1. Marco Estrada did what Martin Perez didn’t.
2. Kevin Pillar did what Delino DeShields couldn’t.
3. Troy Tulowitzki did what Prince Fielder hasn’t.
4. That thing we talked about yesterday, about Perez’s inability at times to keep his composure when things start to unravel? He did a really good job inducing the double plays he desperately needed on Sunday, but his body language from time to time was awful.
For me, that’s a really bad trait for a starting pitcher. You can’t let them see that you’re mentally on the ropes. Just can’t.
Allowing nine of the final 15 hitters you face to reach base isn’t a great recipe, either. Even when you have the double play ball working.
5. Estrada is no David Price and no Marcus Stroman, and that was to the Rangers’ detriment, as the decent 32-year-old, who this year won in double digits for the first time, Vidal Nuno’d the Texas lineup with a dizzying array of 88-90, in and out, along with a change he was able to consistently locate. Estrada, with less stuff than Perez but a similar repertoire (and now exactly one run allowed in 6.0 or 6.1 innings in each of his three career starts in Arlington), executed the game plan Perez needs to execute to succeed.
6. Way too many lazy flies, a bunch with the arc and force of a rolled-up T-shirt slingshot into the crowd, and too many called strike threes. It’s just an odd thing that this offense tends to have more trouble with pitchers who locate moderate stuff than with those who feature filth.
R.A. Dickey today rather than Price? Not sure how elated I am about that, if that’s actually how the Jays go.
7. Chi Chi Gonzalez made a mistake pitch to Tulowitzki — at the time, 0 for 11 in the series — that changed the game, but he wasn’t terrible otherwise.
Still, I wondered why that wasn’t a spot for Colby Lewis instead. I suppose the club would prefer to have Lewis start an inning rather than come in inheriting someone else’s property, but with Perez having allowed Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista singles to start the fifth, putting men on the corners with nobody out in a 2-0 game and Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Colabello, and Tulowitzki due, I might have preferred the veteran with a swing-and-miss pitch over the rookie.
I’m a big Gonzalez fan, fired up about his future. And he was one well-executed pitch away from escaping the fifth and redistributing momentum for the first time all night. The crowd was dying to explode, and that was the chance. But I wondered at the time why Lewis wasn’t the choice when Perez was lifted, and would have said so here even if Gonzalez had gotten out of the fifth cleanly rather than delivering Tulo’s kill shot.
8. The best thing all night: Fielder’s L8 to start the ninth. Best pass he’s put on a ball in a long time.
Carry that one into today, man.
9. Game 4 in a best-of-five is, by definition, an elimination game for someone.
1. As I walked away from Rogers Centre on Friday, the Blue Jays’ gameday staff was on the sidewalks popping hundreds of arched balloons, blue and white, that had girded the stadium for three days.
I tried to resist the magnetic pull of the teed-up symbolism but, well, I’m too weak to do it. Sports, as usual, has me irreversibly sucked in.
Cole Hamels pitches. The Texas Rangers win.
That’s where the formula ends.
And if it holds true, Texas has at least one more series to play in 2015.
The truism didn’t exactly hold to form in one sense. Coming into this series, we were all prepped with “Playoffs David Price is the worst David Price, while Playoffs Cole Hamels is next-level Cole Hamels,” but Price’s line in Game One (7-5-5-5-2-5, two homers) wasn’t tremendously different from the Hamels line in Game Two (7-6-4-2-0-6, one homer).
Still, bottom line: Price didn’t do enough, and Hamels did.
It was a Quality Start under baseball’s definition and otherwise, but the fact is that the two times Texas put runs on the board while Hamels was in the game, Toronto immediately answered.
Meanwhile, after the Rangers jumped on Marcus Stroman early, he settled in and shoved from the third inning on. He exited after a Delino DeShields single started the eighth, having induced 13 ground ball outs and just one in the air. After needing 25 pitches to get through the first, he was extremely economical thereafter, routinely forcing Hamels back out of the dugout after relatively little rest.
It was one of those days when a tie game felt like a deficit, and a one-run deficit felt insurmountable. The lead never felt one swing away, at least for me.
But after Toronto pulled even and Stroman found his groove, Hamels did what number ones do. He battled, holding the league’s beastiest offense at bay for his final five innings of work, in an energetically hostile environment, and gave his team an opportunity to erase its own deficit and turn the game over to the bullpens. That’s a victory in itself.
Cole Hamels pitches. The Texas Rangers win.
2. Joe Sheehan wrote, after Jeff Banister had masterfully managed his bullpen in Game One, eschewing loyalty to the inning and instead prioritizing match-ups: “I . . . I think I love you.”
Banister’s bullpen management on Thursday not only helped win that game — it preserved everyone’s availability to go on Friday. Keone Kela threw 17 pitches in Game One, Jake Diekman 16, Sam Dyson 17, Shawn Tolleson 0.
And while Dyson closed Game One, he was the first reliever out of the pen in Game Two. Match-ups over “roles.”
Dyson’s eighth on Friday: Ben Revere led off with an infield single that bounced off Dyson’s glove, and after Josh Donaldson’s obliterated bat lobbed an out to short, Revere stole second. In what was a tie game, Chris Gimenez came up really big on the ensuing Jose Bautista at-bat, blocking two Dyson sinkers in the dirt (including strike three), keeping Revere from getting to third as the lead run with just one out and Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion needing only a sac fly to get him in.
Diekman’s ninth and 10th: After throwing 14 of 16 pitches for strikes in Game One, he threw 18 of 28 for strikes in Game Two, and was perfect over two frames for the second straight day. He’d last thrown on back-to-back days on September 22-23 (throwing only five pitches on the first of those two days). He’d last gone two innings on September 18, and that was the only time he’d exceeded one inning since August 15.
When Banister sent Diekman back out for the 10th, I assumed he’d face Ryan Goins and Revere (assuming no pinch-hitters), after which Shawn Tolleson would come in to get Donaldson.
Nope. Goins grounded out to the mound and Revere popped out to shortstop, and Diekman stayed in.
Diekman: Second straight day of work, 25 pitches in, the MVP up to bat, left on right.
Tolleson: Warmed and ready, five days of rest, right on right.
Banister stayed with Diekman. Donaldson grounded out to second base.
The Jays are 0 for 12 against Diekman in the series. That includes eight at-bats by right-handed hitters.
Jake Diekman, man.
Tolleson was outstanding in the 11th and 12th, retiring Bautista, Encarnacion, and Troy Tulowitzki in order and then buckling down after Chris Colabello singled to lead off his second frame. Russell Martin popped out to third and Tolleson froze Kevin Pillar for strike three, and after pinch-runner Dalton Pompey stole second and third, Goins bounded out to Rougned Odor to send the game to the 13th.
Kela in the 13th: I could write an entire report about that inning. Others have. I won’t.
Perhaps a little amped up, Kela started Revere off with two balls but then evened the count and got the speedster to ground out to first.
Then: Strike one to Donaldson, looking.
Strike two to Donaldson, fouled a thousand feet.
Then, um, a break in the action.
After which Kela threw one out of the strike zone that Donaldson let sail by.
And another one out of the strike zone that Donaldson’s bat missed by five feet. Gimenez smothered it and threw to first to complete the out (with Kela jogging in the same general direction as Donaldson).
