Lewis calmly handles Rays in Game 3
If you watched him Monday evening, you came away with the impression that Colby Lewis is quite possibly the most composed pitcher in baseball.
Over four frenetic hours that the steely Nolan Ryan called “as stressful a game as I’ve sat through,” Lewis had the steadiest pulse at sometimes-raucous Tropicana Field.
Lewis didn’t permit any of the first nine Tampa Bay hitters to reach base. Then Desmond Jennings turned on his first pitch of the fourth inning to put the Texas Rangers in a 1-0 hole. Lewis effectively shrugged. He stayed on the mound for two more innings — and didn’t give up another hit. The Rangers prevailed, 4-3, to move within one victory of advancing to the American League Championship Series for a second straight year.
None of that surprised Zack Lewis, who flew from his home in Bakersfield, Calif., to see his younger brother dominate in October — which is becoming an annual event. Over five postseason starts dating back to last year, Lewis is 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in 32 1/3 innings.
While Lewis lacks an overpowering fastball, he has the ability to put pitches where hitters can’t square them up. More importantly, he remains poised amid the tumult. During his postgame news conference, Lewis referred to reliever Mike Adams’ harrowing eighth inning — which nearly cost Texas the game — as “a little hiccup.” Rest assured, Rangers fans were not using such serene language when Adams was mid-meltdown.
Asked if there’s anything that riles his brother, Zack thought for a moment and replied that, yes, there are a few things.
They are, in no particular order:
… Go-kart races … against Zack.
… Pickup basketball … against Zack.
… The Major League Baseball 2K11 video game … against Zack.
Zack, 36, has a uniquely diabolical way to torment Colby, 32: When they play MLB 2K11, Zack likes to choose Texas Rangers as his team. Naturally, Zack Lewis will pick Colby Lewis as his starting pitcher. So if Colby happens to hit a home run … he is actually taking himself deep.
“You’re pretty good at doing that,” Zack will tell him.
Ooh, burn: Lewis led the American League with 35 homers allowed this season.
Aren’t big brothers great?
“Other than that,” Zack said, smiling, “he’s smooth as a tabletop.”
Very quietly, Lewis has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last two Octobers. Cliff Lee received all the media attention last year as he pitched the Rangers past the Rays and New York Yankees in the AL playoffs. But his teammate Lewis won just as many games last postseason (three) and actually had the better ERA.
The Rangers won one game in their otherwise underwhelming World Series showing. Lewis earned the victory.
Lee was a huge story throughout October, because of his free agency and expected bidding war between the Rangers and Yankees. As a result, maybe Lewis’ steady brilliance was overlooked.
“Sure was,” asserted Michael Young. “Cliff obviously pitched some big games for us last year — almost singlehandedly got us out of the first round. All the while, Colby pitched (the clinching) game in the ALCS and pitched well in Game 3 (against Tampa Bay last year).
“Cliff is as good as I’ve seen, with pushing things aside and moving on. That’s what the postseason’s all about. You want to do good things. But if something doesn’t go your way, you have to turn the page quickly. Colby is (the same). You saw it on the mound. He doesn’t let too many things bother him.”
Among the things that do not bother Lewis: his performance during the regular season. He didn’t have a bad year, but he didn’t have a great year, either. Although he went 14-10 and threw 200 innings, his ERA was 4.40 — up from 3.72 the year before. And there was the tendency to give up the long ball, as his big bro pointed out.
But when Young talks about how much confidence the team has in Lewis, he means it sincerely. When Texas reliever Darren Oliver says, “Colby is Colby — he doesn’t change from day to day,” it’s a high compliment from an 18-year veteran. When pitching coach Mike Maddux refers to Lewis as “the rock and foundation to our staff,” it’s a testament to his reliability.
Maybe the reason for Lewis’ tranquility — and sudden big-moment stardom — can be found in the story of his career, from early-round pick in 1999, to rotator cuff surgery in 2004, to two seasons with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of the Japanese Central League in 2008 and 2009. It was there that he developed a feel for the slider that forced Rays star Evan Longoria into so many awkward swings in Game 3. “People talk about pressure,” Maddux said. “Pressure for Colby was taking his family to Japan. This right here is not that kind of pressure. This is fun.”
Lewis’ presence in the Texas rotation also represents a triumph for the team’s front office. Texas was Lewis’ first organization, and he returned after multiple Rangers officials traveled to see him pitch in Japan during the 2009 season. Pro scouting director Josh Boyd made three trips, senior player personnel director A.J. Preller made two. Last January, Lewis signed a two-year, $5 million deal with a club option for 2012. In retrospect, it was an incredible bargain for the Rangers.
“We saw him over there, saw tons of video,” Boyd said Monday. “Texas was one of the spots he wanted to come back to. I’m not even 100 percent sure if we even had the highest bid. But the fit, being aggressive, being the team he started his career with — I believe those were important factors for him.
“We knew this guy was a workhorse. He pounded the zone. He overhauled his delivery (in Japan). He made enormous adjustments to become a pitcher. You saw that tonight. He’s not 90, 95 (miles per hour) anymore. He’s throwing 88, 89. He’s pitching.”
And he’s doing it in October. Again. So if Zack wants to hit another home run off his virtual brother, it would be advisable to try in a different month.