For 7 1/2 innings, baseball fans were treated to a game worthy of the World Series. The Giants clung to a 2-0 lead (2-1 if not for either 2 inches or a lucky bounce off the top of the wall). No blame to assign. The Giants first run was a home run on a pitch out of the strike zone, so it wasn’t a mistake pitch. The second run came home on a bloop single- just one of the breaks of the game. It was a classic in the making.
Then came the bottom of the 8th and it felt like the return of a Monty Python sketch for Rangers fans.
“We apologize for replacing Darren O’Day with Derek Holland. In hindsight we can clearly see that Mr. O’Day had been doing an effective job and had secured two outs with no runners scoring. We apologize for bringing Mr. Holland into the game.”
“We would like to apologize for the previous apology. It is now clear to us that, although Mr. Holland failed to retire a hitter and, in fact, walked one batter home, it was clearly an error on our part to replace him with Mr. Lowe. For it is now clear to us a pitcher who walks a batter is clearly superior to a pitcher who gives up hits. Again, we apologize.”
“We would like to interrupt the previous apology for a new apology. We now would like to apologize for ever having put Mr. Lowe on the World Series roster. We apologize for bringing him into a game for the second night in a row to enjoy the same success he enjoyed the first time we utilized him. Please, accept our apology…and the apology before that…and the apology before that. Thank you.”
For those who have followed this blog throughout the season and have learned about the Texas Rangers from me because you were not able to see or hear much about them where you live, I would like to offer my apologies. I’m sorry the team you are now able to see in the World Series is not in any way, shape or form resembling the team I’ve been faithfully telling you about these past six months.
If it had ended a 2-0 game, or even 3-0, I would have easily accepted this one. Matt Cain was a superior pitcher for the Giants. CJ Wilson matched him almost pitch for pitch. There would have been no shame in either team losing this one. The 8th inning, however, was as putrid a display as I have seen this team have in all of 2010.
This one is so bad I refuse to even look at the message boards of the Rangers fan sites. It would only depress me further.
Derek Holland, who seemed to turn such a corner in the ALCS against the Yankees, couldn’t find the strike zone. Mrs. Mariner Fan-Ranger Fan was watching him and feeling sorry for him, because she could see the fear in his eyes. Lowe just never should have been added to the roster for the Series. Dustin Nippert or Scott Feldman would have been better options and even they aren’t that good this year. Michael Kirkman, bless you for finally getting the last out of the 8th, even though you didn’t pitch much better.
I could understand not going to Neftali Feliz at first. When Holland walked in the first run, it was still only 3-0. If the Rangers came back in the 9th, the closer would still be needed. Once it got to 6-0, though… Come on, Ron Washington, bring in Feliz and stop the bleeding! Instead we had to suffer… and suffer some more… and suffer even more.
Off day today, back to Texas for the next three (at least I hope it’s 3 and not 2).
For those who think this is a down post, I apologize…
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!
The DVR: For the first time in my life, I am taping a ballgame to watch in its entirety when I get home from work. I have NEVER successfully taped a ballgame before. It is too tempting to fast forward and find the good parts and get it over with. These are my Rangers, though. My work schedule today does not allow me to monitor the game, so I will start from the beginning when I get home and watch every pitch. My fellow fans know not to text me at all this afternoon and my radio will be tuned to a music station for the ride home. I pray nothing ruins my watching of this game! As to other things…
The Roster: Surprises on the final roster for the ALDS. Only 10 pitchers instead of 11, meaning Esteban German made the roster, mostly to serve as a late-inning pinch runner for the likes of Vlad Guerrero and Bengie Molina. Neither Michael Kirkman or Clay Rapada made the roster, but two long relievers did in Dustin Nippert and Derek Holland. I really thought they’d take one additional short reliever, but the 7th and 8th will all be in the hands of the three O’s: Ogando, O’Day and Oliver.
My Picks for Surprise Impact Players: Jeff Francoeur and either Bengie Molina or Matt Treanor.
