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Rangers head home to lick wounds

SAN FRANCISCO -- The tempting thing to do is to suggest that the Texas Rangers forget the playful nonsense of the claw and the antlers and just try to remember how to play baseball again.

Never mind winning a World Series right now. Just try to win a game.

But that would be ignoring who these Rangers are and how they got here in the first place. The absolute last thing they need to do at this point is to start an identity search.

So as mortifying as Thursday night's 9-0 Game 2 loss to the San Francisco Giants may have been, as devastating as it may seem to be flying back to Texas down two games to none in the 106th Fall Classic, putting this nightmare in the rearview mirror and inundating themselves in a sea of red come Game 3 on Saturday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is exactly what this team needs.

Never mind that the Rangers have still never won a ballgame in Telephone Company Park and have now put themselves in the position of having to do that at least once if they can force a return here for a Game 6. First, they have to earn that right.

The kind thing would be to say that only inches separated the Rangers from flying home with the best-of-seven World Series tied at a game apiece.

For reasons that are obvious, I'm not feeling that kind, and it wouldn't be close to the truth anyway.

Obviously, the difference wasn't nearly that subtle. Sure, another few inches and maybe Ian Kinsler's drive leading off the fifth inning doesn't bounce off the top of the fence but clears it, and the Rangers break through first in Game 2.

Maybe that changes everything.

Maybe.

But subsequent events, especially that embarrassing seven-run eighth-inning implosion by the bullpen, proved that's just wishful thinking.

"It was a game of inches," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said as he lingered alone in manager Ron Washington's office after the game, "and then it got ugly."

Very, very ugly.

Only moments after the Rangers had stranded Kinsler at second following his double, the Giants got a no-doubt-about-it jack from Edgar Renteria, who turned on C.J. Wilson's high fastball and planted it in the left-field seats in the bottom of the same inning to break the scoreless tie.

With Cain inducing a weak assortment of popups and routine ground-ball outs from the Rangers' dormant offense, the Giants tacked on an insurance run in the seventh, then reveled in a complete collapse by the Texas bullpen in the eighth.

When the dust and the gore had settled, the Giants had gouged out seven more runs, turned a tight pitcher's duel into a humiliating 9-0 rout and ignited a monumental celebration among more than 43,000 black-and-orange-clad Giants fans.

"We got it handed to us tonight," said Rangers owner/president Nolan Ryan, shaking his head. "We came apart at the seams.

"Now we have to put this out of our minds and realize that Saturday starts another series. The one positive is that at least we're going home."

Home, where they don't have to worry about never having won a game in 11 tries. They can only hope they get another chance because, as Ryan said, it may be a new series but it's one in which the Rangers now must win four times out of five games.

The danger in declaring that the Rangers simply haven't been themselves in this series is that statement could be misconstrued as a suggestion they have given away the first two games. That's simply not the case. The Giants are taking it, fair and square. They are beating the Rangers at every phase of the game.

If you thought Game 1 was demoralizing, Game 2 was downright humiliating, especially when things got out of hand during San Francisco's eighth-inning explosion. The Giants mauled Darren O'Day, Derek Holland (who walked three straight and forced in the first two runs of the inning), Mark Lowe and Michael Kirkman for four walks and four hits.

In his nervousness, Washington -- who clearly was caught flat-footed by Holland's ineffectiveness -- even ran out of sunflower seeds to munch.

By the time the inning was over, it was easy to forget that for the first seven innings of this game, Cain and Wilson were locked in a tight pitchers' duel.

The Rangers arrived at Game 2 after Wednesday night's brutal 11-7 whipping -- which wasn't really that close -- desperately needing something special from Wilson, and they got it. It just wasn't enough.

Wilson was superb before leaving with a recurring blister on his pitching hand after a leadoff walk to Cody Ross in the seventh. Ross would come around to score on a slow groundout and a looping single to right center by Juan Uribe off reliever Darren Oliver.

By then, the Rangers' failures at the plate were reaching epic proportions. Kinsler never left second after his leadoff double in the fifth, but that was nothing compared to the letdown that came an inning later, when singles by Michael Young and Josh Hamilton, along with a wild pitch, put runners at second and third with one out.

With cleanup hitter Nelson Cruz at the plate, the Giants elected to play their infielders back, effectively conceding the tying run on a routine ground ball. It was almost as if they knew Cruz was going to lift a weak foul pop to first baseman Aubrey Huff, and then Kinsler would follow suit with another popup to shallow right.

End of threat. See you back in Texas, where the Rangers now must win at least two out of three just for the opportunity to return to the black-and-orange bedlam of Telephone Company Ballpark, where they are 0-11.

"We're looking forward to getting back to our park and playing our kind of baseball," said third baseman Young, planting himself stolidly in the middle of the tiny visiting clubhouse as waves of media swept in and surrounded him.

Did Washington address the team after the game?

"No," Young said, looking puzzled. "Why would he?"

Perfect. Even down 2-0 in the Series, there is no palpable panic in the Rangers' clubhouse, though one could argue that maybe there should be.

"It's the way we're wired," Young said. "We feed off each other. We don't really think about things that have already happened. It's been a strength of this team all year."

So never mind that the Rangers have been declawed and de-antlered in the first two games of this series and may need to worry about their manhood next.

Bring out your claws Saturday. Wear your antlers with pride. Remind these Rangers once again, just in case they need it, who they really are.

Somehow, out here on the West Coast, they seem to have forgotten.

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.