Thank you, Bengie Molina and Derek Holland.
The two of you rescued me from the most excrutiatingly boring baseball game I had seen all year. Easily.
Trust me, I would have felt that way if it had been the Rangers in front by one instead of the Yankees going to the top of the 6th. Tuesday’s Game 4 of the ALCS was two hours old and we hadn’t even made it to the halfway mark of the game.
I managed to cook a five-course meal over the course of one half inning.
I started reading “War and Peace” in between Tommy Hunter pitches. I got through half of it by the time Hunter was mercifully pulled.
The tempo of the game started to turn when Derek Holland came in from the bullpen in the 4th. While Tommy Hunter has regressed in two starts of the playoffs to the point where a 2010 13-game winner is now going to enter 2011 as the #5 starter at best, Derek Holland has finally turned a corner in his development.
Who knows whether it’s because he finally just decided to start trusting his catcher or some other lightbulb suddenly went off in his head? Whatever the reason, Holland is finally starting to show the “upside” everyone in the Rangers organization has been talking about for the past three years. Holland has turned in two solid scoreless long-relief outings in the ALCS. He started turning the corner in the ALDS when, after giving up a two-run homer to his second batter, Holland settled down to hold the Rays scoreless for four innings. He has allowed a couple inherited runners to score but otherwise has been solid and is now a favorite to nail down the #4 slot in 2011 (#3 if Cliff Lee isn’t resigned).
While the tempo picked up a bit with Holland on the mound, it still was only good enough to keep me from reading half the time. AJ Burnett matched Hunter’s pace and he lasted two innings longer than Tommy. And one batter too long.
Oh, Yankee Nation will be talking about Joe Girardi’s decision to intentionally walk David Murphy to get to Bengie Molina for a LONG time. Molina finally provided the jolt to bring the game back to something worth watching (not to mention giving the Rangers a 5-3 lead).
By the time the smoke cleared, Texas had scored five more times on the Yankee bullpen, Josh Hamilton had cleared the fences twice and Nelson Cruz went yard big time as well.
All this and I haven’t even said a word about the two disputed home run calls in the 2nd inning (both calls were correct to my mind- Cano had a homer, Berkman did not). Really, all I have to say about it is this: Did you see the guy in the stands giving Nelson Cruz attitude after Cruz complained about interference? I sure wish we could have gotten a shot of his face after Molina’s shot…and Hamilton’s…and Hamilton’s again…and especially after Cruz’, although I have a feeling he wasn’t even in the stadium any more when Cruz added the icing on the cake.
Here’s how I feel bad about the Yankees. I wanted Mark Teixeira to go 0-21 in the ALCS. I wanted to see him fail miserably. But I would NEVER want Tex to have to bow out of a series the way he did. You always want to win a series with your best players against their best players. The Yankees are now missing one of their best players. We’ve won three of the four we need against their best. If and when we get the last one, it’ll be just a little less pleasurable because he won’t be there. Tex, I hope you’re ready and raring to go come April 2011!
Media Alert #1: Don’t be at all surprised if you hear or read someone in the national media say one of the following, either before Game 6 begins this afternoon or in the off day tomorrow (if there is one): 1) How the Rangers are making the Yankees look, well, old; and 2) That some unnamed scout or other sundry baseball insider told them before the ALCS that a Rangers rout was not surprising at all because of this, this and this. In the first case, they’d be making a valid observation. In the second, they’re just trying to make you think they knew something all along when they really didn’t.
Media Alert #2: Some national writers and reporters I don’t give much credence to, mainly because they pull out Example #2 listed above after every big game or series. One reporter who this does NOT apply to is Peter Gammons. Pete’s a pretty sharp guy and he’s usually got a pretty good idea what’s going on in baseball. Yesterday on MLB Radio, Gammons was asked where he thought Cliff Lee would end up in 2011. Gammons thinks Lee stays a Ranger. And he sounds pretty sure of it too.
If not for one bad inning, the Rangers would have swept the Yankees. Still, the toughest win is yet to come. The good news is we have three shots at getting it while the Yankees have to win out without Teixeira on their side. A tall order. Still, New York has Sabathia, Hughes and Pettite going the next three games. Each and every one of them has given the Rangers fits in the past. There’s still one more to get before reaching the Promised Land for the first time. I’m not going to gloat yet.
I do, however, thought it funny when the TBS broadcast team started talking about how the Yankees now want more than anything to face Cliff Lee a second time. Seeing him in Game 7 is the only way they have a chance at the World Series now.
Ten straight post-season losses vs. the Yankees: OVER!
Zero wins in 7 home playoff appearances: OVER!
The 2010 Rangers rewrite team history again.
Even diehard Rangers fans had to be wondering how the team would come back after losing the way they did in Game 1. Never mind that they’ve shown the ability to bounce back from disappointment time and time again this season. THIS IS THE PLAYOFFS!!! EVERYTHING IS MAGNIFIED IN THE PLAYOFFS!!!
I should do that- write in all caps the rest of the way because THIS IS THE PLAYOFFS!!!
Never mind. I won’t.
The answer to the burning question was answered in inning #1 when Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton pulled off a perfect double steal, plating Andrus with the first run of the game. When David Murphy followed with a second inning solo home run, it seemed safe to say the Rangers had bounced back nicely, thank you very much. By the time it was all over, Texas had made a big statement: We’re not going anywhere (except to New York for Games 3, 4 and 5)!
The bullpen still made things, shall we say, adventurous, but they still came away with 3 1/3 innings of scoreless ball. As a bonus, everyone who was a part of the 8th inning debacle Friday night got to atone for it Saturday. Clay Rapada’s strikeout of Marcus Thames to end the 6th was probably the turning point of the game in terms of stopping Yankees momentum.
Alexi Ogando saw his first action and, while it wasn’t easy, it didn’t result in scores either. The faithful at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington were noticeably pensive when Darren Oliver came on in the 8th after his two walk performance on Friday. They grew even more restless when he walked the first batter. A 3-pitch strikeout of Jorge Posada relaxed them a bit and Ian Kinsler’s great play on Lance Berkman’s grounder had everyone forgiving Darren for his previous sins. Darren #2, Mr. O’Day, closed out the 8th getting Marcus Thames to ground out, setting the crowd off on their traditional variation on the soccer anthem, singing “O’Day O’Day, O’Day O’Day”!
Neftali Feliz came to the mound for the first time in the 9th and, as in the ALDS, caused many moments of frustration for the fans who were ready to celebrate a win. Feliz struck out Derek Jeter to start things off, but walks to Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira stirred the restlesness pot once again. Instead of Mike Maddux, this actually prompted a visit to the mound from Ron Washington, who seldom does such a thing without pulling the pitcher. Whatever he told Feliz, it worked, because he got A-Rod out on a ground ball and Robinson Cano skied to left for the final out.
For the first time in the playoffs, we saw the respect for Josh Hamilton. Hambone walked four times in the game, two of those intentionally. The Rays had Josh when he was still working on getting his timing back after missing almost a month to injury. After Friday night’s 3-run first inning home run told them he just might have that timing back, you can tell the Yankees, if they can, will avoid Hamilton in key situations.
What more can you say about the Rangers starting pitching? CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis have just shut down the Yankees attack. Meanwhile, Texas has teed off against New York’s #1 and #3 starters in the first two games. On the other hand, the Yankees bullpen has outshone the Rangers relief corps by a wide margin so far.
Did anyone else notice how worthless the TBS PitchTrak system is? I’d say about half the pitches showing outside the right margin of their box was called a strike. When it’s that consistent, it’s not the ump, it’s the electronics!