A five-pitch walk to Bautista.
And then, on the first pitch to Encarnacion, admit it: You thought we were heading to Arlington with the series knotted at one.
F-8. On to the 14th.
Where Ross Ohlendorf, asked to preserve the Rangers’ two-spot in the top of the frame, struck Tulowitzki out looking, struck Justin Smoak out swinging, hit Martin with a 1-2 fastball, and struck Pillar out swinging to end the baseball game.
Ohlendorf, the reclamation project, had warmed up four times in the game, and brought 97 plus a hammer curve to the mound.
So Texas got seven innings from Hamels and seven from the pen. In the series, Texas relievers have posted a line of 11-4-1-1-2-12 (.108 batting average, 0.82 ERA). One of the two walks was intentional; the other was Kela’s of Bautista right after the benches had emptied. Against that offense, what the Rangers bullpen has done so far has just been incredible, and necessary.
John Gibbons made some questionable bullpen decisions from the other dugout, particularly in Game Two (not having Mark Lowe ready to pitch to likely pinch-hitter Mike Napoli in the eighth stands out, and Gibbons’s explanation that lefthander Brett Cecil had great career numbers against Napoli — 2 for 17 with seven strikeouts — failed to take into account, as Sheehan points out, that in 10 match-ups since Cecil has become a reliever, Napoli has a .400 OBP and .625 slug), but Banister has had a tremendous series managing his pen, and that’s something you don’t often hear managers praised for.
Gibbons said after the game regarding relief pitching: “That’s how you win.”
The Texas relief crew hammered that home Friday, and Thursday too, and Banister should get a big dose of credit there.
Wonder how Sheehan feels about him now. (I think he knows for sure.)
3. When Stroman had his presser the day before his start, he talked about how he likes to pitch with hate and anger, using those emotions to keep his edge. He reminded me of Kela that way.
A day later, Kela put it on display.
Donaldson had been pulled from Game One with a possible head injury and had to endure hearing about Pete Rose’s sorry take on that. He’d homered in the first inning of Game Two to take some momentum back after Texas had scored twice. He represented the winning run when he stepped in against Kela in the bottom of the 13th — by definition, every hitter in the home half of an extra inning represents the winning run, at worst, at least before the road team scores, and there were 14 of those Friday (not counting the three Jays hitters in the bottom of the ninth) — but this was the MVP at the plate, with an extra chip on his shoulder.
Against a rookie who’d been taken deep the day before by Bautista. The crowd noise was deafening. The moment was huge.
Kela admits he quick-pitched Donaldson at one point. The game is all about disrupting hitters’ timing, Kela would say, about being deceptive, and varying your times to the plate is part of that. Part of the game.
Donaldson didn’t agree. Whether that’s because Kela’s a rookie, or because that was Donaldson being Donaldson (and having some history with the Rangers), no telling.
But there was a very loud foul and then a very loud exchange, and no matter what the protocol might have been, Kela did the opposite of backing down or appearing shaken, as he marched toward the mouthing hitter, removing his glove in the process. Four dozen teammates and a handful of coaches headed from both sides toward the infield.
Fortunately, order was restored. Banister visited the mound (a rarity for him when not changing pitchers) and several of Kela’s teammates stepped up and, in Banister’s words, helped get Kela refocused.
The Bautista walk followed. Words from Bautista directed toward the mound as he jogged to first, words from Napoli directed at Bautista when he arrived. (A “fairly animated discussion,” evidently.)
But then Kela kept Encarnacion in the park — narrowly — and the game alive, literally and otherwise.
Stroman talked Thursday about how he’s able to keep his hate and anger “bottled up,” using it as a positive and not letting it get out of control.
It’s impossible not to wonder whether there’s another chapter in this series that will involve Kela, and that same thing.
4. The umpiring crew handled the Donaldson-Kela dust-up well, diffusing what was already a very tense situation that had intensified and boiled over as Kela showed that he wasn’t afraid to escalate, glove off. But there was plenty that they didn’t handle so well.
Vic Carapazza’s strike zone was inconsistent. That worked against both teams, but Toronto was affected more. It wasn’t a one-sided problem, but it did seem lopsided.
Then there was the play at second base in the 14th.
Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton had each lined out to Bautista in right field to start the frame when Odor reached on a single to third base. Gimenez then shot a single to right and Bautista came up firing — not toward a cutoff man positioned for a throw to third, but to Tulowitzki standing on the bag at second. Odor, who had rounded second base by just a couple steps, lunged with his foot to get back on the bag, and he beat Tulowitzki’s tag.
But then it appeared that Odor’s foot might have disengaged, with Tulowitzki holding the tag on his leg.
MLB’s replay officials in New York may not have seen anything conclusive enough to overturn the call, but the way 2015 had gone for Texas on replays, it felt shocking that Odor was allowed to stay and run the bases — which of course was decisive, as Hanser Alberto singled two pitches later, bringing Odor home when a different replay outcome would have ended the inning before Alberto could hit.
I figure Toronto has a beef with MLB for closing the roof on Thursday (and maybe even Friday), and we all have a grudge against the league for all these weekday day games, but I can imagine the Jays and their fans are having trouble forgetting about balls and strikes and the Odor play, and it’s hard to blame them.
Texas won, and it wasn’t because of umpiring. There’s so much officiating judgment in baseball, that to win you often have to overcome questionable calls along with 98-mph sinkers or 3.6 speed to first out of the right-handed batter’s box or a right fielder’s perfect seed to the bag at second.
But man, depending on how this series plays out, Bautista to Tulo to Odor’s leg might be discussed over a Molson 20 years from now, or as long as folks around here want to revisit “Dez caught it.”
5. Back to the first inning for a minute.
It was a weird start to the game, with both teams probably cursing and squirming and hoping it didn’t come back to haunt them.
In the top of the frame, Bautista had DeShields’s leadoff shot to the wall drip out of his glove. After Shin-Soo Choo singled to center to drive in a run, Prince Fielder’s bounding grounder clipped off Goins’s glove. Mitch Moreland then grounded into what looked like a sure 3-2 putout, but when Choo got himself hung up between third and home, Martin’s throw sailed wide of Donaldson, and Choo scored.
There’d been 22 pitches with no outs when Andrus grounded out, and Hamilton stepped up with men on second and third, and Toronto didn’t dare put him on with Odor on deck.
And then . . . .
Hamilton grounds into a 3U double play.
Moreland ran to third while Fielder didn’t break for the plate. Colabello froze Fielder with his eyes, tagged Hamilton, and then ran across the infield to tag Fielder, who basically had nowhere to go.
Twenty-two pitches and no outs turned into 25 pitches, inning over.
Toronto had to come out of the top of the first feeling like Texas shouldn’t have scored.
The Rangers had to come out of it thinking they left a couple extra runs on the table.
6. Choo, Fielder, Moreland, Andrus, and Hamilton — 2 through 6 in the Beltre-less lineup — are 3 for 39 in the series, with 11 strikeouts. And yet Texas is the only team in four Division Series with a 2-0 lead.
Hamilton (0 for 10 and now 0 for his last 30 playoff at-bats) gets a little break for the mess he’s in, I guess, given his role and the circumstances of his place on this team. But Fielder?
In 2012 and 2013 with Detroit, he went 18 for 92 in the post-season, with 18 strikeouts. In his 45 plate appearances in 2013, he drove in zero runs. He’s 1 for 8 in this series, with lots of rollover ground balls.
