6 outs to go.
That’s how close the Rangers came to an improbable three game sweep of the Rays.
Ian Kinsler’s solo shot broke open a 1-1 game in the bottom of the 7th. All Texas needed to do is get six outs against a team that had scored a mere two runs in the past 25 innings and the ALCS was theirs for the first time.
It was not to be. The Rays, who Buck Martinez continually reminds us can be lethal in the 8th inning, proved him right, getting two in the 8th and three in the 9th to put the Rangers’ celebration plans on hold.
The game was somewhat reminiscent of the regular season game at the Trop when Cliff Lee was cruising and Tampa came back to win. Shoddy defense was the culprit for the Rangers in that game. This one is all on the relief corps.
Colby Lewis probably went an inning shorter than Texas wanted. That said, it was the failure of Derek Holland, asked to fill the long relief role in the ALDS, which started the ball rolling towards defeat. Holland failed in his role and it forced everyone else in the relief corps to assume their roles earlier than usual. Alexi Ogando, who pitches best when starting an inning, came in with runners on. Ogando’s one weak spot is allowing inherited runners to score. Neftali Feliz was forced to come in in the 8th inning instead of the 9th. That forced Ron Washington to put his last reliever, Dustin Nippert, in the game. One two-run home run later, the Rays lead was insurmountable.
It’s amazing how much worse a loss feels when it’s a loss in the playoffs. A post-season win makes a fan feel his or her team is invincible. A loss in same and the fan can feel like it’s all about to crumble. I bet professional athletes sometimes look at fans in amazement and say, “Come on, guys. It’s just a game!”
To them, it is. I have no doubt the Rangers will go into today’s game giving no further thought to yesterday’s loss. If anything, they’ve already done their post-mortem of the game, figured out where they can improve, and will be ready to work on that improvement this afternoon.
Despite the loss, I was heartened by Nelson Cruz’ 9th inning home run. To me, that was a good message to send, even if it was just sent to the fans and not the Rays: Don’t count us out, cuz we can come back!
Example of the Difference Between Regular Season and Post-Season Games: In the regular season, Josh Hamilton saw all kinds of pitches on a regular basis. In the post-season, Hamilton has seen nothing but a steady stream of breaking balls. If the Rays go down, they don’t want it to be Hamilton that beat them.
It’s up to Tommy Hunter today to pitch the Rangers to the next round. He’s had one good game and one bad game against the Rays in 2010. On paper, Hunter appears to be the better starter. Even if he is, it’ll probably be up to the bullpen again to put it away. Despite a 2-1 series lead, this team’s entire history weighs heavily on the minds of its fans. Pessimism abounds right now.
Lucky for us our team doesn’t approach the game the same way its fans do!