Thanks to this win, the national narrative for this series can now take a different shape. Disappointed as I was with the Game 1 loss, I could not believe some of the talking heads that pass themselves off as experts were sounding. They were already talking about the series being over. The most egregious of these were two guys on MLB Radio today. I wish I knew who they were but I didn’t catch the names. One was the on-air guy at the time. He closed his segment up by predicting a Yankees blow-out in Game 2. OK, that’s an opinion, so maybe that wasn’t so bad. The other guy, though, I think was one of the newspaper reporters who follows the Yankees. When asked about how the rest of the series was going to go, he said, in no uncertain terms, that Friday morning he was planning on being back in Arlington next weekend, but now he was CERTAIN he wouldn’t have to leave New York next week.
Mathematically, that’s still a possibility, but it was obvious from the way he was talking he already had Game 2 as a slam-dunk no-doubter from the get go. He was right. He was just thinking about the wrong team!
I spoke earlier of a shift in the narrative of the series. Think about this. Not trying to get ahead of myself, but if the Rangers win Game 3 with Cliff Lee on the mound to go up 2-1, there will be a shift in what you hear about the Series. Instead of, “The Rangers 8th blew Game 1 with a horrible 8th inning” we’ll start hearing more along the lines of “If not for one bad inning in Game 1, the Rangers would be up 3-0 on the defending World Champions!” Already, the narrative is shifting the Rangers way with talk about how well the offense has handled CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes. A solid effort against Andy Pettite on Monday (no easy feat, to be sure) and you’ll actually hear some serious doubt raised about the Yankees chances.
That is one narrative I sure would like to hear at the end of the night Monday. On to New York!
One, two, three, look at Mr. Lee
Three, four, five, look at him jive
Mr. Lee, Mr. Lee
Oh, Mr. Lee
Mr. Lee, Mr. Lee
Oh, Mr. Lee
-The Bobettes, 1957
Rangers fans held their breaths when Cliff Lee first strode to the mound Sunday to face the Yankees. Which Cliff Lee would the crowd of 40,000+ see? The Cliff Lee of 2009 and the first half of 2010 or the Cliff Lee with the ERA close to nine over the past three starts?
The answer is: this was the Cliff Lee Rangers fans have been waiting for. The back problems behind him, Lee was magnificent, allowing only two hits over eight innings to the hard-hitting Yankees and leading the Rangers to their first sweep of the Bombers in Arlington since 1996- coincidentally, the year Texas first won the AL West and their inaugural playoff berth.
There were anxious moments: first batter of the game, as a matter of fact. Lee, who came into the game with a grand total of 13 walks given up for the year, walked Derek Jeter to lead off the game. Before Rangers fans could even say “Here we go again”, though, Lee induced a double play grounder. Next thing you know, Lee was mowing ’em down right and left and had a no-hitter through five.
Unfortunately, the Rangers weren’t getting on the scoreboard, an annoying habit which has occured in almost all of Lee’s quality starts for the Rangers. In the 6th, Lee gave up his first hit. Then he issued his second walk. Then he gave up a second hit and tthe Yankees had drawn first blood. Lee finally got out of the inning trailing just 1-0.
Texas promptly tied it in the bottom of the 6th the old-fashioned way: with small ball. Elvis Andrus drew a lead-off walk, stole second, went to third on a fly to right by Michael Young and came home when David Murphy hit a grounder to first, Mark Teixeira threw home and Andrus eluded the tag. Tie game 1-1.
Lee took care of business in the top of the 7th. The game swung the Rangers way in the bottom of the 7th.
Ian Kinsler drew a lead-off walk this time. When Mitch Moreland flied to deep right, Kinsler stayed close to first, tagged and went to second. Matt Treanor sent another fly to right, sending Kinsler to 3rd but leaving only one out left for the Yankees to wiggle out of it. Up to the plate strode Julio Borbon.
For those who have never seen Borbon play, he can be an infuriating player. Some of Borbon’s at-bats are horrendous. He hits more than his share of weak ground balls and lazy pop flies. In his first two at-bats Sunday, Borbon somehow managed to hit two balls like he was chipping to the green, popping out to the pitcher.
