Tagged: Darren Oliver

What If Koji Uehara…?

In 2011 with the Baltimore Orioles, Koji Uehara threw 47 innings, allowing only 25 hits, walked a mere 8 batters and struck out 62. He allowed only 9 earned runs and had a 1.72 ERA.

In 2012 with the Texas Rangers, Uehara threw 36 innings, allowing only 20 hits, 3 walks, 43 strikeouts, only 7 earned runs and a 1.75 ERA.

In 2013 with the Boston Red Sox, Koji tossed 74.1 innings, allowing only 33 hits, 9 earned runs, 9 walks and 101 strikeouts with a 1.09 ERA and 21 saves.

In two post-season series in 2013, the amazing Koji has pitched nine innings, allowing one run on only 5 hits with no walks and 13 strikeouts, compiling a win, a loss and 5 saves. He was the Most Valuable Player in the ALCS series against the Detroit Tigers and is now headed to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

By all accounts, Koji Uehara has had a pretty amazing last three years of baseball. And that really irritates me.


Koji Uehara with the Rangers

Koji Uehara with the Rangers

Because between his 2011 season with the Baltimore Orioles and his 2012 season with the Texas Rangers came the 2011 trade that brought him to the Texas Rangers in the first place. Orioles fans sure remember that trade. They got Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter out of it. Texas got what they were sure was going to be their 7th inning set-up guy to steamroll their way to the 2011 World Series Championship. They were willing to pay a steep price for it.

Nobody knows what happened. We do know Koji really loved being in Baltimore and was maybe a little stunned with the trade. If it was missing Baltimore or a physical issue, nobody knows for sure. What we do know is the Koji Uehara described above was not the Koji Uehara the 2011 Rangers got. His numbers for Texas in 2011? 18 innings pitched, 13 hits, 1 walk and 23 strikeouts. So far so good. Unfortunately, 5 of the 13 hits were home runs, accounting for most of the eight earned runs charged to him. Uehara compiled a 4.00 ERA with Texas. It got worse. He appeared in three post-season games in 2011, once against Tampa Bay and twice against Detroit. In the ALDS vs. the Rays, Uehara allowed 3 runs on a walk and two hits, one a home run. He failed to get an out. His two games against Detroit resulted in two runs allowed, both on home runs. Uehara did manage to retire four Detroit batters. Koji was so bad for the Rangers that when it came time to set the World Series roster to face the Cardinals, his name was not found, replaced by Mark Lowe.

The name of this blog is “One Strike Away…Twice!” It describes how close the Texas Rangers came to winning the 2011 World Series in Game 6 against St. Louis. After Neftali Feliz blew the save in the 9th inning (with the help of a horribly played fly ball to Nelson Cruz), the Rangers took the lead on a Josh Hamilton home run in the 10th. The Cards tied it back up in the bottom of the 10th and won it on a home run leading off the bottom of the 11th. The Rangers pitchers who faced the Cardinals in the 10th and 11th were Darren Oliver, Scott Feldman and Mark Lowe.

If the Koji Uehara at the end of 2011 was the same Koji Uehara that started 2011 in Baltimore and the same Koji Uehara that major league baseball has seen in 2012 and 2013 with the Rangers and the Red Sox, I can’t help but think the Texas Rangers would have been the World Series Champions.

If the Red Sox go on to beat the Cardinals in the 2013 World Series, Koji Uehara may very well haunt the rest of my days as a Texas Rangers fan.


A Father’s Day Story 2001

Author’s Note: This will be a multiple-post day. Since it’s Father’s Day, I thought I’d re-share, for those who missed it, my Father’s Day post from 2010. Happy  Father’s Day, one and all!

June 15th, 2001. It was a Friday. Mrs. 40 Year Ranger Fan (although she hyphenates the name Mrs.Mariner Fan-40 Year Ranger Fan) approached me as we were preparing to sleep for the night.

