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Thursday, November 11, 2010
Dazzling Dozen: Mitch Moreland's at-bat

By Richard Durrett

We're nearly the halfway point in our 12 memorable moments.

No. 7: Mitch Moreland's at-bat in Game 3 of the World Series

I think it's a safe bet that when we discuss the Mitch Moreland at-bat, that everyone knows it's his at-bat in Game 3 of the World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in late October.

Moreland, 25, was one of the many great stories of the 2010 season. He started the season in Triple-A Oklahoma City, almost a forgotten player on the depth chart. Chris Davis was the starting first baseman and Justin Smoak was the switch-hitting first baseman in the minors that everyone was talking about. Moreland, a 17th-round pick in the 2007 draft, just kept hitting and waiting for his chance.

Davis stumbled out of the gate and the Rangers made a switch to Smoak in late April. Then, once Smoak was dealt to Seattle as the headliner in the Cliff Lee deal, Davis was given another shot. When that didn't take, Moreland got the callup in late July and took advantage.

The left-handed hitter was thought of primarily as a guy who could hit against right-handed pitchers and needed some defensive work. He caught on quickly with the glove, improving each day defensively. The Rangers dealt for Jorge Cantu at the trade deadline because they wanted a veteran presence who could hit left-handers. But when Cantu's bat didn't show up consistently, Moreland got more chances against lefties.

It took some time, but Moreland did start to have better at-bats off those left-handed hitters. And when the Rangers faced lefty David Price in a winner-take-all Game 5, Moreland was at first base and not Cantu, who started Game 1 when Price pitched. It was a clear signal that Moreland had earned the job. He made some very good defensive plays in the series and also started to swing the bat.

The first baseman really found his stride in the ALCS and World Series. Moreland hit .389 with three RBIs against the Yankees in the Rangers' 6-game win and hit .462 with a homer and three RBIs in the World Series.

It's that home run that was Moreland's most memorable moment and made our top-12 list. He stepped in to face left-handed pitcher Jonthan Sanchez in the second inning. Moreland hit just .200 against left-handed pitching in the regular season. But that was only four hits in 20 at-bats. In other words, he didn't get many chances.

But he was having better at-bats against lefties in the postseason (see CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte). Moreland stepped in against Sanchez and got ahead in the count 2-0. He hit a long foul ball to right field and took a fastball for a strike to even the count. Sanchez then went to the off-speed stuff, throwing Moreland two sliders and two changeups. Moreland fouled off all four, waiting to see if he'd get a pitch he could hit. With the count still 2-2, Sanchez tried to throw a fastball by Moreland in his ninth offering to the plate. Moreland turned on it and the ball landed in the right field seats.

The homer came with two outs and it sure seemed like Sanchez pitched around catcher Bengie Molina, walking him in five pitches to get to Moreland. Nelson Cruz had led off the inning with a double. So Moreland's blast gave the Rangers an early lead and that was all Colby Lewis needed.

Why this made my dazzling dozen:

* It's difficult to say whether one at-bat can boost a career, but that one has to give Moreland confidence headed into the offseason. The great thing about Moreland is that he's a humble kid and seems to have the personality that the taste of postseason success will only make him work harder.

* The moment and Moreland's playoffs is more proof of how well the front office, including player personnal director A.J. Preller, player development director Scott Servais and their staffs have done in developing players in the minors. Here's a 17th round draft pick having a direct impact on the playoffs despite not joining the club until late July. The Rangers got very little in terms of offensive production all season at first base, but got what they needed in the postseason.

* It was the first World Series game played in Arlington and that moment will be the one that most Rangers fans take away from the Fall Classic. It propelled Texas to its only win and gave the home fans something to cheer about. And they were sure loud after that homer.

* I want to see what the jumping point is for Moreland off that at-bat. Is he the starting first baseman in 2011? Probably. If so, how does he respond? How much does having success on the biggest stage help him for next year?

Were you at Game 3 of the World Series? Did you sense Moreland was getting ready to do something special? BTW, here was Jerry Crasnick's (ESPN.com) story on Moreland after that Game 3.