|ESPN.com: MLB Playoffs 2010||[Print without images]|
ARLINGTON, Texas -- More than a week ago, Josh Hamilton stood atop the dais at Rangers Ballpark as the most valuable player of the American League Championship Series. Having just beaten the New York Yankees in front of a national TV audience, Hamilton's journey from the depths of drug addiction to a World Series berth was showcased.
But now, Hamilton and the Texas Rangers are far from that feted night. Their stories of redemption and adversity have been overshadowed by a different sort of toughness courtesy of the San Francisco Giants, who have put the Rangers in an 0-2 hole in the World Series.
The Rangers, who entered the World Series as the favorites, have suffered from myriad breakdowns in their game. And they're looking for answers heading into Saturday's Game 3.
"We got outplayed, as simple as that," veteran third baseman Michael Young said.
For one, the majors' top hitting team (.276) is hitting just .227 through the first two games. While players attributed most of the Giants' success to their pitching, some Rangers did acknowledge that there was something off in San Francisco.
"They have the momentum now, but even before the first game was won, it seemed like they had the momentum," Hamilton said after Game 2. "I think maybe it seems we're having fun, but we're not having fun. We're tightening up a little bit."
Hamilton took a towel and wiped his forehead, perplexed and unable to express how this team could be askew. As Hamilton acknowledged, there isn't much time to figure it out. The Rangers are now faced with having to win four of their next five games, a task made difficult under any circumstances, but especially against the Giants' pitching staff. Thus far, San Francisco pitchers have a 3.50 ERA compared to Texas pitchers' 10.69 ERA.
"Going down 3-0 is not an option," Jeff Francoeur said. "That's too much. So obviously for us this is a must-win game."
|Game 3 starter Colby Lewis was clutch for the Rangers in the ALCS.|
Now, Colby Lewis faces the task of keeping Texas in the series. The 31-year-old journeyman pitcher's story has been well-documented: Originally a 1999 first-round sandwich pick by the Rangers, Lewis was released by three MLB teams. With his career on the precipice, he pitched in Japan for two years before re-signing with the Rangers this winter.
His teammates believe he will be as calm and focused as he was against the Yankees in the clinching Game 6 of the ALCS, when he held them to one run in eight innings. Lewis was nonplussed when asked about the enormous pressure of pitching a must-win Game 3.
"You can't look at it like any added pressure on you. What for?" he said in the clubhouse after Game 2. "There's really no added pressure, you just have to go out and perform. That's it."
Cliff Lee's poor outing in Game 1 contributed to the Rangers' being two games down in the series, but Lee couldn't have been expected to spin gems every postseason start. There have been other issues during the first two games. Here are a few that need to be corrected in Game 3, and certainly beyond, if the Rangers expect to make the Series competitive.
• Elvis Andrus and his speed: A few weeks before the end of the regular season, manager Ron Washington sat in the Toronto Blue Jays' visiting dugout and spoke about Andrus, who at 22 is the youngest Rangers player in postseason history (closer Neftali Feliz is three months older). When asked which of his players without postseason experience could best handle the intensity and pressure, Washington mentioned Andrus' name first, without hesitation.
"Whoever taught him baseball, and I mean whoever taught him in his home country, they did a good job," Washington said at the time. "He picks up little things so quick, and he knows the game so well for someone so young."
Washington was correct. Andrus, the leadoff hitter, has shown no fear this postseason, hitting safely in his first 12 games, until going hitless in Game 2 (Nelson Cruz also had the same streak snapped Thursday). Andrus created havoc on the bases against both the Tampa Bay Rays and the Yankees, including stealing home and disrupting pitchers. His 18 hits are the most on the team this postseason, as are his eight stolen bases.
"It's huge. You can see the only game we didn't score was [Thursday], and he didn't get a hit," Cruz said. "He's the leadoff [hitter]; he gives you the energy that we all need. When he's off, our whole team is off. It shouldn't be that way. As a team we've got to pull all the pieces together."
One of the Rangers' strengths in the first two rounds was producing runs a bit unconventionally by using speed and taking advantage of mistakes (plus a little luck). Cruz stole third (even though he should have been there anyway, were it not for a side session of showboating) in Game 5 against the Rays, then scored the go-ahead run when the throw to third sailed over Evan Longoria's head. Andrus stole home against the Yankees as part of a double steal in Game 2, an eventual 7-2 win. Without the speed, or the risk taking (or the luck), and especially without Andrus getting on base, the Rangers' offense is less dynamic.
|Neftali Feliz is still waiting to make his first World Series appearance.|
• Feliz and the bullpen: The Rangers relievers' 3.38 ERA during the regular season was the second lowest in the American League, and their 22-year-old closer, Feliz, set a rookie record with 40 saves. But other than Game 3 in the ALDS against the Rays, Feliz has not been brought into a close game in the postseason. Down two runs in the eighth inning in Game 2 on Thursday, Washington bypassed Feliz and elected to use, among others, Darren Oliver, Mark Lowe and Derek Holland. Washington said he was looking at matchups and didn't want to use Feliz in a role he hasn't been in before.
Feliz said he prefers to work often because it's more difficult for him when he doesn't, and said he was hoping to get into Thursday's game. He hasn't pitched in a game since Game 6 of the ALCS, which was eight days ago.
"They know during the season when I have too many days off I'm not in shape," said Feliz, who last threw a bullpen session on Monday. "I was thinking I would [pitch on Thursday] because of the situation in the game, and because of the many days I had off."
While these are small sample sizes, here are the ERAs of a few Rangers relievers through the first two games: Darren O'Day (18.00); Michael Kirkman (13.50); Lowe (67.50). Holland, who walked three straight batters in Game 2 and threw only one strike out of 13 pitches, has an ERA of infinity because he's been charged with three runs without recording an out.
"We're going to have to pitch good out of the bullpen in order for us to get deeper into this series," catcher Matt Treanor said, "and have a chance to win."
• Hamilton and the offense: When Hamilton crashed into the outfield wall in Minnesota on Sept. 4 and injured his ribs, it was unknown if he would recuperate and regain his swing in time for the playoffs. Hamilton alleviated those fears by hitting .400 with four homers as the ALCS MVP, instilling so much fear in Yankees manager Joe Girardi that he was intentionally walked five times. But in the first two games of this series, Hamilton has only one single in eight at-bats and zero RBIs. After Game 2, Hamilton grasped for reasons why he and the team have struggled.
"Obviously you say if it's early in the season we've got to work on it," Hamilton said, "but we've got to get it done; there's not much [season] left."
Clearly, the onus is not entirely on Hamilton, especially when he, Young, Cruz and Ian Kinsler are a combined 5-for-33 with two RBIs.
The lack of a designated hitter was also a major disadvantage for the Rangers. Washington elected to play Vladimir Guerrero in right field in Game 1, and while Guerrero never lost the game on one play, his fielding was less than stellar. Washington lost Guerrero's bat in Game 2 by putting Cruz in right and David Murphy in left. Guerrero might be aging, but this season his 115 RBIs were the most on the team and fourth most in the league. He also drove in the game-winning run in the pennant-clinching game.
Washington, though, insists that Game 2 was simply a case of the Rangers running into a fantastic Matt Cain.
"We've played games all year where Vlad wasn't in [the lineup]," Washington said. "Throughout the year every guy on this team has stepped up in every situation that we've been presented with. We didn't get it done, and more than anything else, it was Matt Cain."
Since Washington and his players have said Game 3 is one they must win, they have one more chance to show that this series isn't over.Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Amy.K.Nelson@espn.com.