Wednesday October 27th, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO -- SI's Joe Lemire provides ongoing commentary and analysis throughout tonight's World Series Game 1 between the Rangers and the Giants.

For a final box score and play-by-play, click here.

The early lessons of World Series Game 1's unexpected slugfest:

• Cliff Lee is a postseason mortal. For the first time in his nine career playoff starts, his team lost. He was hit hard, too, to the tune of seven runs (six earned) in 4 2/3 innings.

• Apparently the Giants don't need four games to score 11 runs. San Francisco's 11 runs matched its total scoring from the four games of the National League Division Series.

• Tim Lincecum doesn't need to strike out hitters to be effective -- but he's better when he does. He only struck out three in 5 2/3 innings in Game 1. He had struck out so few in only nine career regular-season starts and is now 5-5 in those 10 overall starts. He allowed a .324 batting average on balls put in play, 25 points higher than the league average, meaning hitters who manage to connect off Lincecum have a better than average chance of reaching base.

• Bad defense remains rampant this postseason. With six errors tonight -- four by the Rangers, two by the Giants -- there have now been 43 errors in 28 playoff games, a rate of 1.54 per game, well above the 1.25 per-game average in the regular season and the 1.03 per-game rate of last year's postseason.

Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum have publicly spoken about their personal competition to throw more innings than the other. In Game 2, there will be increased pressure on Cain to outlast his more celebrated teammate.

After Lincecum was removed in the sixth, Giants manager Bruce Bochy needed six relievers to get the final 10 outs after Texas pounded out three runs in the top of the ninth. Even closer Brian Wilson was needed to finish a game in which the ninth inning began with a seven-run San Francisco lead. Not only was most of the bullpen used, they were ineffective against Texas' potent lineup.

The question for Rangers manager Ron Washington should be where to put David Murphy in the batting order, not where to put him in the field. After Edgar Renteria's single to rightfield was booted by Vladimir Guerrero, allowing Renteria to reach third, it should be clear that the Guerrero-as-a-starting-outfielder experiment should be over.

Adding insult to injury was Freddy Sanchez grounder down the rightfield line for a single that Guerrero again bobbled in the outfield, allowing Sanchez to reach second. It was Guerrero's second error of the inning and the Rangers' fourth of the night. Earlier in the night he was very tentative and slow reacting to flyballs and pop-ups in his direction.

So there should be no doubt that in Game 2 Murphy will be in leftfield, Nelson Cruz in rightfield and Guerrero in the underground batting cage, preparing to pinch hit.

Two factors in Texas' favor this World Series was their vaunted baserunning and San Francisco's occasionally suspect defense. Both reputations took a hit on one play. Ian Kinsler's dribbler went for an infield single, as second baseman Freddy Sanchez's throw went way wide of first base, but Aubrey Huff made a diving scoop to keep the ball from bouncing toward the dugout. Kinsler, however, lost track of the ball and turned toward second base and was tagged out by Huff before he could return safely to first.

With the aid of Aubrey Huff getting caught stealing after a single, Rangers reliever Alexi Ogando faces the minimum three batters in the seventh. In a few years you'll be able to win a lot of bar bets with the wager that Huff was the first Giant to attempt stealing a base in the 2010 World Series.

But the Giants have already exceeded all offensive expectations. Their six-run fifth-inning matched their most runs in a complete game since Sept. 25, a span of 16 games.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy may have found his new set-up man. There's a reason closer Brian Wilson has attempted so many saves of four or more outs and why starter Tim Lincecum started the eighth inning of NLCS Game 6 with a one-run lead -- it's because, as good as Wilson and the Giants lefthanders are, Bochy seems to lack faith in Sergio Romo and Ramon Ramirez, each of whom have given up at least three runs in three postseason innings.

But it was Santiago Casilla who was summoned in relief of Lincecum with two runners on in the sixth. He struck out Elvis Andrus to end that threat and then the heart of the Rangers' order without allowing a run; the only baserunner reached on a fielding error. Look for Casilla to get more high-leverage seventh- and eighth-inning chances this series.

Giants leftfielder Pat Burrell finishes the inning -- and his night -- with a strikeout, his third of the game. He did at least walk and score a run in the Giants' six-run fifth innings, but manager Bruce Bochy has strictly adhered to his plan to get Burrell out of the field as soon after the game's midpoint as he can. Burrell has power potential but little range while Nate Schierholtz has great range and a good throwing arm but little bat, so Bochy effectively platoons the two almost the way a basketball coach makes substitutions for offense and defense in the game's final minutes.