“Honey, you know my friend (name withheld to protect the guilty)? She had a special piece of furniture made for her father for Father’s Day. It’s a guy who lives north of town and it’s a pretty heavy piece. She wants to bring it home and get it in the house before her father wakes up so it’ll be there for Father’s Day.” She then stumbled through the next sentence. “I… I kind of… Well, I kind of promised her we’d help her pick it up.”

“OK,” I said, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It did.

“We’re going to have to go over to her house at 5 AM. Don’t be upset, baby. She’s done a lot for us and I want to help her!”

“OK,” I said, already thinking about setting the alarm for 4 AM on Father’s Day.

Sunday arrives. The alarm rings at 4 AM. Groggily I take a shower and get dressed. The hot water doesn’t even begin to wake me up. We drive over to the friend’s house. When we arrive, all the lights are out at her house. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The wife gets out the cell phone and calls. No answer on her friend’s cell phone. “I hate the idea of waking her father up, but I need to call her home number,” she says. Apparantly somebody answers because see tells me, “She overslept. She’ll be right out.”

I’m falling asleep in the car.

Eventually the friend comes out, carrying her 4-year old son and some other stuff. I’m not paying much attention. I’m just sleepy.

The missus tells me to get into her friend’s car. I comply. The friend puts the 4-year old in the back seat with me. He’s as sleepy as I am. While I note it, I don’t think anything of the fact that the friend’s mother and father are standing right there on the front step. I may have thought that the surprise for her dad must be ruined since he’s seeing her leave, but that was about it. I pay no attention to what the wife is doing as she’s putting things in the trunk.

We depart in the friend’s vehicle and head north. We reach the next town and continue heading north. After 15 minutes or so we have cleared the northern border of said next town. Wearily, I ask, “Where is this piece of furniture, in Falfurrias (about an hour away)? My wife turns around in the front seat.

“Actually, we’re not going to get a piece of furniture.”

“What are we doing then?”

“We’re going to Houston to see the Astros-Rangers game.”

“Yeah, right. Houston is six hours away.”

“I’m serious, baby. We’re going to Houston to see the Astros-Rangers game!”

“I can’t go to a game. I don’t have the right clothes to go to a ball game! I need a jersey and a cap”

“I already packed it. I can’t believe I pulled this off. You didn’t have a clue!”

She was right. I didn’t have a clue.

We drove six hours to Houston to what was still Enron Field at the time. On the way, I opened Father’s Day cards from my wife and our one remaining son at home. My son gave me a book on major league ballparks. When the 4-year old woke up we got acquainted. I was glad to talk to someone who was as clueless as I was.

We met up with a friend of the friend in front of the ballpark and took our seats, upper deck on the third base side. The Rangers started Darren Oliver against the Astros Scott Elarton. We scored a run in the top of the first on a Ruben Sierra sac fly, but the ‘stros came back in the bottom of the first with a solo shot by Craig Biggio.

Biggio struck again with his second homer of the game in the third inning. It stayed 2-1 Astros until the top of the 5th when Pudge Rodriguez knocked in a run with a single and Alex Rodriguez followed with a three-run shot to make it 5-2. A 9th inning sac fly by Bo Porter (who I don’t even remember) closed out the scoring and the Rangers won for me on Father’s Day 6-2.

After the game, we started filing out of the park. We were close to the wall looking out over the street and the 4-year-old accidentally drops his souvenier 12-inch bat over the side. Thank goodness it didn’t hit anyone! We drove home and I was back at work the next day following a one day 12-hour road trip with a three hour game in between.

While it was the first time I discovered that I don’t recover as quickly from one day road trips as I used to, it was an unforgettable Father’s Day surprise. Thanks, honey!

Sizing Up The Free Agents

The Hot Stove League has begun and, if you know anything about the Texas Rangers, it is this: Whatever you’re hearing in terms of buzz, it’s mostly speculation. Because once the Rangers make a move, it tends to be a surprise to everyone.

Last year in the off-season, the speculation was whether Cliff Lee would re-sign with the Rangers. Texas put on a hard-court press to get Lee to re-up with them. That IS what was reported. What nobody saw coming was what followed losing out on the Lee sweepstakes: the trade with Toronto that brought Mike Napoli to Texas and the signing of Adrian Beltre to a 5-year contract when just about every media source pegged Beltre as going to the Angels.

Jon Daniels is a cagey GM who is constantly thinking three moves ahead. If Plan A doesn’t work out, Daniels already has Plans B, C and maybe even D in mind. He also has a penchant for hammering out double moves, such as two years ago when he shipped Kevin Millwood and much of his salary to the Baltimore Orioles and used the salary savings and immediately signed Rich Harden to a one-year deal.

With new ownership having deep pockets and a team that’s been to back-to-back World series, it’s inevitable the Rangers are considered to be in the mix for just about every free agent out there this off-season. Already, Texas is being mentioned as a suitor for Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, two of the biggest names out there. It makes sense from the standpoint that first base is the Rangers’ weakest offensive position. I’m almost willing to bet we will NOT see Pujols or Fielder in a Rangers uniform.

Even with more money to work with (ownership has already as much as committed to a $100 million plus payroll in 2012), I’m pretty sure Daniels is smart enough to know it’s still all about spending money smartly and that doesn’t always translate into the big-dollar guys.

First, let’s take a look at the Rangers’ own free agents and the likelihood of being re-signed.

Endy Chavez: Chavez was  a great comeback story, returning from two years of injuries to ably replace Julio Borbon when he went on the DL in May. Chavez probably did better in 2011 than Borbon would have had he not been injured. Still, Chavez is unlikely to return to the fold. The Rangers still have Craig Gentry as a back-up outfielder, Borbon will be back and Cuban defector Leonys Martin is already knocking ont he door waiting for his chance to roam center field. Good luck, Endy. Hope you get a good contract from someone.

Mike Gonzalez: The lefty was acquired from the Orioles and was on every Rangers post-season roster. Odds are pretty good Texas makes him an offer to stick around and, if Gonzalez wants a chance to win instead of the most dollars available, he’ll be glad to ink a new contract.

Darren Oliver: The Rangers’ designated LOOGY and the old man of the bullpen at 42, Oliver lives in Dallas and has indicated he’s leaning towards returning instead of retiring. If so, I’m positive he’ll re-up with Texas at a hometown discount to give himself one more shot at a World Championship.

Matt Treanor: I was a Treanor fan in 2010 and was happy when he came back for the stretch run in 2011. However, Treanor won’t be back unless Texas decides to part ways with Yorvit Torrealba, which I hope they don’t. Maybe he’ll sign a minor league deal with Texas, much like the one that brought him the Rangers way in 2010.

CJ Wilson: This is the multi-million dollar question. Will CJ come back or head for much greener pastures. Wilson is a West Coast guy, so speculation is rife for the Angels to be after him. Obviously the Yankees are going to be in the mix and will likely offer him the most money. Reports also have the Nationals interested, which I understand. He’d be a nice complementary piece to Strasbourg. I put the odds at 50-50 for Wilson to return. texas wants him back, but even with more money to play with, they don’t want CJ to break the bank.

That brings us to everyone else’s free agents. If Texas doesn’t go after Pujols or Fielder, who will they court? Here’s how I look at it. This year’s free agent class isn’t the strongest to begin with. In addition, Texas has VERY big decisions to make after the 2012 season, when Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Michael Young and Colby Lewis can all walk away to other teams. I think the Rangers are going to play small ball this year in the free agent market, looking for bargains and trying to fill specific needs. With that in mind, here are a few under the radar types I think Texas could be very interested in.

Mark Buerhle: This would be the highest dollar guy Texas could go for. Buerhle is a proven innings eater who would fit in well with the rangers pitching staff. I don’t think texas would sign both Wilson and Buerhle, so I’d say if they don’t get Wilson, they put their cards on the table for Buerhle.

Octavio Dotel: If you can’t beat ’em, get ’em to sign with you. Dotel has a World Series ring, a high strikeout rate and would be a great ROOGY for the Rangers.

