Mitch Moreland strikes early, Rangers hold on to win Game 3

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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.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Hi. Happy to back. Let’s recap, shall we?

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Braves 7, Red Sox 1: The Braves salvage one against the Sox to avoid the sweep thanks to an outstanding performance from Mike Foltynewicz (7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER) and a three-run homer from Tyler Flowers, but got bad news in the form of a Ronald Acuña knee injury. That was quite a tumble. Here’s hoping the fact that his body is young will keep him from missing much time. Young people can bounce back from anything.

Yankees 3, Angels 1: The Yankees take two of three from the Angels thanks to a strong performance from Masahiro Tanaka, who allowed one run and struck out eight over six innings. Garret Richards pitched for the Angels. He threw 70 pitches in two and a third and walked five guys. That’s U-G-L-Y, he ain’t got no alibi, it’s ugly. His momma say he’s ugly, HEY.

Indians 10, Astros 9: That was a wild one. The Indians trailed 8-3 entering the bottom of the ninth, tied it up to force extras and then came from behind again in the 13th via a Yonder Alonso homer, holding on to win it in the 14th with a Greg Allen walkoff homer. Keying the ninth inning rally: a 17-pitch at bat from Jose Ramirez, who is having an absolutely fantastic year. All of that buried the fact that the Astros only had that lead because the Indians’ pen has been a garbage fire of late, letting Houston put themselves ahead in the first place. Let us dwell on that another day, however.

Tigers 3, White Sox 2: Blaine Hardy outdueled James Shields, allowing one run over seven to Shields’ three runs over seven. Hardy is really a reliever, by the way, but no one tell him that or else it’d be like when Wily E. Coyote looks down after running off a cliff. If he never knew, would he have fallen?

Nationals 5, Marlins 2: The Nats beat the fish for the 11th time in a row, completing the sweep in this series. Bryce Harper homered and hit a sac fly. He’s not been hitting great of late, but he’s hitting homers. He said after the game that he’d take a .230 average if he could hit 40 homers. He’s hitting .232 and is on pace for over 50, so I guess he’ll take that too.

Rays 8, Orioles 3: I missed the back and forth about Sergio Romo and his role when I was on vacation. I don’t have super strong opinions about that, but it didn’t work great yesterday as Romo gave up three runs in a third of an inning. Since his relief — Vidal Nuno and Austin Pruitt — combined to throw 8.2 scoreless innings after that, however, no one is going to dwell on it all too much. A six-run third inning also helped spackle over that mess. Brad Miller homered, doubled and drove in three. The Rays may be the world’s foremost test lab for the concept of getting cool with “bad ideas-good outcomes vs. good ideas-bad outcomes” this year.

Blue Jays 5, Phillies 3: The Jays took two of three from the Phillies, winning this series just like they won the 1993 World Series. Well, not just like that, because Joe Carter wasn’t playing, but you get that. Devon Travis and Dwight Smith Jr. each hit two-run doubles, Curtis Granderson — who was 12 during the 1993 Series, so at least he remembers it — homered and J.A. Happ, who turned 11 during the series — beat his old team.

Oh, and while I’m talking about the Phillies, I think you all need to know about the fact that, right around the corner from the place where I stayed in London was a Philadelphia Phillies theme bar. I am not making this up:

They later got on Twitter and asked if I was going to come by and watch the Phillies-Braves game with them. I declined, but only because the game didn’t start until midnight local time. And because I’m never going to a Phillies bar, ever, even if it’s in dang England.

Cardinals 6, Pirates 4: St. Louis was down 4-1 heading into the seventh but rallied with two that inning and three in the eighth to take two of three from the Pirates. Harrison Bader‘s RBI single tied it and the Cards then went ahead on a bases-loaded walk. That’s a pretty depressing way for a team to lose.

Brewers 8, Mets 7: New York had leads of 4-1 and 6-4 and still woofed it away. Domingo Santana‘s two-run double in the Brewers’ four-run seventh inning aided that woofing, as did Jesus Aguilar, who hit a three-run homer and drove in four. The Brewers take three of four from the Mets, who have lost five of six.

Royals 5, Rangers 3: It was Hammel vs. Hammels here, and Jason outpitched Cole, striking out ten and getting backed by homers from Drew Butera and Sal Perez. Texas went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Oof.

Rockies 8, Reds 2: Carlos Gonzalez had four hits including an upper deck blast off of Matt Harvey, who gave up four over five and a third. David DahlNolan Arenado and Ian Desmond also homered for the Rockies, who took two of three from the Reds.

Athletics 2, Diamondbacks 1: Zack Greinke was pretty good until the sixth, when he issued a couple of walks and then gave up a tie-breaking RBI single to Matt Chapman. Coming into that inning Greinke had issued only seven walks all year. Frankie Montas pitched three-hit ball over six innings to snag his first win in his first start with the A’s.

Mariners 3, Twins 1: Mike Leake allowed one run over eight and Ryon Healy doubled home two runs in the eighth inning to break a 1-1 tie. Alex Colome made his first appearance as a Mariner and locked down the save. He won’t usually close for Seattle, but Edwin Diaz had a day off. The Mariners sweep the Twins and have won eight of nine.

Dodgers 6, Padres 1: Walker Buehler allowed one run over seven and struck out eight and Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger each homered. The Dodgers started out the season like total trash but have now won eight of ten and are only three and a half back in the West somehow.

Cubs 8, Giants 3: Cubs starter Tyler Chatwood didn’t have much, but neither did Giants starter Ty Blach, and the Cubs’ bullpen shut down the Giants for the final six and a third innings. Javier Baez‘s three-run shot in the fourth inning broke a 3-3 tie. This game lasted three and a half hours after which the Cubs got on an airplane to go play a day game today in Pittsburgh, which sounds like a load of fun. Not as fun as Pablo Sandoval playing second base, of course: