Smoak-ee and Smoak-er: Rangers 6, Mariners 5

I was ready to curse the “Curse of Smoak” in the first inning, when former Ranger Justin Smoak homered for the third consecutive game against the Rangers, giving Seattle a 2-0 lead in Rich Harden’s “Goodbye and Good Riddance” farewell start.

By the end of the game, instead, I was pleased Texas benefitted from the upside of losing Smoak. He couldn’t handle the throw from catcher on a Nelson Cruz strikeout, allowing Mitch Moreland to score the winning run all the way from first base.

Smoak has shown the last three days that the Rangers would have been well-served sending him back to the minors to get some things straightened out when he was slumping. They couldn’t afford to in a pennant race. When they shipped Smoak off to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal, he performed even worse for the Mariners. Seattle had nothing to lose so they sent him down to Tacoma. Since his return, Smoak’s stroke seems to have returned as well and he is once again the uber-prospect scouts were talking about from the day he was drafted.

Smoak does have a downside, however. He is slow on the basepaths and slow to the ball defensively. When he arrived in Arlington, he needed extra work on scooping low throws when several scooted past him in game situations.

Wednesday, it was a throw from catcher Smoak couldn’t handle and it cost the M’s the game. Granted, Nelson Cruz’ big body may have affected Smoak’s line of sight, but it’s a play that has to be made and, fortunately for the Rangers, he didn’t.

Now Texas can claim walk-off wins in the last month of 1) a bases loaded HBP; 2) a passed ball on an easily handled pitch; and 3) a two-out strikeout. As mentioned on the radio broadcast, all we need now is a walk-off win on a balk to hit some kind of jackpot.

Win number 88 seals a 4th straight record of improvement in every year of Ron Washington’s tenure. It also ensures a 10 game lead with four games to go and keeps that magic goal of 92 still within reach.

On the downside, David Murphy was pulled early with a groin strain and how much time he’ll miss, if any, is unknown at this writing. If the Rangers can ill afford anyone in the line-up being out, it is Murphy. The man I called a “semi-regular” in a previous post has only been one of the Rangers’ major lifesavers all season long. He’s helped Texas survive three Nelson Cruz DL trips and what is now a 23-game Josh Hamilton absence in which Texas has managed a 13-10 record. Murph’s September play has been exceptional. We cannot afford to lose him now.

Texas finishes 2010 with a 12-7 slate against the Mariners. Four games left against the Angels, starting with Cliff Lee Thursday night. Onward and upward!


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