When Borbon is on, however, magic happens. Magic happened here. With two strikes, Borbon squared to bunt and sent the ball to the pitcher side of first base. Borbon’s head-first slide beat the pitcher’s foot to the first base bag by tenths of a second. Kinsler had scored the go-ahead run to make it 2-1. Borbon promptly stole second and scored the third run on Elvis Andrus’ single. Andrus alertly took second on the throw home, allowing him to score the fourth and final run on Michael Young’s single.
Lee cruised through the 8th on six pitches. He went out for the 9th to face the top of the Yankees order and Derek Jeter coaxed his second walk of the game on a 3-2 pitch Lee obviously thought was a strike. At that point, Ron Washington decided it was Neftali Feliz time.
Feliz was on fire! First he struck Curtis Granderson out swinging. Despite having 100 MPH heat, Feliz got Mark Teixeira looking on an 80 MPH breaking ball and Tex knew it. Former Astro Lance Berkman was sent up to pinch hit and took a 97 MPH heater on a 2-2 count for a called strike three and a sweep most Rangers fans never would have expected following a 4-6 road trip.
Combined with the A’s loss to the Red Sox, the Rangers magic number is now down to 12. Thanks to Lee, the bullpen got a much-needed rest. Combined with an off-day Monday, everyone will be well-rested when the Tigers come to town Tuesday.
A 5-game winning streak coming off a 5-game losing streak and every win without Josh Hamilton in the line-up. This can only bode well for this club’s confidence down the stretch.
Quick trivia: Who leads the Rangers in RBI’s in September? That well-known slugger Julio Borbon, with 9!
In case you hadn’t heard: Nelson Cruz’ walk-off homer on Friday was his 5th extra innings home run of the season. That ties a major league record.
Saving Money: The Yankees must have heard about my offer to Cliff Lee in my last post. Not wanting any part of it, they chose not to play Francisco Cervelli in Sunday’s game. Saved me five bucks…
Did you see the Rangers commit an error in this series? Neither did I. Great job, guys!
The season series ends with both teams having won four games. If this is indeed the first-round playoff pairing, much will be made in the national media about the Rangers being 0-3 at Yankee Stadium this year. It’s a valid statement, but those three games were also all the way back in April before the team had even begun to gel. It would be just as valid to point out the Yankees lost four out of five at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
It is true, playoff baseball is a completely different animal. Just ask the Rangers of ’96, ’98 and ’99 who lost nine of ten to the Yankees in the playoffs. The last one hurt the most, as the Rangers took the season series from the Yanks, including being over .500 at Yankee Stadium, yet they went down meekly in three straight once it was all on the line.
This team may have swept New York this time, but they also are well aware it won’t matter if and when they meet in the post-season. Still, at least it gives the fans, if not the players, hope of more good things to come in October.
Reading the New York Times account of Tuesday night’s Rangers win, there were multiple quotes from Yankees players and manager Joe Girardi in which they expressed the respect they have for the Texas Rangers. This was not lip service and it was proved in the 4th inning of Wednesday night’s game.
In a 1-1 tie, runners on second and third with two outs, Girardi chose to intentionally walk David Murphy. I have seen the Rangers get intentional walks before. I have even seen other games in which teams intentionally walked Barry Bonds no matter what inning it was. But I cannot remember a time when I saw a Ranger intentionally walked this early in a ballgame. Even granting that he’s been swinging a hot bat, you still wouldn’t peg David Murphy as being the one to get this kind of respect from the defending world champions.
Happily, for the second consecutive night, the Rangers made the Yankees pay for an intentional walk. After Bengie Molina coaxed another walk to load the bases, Mitch Moreland broke the 1-1 tie with a single off the glove of Lance Berkman. One inning later, the Rangers tacked on three more runs to take a 6-1 lead for the cruising Cliff Lee.
Starting in the 6th inning, the Yankees earned back every bit of respect they’ve given the Rangers the past two nights. First came a solo homer in the 6th. Then came two more runs in the 7th, causing Lee to have his shortest outing as a Ranger. A lead-off solo home run for the second consecutive night off Frank Francisco made it 6-5. Then the Yankees completed the comeback scoring two off Neftali Feliz in the 9th to make it 7-6.
