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October 31, 2010

World Series Prospectus

Game Three Report

by John Perrotto

ARLINGTON—Giants manager Bruce Bochy said earlier in the postseason that his team reminded him of the "The Dirty Dozen," a band of castoffs and misfits. The media has run with that and Bochy's line has been repeated over and over for two weeks.

Rangers manager Ron Washington has not likened his team to any movie. However, centering a screenplay the heroes of the Rangers' 4-2 victory over the Giants in Game Three of the World Series on Saturday night would for a nice syrupy Disney movie.

Center fielder Josh Hamilton hit a solo home run in the fifth inning off Jonathan Sanchez. Hamilton's story has been oft repeated. The All-American boy and first overall draft pick in 1999, he fell into the wrong crowd while injured in the Devil Rays' farm system and became addicted to heroin. He was suspended for three seasons from 2003-05 for violating Major League Baseball's and seemed to be a long shot to ever reach the major leagues let alone live up to his vast potential.

Rookie first baseman Mitch Moreland hit a three-run home run to open the scoring and ignite the crowd of 52,419 at Rangers Ballpark that was bearing witness to the first World Series game ever played in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Moreland was never considered a top prospect coming up through the Rangers' system after being their 17th-round draft pick in 2007 or a real major-league option at first base with two other young players at the position in Chris Davis and Justin Smoak.

Hamilton and Moreland gave Colby Lewis all the support he needed as the right-hander checked the Giants on two runs and five hits in 7 2/3 innings after they had scored 20 runs in winning the first two games of the series in San Francisco. Lewis, too, is quite the study in perseverance. He was once a top prospect with the Rangers but was twice claimed off waivers and twice released before spending the last two seasons pitching in Japan. Lewis finally learned to command his pitches overseas and returned to the Rangers as a free agent last winter.

Thus, it was fitting when the Rangers were put in a situation where they needed to claw and antler their way back into the series as they faced a 2-0 deficit that those three players led the charge. Moreland, the 25-year-old who just began his major-league career on July 29, pondered the significance of the trio keeping the Rangers from falling into a 3-0 hole that no team has ever been able to extract itself from in a World Series.

"I think it shows we're persistent," Moreland said. "I haven't been here all that long but the one thing that struck me about our team from the day I got here is that we don't let anything ever get us down. We never feel any deficit is too large to overcome. That's why I knew we still had a good chance to win this series."

It wasn't so much that the Rangers lost the first two games but how they looked in doing so. Ace Cliff Lee got rocked and the Rangers made four errors in an 11-7 defeat in the Game One, then the bullpen imploded and the offense was held to four hits in a 9-0 loss in Game Two.

The Rangers certainly didn't look panicked Thursday night after being routed in Game Two. That is why manager Ron Washington exuded nothing but calmness going into Game Three. Washington and his players had the attitude that they were still in a better situation than 28 other major-league teams who are sitting at home.

"I think we all in the game of baseball who have played or coached it, when we hit spring training, our dream is to get to the World Series," Washington said. "Somebody made the statement to me, 'If we told you in February that you would be 0-2 in the World Series how would you feel about it?' Well, I would feel tremendous. These guys work hard every day. They care about each other and the thing I love the most about them is they never quit."

Even better, the Rangers pitched well in Game Three and came up with a couple of big hits.

Moreland got the crowd stoked in the second inning when he ended a nine-pitch plate appearance with two outs against losing pitcher Jonathan Sanchez by lining a three-run homer into the right-field stands to snap a scoreless tie. Moreland fouled off four straight breaking pitches before connecting on a fastball. The home run came after Nelson Cruz led off with a double that enabled him to set the record for most extra-base hits in a postseason with 12--and Bengie Molina walked with two outs.

It was a pretty big moment for Moreland, who played right field at Triple-A Oklahoma for more than half the season before shifting back to first base when Smoak was traded to the Mariners on July 9 as part of the Lee deal.

"I knew I had a runner in scoring position, so he was going to try to pitch me tough," Moreland said. "I just tried to battle back and I got the fastball down and in and was able to put a good swing on it."

Hamilton's homer was a two-out drive to right-center field in the fifth that pushed the Rangers' lead to 4-0. In that syrupy Disney movie, Hamilton would have reflected on his trials and tribulations as he rounded the basis while the fans roared and fireworks went off above the rim of the stadium. Instead, Hamilton was more pragmatic, producing a buzz kill that seemed fitting coming from a recovering drug addict.

"It was pretty sweet, but at the same time I was thinking about the couple at-bats before that," Hamilton said. "I put a good swing on it but I think about how to replicate that swing. So it was all great. I've got some family in town. Crowd was great, fireworks were awesome but that's what we try to do. We try to entertain folks."

Lewis was entertaining in a less dramatic way as he walked two, struck out six and threw 74 of his 103 pitches for strikes in improving to 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in four post-season starts, allowing two earned runs or less in each. Lewis made only a few mistakes, giving up solo home runs to Cody Ross in the seventh inning--his fifth of the postseason--and Andres Torres in the eighth that sliced the Rangers' lead to 4-2.

"He pitched well, hit his spots and mixed it up," Bochy said. "You've got to give him credit. It wasn't a case of our guys not doing well. Their guy pitched a good game."

Washington showed no fear in going to his beleaguered bullpen, which allowed 11 runs in 5 1/3 innings in the first two games of the series, calling on Darren O'Day after Lewis hit Aubrey Huff with a pitch in the eighth inning with two outs. O'Day got Buster Posey to hit an inning-ending grounder to shortstop Elvis Andrus, then rookie Neftali Feliz struck out two in a perfect ninth inning to become, at 22 years and 181 days, the second-youngest pitcher to record a World Series save. Bob Welch continues to hold the distinction as he was 21 years and 342 days when he closed out Game Two in 1978 for the Dodgers against the Yankees.

When Feliz struck out Juan Uribe swinging, it marked the first time a Texas-based team had won a World Series game. The Astros were swept by the White Sox in 2005 in their only appearance and the Rangers are in it for the first time in their 50-season history, the last 39 spent in the Lone Star State after 11 years as the second incarnation of the Washington Senators. The Rangers player who most appreciated the significance of the moment was third baseman Michael Young, who has called Arlington home throughout his entire 11-year career.

"You don't have too many stadiums that seat 52,000, so it was impressive to walk out of the dugout and see that many people and hearing them all cheering," Young said. "I really think it gave us a little more life. We were never down about losing the first two in San Francisco but it did give us a boost to get back in our home ballpark. The people here waited a long time for this day to come and it feels good to give them a win. At the same time, though, what they want is for us to win this thing. We've got three more games to win, so we've got a good bit of work left to do before we can think about really celebrating."

The Giants, meanwhile, do not feel like they've lost control of the series with only one loss.

"It's nice to be in our position right now but we said we have a lot of work ahead of us," Bochy said. "We're playing a very good club and we didn't think it would be easy."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

Related Content:  Rangers,  The Who,  Mitch Moreland,  Washington,  Significance

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