ARLINGTON, Texas – With one swing, Mitch Moreland(notes) propelled the Texas Rangers back into the World Series, his rocket to right field clearing the fence in an eye blink and producing three early runs that stood up in a 4-2 victory over the San Francisco Giants.
Fans everywhere but Texas and parts of Mississippi responded with one question.
Meet Mitchell Austin Moreland, product of tiny Amory, Miss., rookie first baseman with all of 145 regular-season at-bats, and now the latest unlikely Series hero. In Game 3 on Saturday night he batted ninth, the last whistle stop before the bench.
Moreland, 25, was glad to be there. He wouldn't even be in the big leagues, let alone the World Series, had the Rangers not traded premier first base prospect Justin Smoak(notes) to the Seattle Mariners for pitching ace Cliff Lee(notes) at midseason. The Texas figured the spot could be filled by in-house power prospect Chris Davis(notes) or by veteran Jorge Cantu(notes), who was acquired in a trade about the same time Smoak departed. After all, this is the same franchise that survived trading away first basemen Adrian Gonzalez(notes) and Mark Teixeira(notes).
But the left-handed hitting Moreland, a quiet, resolute type who had methodically climbed the minor league ladder – and even tried his hand at pitching – since being drafted in the 17th round out of Mississippi State in 2007, kept plugging away as Davis faltered and Cantu disappointed. By the time the postseason came around, manager Ron Washington was sold. Moreland was his guy, and by Saturday night, he was even his guy against left-handed Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez(notes), whom lefty hitters managed only a .181 average against this season.
"I'm just trying to take care of what I can do and stick with my game plan,” Moreland said. "I felt like if I did that, I'd be in the right spot at the right time.”
Sure enough, Moreland stepped to the plate with two out and two on in the second inning. Sanchez had just walked Bengie Molina(notes), showing the utmost respect to the clutch-hitting catcher who had spent the last several years with the Giants.
Moreland, the rookie nobody knew, now this was a batter Sanchez felt he could challenge.
The count went to 2-2 and Sanchez threw a slider. Moreland fouled it away. Another slider. Another foul. A changeup. Foul. Another changeup. A fourth consecutive foul ball. Finally Sanchez gave in, throwing a fastball, and Moreland crushed it. The Rangers led 3-0 and The Ballpark at Arlington went crazy.
"I knew I had a runner in scoring position and he was going to pitch me tough,” Moreland said. "I fouled off the off-speed stuff then got a fastball down and in and was able to put a good swing on it.”
After two one-sided losses at San Francisco, Texas needed a reason to believe. Moreland provided it. Josh Hamilton(notes) homered in the fifth to extend the lead to 4-0 and provide enough of a cushion to withstand late homers by the Giants' Cody Ross(notes) and Andres Torres(notes).
"Mitch is stubborn," Hamilton said. "He's not going to let anybody beat him. He's got that competitive attitude."
The blast gave the Rangers a sorely needed lead. The collective sense of relief among the 52,419 – the largest crowd ever at The Ballpark – was palpable. And Moreland's teammates settled in.
Colby Lewis(notes) pitched brilliantly for Texas over 7 2/3 innings. Darren O'Day(notes) retired Buster Posey(notes) with a runner on base to end the eighth and 22-year-old closer Neftali Feliz(notes) retired the side in order in the ninth.
The Rangers were back in business, still trailing in the series, 2-1, but looking at two more games at home. And leading the way with a .341 postseason batting average is Moreland.
"Mitch Moreland has certainly established himself as a major league player,” Washington said. "He's a battler, and when he gets his pitch he usually doesn't miss it. He gave us breathing room.”
Even though he's no longer a mystery man, Moreland won't be bumped up from the ninth spot. "With our lineup, he's sitting right where he needs to be,” Washington said.
No complaints from Moreland. He's content batting deep in the heart of the Texas batting order.
"My job is to grind out at-bats, see some pitches and try to get on base a few times,” he said. Moreland paused and grinned. Maybe he remembered he's a rookie. Maybe he realized a little Mississippi anonymity goes a long way this time of year. "Hey, I'm in the lineup!"