Say the unthinkable World Series injects its magic (or, if you’re the Rangers, its toxins) straight into the weekend in Arlington. Say the Giants roll over Colby Lewis in Game 3 the same way they took down Cliff Lee and Texas’ bullpen in Games 1 and 2.
Staring at the fangs of an embarrassing sweep, would Lee come back on three days’ rest for Game 4? Would he make the stretch for a team that has only a longshot chance of signing him this winter? Would Lee do for the Rangers what he’d never done for the Indians or Mariners in past regular seasons, or the Phillies in last year’s World Series?
Seems hard to fathom, considering Lee is only weeks away from free agency. It’s obviously his arm and his choice how to use (or abuse) it, but if Lee hasn’t gone on short rest for the first nine years of his career, the Rangers shouldn’t expect an awakening now.
The issue was raised following the Rangers’ 9-0 flogging in Game 2, when Ron Washington was asked directly if Lee would be enlisted for Game 4. The manager side-stepped the question by saying, “that’s something we’ll decide in-house.”
Until now, Lee and the Rangers have avoided putting each other on the spot, using semantics as cover.
The lefthander said he didn’t go on short rest against the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS because no one officially petitioned him.
The Rangers, of course, didn’t ask because they knew of Lee’s reluctance and didn’t want to publicly embarrass him.
But sides kept their distance and profited, anyway: Lee pitched on regular rest against Tampa Bay, stopping them cold in the deciding Game 5.
In the subsequent ALCS with the Yankees, Lee was reportedly ready to cut corners and pitch Game 6 had the Rangers been facing elimination. That promise, however, was never put to the test, as Texas beat the Bombers 2-of-3 in New York and, with a 3-2 Series lead for Game 6, rode Lewis’ masterpiece all the way to the World Series.
Thus, just two losses away from a crushing end to their season, the Rangers still don’t have a fail-safe strategy — whether to ask Lee if he’ll take the ball in Game 4, or wait for him to volunteer.
Washington, wisely, wouldn’t deal with that hypothetical emergency, because it presumes Lewis will lose Game 3. And that, the manager said, is something he’s not ready to consider.
“Lewis has been outstanding for us and we’re certainly confident when we get back to Texas we can turn this thing around,” Washington said. “Just as (the Giants) won two games here in San Francisco we can get back to Texas and do the same thing. We expect to do that. The clubhouse is still upbeat. We’re still confident that we can get it done.”
Washington did his best to sound persuasive, but the Rangers had that sort of dazed, far-away look that teams acquire in October when they’ve come upon a series of revelations.
First, talent is no match for momentum in a short series.
Second, while fate is supposed to be random and unpredictable, a steady diet of bad breaks can convince a team it’s just not their year.
Take Lee, for instance, who’d never lost a postseason game before Wednesday night. Omen No. 1 was his inability to throw strikes with his secondary pitches — and that once the Giants figured out they didn’t have to worry about his curveball and change-up, they could sit back and destroy his fastball and cutter.
And Omen No. 2 was Ian Kinsler’s almost-home run in Game 2, grazing the top of the centerfield wall by inches — maybe less — robbing the Rangers of what should’ve been a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning.
Given how well C.J. Wilson was throwing, a 1-0 lead “might’ve been enough (for the Rangers),” said Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy. He wasn’t ashamed to admit, “we caught a break” that will be remembered as the Series’ turning point.
A half-inning later Wilson missed (by an inch) with an up-and-in fastball to Edgar Renteria, who promptly drove a home run over the left field wall. This time no one had to sweat the inches — it landed 10 rows into the seats.
Two innings after that Wilson popped a blister, the Giants pinched reliever Darren Oliver for another run and by the time the Texas’ bullpen was finished being humiliated in the eighth inning, a 9-0 blowout had everyone in AT&T Park thinking crazy thoughts of a sweep.
Mind you, this is no ordinary ballpark or baseball family. They have Tony Bennett performing live on the field between innings. They’ve got Journey blasting out of the PA system, and with, “Lights” filling the night, there’s former-lead singer Steve Perry on the Jumbotron, mingling with the crowd, lip-synching the very song he recorded in 1978.
It’s all part of an unbelievable roll through October, the World Series no one saw coming.
Of course, it’s possible Lewis can halt the Giants’ growing tide. He did, after all, become one of only seven pitchers to beat the Yankees twice in the same postseason series. But the Rangers would still be smart to prepare a doomsday response for Game 4.
Would Lee save a team gasping for its last breath? We’ll see if the strike-throwing machine has a heart.