Casey Kotchman: This is one of the most intriguing names out there. If the Rangers aren’t sold on Mitch Moreland as the answer at first base, they could package him in a trade and sign Kotchman. He might not have the sock potential of Moreland but he’s a great defensive player at first with just enough pop to make for a good fit in the Rangers line-up.

Roy Oswalt: He has Texas ties, he’d be very popular with the fans. He also has a history of back issues and is no spring chicken at 34. There is a possibility Texas will go for him, but I don’t know if they’re willing to pay the dollars Oswalt probably wants.

Jose Reyes: I don’t think this will happen, but it would be a classic Daniels move to trade the popular Elvis Andrus and pick up one the game’s most exciting players. The only reason I don’t really see this happening is because teen phenom Jurickson Profar may only be a couple of years away from the bigs, so texas wouldn’t want to commit more than two years for Reyes.

Joel Zumaya: This is another prime Jon Daniels possibility: signing a former All-Star who’s had physical problems to a low dollar contract. If he comes back to close to his former self, it’s a great investment. If not, you’re not out a lot of money.

There are a few other names out there Texas could conceivably have interest in: Todd Coffey, Kerry Wood, Heath Bell, Jonathon Papelbon, Matt Capps and maybe Hiroki Kuroda. The ones above, though, are my best bets to get strong interest from Texas.


Ron Washington: Strategic Anti-Manager

If there’s one thing one can discern from visiting Texas Rangers fan sites, it is this: Ron Washington is not good at in-game management. Saberists on a daily basis are pretty quick to point out every case in which Wash didn’t do things by “The Book”. Not the Bible, not the Baseball Rule Book. “The Book” by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin, in which the authors make eloquent saber-based arguments for the best percentage plays in certain game circumstances. Even if fans disregarded “The Book”, they would find plenty of other Wash sins of omission or commission during the course of a game. Sometimes, I think some of them are just making things up to let their distaste for the manager be known.

One can only imagine, then, the number of fans ready to pillory Washington for some of his moves during Games 6 & 7 of the World Series. I understand the feeling. These two losses rank up there as the most painful losses in Texas Rangers history. We as fans also like to look for scapegoats when losses occur, find someone to blame. The manager, of course, is first on the firing line.

I really didn’t want to revisit the last two games of the 2011 World Series. The wound is still pretty fresh to me. To some, this post might come too long after the fact to keep your interest. I understand that, too, but I feel the need to talk about it after reading one article on one of the sites I read on a regular basis.

The author, a saber-oriented guy who also says he likes Wash, wrote he was still bugged about the moves he made in Games 6 & 7. I don’t totally disagree with every single one of them, but feel strongly enough about the main ones that I wanted to put it out there and see what anyone else thought.

Here are the Wash criticisms he had in Game 6:

1) Not hitting for Colby Lewis with the bases loaded in the 5th inning.

2) Bringing in Alexi Ogando with the sacks jammed in the 6th.

3) Replacing Neftali Feliz with Darren Oliver in the 10th.

4) Pinch-hitting Esteban German for Scott Feldman in the 11th and bringing Mark Lowe in.

The first item is the biggest for me. Even Tim McCarver was saying the same thing on the national broadcast: you’ve GOT to pinch-hit for Lewis in this situation. And yet I disagree with the contention. In fact,I thought this non-move by Wash was what very nearly won the Rangers the World Series. At the time, Texas was up 4-3 on the Cards. The Cards had tied the game at 3 in the 4th, but this is what should also have been noted at the time: Lewis had not given up a hit since the 1st inning! The Cards went three up and three down in the 2nd and 3rd and scored their run in the 4th without benefit of a hit on an error, a walk and two groundouts. Lewis was hardly struggling massively at this time. By not pinch-hitting for Lewis, the Rangers may have lowered their scoring chances in the 5th, but they also ended up getting almost two more innings of work out of Lewis, including a 1-2-3 fifth. Looking at what the bullpen subsequently did, in retrospect it was the right move as well.

