Rangers humbled by Giants’ pitching

More than 90 minutes had elapsed since Brian Wilson fired the season’s final fastball by Bengie Molina, and yet the Giants were partying as if they didn’t want to let go.

The same went for their fans — hundreds who’d flown in from San Francisco, dressed in orange and black, loitering on the Rangers Ballpark infield. The hoard was a living, breathing (and loud) reminder to the American League champs that the World Series everyone thought would be theirs, wasn’t.

Actually, it wasn’t even close. The Rangers, 3-1 losers in Game 5, came within one Colby Lewis start of being swept by the Giants, the postseason’s underclass.

How? Why? The Rangers still were trying to process how quickly their season evaporated after taking down the Yankees in the ALCS.

The Rangers had Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson, they had the postseason’s best offense, a ballpark suited for their power and, above all, they had more talent than the Giants. That should’ve been enough, or so the Rangers believed.

What they didn’t see coming, however, was the Giants’ stunning display of pitching. They never figured Tim Lincecum’s change-up and slider would be as unhittable as they were in Game 5, just as no one figured 21-year-old rookie Madison Bumgarner could throw such a mean two-seam fastball, keeping Josh Hamilton hitless, striking out Vladimir Guerrero three times and otherwise limiting the middle of Texas’ lineup to 1 for 9.

Ron Washington wasn’t overstating the post-mortem when he said, "Their pitching really stood out and that was the difference. They beat us soundly. They deserve it.”

Between Lincecum, Matt Cain and Bumgarner, the Giants managed to hold the Rangers to a .190 average, shutting out Texas’ heavy-hitting lineup twice in five games and holding it to a run and three hits in Game 5.

That was the biggest blow of all for the Rangers, seeing Lee lose for the second time in this Series. It was one thing for him to be knocked out in Game 1; unsettling as it was, Lee’s teammates reckoned he was due for that kind of blowout. That only convinced the Rangers that Lee would return in Game 5 with a masterpiece for the ages.

He’d done it before, right? He’d saved the Rangers in the division series when the season was on the line, outpitching David Price. So who’d dare to think Lee couldn’t be just as invincible as Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner who wasn’t much better than Lee in Game 1, getting knocked out in the sixth?

Only, the Rangers were stunned to see Lincecum with a higher-octane fastball than he’d had in the opener, lighting up the radar gun at 92 and 93 mph. That only made his change-up that much harder for the Rangers to pick up — and that’s saying something, considering Lincecum’s violent delivery is already an effective masking agent.

Hitters swung at the crazy blur of arms and legs, helpless against that change-up’s drop at the 55-foot mark. No one touched that or his slider, which had similar, inhuman trajectory.

In all, Lincecum threw a total of 41 sliders, getting swings and misses on 10 of them. There were nine change-ups, eight thrown for strikes, three swings and misses.

He made only one mistake, surrendering a solo homer to Nelson Cruz in the seventh. But by then the Rangers were reeling from the three-run homer Lee had surrendered to Edgar Renteria in the top half of the inning.

There was plenty of forensic evidence that suggested Texas’ season was rapidly coming to a close. Lee had started the inning by uncharacteristically allowing back-to-back singles to Cody Ross and Juan Uribe, before Aubrey Huff’s sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third.

Lee, predictably, struck out Pat Burrell and seemed to have wriggled out of trouble. With first base open, he had the option of pitching around Renteria and instead working on Aaron Rowand, who’d hit only .230 this year.

For some reason, Lee not only pitched to Renteria, but also challenged him with a 2-0 cut fastball that might as well have arrived with Roman candles. That’s how inviting it was to a veteran hitter like Renteria.

Renteria later said, “I got lucky,” and no one argued. Lee had offered him the World Series; all Renteria had to do was make contact.

“If I could go back in time and make another pitch, I would,” Lee said quietly. “Not the pitch selection, just that (the cutter) was up. (Renteria) put a good swing on it.”

The shock of Renteria’s home run was too much for the Rangers and their fans to bear. If their doubts had started to take shape following Bumgarner’s 4-0 victory on Sunday night, they were catalyzing now in a full-blown nightmare: There’d be no comeback from a three-run deficit, not on this night, not against Lincecum.

All the swagger was gone — the Rangers went down on nine pitches in the eighth inning and were dispatched into the offseason with a 1-2-3 ninth that lasted just 10 pitches. That’s when the Giants poured onto the field, crushing Wilson in a human jungle of arms and legs.

The new world champs were primal, unleashed — insane, almost.

The Rangers? They watched quietly, sullenly, wondering what happened to their karma, and how the can’t-miss pick of the World Series, somehow, did.