Saturday, October 30, 2010
Rangers give Giants the ol' Texas 1-2
By Jim Reeves ESPNDallas.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The last images to splash across The Ballpark's video board above the Home Run Porch before the Texas Rangers took the field Saturday night for the first World Series game ever played in North Texas may rank as the most memorable moment in Texas sports history.
Also, probably not coincidentally, the most inspirational.
Perhaps taking a cue from owner Nolan Ryan, Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland delivered an early blow that wobbled the Giants.
On the video board it is once again Aug. 4, 1993, and 46-year-old Nolan Ryan -- who moments earlier in real time had ambled to the mound in dress pants and crisp white shirt to wing the ceremonial first pitch to former Texas All-Star Ivan Rodriguez -- nails 26-year-old Chicago White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura in the right elbow with a pitch.
Ventura grimaces, takes a couple of steps toward first, then angles toward the mound, flinging his batting helmet to the ground. His mistake is in hesitating once he actually arrives there, as if perhaps reconsidering the wisdom of such rash actions, not realizing he is about to become a part of baseball lore.
Ryan, on the other hand, doesn't hesitate at all. He grabs the younger player around the neck, like he might wrangle an angry steer down on the ranch, and delivers a series of five swift and powerful right uppercuts to Ventura's head before both players are buried by a mass of teammates pouring out of the two dugouts.
More than 52,000 fans gathering for something they weren't sure they would ever see -- the Rangers actually in a World Series -- roared with delight, as they always do. They can't see this enough and players in both dugouts stared raptly, mesmerized by the sight of Ryan, the Hall of Famer, pounding the snot out of a man 20 years his junior.
It's perfect timing, a not-so-subtle reminder that the Rangers, down 2-0 in their first Fall Classic as the game began, are embroiled in the fight of their lives.
"Every time the video comes on," Rangers rookie first baseman Mitch Moreland told a national baseball writer during the ALCS, "I like to look over at the visiting team's dugout and say, 'Yeah, that's our owner.'"
How fitting, then, that Moreland would deliver the biggest blow in a 4-2 Game 3 victory that may not have evened the Series but certainly put the Rangers right back in the middle of it.
It just feels like a different Series now, doesn't it?
The two people who had the most to do with that were Moreland and Colby Lewis, who gave the Rangers yet another clutch performance when they had to have it.
Let's not kid ourselves, folks, the Rangers were in dire straights. This was a game they simply could not afford to lose. No team has ever come back to win a World Series after dropping the first three games. Not even Team Resiliency could expect to climb out of that pit.
The Rangers had to win and they had to somehow reverse the momentum the Giants had built up by outscoring the Rangers 20-7 in the first two games in San Francisco.
They took a giant step in that direction Saturday night.
They're still not out of the woods, of course, not by a longshot. The numbers tell us that almost 80 percent of teams -- and 13 of the last 14 -- that lose the first two games of the Series never recover.
But at least the Rangers are heading in the right direction again with games here Sunday and Monday. They still must win at least one more of those to assure a return trip to that black and orange hell hole by the Bay.
Do not underestimate how important it was for the Rangers to be back home, playing in their park and under American League rules. No pitchers hitting here, which meant Moreland was back in his usual ninth spot in the batting order.
"It's a different league ... and their guy got a big hit," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said glumly. "That's what you deal with with a DH."
The Rangers had not been able to come up with a big, break-the-game open hit in either of the first two games in San Francisco. When Moreland followed a leadoff double by Nelson Cruz and a two-out walk to Bengie Molina in the bottom of the second with a nine-pitch at-bat that ended with his 384-foot line drive into lower porch, you could almost hear the sigh of relief from the Texas dugout.
It was just what the Rangers and Lewis needed; a little breathing room and their first three-run lead of the Series.
"He's in the lineup for a reason," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "I'm a big believer in momentum. It gave us the lead early and Colby was throwing great."
Nothing new there. Lewis is 3-0 in four postseason starts with a 1.71 ERA. He, not Cliff Lee, has been the Rangers' stopper and most consistent starter since the end of the regular season.
Makes you wonder if we all shouldn't spend a couple of years eating sushi.
"Our 'big blow' tonight was Colby," Kinsler declared. "He gave us 7 2/3 great innings and that allowed us to virtually bypass the bullpen, except for [Darren] O'Day and [Neftali] Feliz there at the end."
When manager Ron Washington pulled his starter after the Giants sliced the Rangers' lead to two runs on Andres Torres' solo homer in the eighth, Lewis walked off with the sound of fans chanting "Colby! Colby!" ringing in his ears.
"I get goose bumps thinking about it now," he said after the game.
He also got support from Josh Hamilton, who mashed a shot into the Home Run Porch's upper deck in the fifth, but it was Moreland's second-inning drive that allowed the Rangers to relax a little.
"That was a huge home run for us tonight, put us on the board, gave us a little breathing room," Washington said, "and Colby Lewis took it from there."
As he always does before each game, Moreland had watched the pregame Ryan video with one eye on the video board and the other on the opposing dugout.
"I get a kick out of watching the other team staring up there," Moreland said.
"The biggest thing for me is watching Ventura charge the mound and then Nolan giving him that whipping.
"He's a baseball legend. You see that and you think, 'He's our owner. He's our president. It's nice to have him on our side.'"
Nice that something that happened 17 years ago can still provide a spark, a lift, for a team that needed anything, any life preserver, it could find Saturday night.
Now that they've taken the first step, who knows, maybe these Rangers are on their way to creating an even more memorable moment in franchise history.
At least now they have a fighting chance.
Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.