ARLINGTON -- Back when he was a two-time Junior Olympic judo champion at the ages of 11 and 12, Tommy Hunter's fate was in his own hands. It was one-on-one combat aimed at immobilizing the opponent.
Thankfully for Hunter, who is scheduled to get the starting nod in Game 4 of the World Series against the Giants on Sunday at 7 p.m. CT at Rangers Ballpark, that's not how it works in the postseason. Otherwise, he wouldn't be on this stage.
Hunter struggled in the American League Division Series against the Rays and the AL Championship Series against the Yankees, but his forgettable outings did not cripple the Rangers en route to an AL title.
"[My teammates] have been picking me up lately," Hunter said, "and now it's my turn to pick them up."
Key stat: Was perfect (7-0) at home this season until ALDS loss
Key stat: Held left-handed batters to .243 batting average in regular season
2010: 2 GS, 0-1, 6.14 ERA Career: 2 GS, 0-1, 6.14 ERA
2010: 3 G, 2 GS, 1-0, 3.55 ERA Career: 3 G, 2 GS, 1-0, 3.55 ERA
At RANGERS BALLPARK
2010: 13 G, 12 GS, 7-1, 3.14 ERA
Career: 25 G, 24 GS, 13-5, 3.72 ERA
2010: N/A Career: N/A
Against this opponent
2010: N/A Career: N/A
Loves to face: Cody Ross (0-for-1) Hates to face: Pat Burrell (1-for-3)
Loves to face: N/A
Hates to face: Jorge Cantu (1-for-3)
Why he'll win: Comfortable at home ballpark
Why he'll win: Young lefty has shown no fear
Pitcher beware: Has pitched poorly in postseason thus far
Pitcher beware: Has struggled (.322 BA, .355 OBP) to put leadoff hitters away
Bottom line: Home sweet home
Bottom line: Confident rookie
The Rangers needed a pick-me-up after falling behind 0-2 in the first two games in San Francisco, and they got it from Colby Lewis, who was magnificent over 7 2/3 innings in the 4-2 victory in Game 3.
Thanks to Lewis, the Rangers are now back in this Series, and Hunter will get the starting nod, as scheduled. Had they lost Game 3, it's possible Cliff Lee would have been thrust into Game 4 duty on short rest.
Hunter has another reason to thank Lewis. In charting Lewis' work Saturday night, he saw how a right-hander can tame what had been a red-hot Giants lineup.
"The most important thing for [Hunter] is to be aggressive in the zone -- move the ball around, locate the breaking balls, locate the cutter," catcher Bengie Molina said. "Just like Colby, [he needs to] just move the ball around."
Hunter, of course, isn't exactly like Lewis, who throws a slider that Hunter does not possess, while Hunter throws more curveballs. The curveball, in fact, could be a key in this start for Hunter. If he can locate it against a Giants lineup that leans right, he'll be successful.
In Game 4 of the ALCS, Hunter got pummeled on pitches left up in the zone to a lefty-laden Yankees lineup. He allowed three runs on five hits in just 3 1/3 innings. Against the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS, it was three runs (two earned) on six hits in four innings. Both times, manager Ron Washington had to turn to left-hander Derek Holland for long relief, and Holland did an admirable job, under the circumstances.
Rather than simply have Holland, who is ordinarily a starter, and Hunter switch roles for the Series, Washington is sticking with Hunter, the rotund right-hander who went 13-4 with a 3.73 ERA in 23 appearances, including 22 starts, in the regular season.
"He's a competitor," Washington said of Hunter. "He will be out there competing. He will try to make the adjustments that he's supposed to make. He wants the ball. He's everything that you would like out there on the mound, and if he can go out there and execute it, we'll be very happy."
Throughout the season and postseason, Hunter hasn't adjusted his game plan much, regardless of who is standing at the plate. He is a contact pitcher, not a strikeout guy, and he tends to challenge the opposition early in the count.
That plan won't be altered in Game 4.
"I'm not going to change the game plan just because this is the World Series," he said. "I'm going to continue to go after them and pound the zone."
One thing Hunter has going for him on this stage is his unchanging personality. He is one of Texas' clubhouse clowns, an easygoing guy not intimidated by the bright lights.
"It's an important time of year," he said. "This is what you've played your whole life for. But inside the lines, nothing has changed. It's still a baseball game. The plate is still 60 feet, 6 inches away from you, the basepaths are 90 feet. Nothing changes. It's baseball."
Not judo. Though Hunter hopes to emerge a champion in both.