Elvis Andrus laced a triple to lead off the bottom of the 9th against Mariano Rivera, but Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and Vlad Guerrero couldn’t bring in the tying run and the Rangers had to settle for the split.
I’m sure message boards across Ranger Nation will be calling for Francisco’s removal as 8th inning set-up man. Honestly, that very may well happen and I’d support the move myself. Alexi Ogando is now showing enough moxie to merit a look at being the 8th inning guy. Neftali Feliz will get a pass this time, knowing he was coming off pitching two innings the previous night. Still, it’s disconcerting for your fireman to blow a save against a playoff team this late in the season.
Christian Guzman? Since arriving in Arlington, he’s only managed three hits and has done nothing of significance defensively. I’m ready for Andres Blanco to man second while awaiting Ian Kinsler’s return.
For the Rangers (and even for me) to keep further perspective in this series, they did not have to face any of the three starting pitchers they’d likely face in a playoff series (CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettite) and they didn’t have to worry about Mark Teixeira, who was welcoming his third child into the world.
Tuesday night, the Rangers showed they can compete with the big boys. Wednesday night, the big boys let them know they’re not going to just roll over for them. The Yankees showed why they’re the defending World Series champions. And that just sucks.
Going into the game, the Rangers said the right thing. They weren’t going to think playoffs, they weren’t going to talk playoffs for the next eight games against the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, one of which they will probably face in the first round.
They got the not talking part down, but the not thinking part? I don’t think so.
The Rangers tried their best to show us they weren’t ready for prime time, that they’re still too young, too inexperienced, too prone to butterflies and thinking too much about it. They really tried to show us that.
Elvis Andrus tried to show us with an early error. Michael Young tried to do the same thing in the same inning when he couldn’t hold on to a throw that would have nailed A-Rod trying to steal third. CJ Wilson tried to show us when his pick-off throw to first looked like it was under the assumption his first baseman was Shaquille O’Neal. Manager Ron Washington tried to show it by overmanaging the pitching staff in this one, treating it like a playoff game. And Frank Francisco tried to show it by giving up a solo shot to A-Rod to tie it in the 8th.
All these ways the Rangers tried to show us they weren’t ready.
Except CJ Wilson atoned and showed us they were by bearing down just about every time it was needed. And Alexi Ogando showed us with his clutch pitching in the 7th. Elvis Andrus, like CJ, made up for his early jitters to make several outstanding defensive plays. Nelson Cruz showed it with his double breaking a scoreless tie.
But most of all, David Murphy showed the Rangers maybe are prime time players with every facet of his game. Murphy’s laser beam throw to the plate nailed Nick Swisher and kept the Yankees from taking a 2-1 lead. Then his two-run homer off AJ Burnett gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead. And finally, with the sacks jammed in the 10th, Murph capped off an incredible night with a walk-off single against Mariano Rivera to give the Rangers the extra inning win.
The Rangers did so many things wrong in this game, giving the Yankees ample opportunities to win even with Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano out of the line-up. Yet time and time again, Rangers pitching made the right pitch at the right time, or the defense made the great play at the right time, holding things together until Texas could figure out a way to win.
In the grand scheme of things, this one was more important for the Rangers than it was for the Yankees. Not that both teams weren’t trying to win, just that the Yankees have the experience not to have treated this like a playoff game when it wasn’t one while the Rangers still are learning it. For the Yankees this was just one loss. For the Rangers, a loss could have been a psychological message for the post-season. For the fans, this was like the first game of the post-season, a couple months early.
Wednesday night Cliff Lee goes for the mini-sweep. The Rangers bullpen put in a lot of innings and, since Neftali Feliz pitched two innings, he may not be available to nail down a save.
But that’s a worry for 21 hours from now. For now, I’m going to enjoy this one. Just like a playoff game that I shouldn’t be thinking about yet.