The night that had been virtually 40 years in the making started so well that, during a fleeting moment sometime in the second or third inning, the realization hit me that it was almost going too well. It couldn't really be this easy, could it? The Giants weren't really just going to roll over and die, were they? And, well, I got my answer(s). There are a lot of things the Rangers did not do at the accepted level of major league adequacy in this game, but any notion of San Francisco not "earning" this victory is pure folly. The bottom line is that the Giants outplayed the Rangers over nine innings, and were justly rewarded. So, now what?
I'd rehash Cliff Lee's entire ghastly outing pitch by pitch (4.2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 0 HR), but I know nobody wants to read that, and I certainly don't want to write it. If he markedly rebounds in his scheduled Game 5 start and the Rangers rally to win the World Series, he will be gifted a mulligan and revered as though Game 1 never happened; if he doesn't, it will be characterized as the night where Lee's bewitchment over the Rangers' fan base was shattered and people began to realize just how fraught with risk a $150-160 million deal would really be. This is a discussion best preserved for the off-season, but it bears mentioning here, I think, as this jarring reminder of Lee's mortality continues to set in. He's actually human, after all.
Lee's ultimate downfall was hastened by factors beyond his control (seriously, four errors in a World Series game?), but I do think this start, miserable as it was, furnished two important lessons: (a) there is a major distinction to be made between merely throwing strikes and throwing quality strikes (or the dichotomy between control and command, if you want to look at it that way), and (b) this start is a good example of why one simply cannot render an honest pitching evaluation solely by examining strikeouts, walks, and home runs. Poor location begets hard-hit balls, and, well, Lee was soundly banged around. It happens, and it's why you have to view this stuff holistically.l
There were a few more unsavory reminders in Game 1, some admittedly being more visible than others, but I guess the one overarching cogent thought I formed -- well, formed sometime between the game going to hell and me blacking out -- was that this team played a very sloppy, uncoordinated brand of baseball that is not at all characteristic of this team's post-season M.O. Michael Young committed one of his classic acts of defensive butchery at the hot corner. Elvis Andrus botched a grounder. Vladimir Guerrero was an error-prone disaster in right field reminiscent of the Carlos Lee-in-Arlington days. Ian Kinsler mistakenly overran first base on a presumed infield hit and was then tagged out, thereby extinguishing any hope of a legitimate rally. We all know they're better than this, but this is a time for prompt self-correction more so than finding comfort in "knowledge"
Regarding the Guerrero problem specifically, Ron Washington indicated after Game 1 that he was planning to consign a starting outfield spot to Guerrero yet again in Game 2. Against a right-hander. In the outfield. At a challenging ballpark. In the outfield. It had been so long since I had intently watched Guerrero in right field that I had almost forgotten what it looked like, and I believe this fuzziness contributed to my apathy towards the Guerrero vs. Murphy argument in recent days -- but no more of that. This should end. It won't, but it should. I won't say that it cost the Rangers Game 1, but employing a suboptimal outfield defense and leaving your platoon-advantage card in the deck doesn't seem terribly conducive to maximizing your chances of winning Game 2.
But, hell, what do I know? What do any of us know, really? The usual platitudes about resiliency and fortitude remain applicable; twice this month the Rangers have found themselves in a difficult position (Game 5 of the ALDS, and Game 2 of the ALCS), and both times they recovered magnificently. There's no point in despairing, and even if you did it wouldn't really be fair to do so. They've earned at least that much of your blind faith. All we can really do is sit back, enjoy the ride for what it is, and perhaps direct a borrowed Ron Washington colloquialism towards the baseball team that simply will not die: "Get your head out [of] your butts, and let's play baseball tomorrow."