five innings, they allowed two earned runs on three hits, one walk, while striking out five.
The first reliever to enter, hard-throwing Alexi Ogando, offered a glimpse of his dominant potential as he retired all five batters he faced, dispatching them with mostly mid-to-upper 90s heat, with a handful of sliders thrown in. He encountered little difficulty, striking out two of the five hitters but was suddenly forced to leave the game when he clutched his side after a particularly wide pitch to the sixth hitter, Juan Uribe. Ogando apparently strained his left oblique and is likely doubtful for the remainder of the series.
Following Ogando, veteran Darren Oliver pitched the next 1.2 innings, allowing one run on two hits, as well as striking out two. After a stellar season in Texas, Oliver has been inconsistent in the postseason, but this outing was the first in which he allowed a run in his last four appearances.
Righty-specialist, Darren O'Day, was brought in with one out in the top of the eighth, to face consecutive right-handed hitters, Posey Ross and Uribe. Unfortunately, he allowed a solo home run to Posey, the first of the San Francisco catcher's young playoff career. He then retired the next two Giants, but by that time, the score had increased to 4-0 San Francisco.
Derek Holland, perhaps the Ranger most desperately seeking redemption after his atrocious outing in Game 2, in which he walked all three hitters he faced, while allowing three runs, entered the game in the ninth to keep the game close for the Rangers' offense. In his inning of work, he walked the leadoff batter, conjuring memories of his disastrous previous outing but was able to retire the next three Giants for an uneventful top of the ninth.
If things go well for the Rangers in Game 5, the bullpen may not be required with Cliff Lee on the mound. In his three playoff starts before World Series Game 1, he had lasted at least seven innings and has hurled three complete games in his nine career postseason starts. The Rangers will need heroics from their ace if they hope to return the series to San Francisco for a potential Game 6.
After a blistering ALCS versus the Yankees, the Rangers' offense is finding difficulty against the tough San Francisco pitching staff.
Despite scoring seven runs in the opener, albeit mostly in garbage time of an 11-7 loss, the Texas offense has only managed four total runs in three games—all in Game 3. A dynamic offense, that was only shut out five times during the regular season, has now been held scoreless twice in three games during the World Series.
It won't get any easier for the Rangers, as they will face San Francisco ace, Tim Lincecum in Monday's Game 5. Rookie Madison Bumgarner held them to only three harmless singles through eight innings and didn't allow a runner to reach scoring position until the seventh inning.
The Rangers employed a patient approach against Bumgarner, with only three hitters swinging at the first pitch the young left-hander threw. They were never able to get much going, however, as the rookie threw 65 percent of his pitches for strikes and kept Texas off-balance all game. Texas was held hit-less until Michael Young led off the bottom of the fourth with a single between first and second-base, a grounder that Freddy Sanchez very nearly made a spectacular diving play on.
At the top of the order, the Rangers first four hitters only reached base three times total in 15 plate appearances, with one single, one walk and one error. In the three and four spots, Josh Hamilton and Vlad Guerrero went hit-less, combining to go 0-for-7. The six, seven and eight spots, occupied by Kinsler, Francoeur and Molina, went a collective 0-for-8 with only one walk between them.
For their part, the Giants did make some great defensive plays to rob the Giants of a few potential hits on hard-hit balls. Freddy Sanchez made a fantastic leaping catch to rob Jeff Francoeur on a liner over his head, and Cody Ross made a great sliding catch to rob Ian Kinsler on a sinking liner to left.
Rookie Mitch Moreland, contributed one hit in three at-bats, continuing his hot hitting series. He is now hitting .455 throughout the first four games and is likely playing his way into a full-time, starting role for the Rangers next year.
Staring up at a three-games-to-one deficit, the Rangers will need to hit much more than they have over the last three contests if they want to avoid an offseason of heartache and regret. They will need to do so against Giant's ace, Tim Lincecum on Monday night if they hope to force a Game 6 back at AT&T Park.
