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10/31/10 12:06 PM ET

Hopes hinge on aces in crucial Game 5

ARLINGTON -- Pardon me if you've heard this one before, but Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum walk into a ballpark and ...

Yes, we have heard that one before, but not on the edge of victory and/or defeat in the World Series. For Game 5 of the 2010 World Series on Monday night, we have the same pitching matchup as in the opener -- Lincecum for the Giants, Lee for the Rangers.

With the Giants leading the Series, 3-1, everything is at stake in Game 5. The telecast is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

The history of teams in a 3-1 Series is not particularly forgiving for the team on the short end. The Giants became the 45th team in 106 World Series to take a 3-1 lead. Of the previous 44, the team on top has gone on to win the World Series 38 times, with 24 of those closing out the Series in five games. The last team to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Series was the 1985 Kansas City Royals, who beat the St. Louis Cardinals.

The trailing team cannot focus upon the three-game winning streak needed to take the trophy. That streak would be a difficult enough task, but even moreso for the Rangers, since the last two games of the Series would be in San Francisco. So the focus must be on Game 5 and thus on the top-shelf pitchers paired once again.

True enough, neither Lincecum nor Lee pitched as well as expected in Game 1, but Lincecum, twice an NL Cy Young Award winner, at least pitched well enough to win. Lee, who entered that game with a 7-0 record and a 1.26 ERA in eight postseason starts, gave up a largely unthinkable seven runs, six earned, in 4 2/3 innings.

World Series
Game 5: Monday, 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX
Hopes hinge on aces in crucial Game 5
Everything on line in tension-filled Game 5
Game 5 starters: Lee | Lincecum
Why they will win Game 5: Giants | Rangers
Game 4 transcripts: Giants | Rangers
2010 World Series video

Outside of San Francisco, Lee has received more media attention in this Series than Lincecum. Why? Lee's postseason domination, up until Game 1, was newsworthy in and of itself, but he is also approaching free agency. There is speculation on where he will go and how much he will be paid, and in both these sets of questions, the New York Yankees loom large. Lee has said nothing but terrific things about his experience with the Rangers, but the Yankees have overcome contentment with oodles of cash in the past.

We'll see. For now, what the heck was the problem in Game 1, Cliff?

"Yeah, I know what it was, I was throwing balls over the heart of the plate," Lee said Sunday.

But when Lee was asked if he knew why this had happened, he wasn't giving up any further insight.

"Anything I say is an excuse," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and make excuses. I threw balls down the middle of the plate and they hit them. I can't do that. Regardless of what I say it's going to sound like an excuse, so there's no point really getting into it. I've got to do a better job of locating pitches. The reason why and all that stuff, regardless of what I say it sounds like an excuse, so I'd rather not say anything."

A flimsy controversy had been constructed after Lee's interview session before Game 1. Asked what he thought was most dangerous about the Giants, Lee responded that it was pitching and defense. Anyone who saw the Series, and witnessed the performances of Matt Cain in Game 2 and Madison Bumgarner in Game 4 could not possibly disagree.

But these comments were willfully misinterpreted as Lee demeaning the Giants hitters. Lee wisely put some perspective around his comments on the Giants hitters in his Sunday media session.

"I mean, they've got a lot of quality hitters, there's no doubt about it," Lee said. "I'm just saying their pitching and defense is what got them where they're at. They've got guys that put together quality at bats, make you throw a lot of pitches, battle. Those are the guys you want on your team, guys that do that. They've got some guys that are heating up at the right times. I mean, it's a good lineup, there's no doubt about it."

Here's the deal: This Series has once again proved that great pitching tops great hitting. This has been the case with the Giants' victories in Game 2 and Game 4. It has been classic October baseball. We're moving into November for Game 5, but the theme doesn't have to change.

Now, with the Giants on the edge of a championship, and the Rangers on the edge of defeat, we have two pitchers who have at one time or another defined greatness. They can stop anybody, but which one will climb back to the top of his game? Or will both? Or will neither?

Lincecum and Lee hold the keys for Game 5 and possibly the outcome of the entire Series. This is how it is supposed to be in the Fall Classic as pitchers of classic stature take their turns.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.