The Rangers started the season with Chris Davis at first base, then went to Justin Smoak when he didn’t pan out. In July, after Smoak was used as the key piece in the Cliff Lee deal, they went back to Davis. Finally, at the end of the month, they acquired Jorge Cantu from the Marlins to start against lefties.
Yet there was Mitch Moreland penciled in at first base and as the No. 9 hitter in Game 3 against southpaw Jonathan Sanchez with the Giants up 2-0 in the World Series.
One of only two left-handed hitters in the Texas lineup.
And he proved to be the hero.
Moreland, who had been 1-for-8 against lefties, launched a three-run homer off Sanchez in the second inning Saturday to give the Rangers a comfortable early lead in a game they won 4-2.
The liner to right ended a masterful nine-pitch at-bat. Moreland was backed into a corner early, when a borderline fastball was called a strike to even the count at 2-2. He then fouled off four straight before connecting with a low fastball that caught a bit too much of the plate. The bullet was a no-doubter, and Sanchez, who had held left-handers to a .181 average during the regular season, found himself in an early deficit for the second time in two starts.
Sanchez seemed to pitch around Bengie Molina to get to Moreland with two outs. Nelson Cruz led off the frame with a double, advanced to third on Ian Kinsler’s grounder and then stayed put when Jeff Francoeur hit a first-pitch grounder right at third baseman Juan Uribe. With Molina having driven in eight runs in the postseason, Sanchez worked him carefully and walked him even after getting him to swing wildly at a curveball for a strike. He didn’t imagine Moreland hanging so tough. He certainly didn’t see Moreland hitting his first career homer versus a lefty.
Moreland, who was platooned after being called up at the end of July, had just 20 regular season at-bats against southpaws, hitting .200.
With the blast, Moreland is batting .341 in 41 postseason at-bats. His surge at the end of the regular season, which included a pair of two-homer games on Sept. 26 and Oct. 1, helped earned him the nod over Cantu against lefties this month, but it certainly hasn’t hurt that he’s the superior defensive first baseman.
At the end of September, it was still up in the air whether he’d get a chance to retain a starting job headed into 2011. There will be several established first basemen available in free agency this winter, and at least a couple of them will end up coming fairly cheap. Moreland, though, has made a great case for holding on to the job. Often an outfielder in the minors, he’s improved defensively since he’s gotten the chance to concentrate on playing first, and he has a very good approach at the plate. Power has been the question mark, but tonight, he kept the Rangers in the World Series with an exclamation point.