On the game's biggest stage, Mitch Moreland had the night's biggest hit. His three-run blast lifted the Rangers to their first World Series victory on Saturday, a 4-2 triumph vs. the Giants in Game 3 that infused some relief into a Texas fan base concerned that this series might not make its way back to San Francisco.
Plopped in a news conference chair, flanked by Josh Hamilton, Moreland dissected the swing, the at-bat, the moment. He talked about his rapid rise up Texas' depth chart this season and the ride he has since been on since.
But in the rapid firing of questions, Moreland's biggest postgame grin came when he was asked about his placement at the bottom of the Rangers' lineup. Maybe it was an attempt to get Moreland to suggest he deserves to be bumped higher. Or maybe the question was designed to prompt some perspective from a player whose Major League career spans three months.
Whatever the motive, Moreland, just four years removed from being a standout in a strong Mississippi State program, took the quick initiative to restore all order.
"Not at all," he responded, when asked if hitting ninth was a hit to his ego.
"I'm in the lineup."
Though Moreland's emergence late this season has turned into one of Texas' feel-good stories, he has served as much more than a placeholder in the Rangers' lineup, particularly during the playoffs. His .342 postseason average through the club's first 13 games drove manager Ron Washington to ignore the stats and leave Moreland in the lineup against a left-handed starter.
|4||Fastball||89 mph||Called strike|
|9||Fastball||89 mph||Home run|
Moreland rewarded his manager's faith in the grandest of ways.
With his team not having led since the second inning of Game 1, Moreland stepped in against lefty Jonathan Sanchez with two on and two out in the second. An impressive battle ensued.
Moreland took two pitches out of the zone before Sanchez evened the count. Sanchez's next two offerings were sliders. Moreland fouled both off. He did the same when Sanchez came back with a pair of sliders. After four offspeed pitches, Giants catcher Buster Posey called for the ninth pitch of the at-bat to be an inside fastball.
"We stayed away from Moreland the whole at-bat," Posey said. "It was a really good at-bat. He threw pretty much everything at him. He hit his spot. He threw it where he wanted to, and he just beat him."
Moreland deposited the ball into the right-field stands, setting off a celebration inside Rangers Ballpark at Arlington and staking Texas to an early advantage that San Francisco never did touch.
"I knew I had a runner in scoring position, so he was going to try to pitch me tough," Moreland said. "I fouled off some offspeed stuff and just tried to battle back, and I got the fastball."
Added Sanchez: "He's just got quick hands. He got it out. He's a good hitter. He's playing because he's good."
The 360-foot jog around the bases was plenty familiar to Moreland, who went deep nine times in his 145 regular-season at-bats. But this was plenty different. Not only was this postseason homer No. 1, but it marked Moreland's first big league homer off a lefty.
Moreland entered the game being able to count on one hand how many Major League hits he had off southpaws. And he left at the end of the night reminded that playoff success often doesn't follow preplanned scripts.
"He's locked in," teammate David Murphy said. "It doesn't matter who is on the mound, he's going to give you a quality at-bat. He has a lot of confidence in his approach."
"In Spring Training, it was pretty clear he had an idea of what he wanted to do at the plate," added Michael Young. "Just as important is the fact that he's a tough kid, he's a great teammate and he works hard. If you put those things together and you have some ability, that's going to take you a long way."
Moreland's confidence appears to have risen swiftly since he made his big league debut on July 29. Once somewhat of an afterthought behind Chris Davis and then Justin Smoak, Moreland solidified the Rangers' unsteady situation at first base by batting .255 and driving in 25 runs in 47 games.
Now a year removed from being named the organization's top Minor League position player, Moreland speaks confidently about how he belongs. It's the same confidence enjoyed by Washington these days, too, when he scribbles the first baseman's name into that No. 9 spot.
"Mitch Moreland has certainly established himself as a Major League player," Washington said. "He's just a battler. He goes up there and he uses every bit of talent he has. He fights, and when he gets his pitch, he don't usually miss it."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.