My Pick for Surprise Impact Pitcher: Tommy Hunter
Biggest Surprise This Post-Season So Far: Before a game has been played, I have been pleasantly surprised by the love the Rangers have been getting on the national side. A lot of national media are picking the Rays to win this series, but everyone seems to have a healthy respect for Texas and give the Rangers a shot. I don’t think the same was said about the ’96, ’98 and ’99 playoff teams from the Lone Star State (and their results bore that out).
My Prediction: As a Rangers fan, there’s no way I can pick against my team. I’ll go for Texas in 4 games. I just think our pitching is better than the Rays as a whole and will get the job done.
The ALDS is less than a week away now and the Rangers have roster decisions to make. There’s an old saying that states you should “Win with who brung you.” While that is mostly true, the playoffs actually mean a couple of those players who brung you won’t be needed and maybe a couple of players who didn’t contribute much will.
Nowhere is that more true than the pitching department. For most of the season, the Rangers roster operated on a 12 position player/13 pitcher staff. In the ALDS with its best of 5 format, however, the Rangers will be going with a three-man starting rotation instead of the usual five. So the Texas ALDS roster will most likely include 14 position players and only 11 pitchers.
Position Players: Let’s start with the obvious. Assured of position player slots in the ALDS are 2B Ian Kinsler, SS Elvis Andrus, 3B Michael Young, catchers Bengie Molina and Matt Treanor, DH Vlad Guerrero and outfielders Josh Hamilton, David Murphy, Nelson Cruz and Julio Borbon. That’s 10 of the 14. Andres Blanco has earned the right to be the back-up to Kinsler and Andrus, so he’ll probably be there as well. That’s 11. Jeff Francoeur has been a very positive contributor since his acquisition, so I think he’ll make it as player #12.
Notice there was no first baseman listed. Here is where big decisions need to be made. Mitch Moreland seems the obvious choice from the left side, but there is a faction still in the corner of Chris Davis. Jorge Cantu hasn’t done much (with the exception of the pennant-winning game), but a right-handed bat is needed at first as well. My guess is the Rangers will go with Moreland and Cantu.
BUT: David Murphy pulled up lame in Wednesday’s game with Seattle and there is concern about the extent of the injury. If Murph can’t go in the ALDS, Davis might go in his place, since Moreland can also play the outfield. But here’s someone else to consider: Esteban German. The infielder is a real base-stealing threat and great to use as a pinch-runner late in the game for Vlad or Bengie Molina. Still, unless Murphy’s out, I just don’t see a spot for German unless Blanco gets shafted out of a spot or the Rangers decide on a 15-10 roster split.
Pitchers: Here are the locks: Cliff Lee, CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, Darren O’Day, Darren Oliver, Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando. That’s 7 of the 11. With a three-man rotation, the Rangers will be able to go with starters in the long relief role, so at least Tommy Hunter will be added to the mix. That leaves only three slots open.
Southpaws Michael Kirkman and Clay Rapada have both impressed in the late season, but I don’t see the Rangers keeping both lefthanders. While I like Kirkman, I think Rapada gets the nod. Dustin Nippert is another righty I think the Rangers will keep, leaving one last slot for a group that includes lefthanders Kirkman, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland and righthanders Scott Feldman, Rich Harden and Mark Lowe, acquired from Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal.
Lowe just saw his first action after being out with injury in Wednesday’s game and looked good. While I feel bad for Feldman after last year’s 17-win campaign, he just hasn’t done anything to prove he belongs on the ALDS roster. Same with Harden. I actually think I’ll go with Lowe here, despite his lack of time in a Rangers uniform.
Those are my best guesses at this point. It will be interesting to see and disect the actual roster Rangers brass decides to go with.
For eleven innings, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim tried to gift wrap a win for the Rangers. I call them by their proper name this one time because I am so grateful for this win. For most of those eleven innings, the Rangers refused to accept this gift. Finally in the 12th, said Angels decided whether we wanted it or not, they were going to give us this gift. The Rangers finally couldn’t refuse it.
I couldn’t make it through this game, finally calling it quits after the top of the 11th when Texas went down meekly to make it 0 for their last 16 at the plate. The Angels started the night letting the Rangers know this game was theirs for the taking. They didn’t start Bobby Abreu or Hideki Matsui and, even after CJ Wilson left the game, they still didn’t put them in.
