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11/02/10 1:27 AM ET
Giant exclamation point on Year of the Pitcher
Lincecum-Lee duel perfect cap to season filled with gems
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- This was the way it had to end.
This so-called "Year of the Pitcher" had to come to a close with two Cy Young winners on the mound -- one trying to pitch his team to glory, the other trying to pick his team off the floor.
Tim Lincecum vs. Cliff Lee is an all-too-easy matchup to hype, but the hype is all-too-difficult to live up to. We saw that in Game 1 of this World Series, when Lincecum was a rather erratic winner and Lee's perceived postseason invincibility was shockingly shattered.
But Game 5? An instant classic.
"It was," Lee said, "a great pitching duel."
One that Lee bowed out of with one bad pitch.
When Lee hung a cutter to the immortal Edgar Renteria with two on and two out in the top of the seventh, this duel officially went Lincecum's way. Renteria pounded that pitch over the left-center-field wall for the game's first runs, and Lincecum and the Giants held on for the 3-1 victory that landed them their first World Series title in 56 years.
But the fact that this decisive game came down to one decisive pitch only emphasizes what an enthralling and entertaining matchup it was. For six innings, Lincecum and Lee cued memories of Jack Morris and John Smoltz in that most purist-pleasing of World Series clinchers -- Game 7 of the 1991 Series between the Twins and Braves.
Obviously, that's a ridiculously high standard to live up to, an impossible comparison.
And yet, as those first six innings evolved, the likeness was increasingly real. Both pitchers faced 21 batters in that span, and neither let a single one venture into scoring position.
Over the course of those six innings, Lee let just four baserunners aboard. Buster Posey reached on a two-out single in the first but was soon stranded by a Cody Ross popout. Andres Torres reached a similar fate after his two-out single in the third. Aubrey Huff had the good fortune to lead off the fifth by reaching on a Mitch Moreland error, but he was doubled up when Renteria sent a one-out grounder to short. And Freddy Sanchez's two-out single in the sixth was just another example of Lee teasing the Giants early on.
For Lincecum, the first baserunner didn't come until Moreland drew a two-out walk in the third, and "The Freak" responded by fanning Elvis Andrus to complete his strikeout of the side. The Rangers' first hit came on Michael Young's leadoff single in the fourth, but Lincecum didn't blink then, either.
Just when it appeared the Rangers might be able to get something going off Lincecum in the sixth -- when Moreland led off with a ground-ball single -- Lincecum needed exactly four pitches
to retire Andrus, Young and Josh Hamilton in order to end the inning.
In retrospect, that emotionless efficiency might have been the true turning point in this game. For when the Giants began to press Lee in the top of the following inning with consecutive singles from Ross and Juan Uribe and Huff's first career sacrifice bunt, Lee buckled with two out, tossing Renteria that costly cutter.
The Renteria blast gave Lincecum breathing room. He would explore the space in the bottom of the inning, when a Nelson Cruz solo shot with one out cut the lead to 3-1. But once again, he didn't cave. And his eight innings of one-run ball were as dominant a performance as you can ask for in a game of this magnitude.
"The last game, maybe my nerves got the best of me, and I didn't keep myself collected," Lincecum said. "This time, knowing those kinds of things are going to happen on this stage here, I took more deep breaths, took time when I needed to. I knew I was here for a reason."
Millions at home were watching for a reason. World Series history has it pretty well-established that the 3-1 Series deficit the Rangers faced going into this game fairly well sealed their fate. But with Lee on the mound, anything seemed possible. And with Lincecum opposing him, a true showdown was set.
"I watched those [kinds of] matchups on TV as a kid," Giants outfielder Cody Ross said. "Just to think that younger kids are watching Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee battle, it's so special. It was a great game."
And a great way to cap the season that gave us otherworldly exploits on the mound. We saw the lowest league-wide batting average in 18 years, five no-hitters or perfect games in the regular season (and yes, Armando Galarraga, in our heart we know it's actually six) and, thanks to Roy Halladay, the second no-hitter in postseason history.
On Monday night at Rangers Ballpark, with World Series dreams on the line, we saw a fitting finale. Lincecum and Lee put proper punctuation on the "Year of the Pitcher."