Commentary

Rangers have made this a Series

Texas finds comfort at home and gets victory in must-win Game 3 against Giants

Updated: October 31, 2010, 10:05 AM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- They stood up in the middle of the fifth inning, all 52,000 of them, their white towels waving in the breeze, and saluted the arrival of a phenomenon that most of them no doubt wondered whether they'd ever live to see:

The Texas Rangers playing a World Series game …

Right there in front of their eyes. Right there in the shadow of that mammoth starship football palace Jerry Jones built to host the next Super Bowl.

"The stars at night are big and bright," warbled the largest crowd in Rangers history at a decibel level that probably startled a few sleeping children in Oklahoma. "Deep in the heart of Texas."

Well, little did they know that the biggest, brightest stars on this night -- the night that saved the Rangers' season, the night that saved this whole World Series -- would be their trusty No. 9 hitter (Mitch Moreland) …

And a pitcher (Colby Lewis) who, until this year, had the highest ERA in Rangers history by anyone who had started at least 30 games for them …

And a relief pitcher (Darren O'Day) who, on the day he arrived in Texas back in April 2009, was so literally the player to be named later that they gave him a uniform with the wrong name on the back.

But however it happened, and whoever was responsible, there was one important fact of October life that every living human occupying the electrified Rangers Ballpark in Arlington understood Saturday night:

It was, uh, slightly important for the home team to win.

[+] EnlargeColby Lewis
AP Photo/Brian SnyderColby Lewis' stellar October is largely being overlooked -- except by the people in his own clubhouse.

Or else those Rangers would be trailing three games to zippo in this World Series, and all those ecstatic warblers would then be in grave danger of having to turn their attention back to the Cowboys' season.

"You know, you can ask anybody in here. We felt confident we could win," Rangers right fielder Jeff Francoeur said after his team had performed enough CPR on itself to beat the Giants 4-2. "But when you're down 2-0, you have to win. You don't go down 3-0 and win [the World Series]."

Well, it may be mathematically possible. We'll concede that. But you sure don't want to try it. No team has ever gone down 3-0 and won a World Series. But 25 teams have been down 2-1 and won a World Series.

So we'd like to thank the Texas Rangers for saving this World Series. Maybe most of the non-Texas portion of the planet thought they were in big, big trouble heading into Game 3 on Saturday. But as they trotted onto that field with the gigantic World Series logo on it Saturday, there was no reason for them to be worrying about what the rest of the planet thought.

"We're here, living the dream," pitcher C.J. Wilson said. "We don't have to pay any attention to what anybody's saying. We're here living it."

But in the dream, of course, they don't just play in the World Series. They also win the World Series. And they sure weren't going to win this World Series if they didn't get back to playing the way they had played for the past seven months, the way that got them into this dream in the first place.

So it's a good thing Colby Lewis showed up.

Before Lewis took the mound Saturday, the Rangers' team ERA in this World Series was 10.69. And that Giants team they were playing was hitting .314 with a .543 slugging percentage. And that was before they headed for Texas -- to the hitters' park.

But if you've been paying any kind of attention to Lewis' succession of big-game pitching artistry this October, you knew he was The Man this team wanted on that mound in this game.

While the people obsessed with potential Yankees free-agent zillionaires were busy fixating on Cliff Lee this month, it was actually everybody's favorite Hiroshima Carp alumnus who has been out there winning the Rangers' biggest games in the past two rounds.

Yes, it was Lewis who beat the Yankees in Game 2 of the ALCS the day after the Game 1 bullpen meltdown that put the Rangers in danger of one of those here-we-go-again postseason disasters.

And it was Lewis who dominated the Yankees with eight three-hit innings in Game 6, after the Yankees had won Game 5 to scare the lone stars out of the entire Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

Then, on Saturday, he strode out there and did it once more with, 7 2/3 spectacular innings of nonstop, Cliff Lee-esque strike-throwing. He's now 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in this postseason. He's been the winning pitcher in the only three home games the Rangers have won, not just in this postseason but in their entire postseason history. And every game he wins somehow manages to grow larger and more critical than the one that preceded it.

"What Colby's done has been amazing," Francoeur said. "He shut the Yankees down twice. Then he shut down this crew [in Game 3]. And all of it came at a time when we really needed it. We come home last series and everybody's talking about Game 7, and he goes out and [wins]. Then tonight, we're down 2-0, and we have to have this one. And he does it again.

"It's probably been the most underrated performance that no one's really talked about," Francoeur said. "What Colby did tonight was huge."

Then again, maybe one reason Lewis has perfected the art of saving his team's season is that he had to travel halfway around Planet Earth just to save his own career. It's now 2½ years since he bailed for Japan after getting released by the (gulp) Nationals and (gulp) Royals in the same year. And he's said often this month that when he departed for Hiroshima, he never envisioned himself doing this.

"I was in Japan for the last two years, not thinking I would have this opportunity," he said again Saturday.

But what began as an exercise in career-preserving desperation has turned into something much bigger -- fortunately for the Rangers.

The Colby Lewis whom his Rangers teammates remembered from his first incarnation was a radar-gun cult hero who messed up all his smokeballing potential by forgetting to pick up home plate on his radar screen. In his 2002, 2003, 2004 pass through Texas, he piled up a gruesome 127-to-109 strikeout-to-walk ratio. And his 6.83 ERA as a Ranger the first time around was the worst by any starter in team history.

