ARLINGTON, Texas – The count went from 0-and-2 all the way to 3-and-2 and an all-time Rangers Ballpark record crowd of 52,419 rose as one, sweating a tidal wave of nervous energy that could have swept sidewinder Darren O'Day into early retirement.
A faulty cog in the Texas Rangers’ consecutive bullpen meltdowns by the Bay, O'Day called out catcher Bengie Molina to discuss pitch selection to dangerous rookie catcher Buster Posey, who, with a runner on first, could have tied it up with one crack of the bat.
“I had an idea what I wanted to throw,” O’Day said. “And he [Molina] had a better idea of what I wanted to throw. I went with Bengie.”
O’Day executed the pitch, a slider away, and Posey got on top of it, softly rolling it up through the box. Shortstop Elvis Andrus charged it, scooped it and threw out Posey in plenty of time.
Inning over. Crisis averted.
“I wasn’t worried at all,” starter Colby Lewis calmly said in the happy postgame clubhouse.
That meeting at the mound was the biggest single moment of the World Series for the Rangers. Whether it becomes a series-altering is to be seen, starting with Sunday’s Game 4.
But, Lewis’ second consecutive brilliant start, following up his eight-inning gem that clinched the American League pennant, spared the bullpen from another long night and pulled the Rangers back into the World Series. The 4-2 victory leaves them trailing the San Francisco Giants, 2-1, with two more to go at home and under AL house rules.
Lewis gave up a second solo home run to Andres Torres in the eighth inning with one out. After Nelson Cruz made a terrific running catch on Freddy Sanchez’s missile to left, Lewis got to 0-2 on Aubrey Huff and appeared poised to get out of the eighth on his own terms, as he did against the Yankees.
But, then Lewis plunked Huff. That triggered manager Ron Washington to the mound. Lewis exited to a standing ovation. Posey stood in the on-deck circle representing the tying run.
“I brought in O’Day to face Posey,” Washington said. “I wanted to give him [Posey] that funky [side-arm] look. If Posey gets a hit, I’m bringing in [Neftali] Feliz.”
More on the young flamethrower in a moment. First, O’Day had to walk through fire as the right-hand-hitting Posey laid off three straight pitches to take the count full. Molina and O’Day met on the mound.
O’Day, Molina said, wanted to throw Posey a slider on the inside of the plate. Molina shook him off and recommended, if not demanded, a slider away.
“Seeing as Bengie’s been playing since I was maybe in the sixth grade, and he played for that team and that [Posey] was his replacement,” O’Day said, “I figured he probably had a better idea of what he wanted me to throw.”
Said Molina: “It’s a no-brainer because I think the only chance you give [Posey] is to have something middle-in and then he hits it out. I don’t mean that Posey cannot hit the ball the other way. I don’t mean that at all. I’m just saying you go with that because it’s a lot harder -- with O’Day pitching -- it’s a lot harder to go the other way.”
Retiring Posey finally allowed Washington to to go the 22-year-old Feliz for a postseason save situation in his first World Series appearance. It took 14 games, but was well worth the wait. A tad nervous and wild during the ALDS, Feliz blistered fastball after fastball. He threw 12 heaters among 13 pitches in the 1-2-3 ninth.
“I was mentally prepared,” Feliz said. “I was trying to keep all my pitches low and do my job.”
After a third-pitch slider to lead-off man Pat Burrell, Feliz threw nothing but smoke, all clocked between 97 and 99 mph. Burrell swung at a high one and whiffed. Cody Ross, who broke up Lewis’ shutout bid with a solo homer in the seventh, sailed a 99 mph fastball to the warning track in right. Juan Uribe had no chance to catch up to a 99 mph riser.
“Just blowin’,” Lewis said. “It was awesome.”
Feliz became the second-youngest pitcher in World Series history to record a save behind only Bob Welch in 1978 against the New York Yankees. Who’d the 22-year-old pass? Nolan Ryan. The Rangers team president and co-owner saved Game 3 for the 1969 New York Mets. He, too, was 22, but about three months older.
Asked about passing Ryan, Feliz smiled as he spoke in Spanish to team interpreter Eleno Ornelas. A contingent of Latin press suddenly laughed out loud as Feliz answered the question.
“Of course, I am very happy and I have to take advantage of what life gives me, the chance to save a game,” Ornelas translated.
Perhaps something was lost in translation. Not lost was the uplifting performance by a bullpen that desperately needed one.
“It’s huge, especially for [O’Day],” the staff’s elder statesman, Darren Oliver said. “He’s been doing it all year anyway, but to do it in a big situation like this, because everybody’s watching, every pitch is so important, I’m sure his phone is blowing up with a bunch of text messages.
“It’s good for him. At least he’ll get some good sleep tonight.”