To be fair, Toronto’s core (Donaldson/Bautista/Encarnacion/Tulowitzki) went 2 for 22 with seven strikeouts yesterday even though (in varying sample sizes) the latter three came into the game with robust OPS’s against Hamels of .899, 1.009, and 1.220. (Donaldson, who took Hamels deep, had never faced him.) In the two games combined, that foursome is 5 for 35.
So credit the pitching, which often does dictate playoff success.
But Prince, man, it’s time. Time to bust out. Just a little. Team needs you.
7. I saved Odor for the seventh thing today, and not because that’s where he hit in Friday’s lineup. I saved him for the back half of this list because, seriously, the guy’s got only two hits in the series and almost got called out on a critical play in the 14th.
If they gave out MVP’s in the DS (they don’t), he’s the guy.
And he may just be my second favorite Texas Ranger to ever suit up.
Peter Gammons: “Rougned Odor has put on a Ph.D. exhibition of the art of baseball for two days.”
Extra bases on balls to the outfield and balls that stay in the infield. The proper response to a pair of hit-by-pitches. Patience (occasionally) at the plate. Five runs scored, a couple on 80-grade slides (Tony Beasley, by the way, has had a fantastic series and a great season). Defensive plays, and defensive decisions.
It’s his team, isn’t it?
His and Adrian Beltre’s. Just as it was once Michael Young’s and Adrian Beltre’s.
8. Texas was able to sign Odor out of Venezuela in January 2011 for the relatively modest sum of $425,000, because he didn’t play shortstop and wasn’t a burner on the basepaths.
The Rangers signed Hanser Alberto in November 2009 for a criminally inexpensive $65,000 — and (according to Mark Parker of the Hickory Daily Record) achieved that only by swooping in with an extra $10,000 after it appeared he was set to sign with Kansas City.
And Texas stole DeShields from Houston, of course, for just $50,000.
Alberto’s not a burner, either, or a slugger, and none of the players whose defensive spots he plays ever sit, so a week ago the odds probably pointed to him as the most likely Ranger to make no appearance in this series.
But then Beltre got hurt.
And told Alberto: “Be you. Just go play the game.”
Alberto’s calling card is his defense. It’s the tool that has him in a big league uniform. But he cost Texas two runs on defense Friday.
While the bat, which is not the reason he’s a Major Leaguer, drove in two. A sacrifice fly in the second inning, and the decisive Odor-scoring single in the 14th.
In that 14th, which again started with two outs, Texas got four straight singles — Odor, Gimenez, Alberto (using DeShields’s bat), and DeShields himself — the last of which was that incredible jailbreak single to short that turned a one-run edge into a far more comfortable two.
Props to the manager for staying with DeShields as long as he did in a tie game, rather than going to Stubbs with run prevention in mind.
Odubel Herrera had a terrific season for the Phillies, but if the Rangers had decided to roster him in November, there’s a real chance they would have exposed Alberto instead to the Rule 5 Draft and not drafted DeShields, like Herrera a second baseman with center field possibilities.
I’m not going to think about that anymore.
(1) Toronto in this series.
(2) Hamilton and Tulowitzki in this series.
(3) The number of those 23 ESPN analysts who picked Texas to advance.
The Jays now need a three-game win streak to extend their season and keep the Rangers from extending theirs.
Gibbons said before Game Two: “We need to win this one.”
That was figurative.
Now it’s literal.
For the Sports Illustrated cover boys, who have now lost six of their last seven, with the lone win courtesy of Mark Buehrle, who didn’t make the playoff roster (and wasn’t added in place of the injured Cecil).
Gibbons said after Game Two that coming to Arlington won’t be easy, as his team has been outplayed and outlasted in two games so far. It was the same oddly defeatist tint he’s fallen back on since the series was set to begin.
I can’t imagine that would be Jeff Banister’s tone — think back to Yu Darvish’s injury in camp — no matter how the first two games of this series went for Texas.
I’ve been proofreading the season’s reports for this year’s book lately, and it’s reminded me how energizing and fun 2015 has been. I mention that not to suggest that you need to buy lots of copies when that time comes (you do), but to reflect, just for a second, on how incredible this particular edition of Texas Rangers baseball has been, all things considered. They are playing with so much confidence, and I don’t remember having any more confidence in this team myself at this time in 2010 or 2011.
The players, the coaches, the front office.
This series is similar to the ALDS in 2010, as we’ve talked about (open on the road, indoor park, David Price in Game One), even more so now that Texas has taken two games in enemy territory when even a split would have felt victorious.
But don’t forget that the Rays then won the next two games in Texas, forcing the Rangers to complete a road-team sweep by going back to St. Petersburg to win Game Five behind Cliff Lee.
So know that while Arlington won’t be easy for the Jays, as Gibbons acknowledges, it won’t be easy for Texas, either. Playoff baseball never is.
Can Martin Perez neutralize Toronto’s right-handed brawn by commanding the change? The Jays have never faced him, but Donaldson (home run, three doubles, single, three walks in 16 plate appearances) has, and that’s a lineup which will be playing with emotion, and maybe a little bit of anger and hate, and Perez hasn’t always been able to stay composed when the temperature gets turned up.
But he’s also capable of dealing.
DeShields said after Game Two that the objective now is to “finish the job at home, in front of our fans. We live for this.”
Texas started the job on the road, in spectacular fashion. The moments of silence in Rogers Centre those two days, when the loudest baseball crowd I ve ever experienced had their plug pulled by the Rangers putting runs on the board, especially late, were unforgettable. I mean it was silent. Other than those roars coming out of the visitors’ dugout, which you could hear with hi-def clarity, no doubt helped acoustically by the roof that MLB ordered closed.
The venue now changes, but for Texas not much else does except for the effort to make sure there’s a home win in this series, before Game Five.
The Rangers punched a 53-28 home team in the mouth on Thursday and Friday, and now have two chances to close the deal against a 40-41 road team. It doesn’t have to happen today, but the opportunity is there to finish the series and get the bullpen some added rest and the rotation re-ordered if it makes sense tactically. That’s pretty inviting.
I don’t know yet if there are balloons lining the sidewalks and concourse at Globe Life Park today, but I do know there won’t be any being popped an hour after the game ends. Texas took care of business in a huge way in Toronto in Games One and Two, ensuring that today, one way or another, won’t be the final home game this baseball team plays in 2015.
I like the way that would give Texas four days off.
1. I’ve gotta admit, when I landed in Toronto Wednesday night, it sorta hit me — this felt like a Jays win in four games. With the Toronto offense being what it is, I felt good about the Cole Hamels start but not great about the other three Texas would need to play before getting the ball back to its number one starter. I figured each team might steal a game, but it still felt like Jays in four.
Then I walked to my Rogers Centre seat Thursday afternoonand a different vibe swept over me. Rangers taking BP with soaring shots getting lost from view in a grid of rafters and girders . . . . reverberating in that weird and different way that bat-on-ball sounds indoors . . . David Price walking down the third base line toward the bullpen for his pregame work . . . Game One in enemy territory.