Ron Washington apparently decided if the Angels were going to rest two big guns, he would too, just so his team could say they’d earned the win instead of gotten it as a gift. Thus Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus rode the pine.
The generous Angels said “No, this game is your gift”. In that spirit, they walked Julio Borbon in the third. Ian Kinsler, who would end up 0-6 on the night, hit a grounder to third for a double play, except third baseman Kevin Frandsen threw the ball into the outfield instead of to second. Borbon advanced to third and Michael Young followed with a sac fly to plate Borbon. 1-0 Rangers thanks to Gift #1.
CJ Wilson accepted the gift. He was masterful through six and looked on his way to win #15. The Rangers D was up to the task as well, playing picture perfect. Still, the offense could not get it in gear and practically refused to put some more distance between them and their nemesis.
Finally in the 7th, Mike Napoli had had enough. If you guys don’t want this gift, then fine, don’t take it! Home run. Game tied at 1. CJ is done for the night.
The Angels send out relief pitcher after relief pitcher and still, my Rangers refuse to score. Heck, they refuse to hit, too. Oh for the 7th, 8th and 9th. Defensively their hearts are into winning. An incredibly difficult twin killing is accomplished in the 8th that keeps the Angels from scoring the go-ahead run.
Ron Washington still doesn’t want the gift, so even with a well-rested bullpen, he brings in the two pitchers who haven’t had a lot of rest in Dustin Nippert and Alexi Ogando, even letting Ogando pitch twice as long as he usually does. It was like not only refusing a gift from the Angels but trying to give them a gift of their own!
The Rangers went oh-for the 10th and 11th innings. Nippert survived and Wash finally brought in a fresh pitcher in Matt Harrison, who gave up one hit but only faced the minimum three batters.
In the 12th, Jeff Francoeur ended the Rangers hitless streak, leading odd with a double. Chris Davis followed with his second walk of the game (Rangers fans NEVER see Davis walk twice in a game). A rally, perhaps? Nope. Mitch Moreland strikes out. One out. Bengie Molina sacrifices the runners to second and third. It’ll take a hit to score a run. With two outs, there can’t be a sac fly. With only five hits total on the night, it looks like there’ll soon be a bottom of the 12th.
That’s when the Angels finally said, “We’ve been offering this gift all night and now you’re going to take it, dadgumit!” So catcher Jeff Mathis lets an easy cutter get past him for a passed ball. Francoeur scores and the Rangers are finally back on top, 2-1. Two runs in the game, neither of them earned. Nice.
Everything after that was appearances. Washington put Neftali Feliz in to nail down the save while Angels manager Mike Scioscia made it look good by sending Abreu and Matsui up as pinch hitters, but it was all window dressing. The Texas losing streak ends at three, the Magic Number goes down to 4.
Now it’s off to Oakland for a 4-game set starting tonight (facing 4 straight lefthanders no less!). The math is simple. Texas splits the series, they clinch the West. Oakland wins three (or sweeps), the clincher would be in Arlington at a home game.
This is one case where I say forget the home fans. Be Larry the Cable Guy and git ‘er done! Cliff Lee goes tonight. Time to bring it down to 2.
The Fan is restless. So restless he is now referring to himself in the third person…
For the second consecutive day, the Rangers failed to take any digits off of the magic number. As a result, the A’s have gained two games in two days, bringing the AL West lead down to 8.
No reason to panic. Nothing to see here.
Actually, I now know what it can be like for the players. You get a big lead, it can become easy to lose some mental focus and lose a couple in a row. It even happens to your humble scribe. Ever since the Yankees sweep, writing these posts has become a little more of a chore. The lead looks insurmountable for Texas and, because of the series with the Bronx Bombers, I am more anxious than ever for the playoffs to start. Thus, these last few games have become more of a job for me than the fun they’ve been most of the season. I want it to be playoff time NOW!!!
I need to stop this, just as the Rangers need to stop, take a breath, and take care of business before the A’s think they have a chance.
The Angels did what they had to do Monday night. The Rangers pitching staff didn’t. Derek Holland pretty much pitched his way off of a playoff roster spot with his second consecutive start of four innings minus. Dustin Nippert finally appeared human after some excellent post-DL relief outings.