But that Colby Lewis bears zero resemblance to this Colby Lewis, a guy whose dominance of the Giants on Saturday was a tribute to his ability to throw four different pitches at just about any old time he wanted and fire strikes with every one of them.

[+] EnlargeMitch Moreland
AP Photo/David J. PhillipThe Rangers desperately needed a big hit. Enter Mitch Moreland.

"When he came back from Japan, you could see it, honestly, in the first intrasquad game of spring training, that Colby was a pitcher," said Michael Young, the only guy left on the roster from Lewis' first tour of Texas duty. "He could hit his spots. He was throwing his off-speed stuff in different counts and having confidence in all his pitches. But the great thing about Colby is that even though he's more of a pitcher now, the one thing that hasn't changed is he competes. He goes after it. And those are the kind of guys you really want to play behind."

It took Lewis 20 pitches to get through the first inning Saturday and 44 pitches to make it through three innings. But after that, he was a human laser beam. Of his final 59 pitches, 48 were strikes. He faced 30 hitters and threw 26 first-pitch strikes. And, most impressive of all, he threw 61 off-speed pitches (curve, slider and changeup) -- and 43 of them were strikes.

"It was fun watching him pitch tonight," O'Day said. "That slider he throws is devastating. And towards the middle of the game, it was like they were having to guess what was coming. He'd get 0-2, paint a fastball away and strike a guy out. And then the next guy would say, 'I've got to get ready for the fastball,' and then he bounces that slider. And if you watch him pitch, he just doesn't get worked up. He doesn't leave the mound. He doesn't pace around the dirt. There's no show in him. He just knows how to pitch."

During the past 23 years, only one other starter has been able to do what Lewis did Saturday -- take the mound with his team down 2-0 in a World Series, pitch through at least the seventh inning, give up no more than two runs and (oh yeah, in other news) win. The only other pitcher to do it? That was some guy named Roger Clemens for the 2001 Yankees. So … not bad for an ex-Carp, huh?

"It's an unbelievable feeling," said Lewis, 31. "I get goose bumps thinking about it right now."

Ah, but it took more than Lewis to save this World Series. It also took some long-overdue home run trottage by a Texas lineup that had scored zero runs in Game 2 and had hit zero home runs in this series. So enter Moreland, who on this night became only the second first baseman in World Series history to hit ninth -- and the first since Dave Bergman of the '84 Tigers.

Moreland arrived at home plate with two on and two out in the second inning, fouled off four straight two-strike breaking balls and then, on the ninth pitch of this epic at-bat, pounded a Jonathan Sanchez fastball deep into the turbo-charged night. When it disappeared into the screaming masses in right field, it turned into the three-run homer that may have rewritten this entire World Series plotline.

[+] EnlargeNeftali Feliz
Elsa/Getty ImagesNeftali Feliz had been waiting to make his World Series debut. All he did was go 1-2-3 when he did.

"Mitch's hit got everything headed in the right direction," Francoeur said. "Who knows where this World Series is going? But that's an at-bat you might be able to look back on someday and say, 'That's the at-bat that changed this World Series.'"

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was only the third time in the past 10 World Series that any player had mashed a home run in an at-bat that long. The others to do it were Derek Jeter (in his fabled Mr. November walk-off bomb) in 2001 and Chase Utley last year.

It was also, ohbytheway, the first home run Moreland had hit off a left-handed pitcher all year. Good timing.

Three innings later, Josh Hamilton's first World Series homer made it 4-0. And the way Lewis was dealing, this game looked just about over. But hold on.

There was yet another Cody Ross October homer coming in the seventh. Then came an Andres Torres bomb in the eighth, pulling the Giants to within 4-2. And when Lewis drilled Aubrey Huff in the foot with an 0-2 pitch, it was time for Rangers manager Ron Washington to do something that hasn't been working out so hot for him lately -- wave for his bullpen.

He had closer Neftali Feliz up and ready. But once again, the manager didn't see the reason to wave for him. So in marched O'Day, who -- we probably should point out -- held right-handed hitters to a .181 average this year.

But his assignment in this at-bat was the great Buster Posey, who ground his way from 0-2 to 3-2 by laying off a couple of killer sliders just off the plate.

So Posey adjusted his gloves, patted his batting helmet, tapped both sides of the plate and dug his back foot into the box. Those 52,000 people gyrated their white towels and rattled eardrums from Fort Worth to Grapevine. And then …

Darren O'Day and Bengie Molina couldn't agree on the biggest pitch of the night.

So out trotted Molina -- to essentially lay down the law.

"He's been catching since I was learning state capitals," O'Day quipped. "He knows what he's doing back there. … So I had an idea what I wanted to do, but he had an idea, too. And he had a better idea."

What Molina wanted was exactly what he got -- a Frisbee on the outside corner instead of the fastball O'Day wanted to launch. Posey then rolled it over to shortstop for the final out of the inning. And that was that.

Then -- cue the trumpets -- Feliz finally did make his World Series debut. Hey, it's never too late. He then carved through the Giants 1-2-3 in the ninth, and the Texas Rangers had won themselves a World Series game, for the first time ever, deep in the heart of Guess Where.

"You know," said Young, a man who had waited his whole career for this night, "I don't really buy into the whole must-win thing. But this was big tonight. We needed it."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com