Swing dance: Texas makes this a Series
Rangers turn must-win game into Fall Classic reboot
ARLINGTON -- The official schedule claims the 106th World Series began Wednesday night in San Francisco.But the actual start time was about 7:41 local time Saturday night, about that moment when Mitch Moreland -- known just a few weeks ago as Mitch Who? -- saw his liner to right off Jonathan Sanchez clear the right-field wall to give the Rangers a 3-0 lead with two out in the second. That's when Game 3 went to the Rangers, who won 4-2, and that's when this World Series got started. Up to that point, this had been a surprisingly asymmetrical set. A Giants team that had not scored more than five runs in the 17 games leading up to the Fall Classic exploded for 11 in Game 1 and nine in Game 2. Against all projections and supposedly rational expectations, they were the first team in Series history to win the first two games while scoring as many as 20 runs. The Rangers, meanwhile, were outpitched, outplayed, outmanaged ... even out-lucked (not often do you see a seemingly sure home run ball bounce back into play the way Ian Kinsler's did in Game 2) at AT&T Park.
Saturday was the swing game. This World Series was either going to get out of hand in a hurry, or it was going to begin in earnest.And so it begins. "We knew," said Rangers third baseman Michael Young, "if we came in here and played our kind of ball and got some momentum on our side, good things could start happening." Things have a way of happening quickly in the postseason. Just 24 hours ago, the pressure was squarely on the Rangers, who had become the 52nd team to fall into an 0-2 hole. Only 11 teams have risen out of such a deficit, and none have clawed their way back from 0-3. Now, one has to wonder where the pressure lies, exactly. The Giants looked like a different lineup -- or, you could argue, reverted back to their true form -- against a right-hander, Colby Lewis, and another looms in Tommy Hunter on Sunday night. Beyond that, though, is the fact that Cliff Lee is looming in Game 5. The only thing more difficult than beating Lee, as the Giants did with such conviction in Game 1, might be beating him twice. Sunday, then, starts to smell like a must-win game for the Giants. After all, quite a gap exists between a 3-1 series lead and a 2-2 tie. "You know, it's nice to be in our position right now, but we said we have a lot of work ahead of us," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We're playing a very good club, and we didn't think this would be easy." It's never easy for Bochy's Giants. That's just their nature. Their own recent history says they'll absorb this loss and come back stronger. World Series history, on the other hand, is inconclusive on the matter.
Teams with a 2-1 lead are 41-40 in Game 4 all-time. Of the 41 teams who won Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead, 35 have gone on to win the title, including the '08 Phillies and the '09 Yankees. On the other hand, only 18 of the 40 teams who have lost Game 4 to pull the Series into a 2-2 tie have gone on to win. The last team to do that was the 2002 Angels against the -- wait for it -- Giants.All historical perspective aside, the concern for the Giants at this juncture is playing outside their realm. This is a team with no discernible designated hitter (Pat Burrell might have been a candidate, had he not struck out 19 times in 38 at-bats this postseason) and a team that ran into the trouble of a lengthened Rangers lineup Saturday night. When Sanchez walked the No. 8 hitter, Bengie Molina, to put two on in the second inning, he didn't have the pitcher waiting. He had Moreland. And that proved to be the ballgame. It's game on now. Game 4 is anybody's guess, both from the standpoint of the aforementioned Series history and the simple unpredictability provided by youngsters Hunter and Madison Bumgarner. The first two games of this matchup were distractingly decisive. No team has ever come back from losing the first two games of a World Series by a combined 13 runs, and the Rangers -- between Lee's laborious Game 1 performance, the flat bats against Matt Cain in Game 2 and Ron Washington's puzzling bullpen maneuvering along the way -- frankly weren't giving us much reason to believe they'd be the first. But when Moreland went deep, when Lewis brought the Giants' bats back to something more closely resembling their reality, and when Washington's summoning of Darren O'Day for the final out of the eighth proved successful, we no longer had a misleading mismatch. We had a Series.