Inconvenient truth: Cliff Lee is human
Rangers' resiliency tested again by ace's unexpected struggles in Game 1 loss
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Texas Rangers have one mission to accomplish Thursday night in Game 2 of the World Series: Don't leave their broken hearts in San Francisco.
The San Francisco Giants trotted icon Tony Bennett out to warble a condensed version of his famous song during pregame ceremonies and continued to play on the heartstrings by dispatching Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry and Monte Irvin to the mound for a ceremonial first pitch. Just in case that wasn't enough, they followed that up with an appearance by one-armed cancer survivor Dave Dravecky.
None of that, naturally, put a pang in the Rangers' hearts like the Giants landing a knockout punch on Cliff Lee with a stunning six-run fifth inning en route to a runaway 11-7 victory in Game 1 on Wednesday at AT&T Park.
No need, I suppose, to be particularly shocked that the Rangers now have one more mountain to climb, yet another challenge to face. Hasn't that been the theme this whole amazing season?
What we don't know is exactly how the Rangers will react now that the seemingly invincible Lee, who so completely dominated both the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees in the first two rounds of the playoffs, has been proved to be a mere mortal after all.
The Giants just spit on Superman's cape.
They slapped him around as though their bats were loaded with kryptonite, to the tune of seven earned runs and eight hits, five of them doubles.
It was like watching the bad guys maul John Wayne, leaving him bleeding in the dust.
"He's been so consistent that people tend to think he's going to be the same every time out," Texas owner/president Nolan Ryan said of Lee. "That's just not realistic. You can't expect him to pitch like he has recently every time he takes the mound."
Maybe not, but this wasn't how the Rangers had this series planned. This wasn't supposed to happen. Now that it has, the whole tenor of the Series just took a freakish turn in the Giants' favor.
Tim "The Freak" Lincecum, the Giants' ace, survived two early Rangers runs, then settled down and simply outpitched Lee. This somewhat unexpected development will no doubt provide a massive boost of confidence to a Giants team that was already feeling a bit slighted with the Rangers being favored going into the Series.
But it wasn't just Lee who didn't have it in Game 1. After scratching out single runs in the first two innings, the Rangers fell apart in all phases of the game. Suddenly they couldn't field, couldn't muster a clutch hit and couldn't run the bases, and the bullpen was shaky at best.
Maybe realizing that Lee is only human was more than they could bear.
"Everybody has such high expectations of Cliff, and he has high expectations of himself," center fielder Josh Hamilton said afterward in a Rangers clubhouse that seemed unruffled by what had just transpired. "We know he can dominate a game. But he's human, too.
"He had a normal pitcher's game. He's just not a normal pitcher."
The question now is whether the Rangers can regain their composure after seeing their security blanket riddled with holes. Throughout the playoffs, Lee's looming presence provided the Rangers with an indomitable insurance policy, one that seemingly couldn't fail.
Hadn't Lee had gone 5-0 with a microscopic 0.44 ERA in his initial starts in five previous postseason series? Hadn't he squelched the Yankees with eight shutout innings in an 8-0 win in Game 3 of the ALCS?
Eight days of rest? No problem. Superman never gets rusty, only stronger.
Then the game started and, one rusty flake at a time, the Giants destroyed the myth Wednesday night.
"Our team scored seven runs," a somber Lee said. "That should be enough to win the game. I was just erratic. I threw some good pitches but I just couldn't find any consistency. I tried Plan B and that didn't work either, and that's unacceptable.
"I have to do a better job of damage control. I have to do a better job of getting ahead in the count and staying away from the heart of the plate. I tried to make adjustments but was up, I was down. I just couldn't find it tonight."
Lee wanted to be sure the Giants' hitters got some credit, too, pointing out he walked only one batter.
"I tried to fight through it, but they wouldn't let me," he said. "If I had been throwing pitches on the corners and they were hitting it all over the place I wouldn't know what to do, but that wasn't the case."
It's not like the Rangers haven't seen Lee lose before; remember, he went through a rough stretch in late August, too. It's just that he had always been unbeatable in the postseason before Wednesday night.
"These guys have responded to adversity all year long," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "I haven't seen them blink yet.
"It's not like this is a complete shock. That [San Francisco] is a good team over there. They're in the World Series for a reason."
The Rangers' quest to win their first world championship just became incrementally tougher. We know what history says about teams that lose Game 1 in a best-of-seven series. No need to tell you how much worse it gets when a team drops the first two. Suffice it to say that such a hole, even for a team that has overcome so much this season, is deep and dark.
The Rangers need something special from C.J. Wilson in Game 2, something extraordinary, which won't be easy considering the Giants' batting order is so predominantly right-handed. Yes, one more mountain to climb, and the mission now is to make sure Lee gets another chance in Game 5.
Modest rallies after falling behind 8-2 and then 11-4 may have provided a hint that the Rangers have just begun to fight. Let's hope that's the case.
Their mettle has already been tested in this postseason, too. They recovered after blowing a 5-1 eighth-inning lead to the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS, a stunning blow that might have shell-shocked a less resilient team.
The Rangers have never lacked heart throughout this storybook season. What they absolutely cannot afford to do is go home without it when they leave here Thursday night.
Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.