First impressions: Initial score has benefits

First impressions: Initial score has benefits

First impressions: Initial score has benefits
ARLINGTON -- Call it aggressive, a simple matter of gaining an immediate edge.

Call it a relief, something that eases a team's task by erasing the zero alongside its name on the scoreboard.

Just don't call it coincidental.

"It" is a ballclub's ability to open the scoring, a boon in any team sport. The Texas Rangers' 4-0 victory Sunday over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the World Series illustrated the importance of being first to jump ahead.

This contest resembled a six-furlong thoroughbred race featuring an outstanding "speed" horse -- a sprinter who can wear down the opposition early. Rangers left-hander Derek Holland was the horse, churning across 8 1/3 innings.

QUICK STARTS PAY OFF
In 2011, the Rangers posted the Majors' highest winning percentage in games in which they scored the first run.
Team Win Pct.
Texas .796
Atlanta .788
Philadelphia .784
Detroit .770
Tampa Bay .759

"The story of the game was, Derek Holland was better than the St. Louis Cardinals tonight," said Lance Berkman, who collected the only two hits Holland allowed.

A pattern was established in the first inning. St. Louis' Rafael Furcal opened the game by scorching a line drive that Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre snared, preventing an extra-base hit. With one out in their half of the first, the Rangers scored on an RBI double by the embattled Josh Hamilton.

The game was far from over, but Texas had found a comfort zone.

"That play in the first by Adrian was absolutely huge," Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "He takes away a leadoff double down the line and we were able to score in the bottom of the first. That put us in charge."

That's how ballgames frequently unfold, particularly for the Rangers. They recorded a .796 winning percentage when scoring first, best in the Major Leagues. Three of the other top five teams in this category -- Philadelphia (.784), Detroit (.770) and Tampa Bay (.759) -- reached the postseason. And Atlanta (.788) barely missed.

"It's always nice to score first," Rangers outfielder David Murphy said. "It gives you a little breathing room and gives the pitcher a little bit of breathing room. You feel like you have a little bit of momentum going. It's always nice to get that done -- whether you're home or on the road."

The Cardinals realize that. They scored first in their previous 10 games, winning seven of them.

St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina cited the significance of Texas' first-inning run.

"I don't want to say it's nothing, because [Holland] was pitching well," said Molina. "We didn't score tonight. One run was enough for them."

Interestingly, in the Division Series and League Championship Series in both leagues this year, teams that scored first posted a mediocre 16-15 record. Of course, postseason opponents tend to be much more evenly matched, so early scoring bears less of an impact.

As Murphy said, "We've talked about resilience a lot. If we don't get it done once, we'll make something happen and get it done the next time."

But so far in this World Series, the team that scores first is 3-1. That's largely because the pitching has been high quality, Saturday's 23-run outburst in Game 3 notwithstanding. An early lead will usually hold up more frequently.

Given how evenly matched the Rangers and Cardinals appear, it'll be intriguing to see whether scoring first proves to be essential or irrelevant as the Series draws to a conclusion.

Murphy indicated that the Rangers can thrive without following typical formulas for victory.

"I think we do a great job of making each individual game each individual game," he said. "It's nice if we do win to try to roll that over into the next one. If we don't play well and lose, we forget about that game, drive home and when we wake up the next morning, it's a clean slate."

Berkman echoed Murphy's sentiment while employing different words.

"They've won two games and we've won two games. I don't think there's anything to read into it," he said. "We're just going to see who can win two of out of the next three. It's just a good series."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.