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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Rangers follow Lee-der right into big opening hole

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Cliff Lee shows Texas the way. That's what he does. He shuts down Tampa Bay in the Division Series. He demolishes New York in the ALCS. He pitches, and the Rangers follow.

So where will they follow him after Game 1 of the World Series?

The Rangers lost 11-7 to San Francisco on Wednesday night, a Game 1 butt-kicking that was more damaging than only one loss. Texas fans will dispute that, but they'll be wrong. There are losses, and there are bad losses, and there are potentially crippling losses.

This was potentially crippling. The Rangers are down 1-0 in the World Series, but it feels more like a 2-0 hole, or possibly 3-1. It doesn't feel final, no. But close. Dangerously close.

Baseball is the most mental of games, and here's the mindfreak from Game 1: If San Francisco can get to unbeatable Cliff Lee, the Giants can get to anyone. Beginning with C.J. Wilson, who starts Game 2 on Thursday, and also including ALCS hero Colby Lewis in Game 3 and Tommy Hunter in Game 4.

After a Game 1 blowout nobody saw coming, the Rangers' normally bold manager, Ron Washington, talked about Wilson's outing with nothing resembling confidence.

"Hopefully he's getting pitches where he wants to, and maybe tomorrow can be a different day," Washington said. "Maybe we'll end up scoring the runs."

Anyone else fired up?

Here's what Washington said of his Superman after watching the Giants serve Lee two servings of Kryptonite.

"I saw the Giants work him pretty good," Washington said. "They got to Cliff tonight."

They'll get another crack at Lee in Game 5, assuming there is a Game 5, but who should that scare now? I'm thinking it ought to scare Lee. I'm positive it won't scare the scrappy Giants, who jumped Lee for eight hits and seven runs in 4 2/3 innings.

"This game gives us a lot of confidence," said Giants outfielder Cody Ross, who followed his MVP showing at the NLCS with an RBI single and a run in the fifth inning that ended Lee's night. "We do believe in ourselves, but it helps even more when we can put some runs on [Lee]. He's been unhittable in the postseason."

Has been. Rather, had been. Before taking Wednesday's loss, Lee was 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in eight career postseason starts, and he had PlayStation numbers this postseason: 3-0 in three starts, 0.75 ERA, 34 strikeouts in 24 innings, one walk.

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All of the fair, accurate pregame hype that turned Lee into a mythical giant now swings in the opposite direction. The story is no longer the great Cliff Lee. The story is now this: The Giants demolished the great Cliff Lee.

While the buildup to Game 1 consisted of a whole bunch of baseball writers asking a whole bunch of Giants how they could survive Lee, the hype leading up to Game 5 will be the opposite.

Hey, Cliff -- how will you survive that San Francisco lineup?

For now, that's the question Wilson must be asking himself. Already we've seen what the Giants would do to various Texas relievers. Right-hander Darren O'Day was the poor sap who had to follow Lee after Washington pulled him with two on and two out in the fifth. What was it like for the unlucky Philistine who had to follow Goliath after David ended that dude's winning streak? For O'Day, it was like this: He surrendered a three-run home run to the first batter he faced, Juan Uribe. Just like that, a 5-2 San Francisco lead became an 8-2 rout.

Right-hander Mark Lowe started the eighth with the Rangers back within quasi-striking distance at 8-4, but three of the five batters he faced got hits. Two had doubles. All three scored.

Lowe and O'Day were just doing what the Rangers' pitchers have done all postseason: They followed Lee. Now it's Wilson's turn, and before you accuse me of creating a situation that doesn't exist -- the Rangers "follow" Cliff Lee -- let me tell you what Wilson said 90 minutes before Game 1:

"I feel like getting to follow Cliff is a big deal," Wilson said. "We have enough similarities that whatever successes he has, I can try to follow and sort of draft off of him."

He'd better not draft too much, seeing how Lee drove off a cliff in Game 1 -- and the team followed over. It was more than the pummeling of O'Day and Lowe. A lot more.

It's not like the Rangers rolled over and played dead -- they scored twice in the sixth, then loaded the bases in the ninth and scored three -- but when Lee checked out of the game, some of his teammates mentally checked out with him. Ian Kinsler sloppily rounded first base on his infield single in the eighth, thinking the throw had gotten past first baseman Aubrey Huff, and was tagged out. Right fielder Vladimir Guerrero whiffed on one San Francisco single in the eighth and kicked another in a two-error disaster that ought to chase him out of the lineup for Game 2. Add that to the errors committed earlier by third baseman Michael Young and shortstop Elvis Andrus, and the Rangers produced one of their most poorly played games of the year in the franchise's World Series debut.

They were following Cliff Lee. Used to work so well for the Rangers.

They better have Plan B.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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