With only six Rangers reaching base over the course of the entire game, there was very little base-running to judge.
No one made any egregious errors to speak of, mostly because the Rangers were generally walking to the plate and quickly heading back to the dugout dejectedly.
Josh Hamilton attempted to steal his way into scoring position after reaching base on a fielder's choice in the fourth inning but was thwarted in his effort by a perfect throw from Buster Posey.
After utilizing their dynamic running game to harass and unnerve the Yankees in the ALCS, Texas has been fairly quiet on the base-paths in the World Series. Much of the credit has to go to the San Francisco pitching staff that has generally stifled the Rangers' offense and any chance that they would have to run rampant on the bases.
If the Rangers' hitters are able to reach base against Tim Lincecum, they will likely have their best chance to utilize their running prowess. Lincecum was poor at holding runners on in 2010, allowing 27-of-30 attempted base-stealers to run successfully on him. For his career, "the Freak" has allowed an astounding 86 percent success rate for opposing base-stealers.
The Texas defense has continued to solidify after their ugly, four-error performance in Game 1.
Game 4 started with the Rangers flashing the leather early. Ian Kinsler almost made a fantastic play on a ball up the middle off the bat of the game's first hitter, but he was denied when first-baseman Moreland was unable to dig the short-hopped throw out of the dirt.
In the second inning, Kinsler and Andrus turned what should have been a smooth double play, only to see the first-base umpire call Travis Ishikawa safe on a close play at first. Replays showed that Ishikawa was in fact out, but in fairness to the umpire, it was an extremely close play.
After Renteria singled to push Ishikawa to third in with two outs, Nate Schierholtz hit a sinking liner to center-field that Josh Hamilton charged and made a spectacular diving play to save at least one run. It would be the defensive play of the game, yet would be ultimately rendered meaningless in the Rangers' loss.
Defense could play a significant role in Monday's Game 5. Following a disappointing duel in Game 1 between Lincecum and Lee, the two aces reprise their matchup, and runs could be difficult to come by for both teams.
Ron Washington faced very few consequential decisions in Game 4. While being completely stifled by San Francisco's Bumgarner, the Rangers had few opportunities to utilize any small ball tactics or surprise the Giants with aggressive play.
There will inevitably be those that question the Texas manager for starting Tommy Hunter, who has been disappointing in his three playoff starts, but Hunter did not pitch poorly, and Lee couldn't have helped the Texas offense against Bumgarner anyway.
Overall, the bullpen moves he made worked decently, and he had to go to further relievers earlier than planned when Ogando sustained his unfortunate injury. If not for the injury, he may have gotten more length out of Ogando, reducing the need for more pitching changes. The buttons he pushed with his relievers were the appropriate moves, but two of them happened to allow a run. Such is baseball.
With Cliff Lee on the mound Monday, Washington will hope that his ace makes it easy on him, working into the eighth or ninth inning, hopefully with a lead, so that his relievers can rest, and he won't have to make any critical bullpen decisions.
Monday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is do or die time. The Rangers know they have to win three games in a row now, but they can't afford to look beyond Game 5. With a win Monday, they will at least send the series back to San Francisco, as they hope to complete a semi-miraculous comeback.
The Rangers have the best guy on the mound for a crucial postseason start. Though he faltered in World Series Game 1, Cliff Lee is 7-1 in nine career playoff starts and will provide the Rangers with confidence as they attempt to stave off defeat in their home stadium.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, they will have to attempt to overcome a frigid World Series from their offense, against a hurler who happens to have won the last two National League Cy Young awards. Tim Lincecum will be looking to overcome his rough, yet ultimately victorious Game 1 start, in an effort to thrust the dagger into the World Series dreams of the Texas Rangers.
Texas will need to rediscover their offensive swagger after being shut out in two of the last three games in the World Series. It won't be easy with Lincecum on the mound, but it's absolutely imperative unless they're prepared for an offseason of dreaming of what might have been.