SAN FRANCISCO -- Back to you, C.J.
Texas Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson should be used to this kind of thing by now. The spotlight shined on him as the man at the top of the rotation in the ALCS against the mighty Yankees. He pitched superbly in Game 1 but left with an undeserved no-decision after an eighth-inning meltdown.
In his past start, Wilson got roughed up in Game 5 at Yankee Stadium, but that road mistake is ancient history. It has to be. The first-year starter must gear up for a critical Game 2 of the World Series on National League turf Thursday against a suddenly ravenous San Francisco Giants lineup that lit up his fellow lefty, the formerly impenetrable Cliff Lee.
The Giants’ predominantly right-handed lineup cranked out 14 hits, including six doubles and a home run in the 11-7 victory for a 1-0 series lead. Lee allowed eight hits -- five doubles -- in just 4 2/3 innings. The bludgeoning was stunning, and it puts Wilson in the role of equalizer, else the Rangers will take the series back to Texas in an 0-2 hole.
“Obviously tonight things didn’t go well for Cliff. But that was tonight, and tomorrow is tomorrow,” Wilson said Wednesday. “I can’t 'unlose' tonight’s game. I can only win tomorrow’s game. That’s the only goal.”
Wilson (1-1, 3.93 ERA) has quelled turbulence before. In fact, it became something of his calling card during the season. Twenty of Wilson’s 33 starts followed a loss, and he went 11-5 with a 3.27 ERA in those games.
However, none was on this World Series stage. Wilson will be called upon to earn his first win since Game 2 of the ALDS after the Giants squashed Lee and the error-prone Rangers in a game that veered wildly from the predicted pitchers’ duel between Lee and the long-haired Tim Lincecum.
That duel could come Thursday when Wilson faces Giants right-hander Matt Cain, who is 1-0 in the postseason and has yet to surrender an earned run in 13 2/3 innings.
“He’ll come out and he’ll attack them the way we plan to attack them, and hopefully he gets pitches where he wants to,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said of Wilson. “Maybe tomorrow can be a different day.”
Wilson, a native of Southern California, was his own worst enemy in New York. He left his pitches up, which drove up his pitch count and led to an early shower. With a full week to flush it from his memory, Wilson knows he’ll need to keep his pitches down to go deeper in the game on what is forecast to be a chilly and damp night at buzzing AT&T Park.
Thursday will be the first time Wilson will follow a defeat in the postseason -- and a resounding one at that. Predictably, before Game 1, Wilson shrugged off any notion of pressure about pitching in his and the franchise’s first World Series.
“This is the easy part. All the pressure is gone now. We won the league championship. It's over. We beat the Yankees,” Wilson said. “Now it's just about playing good baseball, and that's what everybody is really focused on.”
Except all of that good, smart brand of baseball the Rangers executed in the first two rounds disappeared on the shores of McCovey Cove on a rare windless San Francisco night. The Rangers failed to take advantage of Lincecum's struggles when they had him on the ropes in the early innings.
The left side of the infield botched grounders. Vladimir Guerrero looked lost in right field and committed two errors that might force Washington to take him and his bat out of the lineup for Game 2. The bullpen got roughed up, and Ian Kinsler wiped out his leadoff single in the seventh with a baserunning blunder. And, of course, most stunning was Lee’s treatment by a Giants lineup that was hitting .231 coming into the game.
Still, as the Rangers’ clubhouse quietly emptied Wednesday night, Wilson again predictably sounded no alarms that a pressurized Game 2 was weighing on his mind.
“I’m just really kind of in a rush to go to dinner and do my thing, but it’s just normal. Everything feels normal. It doesn’t feel like it’s that big of a deal,” Wilson said. “This was one game. We lost the first game to the Yankees last series, and it turned out OK there, so I don’t think anybody in here is concerned.”
The big difference is Lee has lost for the first time. So now it is Wilson’s show.