MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Saving Lee for Game 5 the wise move

Castrovince: Saving Lee the wise move

ARLINGTON -- With the Rangers' third loss will come the second-guessing.

Manager Ron Washington will inevitably catch his share of criticism for sticking with Tommy Hunter in Game 4 of the World Series against the Giants, rather than turning to Cliff Lee on short rest.

Once the Rangers took Game 3 to cut their Series deficit to 2-1, Washington halted all consideration of asking Lee to take the ball on three days' rest -- something Lee has never previously done in his career -- and went, as planned, with Hunter, the rotund right-hander coming off two fairly brutal and short-lived postseason starts against the Rays and Yankees.


It didn't turn out particularly well, but that had little to do with Hunter and everything to do with Madison Bumgarner. With eight innings of three-hit ball, Bumgarner made Lee a moot point.

Hunter, meanwhile, threw 78 pitches before he got his first swing and miss. He was woefully inefficient, though not incredibly ineffective. He limited the Giants to a pair of runs on five hits with one walk and one strikeout. He was not in Bumgarner territory, but he was not back-breaking, either. Texas' bullpen gave up a pair in its remaining five innings, and the Rangers, silent at the plate for the second time in three games, fell, 4-0, to place themselves on the cusp of World Series woe.

It's up to Lee to extend the season now, and he'll try to do so in Game 5, just as he did a year ago with the Phillies.

But could Lee have single-handedly prevented the Rangers from this unenviable state in which they now reside?

Doubtful. Highly doubtful.

The obsession some people have with seeing a guy heroically take the ball on three days' rest puzzles me. The fact is, unless your name is CC Sabathia, it doesn't work nearly as often as they think.

AT A LOSS
A look at the most shutout losses suffered by one team in a World Series.
Year Team Opp. SHO
1905 Athletics Giants 4
1966 Dodgers Orioles 3
1965 Twins Dodgers 3
2010 Rangers Giants 2
1961 Reds Yankees 2
1960 Pirates Yankees 2
1959 Dodgers White Sox 2
1958 Braves Yankees 2
1957 Yankees Braves 2
1956 Dodgers Yankees 2
1945 Tigers Cubs 2
1921 Giants Yankees 2
1920 Dodgers Indians 2
1919 White Sox Reds 2
1917 White Sox Giants 2
1908 Tigers Cubs 2
1903 Pirates Red Sox 2

Since 2000, and including this year, 43 starters have made a postseason start on three days' rest. Only 14 of them have given their team so much as a quality start (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer allowed). Combined, those 43 guys have gone 11-20 with a 5.07 ERA.

Does that sound like a precedent you want to follow?

Then there's Lee's own situation to take into account.

For one, he got rocked by the Giants in Game 1. And while I would certainly expect he'll show improvement the second time around, that's no sure thing.

More importantly, let's not forget the big picture with Lee. Mere days after this Series is over, his agent will be looking to land him a nine-figure contract in free agency. Yes, he wants to lead this Rangers team, but I don't think he was knocking down Washington's door begging to take the ball on short rest. He also didn't do so before Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Rays. Same deal last year with the Phillies.

That's called a trend. Lee has established himself as a big-game pitcher, but he has not given off the vibe that he wants the ball in any and all situations. He clearly prefers the routine that works.

Ask Lee what allowed him to reach his current level of laudibility (and, before his Game 1 blowup, perceived postseason invincibility) and he points to that routine.

"It's probably just confidence and going out there and expecting to be successful, and what allows me to do that is my routine," Lee said last week. "I've proven to myself over and over that it works, and eventually it becomes what you rely on to make you successful, and that's where I'm at."

Lee is so indebted to his routine that he refuses to even discuss it in public, lest he divulge the secrets to his success. This is a man who is clearly protective of his preparation, which could be one reason he didn't even acknowledge reporters huddled around his locker after Game 4.

There are times when you pull a premier player out of his routine for the good of the team. There are desperate moments in the postseason when it's win or go home, championship dreams are at stake and you pull out every weapon at your disposal to keep breathing.

The Rangers woke up on Sunday and didn't yet find themselves in such a predicament. Sure, they were down 2-1 in the World Series against the Giants, but a 4-2 victory on Saturday night on their home turf had brought them back to a level of coherence and sustenance.

Pitching Lee on three days' rest would have reeked of desperation, and the Rangers were not yet a desperate team at that juncture.

But they are now. And if nothing else, they have the right man on the mound in Game 5. And on full rest, to boot.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.