It felt strangely like 2010 in Tampa Bay (not so much 2011, when the ALDS kicked off in Texas), and even without a Jeff Francoeur sighting I had that 2010 feeling again. This ballclub, 5-0 in playoff games indoors and on turf, was about to play its sixth. Opposite Price, in spite of what will be a top 2 Cy Young finish, who came into the game 0-5 in playoff starts (Game 163 against Texas in 2013 wasn’t considered a playoff game), with three of those losses hung on him by the Rangers, and on 11 days’ rest (which worried Jays analyst Gregg Zaun, who feared Price “could have too much gas in the tank”).
He’s now 0-6, 4.54 in post-season starts, the first pitcher in big league history to lose that many without a win, and his effort — not terrible but not dominant (ESPN reports Texas didn’t swing through a Price fastball one time in the game) — was not unlike the playoff games he pitched against Texas in 2010 and 2011. Whether or not that history weighed on Price coming into Thursday, the lefthander did admit after the game — incredibly for a pitcher of his stature — that he was nervous.
Which is exactly what I wasn’t, oddly, when I settled into my seat before yesterday’s game.
2. I really like this city. It’s clean, the people are friendly and cool, the roads are wide and the sidewalks are wider, traffic isn’t terrible, there’s water, and the ballpark is downtown. The crowd in Rogers Centre was a really good one. Loud without prompt (and evidently that way in the regular season as well), and educated. (I was surrounded by Jays fans where I sat, and the ones I talked to understood the Dyson/Tolleson dynamic [more on that later] and cringed when they realized the Jays weren’t going to get a shot at the Rangers’ closer, against whom they’d had some success this year.)
When you’re on the road and a crowd that energetic and vocal (amplified by roofed acoustics) is absolutely silenced for stretches, there’s not much music that’s sports-sweeter.
3. Yovani Gallardo, man. As we’ve talked about already, I’m not sure he would have even gotten a start if the Rangers had drawn Kansas City rather than Toronto. And here he was, getting the ball in Game One.
After the game, Jeff Banister would say: “Yo did what he does.” After three very clean, uncharacteristically economical innings, he got into traffic in the fourth and fifth, falling behind in the count and getting his pitches up, but he managed to limit the damage.
Which is what Yovani Gallardo does.
This is a pitcher that Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has told reporters he discussed with Texas late in July, presumably before the Rangers traded for Hamels but possibly even afterwards, as the Rangers weren’t ruling out moving a veteran or two in the right deal. Instead, he held baseball’s hottest offense down to open the ALDS.
And if there was any question as to whether a qualifying offer might be too risky to offer the righthander this off-season, surely that’s gone — some team is going to offer Gallardo multiple years, even at the cost of a first- or second-round draft pick. I doubt Texas has plans to bring him back, for various reasons, but the club shouldn’t fear extending the qualifying offer at this point.
Thursday’s effort was classic Gallardo — nibbling by design (moving the fastball around and avoiding the center-cut cookie) but lacking the out pitch to avoid deep counts, keeping hitters off-balance and routinely wiggling out of trouble almost as often as he created it (I wonder if the closed roof cost Toronto another homer or two) — but on that stage, it just seemed different.
Enough about 2016. There could be a handful more Yovani Gallardo starts to go in 2015.
4. The antithesis of the lengthy Yovani Gallardo at-bat is the typical Rougned Odor at-bat. I wrote last time that I was a little worried about Odor in this series, because he finished the season looking like he was trying to do too much, both at the plate and at second base, and I was concerned that the brighter post-season spotlight could eat him up. (“Odor has never tasted the playoffs and I fear he’s going to try and hit six-run home runs with the bases empty.”)
Man. Game One belonged to several players and a manager, but without Rougned Odor Texas doesn’t win that one.
Two hit-by-pitches and a 113-mph response over the right field fence. Three outstanding defensive plays (tough plays in huge situations) and some good judgment and restraint in that role that we’re not always accustomed to seeing out of him. Runs scored in each of the Rangers’ three run-scoring innings.
He’s 21 years old. Joey Gallo is older. Dillon Tate is older.
The seventh-inning laser extended 4-3 to 5-3, which felt huge with nine Jays outs to go. It registered as the hardest-hit ball he’s had all year (they don’t count BP, but I’d like to know the data on the pitch he hit into the fourth deck off Jayce Tingler before the game), and the hardest hit in the MLB playoffs this year at the time he hit it.
Odor is the third-youngest player to go deep in the playoffs in the last 10 years (only Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were younger), and the youngest second baseman (and ninth-youngest player overall) in baseball history to homer in the post-season.
I’m having a hard time imagining how there will ever be a time in Odor’s career when Texas could possibly entertain allowing him to play in a different uniform.
5. Which brings me to the lead I’ve buried, because it’s something I really don’t want to write about.
I didn’t think Adrian Beltre had functioning tear ducts.
When Beltre singled to center field in the third to score Delino DeShields and give Texas a 2-0 lead, if Kevin Pillar had been thinking like a Little Leaguer he’d have thrown to first rather than the plate, and he’d have retired Beltre easily and ended the inning without the run counting.
Beltre’s back had seized up on the deflating Prince Fielder 4-6-3 that ended the first inning, when he slid into second in an effort to break up the double play. (So strange that both teams lost their star third baseman Thursday on a slide at second to disrupt a pivot.) He wasn’t tested defensively in the bottom of the first or second. He stepped back up to the plate in the third, with two outs and DeShields on second.
On an 0-1 pitch, he barreled up 96 on the outer half to double his team’s early lead, and watching him hobble to first, and seeing the conversation between Beltre and his manager at the bag right afterwards, both of their heads buried in their chest, and realizing as he gave up trying to start the bottom of the inning defensively that there were tears in his eyes as he broke away from teammates on the field and accompanied manager and trainer back to the dugout — tears probably not because of the pain, because this is Adrian Beltre, but instead because he was exiting battle and leaving his teammates’ side — was almost too much to take.
That run-scoring single will show on the video board when he’s inducted, and when he’s inducted, because it was classic Adrian Beltre.
I just hope he’s not done for this series — if the club deactivates him to get another third baseman (Joey Gallo or Ed Lucas) here then he’s ineligible for the rest of this series as well as the ALCS — but hell, this is Adrian Beltre we’re talking about, and we can’t really rule out that he’s going to drive runs in later today.
6. What has happened to Prince Fielder?
He has some playoff demons to exorcise. And Texas needs him to be him.
I’m sports-sad about Prince Fielder.
7. Robinson Chirinos was briefly David Price’s teammate in Tampa Bay in 2011, and he admitted after yesterday’s game that from that experience he had a decent idea of how Price likes to attack hitters. With a man on first and no outs in the fifth, and a 2-1 lead, Texas called for Chirinos to lay a ball down to advance Odor (who’d been drilled for the second time) to second base for the top of the order. The pitch was up and Chirinos pulled the bat back.
Chirinos anticipated that Price might come back with a fastball middle-in, and he did, and the Rangers’ nine-hole hitter delivered it on the other side of the left field fence, turning 2-1 into 4-1.
Just an awesome moment for a player who has a knack for them, in spite of overall numbers that are hardly predictive of how often he comes through with really big hits.
8. Before the game, Hamels was asked when it was that he first felt this team could win. He said he believed it when he arrived, but added that it was the club’s bullpen acquisitions — Jake Diekman in tandem with Hamels himself, and Sam Dyson days later — that “set the tone.” He said it gave the starters the confidence that if they managed to hand a lead off to the relief corps, those guys would shut things down, and that was a turning point of sorts.