The Rangers quite literally chased Tim Lincecum from this game. Mitch Moreland's single was the second Texas hit to smack the Giants starter on the leg and when it was followed by a pinch-hit RBI single from David Murphy -- the fourth straight Ranger to reach base -- Lincecum was out of the game with an 8-4 lead.

It wasn't quite the pitching matchup of former Cy Young winners everyone dreamed of. Lincecum struck out only three batters in 5 2/3 innings -- he had so few strikeouts in only nine career regular-season starts. Cliff Lee, meanwhile, failed to complete the fifth inning, which he had only done four times in the past three seasons.

Rarely is a loss of nerves and confidence so visible, so apparent as it was to the Rangers in the bottom of the fifth. It started, as it continues to do so in his game, with Freddy Sanchez.

Sanchez has never had a WS at bat in which he hasn't doubled. In his first Fall Classic appearance, the Giants' second baseman has been a two-bag machine, doubling in each of his three trips to the plate. He added a second RBI when he knocked him Andres Torres, who also doubled.

In the NLDS and NLCS Giants other than Buster Posey and Cody Ross had 55 hits, of which only nine (or 16.4 percent) were for extra bases. Tonight Posey and Ross each have RBI singles -- Ross' came in the fifth -- while teammates have seven hits, five of them doubles. The one single belongs to Aubrey Huff, who drove in San Francisco's fifth run and drove Cliff Lee from the game before he completed the fifth inning. He exited after 4 2/3 innings having allowed seven runs, six of them earned.

And the other non-double? That was Juan Uribe's three-run homer on the first batter reliever Darren O'Day faced. That was the crushing blow to the dispirited Rangers. O'Day then hit the next batter he faced, and shortstop Elvis Andrus booted a slow-moving routine grounder off Tim Lincecum's bat. There was no more damage but the stadium was rocking with an 8-2 lead.

Juan Uribe made a nice play on a groundball, showing range to the hole to his left and throwing out Michael Young at first. In doing so, however, he robbed shortstop Edgar Renteria of a chance to have an assist or putout on five straight Rangers outs. Of course, the two are only marginally familiar with each other -- Giants manager Bruce Bochy started five combinations of shortstops and third basemen in the six games of the NLCS.

Fun trivia: Who is the only Rangers lefty without a hit? Yep, Josh Hamiton, who's now 0-for-3. The other two lefties, first baseman Mitch Moreland and pitcher Cliff Lee, have each doubled.

Working a deep count usually requires patience at the plate, but Juan Uribe did it by not being able to hit the ball straight. There are typically few kind things to say about Uribe's approach at the plate -- he swung at 54.6 percent of all pitches he saw this year, second in the NL only to teammate Pablo Sandoval -- but he fouled off seven pitches in his fourth-inning at bat, leading to a 10-pitch at bat.

Sure, Uribe struck out, but he taxed Cliff Lee despite a 1-2-3 inning. Lee is now up to 75 pitches through four innings.

There was no sympathy for Cliff Lee this time. In the second inning against Lee, Tim Lincecum threw fastball (foul bunt), fastball (ball) and then an 84-mph slider -- which sped up Lee's bat -- resulting in a double.

This time, with Mitch Moreland on second after a double, Lincecum pounded the zone with three straight fastballs of 92, 91 and 92 mph. Lee swung and missed at the first two, then grounded out weakly to shortstop Edgar Renteria on the third.

Through three and a half, Lee has thrown 60 pitches while getting three fewer outs than Lincecum, who has thrown 59 pitches.

Cliff Lee last allowed multiple runs in an inning on Sept. 23, some 34 days and 42 innings ago. But he worked with two men on for most of the inning after Edgar Renteria reached on an error and Andres Torres was hit by a pitch.

Freddy Sanchez is auditioning for this week's Cody Ross -- i.e. the Giants' new unexpected playoff masher -- by doubling for a second time to score one run, which Buster Posey followed with a run-scoring single.

Both times, however, a runner was held at third because Texas leftfielder Nelson Cruz retrieved the ball quickly. Had Vladimir Guerrero had been playing AT&T Park's smaller leftfield rather than rightfield -- as most pundits had anticipated -- the Giants would be winning 3-2, as a second run would have scored on either Sanchez's double or Posey's single because it would have taken too long for Guerrero to amble on over.

If the slider does not succeed, try the curve. Tim Lincecum started both Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz with curveballs in the second time through the Rangers' lineup. Tiny Tim needed just eight pitches to retire Texas' 3-4-5 hitters in order and keep them off the scoreboard for the first time.

