First rule of '23 World Series: No lead is safe

October 28th, 2023

ARLINGTON -- The group from Arizona proudly calls itself the “Answerbacks,” and after that Game 1, the Rangers might have to come up with something thematically catchy of their own.

Globe Life Field struggled to contain the energy of its largest crowd in its four seasons on Friday when the Rangers surged to a 2-0 lead in the first inning of the club’s first World Series game in 12 years. That crowd cooled when the resilient D-backs punched back, and it went ballistic when Corey Seager and Adolis García crushed late homers to send Texas to a walk-off 6-5 win in 11 innings and a 1-0 Series lead.

It was an epic first act, featuring the World Series’ first multirun comeback in the ninth inning or later since the Royals against the Mets in Game 5 in 2015 and the 11th game-tying homer to erase a deficit in the ninth inning or later in a Fall Classic -- and these teams provide a great recipe for more such drama.

“As much as we've kind of taken some games and run away with them, it felt like we needed to battle back and play some catch-up,” said Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe.

Consider this: During the regular season, the D-backs ranked fourth in MLB with 43 comeback wins, and the Rangers weren’t far behind them, with 39.

Now, as they clash, both teams have potent playmakers rising to the occasion on offense, and both pitching staffs have theoretical soft spots that could become outright weaknesses at the drop of a hat in the pressure-packed environment of the Fall Classic.

This World Series is the first in which both ballparks are climate-controlled, in contrast to the often chilly and unpredictable conditions this time of year, which could favor more hitting -- and that’s not to mention that both Globe Life Field and Chase Field have generally been favorable to offenses.

All that’s to say: In this World Series, no lead is safe -- on either side. We saw that -- and spectacularly so -- in that crazy Game 1.

“We’re not going to have a whole lot of time to dwell on that,” said D-backs third baseman Evan Longoria. “I just think the message should be that for eight innings and one out, we were winning that game.”

But the teams’ best paths to mounting those comebacks could look different.

How about that decision now by Arizona to go with 12 pitchers instead of 13? It was a seemingly minor call at the time to get another left-handed hitter -- Jace Peterson -- on the roster, but it also means the D-backs have less length in their bullpen.

Put more plainly: Game 3 starter Brandon Pfaadt, who has been handled with kid gloves, might have to see more hitters a third time through the order (when opponents have tagged the rookie for a collective 1.193 OPS), as might Arizona’s other starters. And that’s to say nothing of whatever pitching plan the D-backs will have to scrape together in Game 4 with a short staff.

“It might mean that Brandon does have to go a little deeper into the game,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “The anticipation is that we've got to be a little bit crafty and a little more careful knowing we don't have 50 or 60 pitches sitting on that 14th pitcher in the bullpen.”

Taking advantage of those early opportunities might be the better bet for a Texas offense that, for whatever reason, has struggled to mount late comebacks all year. Before Friday, the Rangers’ only comeback wins this October were in Game 2 of the American League Division Series vs. the Orioles and Game 6 of the AL Championship Series vs. the Astros -- and those leads flipped in the second and fourth innings, respectively.

During the regular season, the Rangers went 5-44 in games they trailed after six innings; 2-52 when trailing after seven; and 1-58 when trailing after eight.

Then again, with a struggling Andrew Saalfrank left out of Friday’s leverage group and both Kevin Ginkel and Paul Sewald looking mortal -- especially so after Sewald allowed the game-tying homer to Seager in the ninth -- that Arizona bullpen suddenly looks more beatable.

On the other side, the only consistency of this postseason has been that these D-backs can never be counted out -- whether in the big picture, or within any game.

They did erase an early 2-0 deficit on Friday, and had they held on, they would have snagged their fourth multirun comeback win of the playoffs, which would have tied for the third most in a single postseason. Arizona was 11-57 when trailing after six, 11-60 when trailing after seven and 4-64 when trailing after eight in the regular season.

Though the Rangers’ bullpen has walked the tightrope, they’re going to have to lean on Josh Sborz and Aroldis Chapman, who have wavered in consistency -- and the memory of Jose Altuve’s game-winning three-run homer off José Leclerc in Game 5 of the ALCS remains fresh.

And Arizona has chaos on its side, with the skillset to mount pressure like few other teams can. In defeat on Friday, the D-backs stole four bases, becoming the first team in postseason history to steal four or more bases in three consecutive games.

They were second in baseball in taking bases on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches and the like. They’re elite at having the lead runner take the extra base on hits, they rank near the top of the Majors in bunting and productive outs, and they’re athletic enough to scrape together runs like Corbin Carroll avoiding the tag while sliding into home on a fielder’s choice in the third inning.

“Obviously, that team over there has a lot of resilience,” said Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien. “They came back and put a lot of good at-bats together.”

The D-backs came in with that reputation of resilience. The Rangers didn’t have that in the regular season, but they showed it when it mattered, and if García has anything to say about it, they’ve got more in the tank.

Buckle up.