Diekman was crazy-great on Thursday, retiring Toronto on six pitches in the seventh (strikeout, groundout, lazy fly) and prompting Banister to send him back out for the eighth, when he coaxed another groundout, a harmless fly ball, and a Jose Bautista foul-out to Mitch Moreland.
Sixteen pitches, 14 for strikes.
There was never a question in Philadelphia about Diekman’s evil stuff, as filthy as any lefthander’s outside of Chris Sale and Aroldis Chapman. The question was about his command.
Sixteen pitches, 14 for strikes. Just incredible work.
After Diekman nailed down the seventh and eighth, I wondered the exact same thing that all of you wondered. Would Banister go to Shawn Tolleson in the ninth, leaving Sam Dyson in the holster in a two-run game with Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki, and Justin Smoak due in the ninth?
It’s so refreshing to have a manager not married to the inning.
Banister said after the game that he talked to his big four relievers earlier in the day, explaining that their usage in this series would be dictated less by the inning of the game than by matchups. He said he sent Diekman back out for the eighth because of matchups — and I trust he was referring less to wanting Diekman to face Ben Revere, Cliff Pennington, and Bautista (the latter as something less than the tying run) than to saving Dyson for Encarnacion (a former Jays draftee facing a former Rangers draftee) and Tulowitzki, in an effort to keep those two in the park.
Dyson: ground ball single, strikeout, fielder’s choice grounder, fielder’s choice grounder, ballgame.
Seventeen pitches for Dyson, the same number (in the sixth) for Keone Kela, and none for Tolleson (“Still our closer,” Dyson would tell reporters after the game). Conceivably, all four of the Rangers’ bullpen beasts should be good to go today, though one would hope that Hamels won’t need all four to chip in.
The Rangers opened the season with Tolleson and Kela in the bullpen. The others — Neftali Feliz, Anthony Bass, Roman Mendez, Phil Klein, and Logan Verrett — have been replaced, at least as far as the ALDS staff is concerned, by Dyson, Diekman, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Ross Ohlendorf, and either Colby Lewis or Martin Perez.
A massive question mark (if not a trouble spot) has turned into an absolute strength.
9. Which brings me back to something I wrote last week — that Banister and Jon Daniels, in a way, have been as valuable as anyone on this team in 2015.
Banister talked before the game about the importance of constructing a lineup so that you have the chance to create runs at the bottom of the order, which can be backbreaking to the opponent.
And then his eight and nine hitters went out and drove in three of the team’s five runs, and scored four of them, allowing Texas to win a game in which its four-through-seven hitters went 0 for 15 with seven strikeouts.
He also talked about how confident his team is, how it’s a group of players that’s been “up against it all year long,” and so being the underdog in this series is nothing new and doesn’t even register with them.
What he didn’t say, and never would, is that he has played and continues to play a massive role in setting that kind of tone.
I loved the bullpen management in Game One. I loved how he knew exactly how long to stick with Gallardo, following an analytically driven formula that he’s been faithful to all year. I love the mindset that personifies the man and his team. Banister was a star on Thursday.
Casey Stern (MLB Network) tweeted after the game that Banister “show[ed in Game One] why he’s the AL Manager of the Year.”
With all due respect to the GM on the other side of the field, I’m not sure Daniels shouldn’t be considered Executive of the Year, for pouncing on Hamels when he did, for getting Diekman thrown in, for acquiring Dyson criminally cheaply, for bringing Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli at virtually no cost, for drafting DeShields when the Astros didn’t think he was worth keeping in their farm system at the cost of a 40-man roster spot.
For hiring Jeff Banister when Tim Bogar would have been an easy and popular choice.
Daniels had a great Game One himself.
10. So with Texas 5, Toronto 3 in the books, there are a few ways to look at the series now. The way I prefer to view it it is this:
Texas now has home field advantage.
The Blue Jays now have to win three out of four.
And two of those four will be in Cole Hamels’s left hand.
Both John Gibbons (after the game) and Marcus Stroman (before it) told the press they know the Jays have their work cut out for them in facing Hamels.
It’s sort of an unusual concession to make publicly, the type that I’d be surprised to hear from a Rangers player or its manager.
But words are basically meaningless in the context of where we are (says the guy who just wrote half a million of them about one game in a best-of-five).
It’s Cole Hamels Day.
Winning a game on the road against David Price with Yovani Gallardo sort of proves the point that no conclusion is foregone in the post-season, but I really like how things have kicked off, and how they line up as the next step is hours away, with the pressure firmly shifted from one dugout to the other.
Here we go.
1. So it’s Yovani Gallardo kicking things off in Toronto, and not because he’s being looked to as the de facto leader of the staff like he was in April. In fact, it’s conceivable the righthander might not have made the playoff rotation at all had Texas drawn Kansas City (and its parade of core lefty bats) rather than the Jays, whose most dangerous hitters bat from the right side — and against whom Gallardo fired 13.2 brilliant innings this season over two starts (no runs on six singles, with an opponents’ slash line of .136/.224/.136).
In his two starts against Toronto, one in late June and one in late August, Gallardo held Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion to a combined 2 for 13 line.
Gallardo has a 2.08 ERA in four career post-season starts and a relief appearance. His first playoff work came in the very first playoff game he suited up for, Game One of the 2008 NLDS pitting Milwaukee against the Phillies in Philadelphia. Gallardo’s opposition? Cole Hamels.
Hamels laid a bunt down with a man in the third inning of that game and reached on second baseman Rickie Weeks’s error. Three runs would score in the inning, all with two outs and thus all unearned, and it’s the only scoring the Phillies would muster. But it was enough, as Hamels (and Brad Lidge) four-hit the Brewers, who scored once in the ninth to avert a shutout. Gallardo lasted only four innings, but he and four relievers held Philadelphia to just four hits themselves.
The short Gallardo outing is a familiar result, even when he’s been effective. The Rangers have determined that the spin rate on his breaking ball starts to diminish at around 90 pitches, and because he typically falls victim to deep counts, that 90-pitch mark often arrives before six innings are complete. Texas kept the leash on Gallardo short in 2015, and with a rested pen that will include either Martin Perez or Colby Lewis, the leash isn’t going to be any longer in the playoffs.
2. David Price gets the ball for the Jays, and he faces a Rangers team that he’s had more trouble with than any regular opponent over his career, in both the regular season (3-4, 5.15 ERA, .270/.330/.403 slash) and the playoffs (0-3, 4.66 ERA, .296/.305/.444 slash). Elvis Andrus (.429/.535/.429 in 43 regular season plate appearances against Price), Adrian Beltre (.306/.306/.583 in 36 plate appearances), and Mike Napoli (.263/.317/.474 in 41 plate appearances) have also faced Price in a combined five playoff games, hitting safely in all five games (a robust 8 for 21). Shin-Soo Choo is a .316 hitter against Price (though over only 21 plate appearances).
What does all that mean? Very little, unless you believe confidence can play a role in a turbo-competitive situation like the playoffs. (I do.)
By the way, Gallardo has opposed Price one time, on July 30, 2014. Final: Milwaukee 5, Tampa Bay 0. Gallardo scattered four singles and a walk over seven frames, fanning five.
Some even more tasty history?