If you had asked any Giants before the game if they would have wanted a game-used Cody Ross bat as a souvenir, they'd have gladly said yes -- but they wouldn't have wanted it the way one fan did, as the bat slipped out of Ross' hands and twirled several rows into the stands. Ross flew out on the next pitch.

One plus for San Francisco: Hitters other than Ross and Buster Posey entered tonight's game with just eight extra-base hits, but Freddy Sanchez and Aubrey Huff have each doubled in the first two innings off Cliff Lee.

Cliff Lee is not a deceptive pitcher -- he pounds the strike zone and throws fastballs with 75 percent of his pitches -- but that doesn't apply to his work in the batter's box. He showed bunt, only to pull the bat back and double, leading to an Andrus sacrifice fly.

This is not the same Lincecum the Giants have seen in three previous playoff starts. He's throwing strikes (a two-to-one strike-to-ball ratio) but his stuff is not breaking sharply. Cue the postgame skeptics now about whether his NLCS Game 6 relief appearance is working against him. It was his normal between-start day to throw but he hadn't worked out of a bullpen since April 2008. He did throw entirely out of the stretch in Saturday's outing, a skill he's getting to practice tonight with six runners having reached base in the first two innings.

The Rangers' experiment with Vladimir Guerrero in AT&T Park's vast rightfield almost backfired in the first. Guerrero, who only played 18 games there this year, was way too deep, forcing second baseman Ian Kinsler to chase down a pop-up halfway down the first-base line near the visiting bullpen.

As it turned out, Kinsler made a great over-the-shoulder catch and spun to double off Freddy Sanchez off second base for an inning-ending double play. But Guerrero showed his early temerity in right. Look for a defensive replacement such as David Murphy by the sixth or seventh innings.

Tim Lincecum's early reliance on his slider -- a pitch he's had success with but only added about a month ago -- got him in early trouble. Then, so too did his absentmindness.

Elivs Andrus and Vladimir Guerrero each singled on the slider, and Lincecum fell behind in the count to Michael Young, whom he walked, with a slider. Later in the inning, Nelson Cruz grounded back to Lincecum, who chased Young back to third base but never threw the ball to the base, apparently thinking the trail runner would also be there for an easy tag-out of one or the other. Instead, Young retreated safely.

As much talk as there's been about the Rangers' running game, Andrus, whose single led off the game, oddly didn't run until the full-count pitch that walked Young, even though Lincecum had allowed 27-of-30 baserunners to steal successfully this season. Lincecum, however, escaped with allowing only one run after Ian Kinsler grounded into an inning-ending double play.

4:53 p.m. The loudest cheers during pregame introductions went to Giants Brian Wilson, Buster Posey, Cody Ross, Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe, Tim Lincecum and, yes, Rangers catcher Bengie Molina, whom San Francisco traded to Texas in July. (For having played for both teams this season, Molina will receive a World Series ring no matter who wins.)

And because this is a knowledgeable fan base, lefty specialist Javier Lopez -- who shutdown Phillies Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the late innings of the NLCS -- received his notable ovation. His mission in the World Series will be to neutralize Texas' ALCS MVP, Josh Hamilton, the lefty slugger who won his league's batting title this season.

After a rousing national anthem from Grammy winner John Legend, we are a few minutes from first pitch.

4:28 p.m. From kayaks to yachts, McCovey's Cove if full, and the seating in the rest of AT&T Park is well on its way on a pleasant late afternoon in the Bay Area.

Giants Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Monte Irvin, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Gaylord Perry will soon be congregating on the mound for a ceremonial first pitch, but the stars who will follow them to the hill that are the story of tonight's World Series Game 1.

Cy Young winners Cliff Lee of the Rangers and Tim Lincecum of the Giants are set to duel. Lee's team has won all eight of his career postseason starts; Lincecum is 1-1 in three starts in his first playoffs, but included in that was a complete-game, two-hit 14-strikeout shutout in this ballpark during a NLDS Game 1 win over the Braves.

Asked on Tuesday what makes the Giants' lineup dangerous, Lee responded, "I think they're dangerous because they've got really good pitching." Translation: their offense is not dangerous.

Then again, Lee's truth serum wasn't limited to subtle digs at his opponent. When offered a softball question about why Ron Washington is a good manager, "When you've got a team like this, you'd have a hard time screwing that up, to be honest with you, at least offensively," Lee said. "... I feel like I could fill that lineup every day and throw it out there." Well then.

Now Washington will match wits with Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, whose lineup hunches and double-switch expertise have helped his club advance this far despite a meager offense.

So begins the first World Series fully west of the Mississippi since the Giants' last appearance in the Fall Classic, in this park in 2002.

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