Offensively, the boys did OK, except they couldn’t get those important RISP hits. Plenty of Rangers got on base against Jered Weaver, just few of them scored. David Murphy continued to do his best Josh Hamilton impression, adding another five hits to the cause. Murph’s up over .290 on the season now. Even though he’s playing well, Julio Borbon is destined for the bench again once Hambone returns because Murphy’s playing so well.
By the way, will Hamilton return? The latest news is he doesn’t have bruised ribs, he has a couple of hairline fractures of his ribs. This is not good news.
And hey, guess what I missed? I missed Chris Davis hitting his first home run of the year for Texas (I just had to get some shut-eye by that time)! If anyone had ever told me in April that Davis wouldn’t hit his first home run of the year until September, I would have laid money on them being wrong. Boy, would I have lost a mint!
So I’ve got to get my focus back tonight while the Rangers look to do the same with Colby Lewis on the mound. A little help from the White Sox would be nice too.
T-minus 10 and counting.
With Tuesday’s 11-4 win over the Tigers combined with the A’s 11-3 loss to the Royals, the Rangers magic number for clinching the West has now reached 10. We will have playoff lift-off soon.
But today’s entry isn’t about magic numbers or terrific offense or bad defense on both sides. Today I wish to bring up something a little bit morbid. I think I’m kind of glad Dustin Nippert got hit in the head with a line drive.
For those who may not remember (or didn’t know at all), back on July 19th, Nippert faced the same Tigers he pitched against Tuesday night. Nippert was the Rangers long-relief/spot starter option from the start of the season. He’d served in the same role to great effect in 2009.
2010 was a different story. From the outset, Nippert wasn’t the same pitcher he was in 2009. He gave up three runs in 2 2/3 innings his first time out. The rest of April wasn’t too bad and his ERA managed to creep down as low as 3.60 in early May. After that, a 5-run, 1.1 inning performance pushed the ERA over the 6 mark. From that point on, Nippert’s ERA stayed mostly in the 5’s. Honestly, I dreaded Nippert coming into games. Even in scoreless innings, it didn’t seem like his pitches were fooling anyone.
On July 19th, Nippert faced the Tigers in the 7th inning at Comerica Park. He struck out the first batter he faced. Then Austin Jackson came to the plate. After working the count to 3-2, Nippert threw a fastball. Jackson hit the ball square and it went straight to Nippert’s head, ricocheting into left field for a double while the pitcher fell to the ground like a rock. The medical staff jumped out of the dugout and ran to the field in record time.
After some long anxious moments, Nippert sat up, then stood. Incredibly, Nippert tried to talk Ron Washington into letting him stay in the ballgame, but Wash would have none of it. Nippert was pulled and he was placed on the disabled list the next day.
Nippert did not return to the Rangers until September 4th. Funny thing is, Nippert hasn’t given up a run since his return. There was an inning and a third against the Twins on the 4th, another scoreless inning against the Twins on the 5th, a short 1/3 of an inning in this past Friday’s 13-inning marathon against the Yankees.
Finally, Tuesday night Nippert faced the Tigers again. Coming in for the ineffective Derek Holland, who gave up four runs in only four innings of work, Nippert pitched another 4 1/3 innings of no-run relief, his longest stint of the season, earning the victory when the Rangers stormed back from a 4-1 deficit to take their 6th straight win. Austin Jackson, whose double had sent Nippert to the DL 6 weeks ago, was 0-2 against Dustin, striking out his first time up against him.
I imagine most write-ups of this game will talk about David Murphy’s home run and two doubles, Michael Young’s 3 hits, including a bases loaded 3-run double, or just the Rangers scoring the last ten runs of the game in general. For me, this game was about Dustin Nippert.
Since coming back from that liner to the noggin, Nippert has a line of 7 innings, 4 hits, 2 walks and 3 strikeouts. And 0 runs. His ERA is now down to 4.59, the lowest it’s been since that day in May when it was 3.60.
Morbid as it sounds, I think that July line drive did him some good. He’s sure pitched like a different man since.