Item 2: I understand the contention about bringing Ogando in, only because Alexi did not have a good World Series. I don’t believe he even had one good game, except for his Game 7 one pitch outing.

Item 3: Again, I have no earthly idea why this was such a controversial decision on Wash’s part. Sure, Feliz is your closer, but he also had just finished giving up two runs to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. How many relievers get the chance to go out for another inning after they’d already blown the save once? Some could argue maybe this is so, but Wash should have brought in Mike Gonzalez instead of Darren Oliver because Gonzalez throws harder. I might agree, except this was potentially the clinching game of the World Series. I would want my most experienced guy out there, the one whose nerves are probably the least on edge. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the wrong choice, as Oliver picked a terrible time to have a bad game.

Item 4: Lastly there was the decision to pinch-hit for Feldman in the top of the 11th. Geez, first they take Wash to task for not pinch-hitting for the pitcher, then he gets it for pinch-hitting for the pitcher! Actually, I’m pretty sure the only reason Wash pinch-hit for his long reliever was because Nelson Cruz’ groin injury was enough to take him out of the game. I think Wash was hoping German could provide some offense to help put Texas on top again and get it over with quickly because he really didn’t have a decent right fielder if the game were to go on for a lot of innings. It was a calculated gamble that failed. As for bringing Lowe in for the 11th, it was either him or Gonzalez. There was no one else left in the bullpen.

Honestly, the Rangers didn’t lose Game 6 because of Wash. They lost it because in three distinct situations during the game, one of the Rangers made a poor decision in the field, a decision every single one of those players make correctly 999 times out of 1,000. Michael Young thought about going to second base instead of getting the sure out at first,  bobbled the ball as a result of his indecision and failed to get anyone out; Elvis Andrus passed up a throw for a force-out at second to throw Matt Holliday out at first and Holliday beat the throw; and Nelson Cruz either misjudged the flight of the ball or where the wall was on David Freese’s game tying ninth inning triple. I don’t blame Wash at all for the Game 6 loss. I thought all in all, he managed the game pretty well.

Wash may not always make decisions by “The Book”, but I think he also has a much better grasp on what’s going on in the game than a lot of people give him credit for. I don’t agree with every decision Wash makes (for example, I would’ve let Mike Adams start the 9th inning. He pitched a solid 8th and it would’ve taken some of the pressure off Feliz), but I’ve also come to understand the whys of some of the decisions he does make and find myself agreeing with his reasons more often than not.

This post is getting extremely long, so I’ll give my follow-up on the Game 7 decisions this weekend.

1 Win Away: Rangers 4, Cardinals 2

Electric moments. 24 hours ago it was Derek Holland for 8 1/3 magnificent shutout innings. And it was Mike Napoli hitting a 3-run shot into the left field seats, tying the Series at two wins apiece.

24 hours later, two more electric moments. First it was Napoli again, this time becoming the first Ranger to stamp his claim on World Series MVP, sending a rocket to the wall between center and right for a bases loaded double, breaking a 2-2 deadlock in the 8th. Even more electric was Neftali Feliz in the 9th, facing Albert Pujols as the tying run at the plate, starting him out with an 0-2 count before falling behind 3-2. In one of those moments that will be forever etched in Texas Rangers history, Feliz got baseball’s most feared hitter to strike out on an outside fastball, followed by Napoli gunning down a running Allen Craig at second for a strike ’em out-throw ’em out twin killing. Only an event like this could make the last out that came two batters later seem anti-climactic in comparison.

Rangers manager Ron Washington often says it isn’t about who the best team is, it’s about who plays the best baseball. Game 5, in many respects, proved Washington wrong. It was the Cardinals who threatened inning after inning. It was the Cardinals who had the scoring opportunities and it was the Rangers who weren’t pitching well and early on were not fielding well either. In the end, though, it was the Rangers who ended up with the W. They made the most of the few scoring opportunities they had and buckled down when they had to to stifle Cardinals rallies.

