ARLINGTON, Texas — Mitch Moreland might not even be in the majors had the Texas Rangers not traded for Cliff Lee.
Now the rookie first baseman is one of the big bats in a Texas lineup that finally showed some life in the World Series.
Moreland, an Amory native who was a standout for Mississippi State, hit a three-run homer, Josh Hamilton added a solo shot and the Rangers won their first World Series home game, beating San Francisco 4-2 on Saturday night to cut their deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Both left-handed hitters connected off Giants lefty Jonathan Sanchez.
“Mitch had already hit a home run, and I saw how he battled up there,” said Hamilton, who hit 32 homers in the regular season while leading the majors with a .359 batting average. “Mitch is stubborn. He’s not going to let anybody beat him. He’s got that competitive attitude about him.”
Returning home to Rangers Ballpark cured whatever was ailing the Texas offense after two miserable games by the bay at AT&T Park, where the Rangers still have never won a game. They need to change that if they’re going to win this World Series.
But the AL champions showed their resiliency again. If they hadn’t, the first World Series in the franchise’s 50 seasons would almost be done.
“We wanted to come out here, play well, get a win and get some momentum back on our side,” Michael Young said. “The biggest thing, we started playing our style of baseball again. We can even get better. We can really bust through offensively. … We had a couple of great at-bats that led to some runs.”
Hamilton, Young and Nelson Cruz went a combined 3 for 25 during the two games in San Francisco, where the Rangers hit .227 and were outscored 20-9.
Cruz had a leadoff double in the second inning and was at third before Bengie Molina drew a two-out walk. Moreland then fouled off four consecutive 2-2 pitches before the No. 9 hitter in the lineup knocked a ball into the right-field seats.
“He’s a guy that’s not scared, not scared of the big stage, not scared of the situation he’s in,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said.
Hamilton, like Young 1 for 8 with no RBIs in the first two games, homered in the fifth to make it 4-0, sending the already-excited Rangers Ballpark record crowd of 52,419 into an absolute frenzy.
“This is the way we’re used to playing,” Cruz said.
Young, the longest-tenured Rangers player in his 10th season and the team’s career hits leader, got back on track with two singles.
By winning Game 3, the Rangers don’t even have to consider pitching Lee on three days’ rest because Sunday won’t be a potential elimination game.
Tommy Hunter starts Game 4. Lee, who took his first postseason loss with his shortest outing (4 2-3 innings) in Game 1, gets the ball for Game 5 on Monday night.
The Rangers acquired Lee on July 9 from Seattle after it appeared the ace left-hander was headed to the defending World Series champion New York Yankees. One of the reasons Texas was able to make the deal was the willingness to trade rookie first baseman Justin Smoak, a top prospect already playing in the majors.
Moreland became the Rangers’ fifth starting first baseman when he made his major league debut July 27. Chris Davis, Ryan Garko and Joaquin Arias had also started there for Texas.
Now he’s gone from the minor leagues to the World Series in three months without seeming overwhelmed by the experience.
“I’ve got the opportunity, and it’s been a lot of fun so far,” Moreland said.
Two days after Moreland’s debut, veteran Jorge Cantu was acquired from Florida in a trade. The plan was to let the right-handed hitting Cantu play mostly against left-handed pitchers, and the left-handed hitting Moreland would get the other games.
Texas manager Ron Washington went into the playoffs expecting to stick with that plan even though Cantu hit only .235 with one home run and two RBIs in 30 regular-season games for Texas.
Cantu started Game 1 of the division series against Tampa Bay left-hander David Price and went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. Cantu also started the opener of the AL championship series against Yankees lefty CC Sabathia and went 0 for 3. Cantu has gotten only one other at-bat this postseason.
“Mitch Moreland has certainly established himself as a major league player. He’s just a battler,” Washington said. “He goes up there and he uses every bit of talent he has. He fights, and when he gets his pitch, he don’t usually miss it. ”
Moreland has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 postseason games. His biggest hit came in Game 3 when he did what Lee hasn’t been able to do yet: help the Rangers win a World Series game.
“Even apart from the result, it was a great at-bat. He was battling, fouling off some tough pitches,” Young said. “He knows what’s at stake. He’s mentally tough and has ability and found a way to perform.”
And because of Moreland and the rest of the bats, Lee will definitely get another chance.
Stephen Hawkins/The Associated Press