Out of Nowhere, Cliff Lee Rocked in 'Unacceptable' Game 1 Disaster
Nolan Ryan was as perplexed as anyone when he left the ballpark by the bay Wednesday night, following one of the most bewildering World Series games you'll ever witness. It wasn't just that the San Francisco Giants took Game 1 by a score of 11-7, big crooked numbers that rarely make an appearance this late in October. It wasn't just that Ryan's Texas Rangers lost a playoff game on the road, an event that was bound to happen but definitely not in such an ugly fashion.
It was all of that, absolutely, but most of all it was watching Cliff Lee self-destruct on the mound, on this stage, at this time of the year. That happens about as often as hens grow teeth, which is to say it doesn't happen at all. Until it did, and those who observed it still aren't quite sure how to describe the strange happenings down near McCovey Cove.
"We'll get 'em tomorrow," Ryan, the Texas president, told Lee, referring to Thursday night's Game 2. And there's no reason to believe the Rangers won't even this Fall Classic, considering they've defied reasoning and predictions all season long. But Lee was meant to be their one sure thing, and as he stood in front of his locker and talked clear-eyed and frankly about his stunning outing, it was impossible not to wonder how much of the hangover will linger.
Lee had to weave his way around some 50 media types in order to reach his corner locker. It was a sweaty, bumpy glob of humans and microphones and cameras, prompting closer Neftali Feliz to climb aboard a chair, survey the scene and whisper, "Wow."
That pretty much sums up the night: Wow.
"I was missing on everything. It's unacceptable. I threw a lot of pitches over the plate," said Lee, while his line -- eight hits, seven runs (six earned), one walk, seven strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings, his ERA obscenely ballooning to 11.57 – was still being digested.
He flagellated himself in front of wave after wave reporters wanting to know why Lee, a superb lefty, couldn't control his sluggish curveball. After about 20 minutes -- after about 100 questions about how the pesky but not macho Giants (who, it has been said, are hardly the Yankees or the Phillies, and thank goodness for that) forced Lee into throwing so many pitches --- he got a little weary.
"It's not like I was walking the bases loaded and walking home runs. I honestly didn't feel like they were real patient," Lee said.
The visitors' clubhouse was fairly upbeat, considering the Rangers had committed every sin they'd previously avoided throughout the playoffs. They fumbled ground balls. They made baserunning blunders. They never warmed in the clutch until the last inning. They played tight, confounding ball. They also didn't, as Josh Hamilton emphasized, ever quit, not when the frenzied crowd was at its most delirious froth, not when the Rangers were down 11-4 and all that remained was for Tony Bennett to croon one final serenade.
"It was kind of weird man, just a weird game all around," said Hamilton, following his 0-for-4, one walk night, another anomaly nobody envisioned. "But we didn't let up. That's our nature. That's our attitude."
The indomitable Lee was meant to be their rock, and when he was staked to an early 2-0 lead drawn from Tim Lincecum's shaky beginning, the Texas ace had history by his side. Lee entered the game with a flawless 7-0 record in the playoffs, his tiny 1.26 postseason ERA one of his many stats that made you go, "Wow." His uncanny control of the plate in the series with the Yankees is a large reason why the Rangers are in their first World Series while the defending champions are on the couch.
Still, something was amiss with Lee early, his curve failing to freeze batters, his fastballs lying flat over the plate. Pitching on eight days rest, Lee became undone in the fifth after the Giants had knotted the score, 2-2, in a laborious third inning. Doubles by Andres Torres and Freddy Sanchez unsettled Lee, who was now in a rare hole, down 3-2 and battling a lineup unafraid to swing at his first pitch. He struck out Buster Posey, but then came one of those moments that reminds you the beauty of sports lies in its unpredictability.
The great Lee, the Lee who had struck out 34 and walked only one in his first three postseason starts, had Pat Burrell at full count, Burrell just one strike away from his third K of the evening, the Rangers one strike from sneaking out of trouble. Then the can't-miss Lee, the Lee who is always sniffing around the strike zone, walked Burrell, and it was as if the skies opened on what heretofore had been a brilliantly clear evening.
Cody Ross, the MVP of the National League Championship Series who seemed to come out of nowhere (Florida, same thing), rocked a 1-2 single up the gut, scoring another run. Lee banged his hand into the meat of his glove, clearly frustrated. Aubrey Huff's RBI single through the middle marked Lee's final pitch. Pulled in the fifth inning of a World Series start, trailing 5-2, 104 pitches missing their usual brilliance from one of the game's premier pitchers ... just, wow.
"He threw 32 pitches (in the third inning), just sort of ran out of gas there by the time we got to the fifth," Texas manager Ron Washington would say after Lee's un-Koufaxian performance. "And they put some good at-bats together, put some runs on the board, and we just couldn't recover."
Lee had barely sprinted to the dugout when Darren O'Day, a right-handed sidewinding reliever, gave up a moon shot to Juan Uribe, the ball landing deep into the left-field seats for an 8-2 SF cushion. There would be plenty more what-the-hey moments -- the Rangers' four errors, Ian Kinsler's misguided turn around first base, the previously hot Texas bats picking a fine time to turn cold.
Was it just first World Series jitters for a Ranger offense with all those heavy power stats? Texas left eight men on base, but after the early lead never posed much threat until the final stanza, a shaky ninth inning Giants' fans have come to expect.
Were Vladimir Guerrero's two errors in the eighth an obvious sign that Washington needs to reconsider using the slow-footed slugger in right field? "No, I don't," Washington said. "A couple balls got by him."
It was more than Guerrero's hatchet job of course, but as long as the Series is in an NL ballpark, Washington seems stubbornly tied to using Guerrero in right. It was more than the Rangers' speed, smarts and aggressiveness disappearing, dousing any chance of the players making antlers with their hands on their heads in recognition of Texas' fast, deer-like feet. It was more than the Giants' Freddy Sanchez -- just a "little" guy, he'd note later -- doubling in his first three at-bats, a quirky rarity.
But it was something, watching Lee turn mortal in October. Washington is fond of saying, "That's the way baseball go," a pithy, street-wise slogan adopted by the Rangers, and it's true. Baseball sometimes throws a wicked curve. Lee potentially has two more starts to right the Series and bring Texas the trophy it has waited for only for forever.
"I try," Lee said, "to have a short memory,"
Giants and Rangers players react to Cliff Lee's Game 1 struggles. Click to watch: