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11/01/10 1:25 AM ET

On the edge, Rangers have their top weapon

Vintage performance needed from Lee in must-win Game 5

ARLINGTON -- Before Game 4 of the 2010 World Series, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington was forced to dig out the old baseball momentum adage.

Washington was asked about momentum, because it seemed that the Rangers had finally seized the doggone thing after those two inadequate games in San Francisco. Back here at Rangers Ballpark, before a record crowd, Texas had won Game 3, the first World Series game to be played in Arlington.

Happiness reigned. Joy was unrestrained. The Rangers were obviously on their way. Momentum? Why, there was so much momentum on the Texas side of this argument that the Rangers wouldn't lose another game until Spring Training, and then only because the game wouldn't count.

But when Washington was asked if the Rangers had seized momentum in this World Series, the manager had to respond as an honest man, and an honest baseball man.

"Well, the old cliché is, 'Your momentum is only as good as your next day's pitcher,'" Washington said.

Oops. That meant that the momentum for the pivotal Game 4 was in the hands of Tommy Hunter for the Rangers and/or Madison Bumgarner for the San Francisco Giants. What happened next was exactly what the recent record suggested would happen. And that was very bad news for Texas, because it put the American League West champs one game away from defeat in this World Series.

Tommy Hunter has appeared to be the one Rangers starter who has not been up to the task of starting in the postseason. He has not been terrible, but he has also not been good enough.

On Sunday in Game 4, he delivered more of the same. Hunter could get to two strikes on hitters, but he lacked a put-away pitch and had to throw 83 pitches to get through just four innings. One of those pitches led to a two-run homer by Aubrey Huff in the third. Hunter became only the fourth pitcher in history to last four innings or fewer in three consecutive postseason starts.

In his three playoff starts, Hunter worked only 11 1/3 innings, finishing with an 0-2 record and a 5.56 ERA. Asked to characterize his postseason performance, Hunter said: "It's been a pretty big adversity."

The vision that sticks from Hunter's work on Sunday night was the right-hander pitching with two strikes on a hitter and the batter fouling off countless pitches. Asked if San Francisco's hitters could be characterized as pesky and persistent, Hunter replied: "All of the above. You have to give them credit. They played well."

The Giants became the 45th team in 106 World Series to take a 3-1 lead. Of the previous 44, 38 went on to win, 24 of them in five games. The Rangers will try to become the sixth* team in seven-game Series history to come back from 3-1.
Year Winner Loser
1985 Royals Cardinals
1979 Pirates Orioles
1968 Tigers Cardinals
1958 Yankees Braves
1925 Pirates Senators
*In the first World Series in 1903, the Boston Americans came from 3-1 down against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but that was in a nine-game series.

The pitcher with the momentum truly in hand turned out to be Bumgarner, a 21-year-old lefty. He had been 1-0 in three appearances (two starts) in this postseason, but given the circumstances, this was his finest hour. Bumgarner was superb, containing a deep and difficult Texas lineup, not giving up a hit until the fourth -- then only an infield hit -- ultimately shutting out the Rangers for eight innings on three hits.

One Rangers runner -- one -- got as far as second base against Bumgarner. That was Josh Hamilton in the seventh, and he was on base only because of an error.

"He did a good job," Hamilton said of Bumgarner. "I don't know that I saw an offspeed pitch from him."

This was the second time in the past three games in which the Rangers had been shut out. Against Matt Cain and Bumgarner combined, Texas has seven hits in 15 2/3 innings. That's where the real momentum lies in this Series.

The Rangers were saying the right things on Sunday night in regard to their chances.

"I don't sense any discouragement," third baseman Michael Young said. "There's no sense in looking at what's already happened."

But the history of teams facing a 1-3 Series deficit is grim. The Giants became the 45th team in 106 World Series to take a 3-1 lead. Of the previous 44, the team on top has gone on to win the Fall Classic 38 times, with 24 of those closing out the Series in five games.

Texas' counterpoint to that can be summed up with relative dispatch: "The only game that matters now is Game 5, and in Game 5, we've got Cliff [Lee]."

OK, Lee had a vastly substandard outing in Game 1. But the idea that Lee, who had a 1.26 ERA and a 7-0 record over his first eight postseason starts, would have back-to-back poor starts seems like fiction -- a particularly far-fetched piece of fiction, at that. It could happen, but the record, not to mention Lee's talent and determination, indicates that it will not.

"We feel pretty good about him being out there [on Monday]," Washington said.

This is how it stands now. With another brilliantly pitched game, the Giants have a 3-1 lead in the 2010 World Series. The Rangers, who seemed to have all of the momentum, now have none of it. But Texas does have Cliff Lee going in an attempt to keep this World Series alive. That may be the best part of the Rangers' current situation.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.