Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 31, 2010

The Lesser Lights Are Shining On The Mound

While Game One of this year’s World Series wasn’t exactly the taut pitching duel that had been expected, the next two contests each featured a dominant pitching performance.

In Game Two on Thursday night it was the Giants’ Matt Cain who pitched brilliantly. Cain scattered four hits and walked two over 7 2/3 innings as San Francisco moved out to a two games to none lead in the Series with a 9-0 victory. The game was scoreless through four and close until the bottom of the eighth, when the Giants unloaded on the Texas bullpen. Or maybe the Texas bullpen unloaded on itself. Buster Posey started things with what seemed likely to be a harmless two-out single. But then Rangers’ relievers Derek Holland and Mark Lowe combined to walk four men in a row, forcing in two runs. Edgar Renteria followed with a two-run single, Aaron Rowand cleared the bases with a two-run triple, and Andres Torres knocked in Rowand with a double. Seven runs, all with two outs, and the Giants were headed to Texas two up.

While working in the shadows of the glaring post-season spotlights on the likes of Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, and earlier Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia, Cain has put up numbers that any of those four would take in a heartbeat. In the first three post-season starts of his career, he has now pitched 21 1/3 innings without yielding a single earned run. That makes him one of just five pitchers in the history of the Great Game to go at least 20 innings in one post-season without giving up an earned run. Oddly enough, of the other four, two also pitched for the Giants; a couple of relatively accomplished hurlers named Christy Mathewson (27 innings in 1905) and Carl Hubbell (20 innings in 1933).

In his fifth full major league season, there’s not a lot in the 26-year old Cain’s career record that would have presaged such mastery. Certainly he has a long way to go before joining Mathewson and Hubbell in Cooperstown.  Overall he has lost more games than he’s won; although over the past two seasons he does have a winning record of 27-19, with an ERA just a hair over 3.00. Still, it’s a long way from 3.00 to 0.00, especially against lineups that have been productive enough to make it to the playoffs.

Last night it was the Rangers’ turn to have a hurler who would shine. In a virtual must-win game for Texas, Colby Lewis answered the call. Like Matt Cain, Lewis hasn’t had the media attention of the superstar pitchers. But also like Cain, he’s quietly put up some impressive numbers. After last night’s game he is 3-0 this post-season, with an ERA of 1.71.

It wasn’t immediately clear in Game Three that Lewis would dominate. He gave up a single and a walk in the first, but got out of that jam by getting the slumping Pat Burrell to swing at a pitch well outside the strike zone. In the second he walked Cody Ross with one out, but again escaped by getting Pablo Sandoval, playing as the DH in the American League park, to bounce into a routine double play. Still, Lewis had thrown 34 pitches through the first two innings.

But in the last of the second Nelson Cruz pounded the first pitch from the Giants’ Jonathan Sanchez to deepest center for a leadoff double. Cruz went to third on a groundout, then appeared to make a base running error when he held at third on another ground ball, despite the fact that the San Francisco infield was playing back. Two batters later the mistake was forgotten. After Sanchez walked catcher Bengie Molina, he battled rookie first baseman Mitch Moreland through a lengthy at-bat. On the ninth pitch of the standoff, Moreland homered to right, and Colby Lewis was staked to an early 3-0 lead.

With that, the 31-year old right hander started working with remarkable efficiency. He set the Giants down in order on 10 pitches in the third, needed just 9 to retire the side around a harmless single in the fourth, threw another 10 in a perfect fifth, and finally threw 13 and gave up a two-out double to Aubrey Huff in the sixth.

In the end Lewis would surrender solo home runs to Cody Ross in the seventh and Andres Torres in the eighth. But those came after the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton, the MVP of the ALCS, hit a solo homer in the bottom of the fifth for just his second hit of the World Series. Lewis scattered five hits in 7 2/3 innings while striking out six in the Rangers’ 4-2 victory. The Giants are the first team in history to tally 20 runs in the first two games of a World Series. Against Lewis it looked like they left their bats in San Francisco.

As with Cain, there’s not a lot in the far-flung journeys of Colby Lewis that would lead one to predict the kind of post-season he’s having. He debuted with Texas in 2002, but after some early injuries his career stalled. Claimed off waivers by Detroit after the 2004 season, he bounced along to Washington, Oakland, and Kansas City through 2007. Finally in 2008 he signed with the Hiroshima Carp of Japan’s Central League. After two successful seasons in Japan during which he perfected a slider that allows him to strike out a lot of hitters while rarely topping 90 on the speed gun, he returned to Texas this season. Like Cain, his career MLB record sports more losses than wins (as does his 2010 regular season record), along with a rather gaudy 5.27 ERA.

But I suspect that fans of both the Giants and Rangers don’t much care about the lifetime records of Matt Cain and Colby Lewis. They’re much more focused on what these two have been doing this October. Their fans have loved every minute of it, and are hoping for just a little bit more as the calendar turns and the longest season finally comes to a close over the next few days.

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