CJ Wilson had something to prove in starting Game 5. The Rangers #1 starter had been ineffective throughout the playoffs. Many said the reason for his lack of success was his inability to throw his slider for strikes. Wilson reportedly said he’d discovered a mechanical flaw to explain it and he was ready for game 5. True to his word, Wilson’s command of his off-speed pitches was quite a bit better. Too bad he now had little command over his fastball. Wilson labored through 5+ innings. He walked five, only struck out three and was a victim of shoddy fielding by David Murphy, Mitch Moreland and himself. Yet all the Cardinals could do was plate two runs in the second inning off him. In the 6th, after laboring for over 110 pitches, Wilson was finally lifted, perhaps for the final time in a Rangers uniform, as his free agency looms. I hope Texas re-signs him, despite his poor post-season numbers this year, but if he leaves, I’m ready to accept that as well.

Back to the game. Texas got one back on a solo homer by Mitch Moreland, his first hit of the World Series. Another came home on an Adrian Beltre “Down On One Knee Special” over the left field wall.

Scott Feldman came on in the 6th for Texas and squirmed out of a two on predicament. Alexi Ogando had a strange 7th, escaping a bases loaded jam brought about by two intentional walks and a single. Ogando and Oliver tag teamed the 8th inning, with the Cards threatening once again, but not able to get the key hit.

Michael Young led off the critical Texas 8th with a double. Following a terrible Beltre at bat, a 3-pitch strikeout, Nelson Cruz was walked intentionally. David Murphy followed with a hard infield grounder that bounced off the pitcher and loaded the bases. Napoli became the hero with his game deciding double plating Young and Cruz. No matter the final outcome of the Series, you can bet Napoli is getting a hefty raise this off-season, much of which will be paid for by the increased sales of Mike Napoli jerseys at the Rangers Gift Shop!

All this was pre-ordained, by the way. After mentioning this in the previous post, it came to be. 18-Year-Ranger-Fan procured a ticket to Game 5 after being at game 4 the night before. The win now gives 18 an incredible 8-game winning streak on 2011 Rangers games attended! Now I’m trying to figure out how to get him to St. Louis for Wednesday’s game!

One game to go. One win away from seeing this fan’s 41-year quest for a World Series Championship for his team come to fruition at last.

Wednesday can’t come too soon, because I truly think it happens in Game 6.

Shell Shocked: Cardinals 16, Rangers7

Matt Harrison deserved so much better. In another edition of proving Ron Washington’s axiom “That’s the way baseball go”, Harrison actually didn’t pitch all that badly but ended up on the hook for the loss as the Cardinals pummeled the Rangers to take a 2-1 lead in the World Series.

Cardinals fans and sports viewers in general will take Albert Pujols’ three majestic homers as the story of the game. Majestic as they were, all three came after the Cardinals were ahead, so I wouldn’t say they were key to the victory. Impressive, yes. Key, no.

What opened the floodgates was a bad call by an umpire. On a double play grounder, Ian Kinsler’s throw to Mike Napoli was wide of the bag at first. Still, Napoli caught the ball and slapped the tag on Matt Holliday’s back a full stride before he stepped on the bag. Unfortunately for Texas, this was totally missed by the first base umpire. To be fair, pitchers have to learn to shake off bad calls like this and Harrison didn’t. He got rattled and the next thing you know, a 1-0 Cardinals lead had turned into a 5-0 lead and Harrison was out of the game.

Not a single Rangers reliever came out of the rest of the game unscathed. Scott Feldman, Alexi Ogando, Mike Gonzalez, Mark Lowe and Darren Oliver all had at least one run charged to them as St. Louis, and Pujols in particular, kept the punishment going to the end. I was a little surprised the Rangers didn’t intentionally walk Pujols on the at bat where he got his second dinger, but I guess Washington felt the Cards were already up by a substantial margin so they might as well try to pitch to him.