As a Ray, Price faced the upstart Rangers in Games One and Five of the 2010 ALDS, both in his home park — which will be the case in this series in the event that the teams stretch this one to five games.
He struck 14 Rangers out in 12.2 innings, walking zero — but he lost to Texas both times.
3. On the subject of which Rangers starter might be available out of the pen tomorrow, Jeff Banister told MLB Network Radio on Monday that “we like what Martin Perez can do — there’s a good chance you’ll see three lefties in there” as part of the Texas rotation in this series.
Would Texas really leave Lewis out of the contracted rotation, in spite of his tremendous season and his strong post-season track record (4-1, 2.34 in eight starts, .178/.275/.344 slash)?
The fact is that Lewis has struggled in his last two starts and was beat up by the Jays a bit in late August, while Perez has been sharp in his last two outings and three of four. On the other hand, Lewis is unflappable and has routinely risen to the occasion in October for this team, while Perez has been prone this season to a loss of composure on occasion when things threaten to unravel.
It’s a fascinating decision. Game Four, by definition, is an elimination game (for one team or the other), and I can’t decide which of the two I think the Rangers might be leaning toward for that one.
If Gallardo doesn’t manage to get deep in the game tomorrow, we may have the answer to who gets the ball in Game Four before Game One ends.
4. Much was made yesterday of the fact that you could count on zero hands the number of ESPN’s 23 expert baseball analysts who are picking Texas to win the series with the Jays. Toronto 23, Texas 0.
There’s no doubt that the Jays are running a historically explosive lineup out there. They have a legitimate Cy Young candidate slated to pitch twice in the best-of-five, if needed. They’ve been the hottest team in baseball over the second half, and have home field. It would be silly to think the Rangers would be the favorite, even as strong as their last couple months have been.
But not one analyst out of 23 willing to go out on that limb? None of the other Division Series had similar unanimity.
MLB Network Radio’s Casey Stern believes the Jays will win the series, but he offered two underlying predictions: (1) If Texas is able to steal Game One against Price, he likes the Rangers to advance; and (2) regardless of which team prevails, he believes Toronto or Texas will represent the American League in the World Series.
For what it’s worth, the Jays won four of the teams’ six meetings this season. They beat Texas in a Nick Martinez start and a Chi Chi Gonzalez start, won a late-August game that Derek Holland was in line to win before Shawn Tolleson suffered just his second blown save, and hammered the Rangers the day after that, 12-4, in a game that pitted Price against Lewis.
The Rangers’ two wins against Toronto this year were the two games Gallardo started.
For what it’s worth, MLB Network Radio’s Mike Ferrin, Steve Phillips, and Todd Hollandsworth each believe Toronto (1) and Texas (2) have the best lineups of any playoff team in baseball. Fellow MLBNR host Jim Duquette has Toronto first and Texas third (with the Mets second).
Duquette has the Mets rotation number one and Texas number two. Ferrin doesn’t include the Rangers in his top six.
5. As far as the Rangers lineup is concerned, right now Choo (AL Player of the Month) and Beltre (AL Player of the Week) are the engines that make it go.
Choo — who finished the season’s first month hitting an incomprehensible .096 — finished the season at a healthy .276/.375/.463. He hit .343/.455/.560 in the second half of the season, including .387/.500/.613 over the final month. After moving permanently into the two hole in the order behind Delino DeShields on August 9, Texas posted a 33-20 record, second only to Toronto’s in the AL.
Jon Daniels on Choo: “He was maybe the best player in baseball during the second half.”
What a machine that guy has been.
As for Beltre, whose broken body is apparently irrelevant, he drove in 53 runs in the team’s final 48 games, which is just silly.
In the final 22 games of the season, he hit .427/.485/.719 and seemed to come through in just about every big spot. Over that time span, he led the American League in hitting, RBI (33), and OPS (an absurd 1.203).
He did it with a thumb that, when he dislocated it at the end of May, had bone break through the skin and had ligament “turned upside down,” according to Jon Heyman (CBS Sports).
And yet, when he returned to the active roster on June 23, without so much as a rehab assignment and clearly still in some degree of pain (every one of those swings that resulted in him walking slowly around the catcher and around the umpire and back to his perch in the batter’s box was probably a simple effort to give his thumb an extra five seconds to quit barking), guess how many days Beltre didn’t start over the Rangers’ final 92 games?
It’s the same number as ESPN analysts taking Texas to win this series.
Choo is a machine.
There’s not a word for what Beltre is.
(Unless you count #favorite.)
6. Mitch Moreland may sit against Price and he almost certainly won’t get the props from the national broadcast that he deserves. He’s been counted out repeatedly over his career, before quietly putting things together in 2015. I hope he does huge things in this series and quiets the critics.
What do these players have in common: Beltre, Albert Pujols, Jose Altuve, Adam Jones, Todd Frazier, Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano, and Troy Tulowitzki?
Moreland out-OPS’d every one of them in 2015.
7. There may or may not be a minor league coach in the Rogers Centre stands these next two afternoons named Tom Signore. If you’ve never heard of him, you’re excused. There are probably lots of diehard Blue Jays fans unfamiliar with the 53-year-old.
But he’s the man who may have played the biggest role in turning Sam Dyson from a fourth-round pick who had shoulder surgery and elbow surgery as a pro before throwing his first minor league pitch into what he is now.
Signore was the pitching coach for the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2012, Dyson’s second stop in his first pro season on a mound. Dyson featured a sinking fastball when Toronto drafted him in 2010 out of the University of South Carolina, but it wasn’t until Signore started working with the righthander that he began to manipulate the ball differently in his hand and develop the devastating heavy fastball that may be the most dominant pitch on the staff that Texas takes into this series.
Dyson shockingly reached the big leagues in that first healthy pro season, moving from Class A Dunedin to New Hampshire to Toronto in early July, but after a poor showing in that off-season’s Arizona Fall League, he was waived by the Jays and claimed by the Marlins.
Miami had Dyson throw his sinker half the time, if that. Rangers evaluators — including Daniels himself — felt there was added upside there if Dyson were asked to throw the pitch at more like an 80 percent rate, and the club obtained him with minutes left before the expiration of the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, for the mere price of catcher Tomas Telis and left-handed relief specialist Cody Ege.
Telis and Ege? Where were the other 28 teams?
What was Miami thinking — when they had another five years of control over Dyson and didn’t need to move him impetuously? It’s not as if Telis and Ege was a “blow ’em away” offer that the Marlins just couldn’t let slip through their fingers, was it? Why not wait until the winter?
They probably won’t show Tom Signore in the crowd the next two days — well, maybe they will and I’ll have no idea — but, sir, I offer you the heartiest of standing slow claps.
8. I bet 97 with bastard sink is killer on the hands, and especially in cold weather. They’ll surely close the Rogers Centre roof on Friday, when it looks like rain is a strong possibility. But what about tomorrow, when it’s supposed to be clear and in the low 50’s?
9. I’m a little worried about Rougned Odor, not so much because he hit .172/.209/.359 over his final 17 games and had a handful of errors and other mistakes that didn’t register in the box score.
I’m a little worried because he’s shown a tendency to try and be really big in situations that don’t necessarily call for it, and while Texas has always believed heavily in adding players who have never won and bring that extra hunger to the team (veterans Beltre, Choo, Napoli, Joe Nathan), Odor has never tasted the playoffs and I fear he’s going to try and hit six-run home runs with the bases empty.
