Apparently, the age-old axiom "quality pitching beats good hitting," so often quoted in regards to postseason baseball, is true after all.
The 2010 San Francisco Giants, a team full of self-proclaimed misfits and recent castoffs from other franchises, have thoroughly defeated the Texas Rangers in five games to claim the first World Series title since the Giants franchise moved to the West Coast from New York following the 1957 season.
Texas, with its power-laden, American League-style lineup boasting several great hitters, was supposed to present a mighty challenge to the pitching-rich yet occasionally offensively-deficient Giants.
In addition to the dynamic offense, Texas' pitching staff is led by modern postseason hero Cliff Lee, a man who has recently been compared to all-time greats Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. The Giants were supposed to have no chance.
Though the Giants' position players may not pack the name-brand recognition or impressive statistics on the back of their baseball cards, they combined with a stellar San Francisco pitching staff to overwhelm a Texas team that never really got going in the World Series.
Game 5's pitching matchup pitted each team's ace against one another in a rematch of Game 1's starters, two of the best hurlers in the game today. Tim Lincecum of the Giants and Texas' Cliff Lee have won three Cy Young awards between them since 2008. In Game 1, neither ace was sharp, and Lee was handed the first loss of his postseason career, as the Giants got to Texas' lefty for a playoff career-worst seven runs.
After Game 1's pitching duel never truly materialized, most baseball people expected Game 5 to be a finely pitched affair, as the two aces looked to revert to their top form. Lincecum and his mates smelled blood in the water and preferred to finish out the series quickly, never allowing Texas reason to dream. Lee, on the other hand, desperately needed to pitch his team to victory in an effort to send the series back to San Francisco for a potential Game 6.
As it turned out, the contest lived up to the hype, as both hurlers traded zeroes until the seventh inning. Only a dramatic seventh-inning, three-run homer from unexpected World Series MVP Edgar Renteria would tarnish the pitching line of Texas' ace Lee. Lincecum would allow a solo blast to Texas' Nelson Cruz in the same frame.
San Francisco's crisp 3-1 victory brought elation to Northern California's Bay Area and, conversely, agony to those denizens of Arlington, forced to watch the Giants' joyous celebration on their home turf.
Instead of returning to San Francisco for another do-or-die game, the Rangers will now have time to mull their shortcomings and craft their plans for 2011.
With the 2010 Major League season now history, as baseball fans, we're already casting a hopeful eye toward next year, but for now, let's grade the Texas Rangers' performance in their fateful Game 5 of the World Series.
Cliff Lee really couldn't have been much better in World Series Game 5. His name will forever be listed next to the phrase "losing pitcher," but truthfully, he pitched a fantastic game that easily could have earned him a win if not for the dominant outing from Tim Lincecum.
In his last start, the World Series-opening Game 1, Lee was given his first taste of postseason defeat, as the Giants battered him for seven runs in only 4.2 innings to hand him his first loss in nine career playoff starts.
Given a shot at redemption, Lee shouldered the burden of the Rangers' hopes to take the hill in Game 5, aiming to extend his team's season for at least one more day.
For six innings, Lee gave Texas and its fans hope, trading scoreless frames with Lincecum, heightening the tension as the game progressed.
That bubble was finally burst when in the top of the seventh inning, San Francisco finally got to Lee, dramatically untying the score and silencing the Arlington crowd. World Series MVP Edgar Renteria capitalized on a rare mistake from Lee, crushing what would eventually be the game-winning three-run home run.
After Lee allowed back-to-back singles to Cody Ross and Juan Uribe to lead off the seventh, slugging first baseman Aubrey Huff executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the runners into scoring position with one out. Lee then struck out Pat Burrell but fell behind 2-0 to the next hitter, Renteria, prompting speculation that the Rangers might walk the Giants shortstop to go after Aaron Rowand instead.
Lee went after Renteria, tossing a cutter that stayed up and over the plate. Approaching the situation aggressively, Renteria drove the mistake deep into the Arlington night, immediately deflating the once joyous Texas crowd. They knew time was running out on their collective dreams of World Series glory.
Overall, Cliff Lee hurled seven strong innings, only allowing those three runs on six hits, no walks and six strikeouts. His only critical mistake of the evening was the cutter to Renteria. Lee will now have all offseason to rue his missed location, or least until he signs a free-agent contract likely to exceed $100 million.
On any other day, we might be discussing Lee's victorious performance, but today, he was second-best to a young man San Francisco fans affectionately call "The Freak."
Though it was ultimately meaningless, Neftali Feliz pitched a strong two innings to keep his team close in hopes of mounting a late comeback in Game 5.
Only seeing his second bout of action in the World Series, his dominant outing makes one wonder what might have been if Ron Washington had used him in either of the first two World Series games, rather than using every other Texas reliever besides their closer.
Tasked with keeping the game tight, Feliz worked the eighth and ninth innings following Lee's strong starting performance.
The young, heat-dispensing closer would do precisely that, retiring six of the seven hitters he faced in his two innings. Feliz would only allow a soft infield single to Buster Posey during the top of the eighth. He struck out two in two innings, bringing his overall postseason tally to 11 strikeouts in 7.1 innings.
