SAN FRANCISCO—Relief pitchers have a special bond. Not only do they belong to the same team, but they are also a team within a team. In most ballparks, they spend the game apart from their teammates, often sitting as far as 450 feet away from the dugout.
So, a team's bullpen often becomes like a family. And when one family member suffers, everyone feels the pain.
Thursday night, everyone in the Rangers' bullpen was hurting more than normal following Game Two of the World Series at AT&T Park. Manager Ron Washington deployed five relievers after six magnificent innings by starter C.J. Wilson and all of them failed, some spectacularly.
Darren Oliver allowed the runner he inherited from Wilson to score and then Darren O'Day, Derek Holland, Mark Lowe, and Michael Kirkman all gave up runs during a nightmarish eighth inning when the Giants scored seven runs to turn a tight game into a 9-0 blowout and a 2-0 lead in the series.
"It was hard to watch," O'Day said. "It just seemed like whoever we put in couldn't get anyone out. The difficult part is everyone in our bullpen knows how to pitch. We have a good bullpen. You wouldn't know it if the only time you've watched us play all season is in the first two games of the World Series. That's the hard part to swallow. In the two biggest games of the year, we haven't gotten the job done."
The Rangers' bullpen gave up four runs in 3
Giants starter Matt Cain allowed four hits in 7
The score was still 1-0 in favor of the Giants when Wilson walked Cody Ross on a full-count pitch to start the seventh inning and then left the game with a blister on the middle finger of his left hand. Oliver relieved and Ross moved to second on Aubrey Huff's ground out. Washington kept the veteran lefty in to face right-handed hitting Jose Uribe, who delivered an RBI single to center field to double the Giants' lead.
Cain was lifted with two outs and a man on second in the top of the eighth as manager Bruce Bochy summoned left-hander Lopez to face Josh Hamilton. Lopez got Hamilton to fly out to center field to end the inning and prepared to hand the game off to closer Brian Wilson in the ninth.
However, the Giants' closer wasn't needed. By the time the Rangers came to bat again, the lead had grown to 9-0 following one of the biggest debacle innings in World Series history. Thus, Mota brought out the bucket and mop to finish the rout.
Before we go into detail about the Giants' eighth inning, though, be advised it is not for the faint of heart or those who get squeamish at the sight of horrible pitching.
O'Day started it off well enough by striking out Andres Torres and Freddy Sanchez. After giving up a single to Buster Posey, O'Day yielded to left-hander Derek Holland, and that is when things took a surreal turn. Holland walked Nate Schierholtz and Ross on four pitches each to load the bases.
Holland then walked Aubrey Huff on five pitches to force home Posey before exiting in favor of Mark Lowe. Holland threw 13 pitches in his World Series debut and he probably won't tell the grandchildren only one of them was a strike.
Holland offered no excuses for his 7.6 strike percentage: "I felt fine. There was nothing wrong physically. I just had no command of my fastball, it was simple as that. I couldn’t throw it over the plate."
It was surprising that Washington didn't hook Holland after he threw eight straight balls. However, Washington defended that decision and also said he gave no thought to going to rookie closer Neftali Feliz to start the inning in an effort to keep the deficit at two runs.
"I thought Holland could correct himself," Washington said. "I felt like he could finally get back in the groove. I certainly brought him out there to get (the left-handed) Schierholtz out and he didn't. I didn't expect 12 balls in 13 pitches but it happened. Once he didn't get Schierholtz, he wasn't a situational lefty anymore. Holland has gotten right-handers out before."
Relying on Lowe to keep the score at 3-0 was a leap of faith by Washington. Lowe did not pitch between May 3 and September 28 because of back surgery, getting traded from the Mariners to the Rangers in the Cliff Lee deal in the interim on July 9. He made three relief appearances during the final week of the regular season but had not pitched competitively since October 3—before he was used in Game One in which he gave up three earned runs in two-thirds of an inning.
Lowe walked Uribe on a full count to force in a run, then surrendered a two-run single to Renteria, who had three RBI, and made it 6-0. He left in favor of rookie left-hander Michael Kirkman.
Lowe, too, offered no excuses: "Physically, I feel great. I just didn't get anybody out."
Rookie lefty Michael Kirkman, the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year this season, came on but also couldn't stop the insanity. He was torched for a two-run triple by pinch-hitter Aaron Rowand and an RBI double by Torres before Sanchez struck out for the second time in the inning.
All told in the eighth, the four pitchers gave up seven runs, five hits, five walks and threw just 27 of 55 pitches for strikes. On the bright side, they did strike out the side.
That nutty inning almost overshadowed Cain's outstanding performance as he has yet to give up an earned run in 21
Cain is just the fifth pitcher to toss at least 20 innings in a postseason and not allow an earned run. The record of 27 is shared by Christy Mathewson of the 1905 Giants and Waite Hoyt of the 1921 Yankees. Also on the list are Kenny Rogers for the 2006 Tigers and Carl Hubbell for the 1933 Giants. All but Rogers are in the Hall of Fame.
Cain says Posey, the rookie catcher, has been a big part of his success: "I've been able to work ahead in the count and Buster has done a great job as our catcher of really pushing me to throw different pitches in different counts. So I owe a ton of credit to him."
Cain has shown a freakish ability to limit the number of home runs he allows despite being a fly-ball pitcher. He took that to the extreme with Kinsler's deep fly in the fifth. Cain, though, did his best work of the night to escape the inning unscathed as he got Wilson, who should be available to start a Game Six, to ground out with runners on the corners to end it.
"A lot of times balls that hit the top of the fence bounce out but we got a break there," Bochy said. "Matt made a mistake. He didn't make many but he had him 0-2 and didn't get that ball quite where he wanted and almost paid for it. Still, there's nobody out there and it's tough to get out of it but he did."
Kinsler still seemed upset about his misfortune after the game. He refused to talk to reporters and complained about the number of media members in the clubhouse.
The Rangers, as a whole, did not seem broken by the nightmarish ending. They were still upbeat and talked about the excitement they anticipate for Game Three on Saturday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington when the World Series comes to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for the first time.
"We'll be fine," catcher Matt Treanor said. "We'll recollect our thoughts and get refocused for Saturday. I know we're not going to quit. We're down 2-0 but it's not an insurmountable difference to make up. If anything, I think getting home is going to energize and make it easier to put behind what happened to us here."
Meanwhile, the Giants now need to win just two of five games to clinch their first world championship since 1954, when the franchise was still in New York and pulled a stunning sweep of the 111-win Indians. The Giants have gone 0-3 in the World Series in the 52 years since moving west.
"It's nice to get the first two but that's what it is," Bochy said. "You've got to get to this number before your next number. There's a lot of baseball left but it's good to win the first two. There's no getting around that."