The other night in San Francisco, Nolan Ryan was flipping through channels when he came across the Tonight Show.
"I was watching Jay Leno, and he's talking about the World Series and talking about the Texas Rangers," the Rangers team president recalled on Thursday afternoon. "And I'm thinking, Gosh, that sounds strange. I think that [the World Series appearance] puts us on the map with a lot of people within the country."
It has been a magical October for the Rangers, but their moment on the big stage will come to an abrupt end if they don't quickly rediscover their mojo Saturday night. Down 2-0 in the World Series, the Rangers know that tonight's Game 3 in Arlington "is a must win," as Rangers manager Ron Washington says. No team has ever lost the first three games of the World Series and has come back to win. (Only six over the last 40 years have come back from a 0-2 hole.)
With the series relocating to the retro, red-brick bandbox where Texas was 51-30 during the regular season (the AL's third-best home record), the Rangers will play better mainly because they can't play any worse than they did at AT&T Park, where they suddenly couldn't hit, couldn't pitch, couldn't run the bases and couldn't play defense. Expect the Texas offense to come alive against Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez. Expect the hitters to be patient, work up Sanchez's pitch count, and get to the San Francisco bullpen early. Expect Colby Lewis, who by using his curveball more has allowed three runs and struck out 18 across 18 2/3 postseason innings, to pitch well against a red-hot Giants lineup. Vladimir Guerrero will be back in the lineup, the home crowd will be rocking, and Texas has Cliff Lee taking the mound on Monday in Game 5.
So why are the odds stacked against the Rangers? Why bet against the Rangers winning two of the next three and taking this series back west? Because of a bullpen that has been overmatched and overwhelmed under the October lights. The Rangers staff was one of the best during the regular season, ranking third in the league in ERA, but the loss of setup man Frank Francisco, who has been out since late August with an arm injury, has proved devastating.
The biggest test for managers in the postseason is getting their best pitchers on the mound to record the game's biggest outs. Washington has failed that test. He still hasn't figured out how to get the game into the hands of closer Neftali Feliz. Because of his insistence on using Feliz in save situations and only save situations, his best reliever has yet to throw a pitch in the series.
With Game 2 still within reach in the eighth inning, Washington turned the game over to Darren O'Day, Derek Holland and Mark Lowe.
"If I would have went to Feliz right there, he would have had to do something he's never done before, and I wasn't going to challenge him like that," Washington said on Friday. "Nope. We had other guys down there that I have a lot of confidence in getting us out of that inning. It just didn't happen."
Don't expect it to happen going forward, either. Yes, the pressure is on Colby Lewis in Game 3. Yes, the pressure is on the Rangers offense to turn things around this weekend. But the Rangers' fate also lies with the bullpen, and how Washington manages it.
And that's why come next week, Jay Leno probably won't be talking about the Texas Rangers anymore.