ARLINGTON, Texas -- A year ago, Colby Lewis never dreamed he'd start a World Series game. The Japan Series, maybe. But certainly not the World Series.
"I was in Japan for the last two years not thinking I would have this opportunity," Lewis said. "But I'm here, trying to make the most of it."
He's sure doing that. There was Lewis, standing on the mound in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night and hearing chants of "Col-by! Col-by!" from most of the 52,419 fans -- the largest crowd ever to see a game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," Lewis said. "I get goose bumps thinking about it right now. It's an awesome, awesome feeling to think that many people came out to see me and the Rangers play."
They came and they chanted because Lewis put on a show worthy of the game's biggest stage. He knew that going down 3-0 in the World Series would put the Rangers on the edge of ending the season without the ultimate prize. So he did what he's done in his last three postseason starts: He won in impressive fashion.
The victory, one of the biggest in franchise history, gives the Rangers much-needed momentum. They are still behind in the World Series, but it doesn't feel like it's anything they can't handle. In the process, Lewis has become a clutch playoff performer. He's now 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in the postseason. His three wins account for one-third of the Rangers' all-time total.
And while the Rangers aren't thinking too far down the line, how comforting must it be to know that Lewis is poised to pitch a Game 7 in San Francisco if needed? How confident do you think the Giants feel about Jonathan Sanchez in a similar situation?
"Colby was incredible," said the Rangers' Tommy Hunter, who gets his chance to try to tie the series at two games apiece when he starts Game 4 on Sunday. "We needed a win and he went out there and got it."
He did it by getting ahead of hitters -- his calling card in this postseason -- and a steady diet of sliders to the heavily right-handed Giants lineup. Lewis threw first-pitch strikes to 26 of the 30 batters he faced and pitched 7 2/3 innings, allowing two runs (both on solo homers) on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts. He made Giants hitters look nothing like the squad that put up 20 runs in the first two games of this World Series.
And because so many of the Giants' hitters were right-handed -- six of the nine starters -- Lewis used an accurate slider to force them off the plate and make his fastball more effective. That was a change in his game plan from the ALCS, where the New York Yankees loaded the lineup with left-handed hitters, forcing him to use his curveball and changeup more.
For Lewis, though, it doesn't really seem to matter. As long as he has his fastball command, he can do enough with his breaking stuff to make things happen.
"Those of us that know Colby aren't surprised by what he's doing," said catcher Bengie Molina, who helped Lewis execute his solid outing. "He's a veteran pitcher that throws strikes and hits his spots. He has great command of his breaking ball. He can spot it wherever he wants and you have to have that to win."
Molina said the Giants were more patient with Lewis earlier in the game than the Yankees, who wanted to be aggressive and try to ambush Lewis because he throws early strikes. It's the same sort of strategy that some teams attempt against Cliff Lee. And it's one that usually doesn't work.
But the Giants wanted to try to force Lewis to throw pitches. The problem: He threw strikes, so they found themselves constantly behind in the count. The early strikes allowed Lewis to get more aggressive and kept him in rhythm. The Giants then tried to get a little more aggressive, but by that time Lewis had settled in and the early swings produced quick outs. That efficient tempo translated to the defense behind him.
"You want to be in a rhythm defensively and you can always tell when a pitcher is on top of his game, the guys behind him get in rhythm," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said. "Pitching and defense really feed off each other. That was the case tonight."
Lewis credited his first baseman, Mitch Moreland, for allowing him to be even more aggressive in the strike zone after Moreland's three-run homer gave Lewis a 3-0 lead in the second.
"That relaxed me and everyone," Lewis said. "That's how we won games this year. We scored early, got the lead and did what we had to do."
Lewis was doing what he felt he had to do in 2008, when he decided to try his craft in Japan. He figured when he left the Oakland A's for the Hiroshima Carp two years ago that he would finish his career there. But in the process of adjusting to life in a new country with a different language, Lewis discovered his command.
Two years of high strikeouts and low walks earned him a two-year deal with the Rangers, the team that drafted him 38th overall in 1999.
And less than a year since his return to the big leagues, Lewis has become a major contributor on a team looking for a world championship. He doesn't get the publicity of Lee, who has a longer postseason resume. He didn't win a team-high 15 games like the eccentric C.J. Wilson. And he doesn't throw 100 mph like youthful closer Neftali Feliz.
But he was a consistent starter who threw strikes, made quality starts and often didn't get run support from his team. He was No. 3 in the rotation when the playoffs began, but the game has thrust him into key roles.
He was on the mound for the Rangers' first home playoff game in 11 years when he pitched in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays. Texas had a 2-0 lead in the series and was hoping to close things out. Lewis' control wasn't sharp as he walked five Rays hitters and left the game after five innings. But he didn't allow a run. The bottom line: He left with his team in the game.
Lewis then pitched in Games 2 and 6 of the ALCS against the Yankees, both in Arlington. He gave up two runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings in Game 2, pitching with an early lead. He then allowed one run in eight innings against the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS, clinching the American League pennant for the Rangers. All the talk before Game 6 of that series was that Lee was waiting to pitch Game 7. He wasn't even needed.
Now Lewis has helped give his team new life in the first World Series in its history.
"I'm not doing anything different," Lewis said when asked about his postseason success. "For me, it's about keeping my team in the ballgame. If you pitch a quality start, with this lineup, they're going to put runs on the board and you can win."
He sure has showed that this postseason.