After Feliz's record-setting first full season in the majors, the Rangers have to be ecstatic with the development of the 22-year-old. He certainly offers them something to look forward to as they ponder 2010 but begin their planning for 2011.
Occasionally, no matter how much power you pack into a lineup, when you run into a top-flight hurler at the top of his game, you have to tip your cap for a job well done.
The Rangers, generally regarded as one of the most offensively dynamic teams in the American League, ran into a buzz saw in the form of San Francisco Giant pitching, and Game 5 was no exception.
In a scenario bizarrely reminiscent of Game 4, the Rangers were once again held hitless until Michael Young led off the bottom of the fourth inning with a single, just as he had in the previous game. Unfortunately for Texas, they would only manage a sixth-inning single by Mitch Moreland and a seventh-inning solo home run off the bat of Nelson Cruz throughout the remainder of the game.
Adding only two walks to their three hits, the Texas offense never got off the ground against Lincecum, who struck out 10 in his eight innings of work. Of the 24 outs he recorded, only three were hit out of the infield. His blazing fastball, filthy breaking pitches and devastating change-up kept the Rangers' hitters guessing and off balance for the entirety of the game.
Texas' 3-4-5 hitters, Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero and Cruz, completed a disappointing series by going a combined 1-for-12 in Game 5. They would strike out five times between them,
Moreland offered life from the ninth spot in the order, going 1-for-2 with a walk, to conclude a strong showing in the World Series in which he hit .462.
After battering the New York Yankees in the ALCS, Texas' offense was missing in action for the majority of the first World Series in franchise history.
There was so little action on the basepaths during Game 5 that giving them a grade seems rather unnecessary. The dominating performance from Tim Lincecum kept the Rangers' hitters walking the familiar route back to the dugout after each successive out that he recorded.
With only five Rangers reaching base, and one of those being via the home run, the Rangers' baserunning opportunities were severely limited. In fact, not a single Ranger made it into scoring position all evening.
Texas was hoping to exploit Lincecum's weakness for holding on baserunners, running rampant when given the opportunity. The chances to do so never arose, as Lincecum did the one thing guaranteed to control an opponent's running game: Keep them off the bases altogether.
The Rangers once again played solid defense to back up their pitching staff. Texas' only blemish on the evening was a dropped throw at first by Mitch Moreland after Ian Kinsler had charged a bouncer in front of him, throwing the resulting throw too hard for Moreland to handle easily.
Texas made a handful of solid plays, flashing the leather a few times in the disappointing loss. Cliff Lee made two fine plays himself, snagging a liner up the middle off the bat of Freddy Sanchez in the third and going to the ground to field an Aubrey Huff sacrifice bunt in the seventh inning as he flipped the ball to first base just in time.
Elvis Andrus and Kinsler turned a nice double play in the fifth, ending a small threat after Moreland's error. Later in the sixth, Nelson Cruz misplayed a Freddy Sanchez blooper in front of him, missing the ball as he dove forward, strangely taking his eyes off the ball during his attempt.
Cruz then atoned for the miscue a batter later when he tracked down Buster Posey's deep drive to the right-center field wall, temporarily halting any offensive threat that San Francisco may have created.
Ron Washington's team was ultimately outplayed by the scrappy band of outsiders from San Francisco. The Texas manager took heat for the first two Ranger losses, as it appeared that no move he made, seemed to work out.
Much of that can be blamed on lack of execution on the players' part and not on the decision-making of the coaching staff. Of course, everyone always wants to find a scapegoat, but sometimes you're simply outplayed.
Nothing Washington could have done would have changed the outcome of this Game 5. Tim Lincecum pitched masterfully, completely subduing the Texas offense as his fellow pitchers had two other times in the series.
For whatever reason, after destroying the Yankees in six games to claim the American League pennant, the Texas Rangers looked like a different team in the World Series. Picked by many to defeat the Giants in the series and take home Texas' first ever Major League championship, the Rangers disappointed in many facets of the game, often appearing lifeless and offensively challenged.
Maybe they ran out of gas, or possibly the Giants were just the better team at this moment. Either way, the Rangers will return home without the title they coveted and will have the offseason to retool in an effort to return stronger for 2011.
The offseason figures to be busy for the Rangers. With increased revenue due to their new television deal, an influx of cash should see the team involved in the free-agent market on a more significant level than previously seen.
Likely the most pressing issue will be the potential re-signing of ace Cliff Lee. Though his World Series was disappointing, his presence atop their rotation and his influence on the other pitchers is immense.
Lee may be determined to test the free agent market, but Texas will have to be considered a major player in the race to secure his services.
Texas will likely look to bolster its squad in other areas as well, but the needs are not drastic. Much of the core is locked up beyond next year; they have a potent middle of the order and many young players to be thrilled about moving forward. They will have to determine what they want to do with their catching situation, especially if Bengie Molina retires, as he had speculated earlier.
The emergence of Andrus, Feliz, Alexi Ogando and now Moreland gives the Rangers several young players with the potential to achieve great things on a baseball diamond.
Though the end result was disappointing, the Texas Rangers, their management and fans have to be thrilled with reaching the first World Series in franchise history. Now that they have tasted the winning life, it will likely serve to increase the Rangers' hunger for a title, propelling them as they return to chase down the dream that so cruelly slipped away in the World Series.