Vince Gennaro, a SABR guy who shows up on MLB Network on occasion, talked this week about players with big swings who often struggle in the post-season because the number five starters and middle relievers against whom they often do lots of their in-season damage tend to gather dust in the playoffs. He mentioned Josh Hamilton as an example, and it prompted me to look up Prince Fielder’s post-season numbers, which it turns out are not pretty (.194/.287/.333 in 164 plate appearances). I think Odor probably fits the profile, too, as much as I hope I’m wrong about that.
Slow the game down, man, just a little. Just be Rougie.
10. Jeff Banister was the bench coach for Pittsburgh when that club fell in five games to St. Louis in the 2013 NLDS and lost the Wild Card Game to the Giants last year. I like that he’s had the playoff experience — the planning, the unusual scheduling, the different ways to use the roster, the heightened intensity.
There’s little that I imagine could ever be too big for Banny, given what he’s gone through on and off the field and given the life he’s devoted to the game, but I do take added comfort in the fact that he was on the front lines with Clint Hurdle the last two Octobers.
Greg Amsinger (MLB Network) said a few days ago: “I think Banister’s season . . . is arguably the greatest rookie season in sports for a manager.”
Hyperbolic, perhaps, but that man seems 100 percent to have been born to do this job — how did he never get this shot before Texas gave it to him?? — and while he’s new at managing a big league club, he’s not new to big league playoff baseball. That’s good.
11. I have no hate for the Blue Jays. I kinda like that team, actually. I had no hate for the Rays or the Giants or the Tigers or the Cardinals, either, at least going into those playoff battles.
Someone like Kevin Pillar or Chris Colabello is going to make me bristle at his name forever because of something that happens over the next week. And that’s cool. The thing is, Texas is still playing ball, and 21 other teams aren’t. Some of them are firing managers and introducing new GM’s and planning winter directions. The Rangers are trying to decide who will start Game Four.
I don’t hate the Blue Jays, but there’s a chance I will in a few days, and on a certain sports-level you just can’t ask for anything more.
Let’s go, Yo.
Bring it, Jays.
- 1999: USA Today All-America honorable mention in baseball, McDonald’s All-America nominee in basketball (Smithville High School)
- 2000: Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-America (University of Missouri)
- 2002: Leads Cape Cod League in on-base percentage (Brewster Whitecaps)
- 2003: Missouri reaches NCAA Regionals; drafted by Toronto in 10th round (seven rounds before Missouri teammate Ian Kinsler); Short-Season A Auburn Doubledays reach playoffs
- 2004: High A Dunedin Blue Jays reach playoffs
- 2005: High A Dunedin Blue Jays reach playoffs
- 2006: Joins Rangers via Rule 5 (Texas selects him a round before selecting Alexi Ogando); completes playing career, earning All-Star recognition with High A Bakersfield Blaze and earning first promotion to AA (Frisco RoughRiders); teaches himself Spanish; begins coaching career
- 2008: Manages Rangers’ Dominican Summer League team to first-place finish
- 2009: Manages Rangers’ Dominican Summer League team to first-place finish
- 2010: Manages Rangers’ Arizona League team to first-place finish
- 2011: Rangers Coordinator of Instruction, Arizona and Dominican Operations; AZL team first-place finish
- 2012-2014: Rangers Minor League Field Coordinator; organization’s farm system consistently ranked top 10 by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus; 2012 Topps Organization of the Year
- 2015: Rangers Major League Field Coordinator; AL West champions
Update next week?
Next Report: 11 Things.
Jerad Eickhoff went 3-3, 2.65 in eight starts, with really good peripherals, for a Phillies club looking to find a new identity. He looks like a guy who can pitch in the middle of a big league rotation right now, super affordably.
Alec Asher didn’t fare as well in his big league debut (0-6, 9.31 in seven starts), but his AAA numbers with Lehigh Valley were solid and he’s got a very good chance to be a lot more productive than Beau Jones ever was.
Jake Thompson was brilliant in seven AA starts (5-1, 1.80) and could be very, very good.
Nick Williams was even better with AA Reading (.320/.340/.536) than he’d been with AA Frisco (.299/.357/.479), and will be all over all the Top 100 Prospects lists this winter. He’s going to hit big league pitching forever.
Jorge Alfaro has a chance to better than any of them. There’s work to be done, and he’s got to stay out of the trainer’s room, but he could be great. One day soon I’ll take him off the header to these emails.
We wish all of you the very best.
Those are the final scores of the last 10 games Cole Hamels started.
They were all Rangers games.
The first number in each score belonged to Texas.
Seven batters in yesterday, in Game 162, the Angels had doubled, homered, and doubled, recording four outs.
The Angels went 0 for 23 (with two walks and a hit batsman).
Do the math. Four outs, plus an 0 for 23, equals . . . .
For all who wondered going into Sunday who in the world the Rangers’ closer would be for the day, given the debilitated state of the bullpen, your number one starter answered the question.
Cole Hamels would be the closer.
First-pitch strikes to 22 of 33 hitters, critical given the need to keep the pitch count down. Eight strikeouts, 10 groundouts — including the final four hitters the Angels would send to the plate this season.
In fact, their final six hitters came up after Hamels sat through what had to be a 45-minute (and glorious) bottom-of-seventh. Hamels struck Erick Aybar and Kole Calhoun (Saturday’s ninth-inning home run hitters) out, and then coaxed groundouts off the bats of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, C.J. Cron, . . . and David Freese.
While it didn’t erase four-year-old things fully, seeing the Texas Rangers rush the field after retiring David Freese felt pretty good.
Texas didn’t have a Cole Hamels in 2011. They had one the year before that (Cliff Lee) and the year after (Yu Darvish), but while the 2011 rotation was really good, there wasn’t that guy whose back everyone was invited to jump on for games as big as yesterday’s was — given not only what was at stake as far as playoff position was concerned, but also the emotional devastation and depleted relief corps that the team was saddled with from the day before.
And more to come.
Thank you, Cole, for saying no to Houston.
Thank you, Houston, for saying no to Jeff Banister.
Thank you, ownership, for saying yes to JD.
Thank you, Philadelphia, and I sincerely hope Williams and Thompson and Alfaro and Eickhoff and Asher and whoever you take with the first overall pick in the draft in eight months help you play meaningful September games again soon.
Just a few months ago, it looked far more likely that Texas would be drafting number one in June than number 23.
Instead, on the day Asher celebrated his 24th birthday, Cole Hamels was entrusted with the ball in the biggest game the Rangers have had in a couple years.
The Rangers decided a couple weeks ago, when deciding how to use their final off-day to arrange the rotation, that — even though it meant he wouldn’t pitch in Houston on the season’s penultimate weekend — they wanted to be able to call Hamels’s number on the season’s final day.
We all knew after Friday and Saturday that he was going to need to go eight yesterday. Maybe nine.
He’d thrown 101 pitches through eight innings, and the lead was seven. All things considered, though, Banister didn’t even ask the usual question of his number one.
“I wasn’t checking with Cole. He was our guy.
“You could see the look in his eyes. . . . Big players step up in big spots.”
Hamels: “I want to be out there for the last out, no matter what. You just go out there and try to seal the deal.”