The Rangers tried to make a game of it after falling behind by five. They scored three in the fourth, chasing Kyle Lohse and making it 5-3. The Cardinals added three in the top of the 5th to make it 8-3. Texas closed to within 8-6 in the bottom of the 5th, but the Redbirds added four more in the top of the sixth to make it 12-6. The game was effectively over at that point.

I can handle a defeat. What really chapped me as a Rangers fan is this was a loss that featured atypical Rangers baseball. Ian Kinsler, who had the best defensive season of his career in 2011 had his second error of the series on an easy grounder, plus the wide throw at first that resulted in the blown call. Elvis Andrus, whose errors are mostly of the throwing variety, had a boot on another easy grounder.

Meanwhile, Harrison looked like the regular season Matt Harrison from the start, the first inning home run off him notwithstanding. Harry was under control, fluid in his motion, had good stuff, everything that portended an extended inning start until the disaster of the fourth inning hit.

The Texas offense finally came alive, but it was always in a come from behind effort. Worse, they let the Cardinals bullpen off the hook by not making them burn through more of their bullpen tonight. Now it’s the Texas bullpen in trouble for the next two games, as only Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz sat out the game.

Once again the Rangers find themselves on the ropes. It’s up to Derek Holland to turn the tide on Sunday.

I do not want the Texas Rangers to become known as the Buffalo Bills of Major League Baseball. Time to turn it around.

Incredible: Rangers 7, Tigers 3 (11 Innings)

Tiger fans, I know you’re disappointed. I would be too. But whether my team was down 3-1 or up 3-1 right now, I think we can all agree on one thing:This may be one of the most incredible ALCS’s ever. Yes, EVER!

Every game has been tense. Two have gone to extra innings. Both teams have had their chances. There have been clutch hits. Clutch defensive plays. Clutch pitching. This series has had it all and it’s only because my team is up 3-1 that you’re not hearing about me going to the ER suffering from hypertension.

My goodness, what a Game 4. From the two-hour plus rain delay before getting the darn thing started to the masterful early performance of Rick Porcello to Michael Young breaking out of a prolonged slump to knock in the first go-ahead run of the game for the Rangers and every nail-biting moment in between.

There was Alexi Ogando, a killer throughout the playoffs, one out away from two more strong shutout innings of work when Brandon Inge took an 0-2 pitch and deposited it in the left field seats to tie the game at 3. There was Miguel Cabrera, on third base in the bottom of the 8th, taking off for home on a fly to medium depth right, only to see Nelson Cruz throw a perfect one-bounce strike to the plate, allowing Mike Napoli to deny Cabrera the go-ahead run.

Napoli wasn’t done, either. In the 9th, he faced off against former Ranger Joaquin Benoit in a memorable at bat. For nine pitches, both pitcher and batter took turns staring each other down, calling time outs to try to mess with the other’s head. Good pitches were fouled off. Benoit finally won the battle, but what an AB.

In the bottom of the 9th, one of the Tigers returned the favor and even made it better. This time it was Ramon Santiago, battling Darren Oliver through a 13-pitch at bat, before Oliver finally coaxed a fly ball to center field for the out.

There was Napoli again in the tenth, throwing a perfect strike to Ian Kinsler, who swiped the tag down on Austin Jackson for a caught stealing, snuffing out a potential Tigers rally.

And, for a fourth time, it was Napoli again, with Josh Hamilton on second and Adrian Beltre at first, flaring a single to center off Jose Valverde that scored Hamilton with what proved to be the winning run. Nelson Cruz will get all the print for the three-run boomstick Cruz missile that followed Napoli’s hit, putting the game out of reach, but die-hard baseball fans know what the key hit was.

This was such an important win for the Rangers. Had they lost tonight and allowed the Tigers to tie the series at two, Texas would be feeling the massive pressure of having to face Justin Verlander tomorrow with the chance of being down 3-2. Now they have three games to win just one, two of which are scheduled for Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and Verlander will only pitch one of those games.

Less than 18 hours away from Game 5. I can’t even imagine what these two teams have in store as an encore to tonight’s classic.