The Big Five with … Rangers pitcher Cliff Lee

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Before Cliff Lee signs a mega-free-agent deal this off-season, he’s got another showdown with Tim Lincecum coming in Game 5. And this time, he’ll have to bounce back after one of his worst starts of the year — and certainly the worst in his otherwise brilliant postseason career. Not to mention, facing The Big Five: 

You’ve set such a high standard for yourself that on the rare occasion when you did struggle, was it a surprise to you?

“I don’t know if it was a surprise. I know every time I go out there, I expect to be successful. So any time it’s anything less than that, you’re disappointed. You never know what’s going to happen out there. Those guys swinging the bat are pretty good, too. If you make mistakes, that’s what they get paid to hit. I was throwing a lot of balls over the plate. You can’t do that on a consistent basis and expect to be successful. They showed me that the other night.”

Was there any issue with the mound in Game 1?

“No, none. I know I kick and scratch on the mound, but I do that every time, if you’ve watched close enough. That’s part of, I guess, my in-between-pitch routine and what I do. I like to pay attention to where my foot is hitting. I try to keep (the landing spot) smooth and level and clean.”

You said after Game 1 that health wasn’t an issue for you. Have you figured out why that happened? Was it a mechanical thing, or something else you need to change?

“Anything I say is an excuse, and I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. I threw balls down the middle of the plate, and they hit them. I’ve got to do a better job of locating pitches. The reason why, and all that stuff, regardless of what I say, it sounds like an excuse, so I’d rather not say anything.”

Has your opinion of the Giants hitters changed at all since the series began?

“They’ve got a lot of quality hitters; there’s no doubt about it. In the last press conference, I was saying how good their pitching staff was, and it made it seem like their hitters aren’t as good — and that’s not the case. They proved it in San Francisco for sure. They scored, what was it, 20-something runs in two games? They’re pitch-able, but like I say, if you make mistakes and miss over the plate, and they’re 2-0, 3-1 (in the count), bad things are going to happen.”

You’ve been with the Rangers for just more than four months. What’s your take on your time here?

“It’s been a great experience; they’re great teammates. I knew the offense was unbelievable before I got here because I’ve had to face them in the past, and it hasn’t been a whole lot of fun. I knew we were going to score runs, no question about that.

“It’s definitely one unit working together. There are a lot of individually talented players, but we really do pull for each other, and if someone doesn’t get it done, the next guy is there to do it. That’s the recipe for a winning team, and that’s why we are where we’re at.”

Editor’s note: Tony DeMarco is a contributor to NBCSports.com who has been covering the big leagues since 1987. He’ll interview a guest during each day of the World Series for HardballTalk.com.

There was another miscommunication between the Phillies and Pat Neshek

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Back in June 2017, then-manager of the Phillies Pete Mackanin and reliever Pat Neshek had some miscommunication. In a series against the Cardinals, Neshek worked a five-pitch eighth inning and it was believed he would come back out for the ninth inning, but he never did. Mackanin said Neshek said he didn’t want to pitch another inning. Neshek said he was never asked. There was also some miscommunication the game prior. Neshek thought he had the day off; Mackanin said Neshek said he wasn’t available to pitch.

Mackanin is no longer the Phillies’ manager, but the miscommunication between Neshek and the team apparently persist. Neshek was notably absent during the Phillies’ hard-fought 5-4 win over the Cubs on Monday night. The game featured a struggling Seranthony Domínguez pitching two innings, yielding three crucial runs in his second inning of work.

Manager Gabe Kapler called the bullpen and instructed Neshek to begin warming up to prepare to face Albert Almora, Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Kapler rang the bullpen after Domínguez walked Jason Heyward, who batted ahead of Almora. Neshek wasn’t warmed up yet. Domínguez was able to retire Almora on a sacrifice bunt, which was reviewed and gave Neshek some extra time to get ready. He was ready for the next batter, Daniel Descalso, but at this point Kapler no longer wanted to bring Neshek into the game. Descalso lined a triple to left-center field, scoring two runs and came home himself when shortstop Jean Segura‘s throw caromed off of his foot out of play.

Recounting the situation, Neshek said, “I got on the mound and threw two pitches. [Kapler] said, ‘Is he ready?’ And I said, ‘No. I’m not ready yet. I’ve thrown two pitches.” Neshek was asked how long it takes him to get ready. The veteran said, “A minute. Not 20 seconds. I’m, like, the best in the league at getting ready. My whole career has been coming in like that.”

The Phillies were able to eke out a 5-4 win. Had they lost the game, Kapler and Neshek would likely have been under the microscope for the awkward situation leading to a crushing defeat. Kapler drew plenty of criticism over his bullpen management last year in his rookie managerial season. That included bringing in lefty reliever Hoby Milner into a game in which he hadn’t yet warmed up.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the manager who struggled with bullpen management last year nearly mucked up a win last night, and maybe it’s just a coincidence that a reliever who’s had prior issues with communication had another communication mix-up. Maybe it’s not. It’s worth noting that the Phillies needed three innings from the bullpen to protect a 2-1 lead over the Cubs on Tuesday. Kapler called on rookie Edgar Garcia for two outs, lefty José Álvarez for four, and then brought in Juan Nicasio to close things out in the ninth. No Neshek, even as Nicasio got into trouble. Nicasio would surrender the tying and go-ahead runs, resulting in a deflating 3-2 loss.