When the baseball season gets to this late point, the temptation to overanalyze grows by the day. We look for the little-bitty things: the missed bunt attempt, the ground ball to the right side, the lefty-lefty bullpen matchup. Sometimes, though, looking for the little things is an exercise in futility.
The Rangers' 4-2 win in Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night came down to that most fundamental element of all: starting pitching. The home team had it. The visiting team spent most of the night hoping to find some.
Colby Lewis gave Texas another strong start, and the Rangers won. Matters have been entirely that simple for the Rangers this month. When they've allowed three or fewer runs this postseason, they've gone 8-0. Give up more than three runs, and they're doomed -- the Rangers are 0-6 once they allow that fourth run.
Lewis did no such thing on Saturday. He struck out six over 7 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits. He surrendered a pair of solo homers but for the most part threw strikes and worked efficiently. And, thus, Texas won. Simple as that.
"If you go out and pound the strike zone early, it opens up a lot of doors," Lewis said. "I think it's a situation where you can get ahead early and throw the pitches you want to late.
"You see it with all of the great pitchers -- with [Roy] Halladay and all of those guys getting ahead early, with C.J. [Wilson on Thursday], pounding the strike zone early. It's just a situation where you're able to throw the pitches when you want to when you get ahead early."
Just as important -- maybe more so -- is that the Giants didn't get a good start on Saturday. As impressive as Jonathan Sanchez can be, it's no secret that his talents tend toward the ... let's say ephemeral. Sanchez can be brilliant one game and shaky five days later, and on Saturday, he was definitely shaky.
And while Texas has leaned on its starting pitching this month, San Francisco has done so all year. No team in the Majors featured a better rotation. And though the Giants' offense perked up midseason when catcher Buster Posey started to play every day, it's still far from a juggernaut. The Giants live and die with their rotation. On Saturday, they died.
Colby Lewis' game-by-game playoff stats
Sanchez, so good in the National League Division Series against Atlanta, made it back-to-back games now that he hasn't been at his best.
"These guys have logged some work, some innings, and whether that's caught up with them or not, I can't answer that," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "But we'll say I thought he battled well. After the home run [hit by Mitch Moreland], he regrouped and he kept them there to the one mistake to [Josh] Hamilton. But I'm sure they're all a little tired now. It's been a long year, and I thought the middle innings, he had better command of all his pitches."
It wasn't good enough, though. The Giants will very rarely win slugfests. They win 2-1, 3-2 games -- or they lose, 4-2.
The starter has been the difference three times now. Rangers ace Cliff Lee didn't get it done in Game 1, and the Giants rolled. The Giants' Matt Cain dazzled in Game 2, and even before the Texas bullpen imploded, San Francisco was in control of the game. On Saturday, Sanchez couldn't find his location, Colby Lewis was outstanding and the Rangers won.
Neither of these offenses is anything special -- Texas' is better but a bit overrated due to its home ballpark. The Rangers can, as the expression goes, be pitched to. So a starting pitcher on a good night can seize control of a game against either of these clubs in a way that's much tougher to do against, say, the Yankees or last year's Phillies.
That would seem to favor San Francisco on Sunday night, as Giants rookie Madison Bumgarner has been very impressive while Rangers right-hander Tommy Hunter has yet to finish the fifth inning in two playoff starts.
Game 4 might, of course, come down to one of those little things. It may end up being decided by an infield shift or a sacrifice fly.
More likely, though, it will come down to which starting pitcher gets the job done.