Go out there. Seal the deal.
That’s what closers do.
Going into Friday, Houston needed the following seven things to happen to win the AL West:
- Beat Arizona Friday
- Have Texas lose to Angels Friday
- Beat Arizona Saturday
- Have Texas lose to Angels Saturday
- Beat Arizona Sunday
- Have Texas lose to Angels Sunday
- Beat Texas in Arlington on Monday
To win the West, Texas needed any one of those things not to happen.
With apologies to any of you who thought I might talk about Los Angeles 11, Texas 10, that’s not happening. We’ve talked about defining moments. There’s one way — really, more than one, but I’m focused on just one way — to make sure yesterday’s ninth doesn’t define anything.
Down to the final three on that list.
- Cole Hamels vs. Garrett Richards at 2:05
- Lance McCullers vs. Robbie Ray at 2:05
- If necessary, Yovani Gallardo vs. Mike Fiers or Scott Kazmir tomorrow night
Then, for Texas, it’s on the road for Game One of the ALDS on Thursday . . . or turn around and play the Wild Card Game on Tuesday against the Yankees and Masahiro Tanaka — and hope to earn that Thursday Game One.
This team will play in the American League Division Series. The rotation won’t line up ideally and the pen won’t be as rested as hoped, but there’s just no way this team finishes 2015 with five straight losses, the first four and maybe all five at home.
Texas will be in Toronto or Kansas City Thursday, because I refuse to believe otherwise.
This is why, Cole. You turned down a deal to Houston, you wanted to be here.
Nine straight team wins when you get the ball, but that’s not enough.
Make the first of those three bullet points the only one that matters.
Win today, win tomorrow, or win Tuesday, and Texas is in the ALDS, best of five.
Game 162, number one on the mound.
This, Cole. This is why.
A year ago on this date, I wrote a million words wrapping up the miserable 2014 season.
Today is better.
With Shawn Tolleson now having pitched four straight nights for the first time in his career, and Sam Dyson doing so for the first time since joining the Rangers, and Keone Kela’s availability a massive Stanley Cup-level mystery — he hasn’t pitched since Tuesday despite having not allowed a run in the seven and a half weeks following his return from the minors — it wouldn’t be any surprise if the game plan for the Angels at noon is to lay off Colby Lewis’s slider, drive his pitch count, and make the bionic 36-year-old work.
Colby Lewis having to work his tail off doesn’t scare me a bit.
Today is better.
There were just seven weeks left in the season, and the Rangers, who two weeks earlier sat eight games out in the West, had won 12 of 17 since a 21-5 disaster at the hands of the Yankees.
There were seven weeks left, and someone asked Jon Daniels during the Q&A portion of our Newberg Report Night event how confident he was that Texas could hold on after actually climbing all the way back into a Wild Card position.
Always understated and chronically appropriate, JD paused. “I know everyone is all caught up in the Wild Card race,” he said without a change in expression. “Man, I think we’re gonna win the division.”
The room erupted.
I asked JD if it was OK if I led my report the next morning with that comment. No problem, he said.
The next morning he said he’d reconsidered, and if it was cool he preferred that I not put that out there. So I didn’t.
I didn’t ask this time.
There have been defining moments this season — and we all hope the true signature moments have yet to happen, of course — but it’s been one of those years in which you can’t really say one or two players put the team on their backs, or that one impossible comeback win or crazy win streak changed everything. It’s been a battle, a battle out of a corner, and one of the most exhilarating sports seasons I can remember.
With lots to go, obviously.
The prospect of Eric Nadel opening the Game 159 broadcast with the chillbump-raising words “Well, it has come to this” was, for so long this year, virtually impossible to imagine.
The Thursday lineup featured a Rule 5 pick that Houston didn’t want to reserve a minor league spot for on its off-season 40-man roster, a first baseman who was acquired for next to nothing in August, and a left fielder who was paid a lot of money to go away five months ago by the team in the other dugout.
In a game decided by two runs, Josh Hamilton — the man whose dropped flyball in Oakland was emblematic of the Rangers’ 2012 collapse — saved one run and drove in another, eliminating from the division race the team that was so desperate to get rid of him in April that they took care of almost all of his game check last night, paying him to make that impossible catch and drive in the game’s final run.
It wasn’t the same as freezing A-Rod to end the ALCS, or the Mavs finally taking down the Heat, but Josh Hamilton (20 days post-knee surgery) accounting for two runs in Texas 5, Los Angeles 3, helping send his team to the playoffs and making his primary payor’s playoff path a little steeper, was pure sports poetry.
New Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, who was in the same role with the Angels when they rush-delivered Hamilton to Texas earlier this year, on the role Los Angeles owner Arte Moreno’s played when the club gave him $125 million over five years in the first place, weeks after he’d dropped that lazy fly in Oakland: “That was his decision to make.”
So, apparently, was the decision to excommunicate Hamilton, and essentially pay him $110 million for two years of baseball.
Two years of Angels baseball, that is.
Mike Scioscia after the game on Hamilton’s grab of Shane Victorino’s second-inning smash at the fence with men on first and third: “I’m not surprised. He’s a good left fielder with a lot of range.”
Hamilton and Elvis Andrus nearly threw Albert Pujols at the plate, but the something-year old, running like he was chest deep in a swimming pool, narrowly beat the relay.
It still really wasn’t a signature moment for this club, in a game that had less urgency attached to it for Texas than it did for LA, but it was awesome. The Rangers are in the playoffs — thanks in large part to a beast effort out of Derek Holland and 2.2 scoreless innings from the bullpen — and with one more win over these final three, or one Houston loss, they bypass the Wild Card Game and earn a berth in the ALDS, traveling to either Toronto or Kansas City to get their post-season rolling.
According to one of those playoff odds generators, the Rangers had a 1 percent chance to win the AL West as of July 22.
And a 4 percent chance as of August 26.
It’s not 100 percent this morning, but it’s just about as close as you can get.
A 95-loss team whose manager had quit went into the winter needing a new skipper and lots more than that.
And then lost its ace in spring training.
Lost its number two starter after one inning.
Didn’t have its number three starter or its number four starter for the first half of the season.
Had its closer cough up his job, leaving the role to a pitcher the club had claimed off waivers a year and a half earlier.
Finished April with the worst record in its 44-year history.
Had a $120 million shortstop and $130 million right fielder who were being labeled as untradeable throughout the first half because nobody wanted to talk instead about actual production.
Still owned Jurickson Profar, somewhere.
Optioned its standout rookie second baseman after a month because he’d become a helpless sophomore.
Stuck that Rule 5 pick in the leadoff slot.
Had what amounted to a mediocre catcher tandem — and then lost both 31-year-olds to extended injury.
Got backwards steps from the center fielder and set-up man it was counting on to take the next step.
Started 12 left fielders.
Gave 15 starts to Wandy Rodriguez, and seven to Ross Detwiler.
That team is returning to the playoffs.
With head-to-head confrontations the past week with the Astros and Angels, I wasn’t big on focusing on any Magic Numbers, but the more I think about it, this club that isn’t defined by one player, or two, is one whose identity and whose success this incredible season should be credited mostly to two men.
For me, the two magic numbers as far as the 2015 Texas Rangers are concerned are the 28 on the manager’s back, and the 162+ that belongs on the GM’s.