It was the middle of the third. Tommy Hunter had thrown 33 strikes and just 13 balls to 12 Rays hitters through three innings, and though he’d given up a run, it came across on a terribly played pop-up to short right field.
Wade Davis, in only two innings at that point, had thrown 19 balls and 19 strikes.
And in spite of those numbers, the Rangers were the ones who looked dead offensively, the Rays the ones who looked loose.
Frankly, the ugly 19-19 ball/strike breakdown for Davis through two was deceptive, since several of the strikes were sliders well out of the zone that Rangers hitters flailed at. Davis should have been on the ropes. Instead, that’s where he had his opposition.
You can safely bet that David Price won’t throw 80 percent fastballs again tomorrow.
It may be cliché to say that the offense is pressing, that the team looks like it’s playing not to lose rather than to win, but I don’t know how else to describe it.
The Rangers’ 2-3-4 hitters, Michael Young and Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero, were due up in the bottom of the seventh, with the score 5-2.
Seven pitches later, it was the top of the eighth.
The 5-6-7 hitters, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler and David Murphy – who have been far more productive this series than the trio they follow – came up in the bottom of the eighth, with the score still 5-2.
Another seven pitches, and it was the top of the ninth.
We are better than that.
We need to forget the mistake pitches and bad swings and bungled plays in the field and go out Tuesday and turn the biggest game in Rangers history into the biggest win in Rangers history. More energy. More patience. More Cliff Lee.
You know what the Rangers are? Very good underdogs. That’s what this team is. Its best players have been underdogs. Its manager, too. The franchise itself.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be uncomfortable as frontrunners, or unsure of how to handle it. But they do seem to thrive when they’re backed into a corner.
And maybe that’s OK, tomorrow. Texas is the underdog, not just because Game Five is on the road. Momentum has obviously swung to the Rays, whose lame duck left fielder, Carl Crawford, said before yesterday’s game: “It feels like we’re winning the series right now.”
The Rangers need to develop a killer instinct. But for now, they’ve proven to be pretty good when they’re not the popular pick, and that, combined with the fact that Cliff Lee is getting the ball, in the decisive game of a series in which the road team has won every game, is enough for me to start feeling pretty good about Tuesday night.
Just as the Rays overcame Games One and Two, Games Three and Four no longer matter. The opportunity to put the ball in the hands of exactly the right pitcher is here, and even if the circumstances have made Texas an underdog for tomorrow night’s win-or-go-home ballgame, that’s OK, and maybe just what this team needs.
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(c) Jamey Newberg