Tuesday November 2nd, 2010

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Giants closer Brian Wilson had Nelson Cruz down to the Rangers' last strike, but still the home fans acted as if there was no way that what had befallen their hitters throughout this World Series would continue to befall them until its end.

"Let's Go Rangers!" they chanted, even as Wilson reached back and threw a slider, 90 miles an hour, that seemed headed directly for Cruz's elbow.

On Monday afternoon, a few hours before Game 5 began, Rangers manager Ron Washington identified one of his central goals for the evening:

"To make that pitching staff over there seem real," he said.

It had seemed a dream, what the Giants starters -- particularly Matt Cain in Game 2 and Madison Bumgarner in Game 4 -- had done to his offense, how they'd stifled pretty much everyone but his No. 9 hitter, the rookie first baseman Mitch Moreland. Reality would have to recommence at some point, and perhaps it would for Cruz, who had produced the Rangers' only run of the night (and their first in 18 1/3 innings) with a home run off an otherwise magnificent Tim Lincecum in the bottom of the seventh. But Wilson's slider dipped toward the plate, and Cruz swung through it. Wilson turned his back to Cruz and crossed his arms in an X, and first baseman Aubrey Huff chucked his glove at Wilson as he charged in at him, with the rest of the Giants soon to follow, and there was no longer any doubt about what in this series was real and what was not.

Real: the Rangers mustered 29 hits, the Giants 29 runs.

Real: the Rangers batted .190, with an OPS, .547, that was worse than that of any major league player with substantial at-bats this season, save Orioles shortstop Cesar Izturis.

Real: Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero, the Rangers' Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, had three hits in the series, in 34 at-bats (a combined batting average of .088, topped by even Izturis).

Real: according to second baseman Ian Kinsler (World Series batting average: .188): "They shut us down. There's really nothing else to say."

There are, of course, other things to say about the Rangers' World Series transformation from the postseason's most torrid offense, and one that had at the right time become healthy and complete after an injury-wracked year, into a team-full of Izturi. The Rangers said them after the game in their hushed clubhouse, where the only loud sounds were made by the repeated and ritualized slapping of backs, during great-year-see-you-in-the-spring-maybe hugs, and by the unrolling of packing tape by the clubhouse attendants as they assembled boxes for the players to fill with their belongings.

"Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, the last three of four, they pitched good enough to beat anybody in baseball," said Jeff Francoeur (World Series batting average: .000), who had seen the Giants pitchers more than most in his clubhouse because he had, until late August, spent his career in the National League. "To me, the last three, four years, they were just brewing up one of the best staffs in baseball. Maybe nobody hears about them because they're out West. But I knew how good they were, and how good they could be, and they pitched about as good as they could possibly pitch, at just the right time."

"Everybody says that we didn't play Rangers-type baseball throughout the World Series, especially offensively, but that's because their pitching staff did such a great job," said David Murphy (World Series batting average: .143).

No Ranger, Murphy among them, could think of anything he could have possibly done better to contend with the Giants' staff.

"Not at all," he said. "We had the scouting report on each and every one of those guys. We came into this series prepared."

"This offense is powerful," said Game 5 starter Cliff Lee, whose only mistake of the night -- a 2-0, seventh-inning cutter that Edgar Renteria, the series' unlikely MVP, turned into a three-run homer -- proved to be one mistake too many. "If they have a bad game, three in a row -- five in a row, even -- this offense can bust out of it at any moment."

That moment never came.

"We tried to adjust to what they were doing to us," Kinsler said, realizing he did have at least something else to say. "Couldn't do it, obviously."

C.J. Wilson is one of the more thoughtful players in the Rangers clubhouse, a student of pitching, and he had a good idea as to what, specifically, had happened, particularly in Games 2, 4 and 5, in which Texas scored one run.

"All their pitchers were throwing two or three pitches for strikes," he said. "They could get ahead with their slider, their splitter, their fastball. If a pitcher can only throw his fastball for strikes, and tries to get swings and misses with his breaking ball, then you can sit on the heater and hit it. We feel like we can hit anybody, but they're all expert pitchers over there."

Indeed, in Game 5, Lincecum threw 101 pitches of mostly four types -- four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup and slider -- and he threw strikes with at least 65 percent of each. In Game 4, Bumgarner -- an expert at the age of 21 -- had a better-than-65 percent strike rate with each of his top three pitches, a four-seamer, a changeup and a slider. Matt Cain, in Game 2, was a little worse. He threw 64 percent of his fastballs for strikes, 65 percent of his changeups and 76 percent of his sliders. That's not much worse.

That type of pitching makes it so that your team can do things like win the World Series, in only five games, on three-run homers by players like Edgar Renteria.

As the Giants continued to mob Brian Wilson, the home fans seemed not to be ready to admit that everything was over. It had happened so quickly, in the end: Game 5 lasted 2 hours and 32 minutes, the fastest World Series game in 18 years.

"Let's go Rangers," they still chanted.

In the clubhouse, there was no more hoping for an awakening, at least this year. One player, after he'd finished explaining to reporters in the home clubhouse what really didn't need to be explained, as backs continued to be slapped and tape continued to be unrolled, looked down at the little boy who had wrapped himself around his lower leg.

"We're done, buddy," Cliff Lee said to Jaxon Lee, 9. "Season's over."

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