The Rich Harden era went out with a whimper today, as the righthander, pitching what amounted to a spot start as the club gets its playoff rotation lined up, went four-plus, throwing marginally more strikes than balls, and giving up four runs on six hits and three walks and one hit batsman (with two strikeouts) before giving the ball to Ron Washington one final time.
The bullpen trio of Derek Holland, Mark Lowe (making his Rangers debut against his former club), and Neftali Feliz threw five innings of one-run ball (four hits, one walk, eight strikeouts) as the offense scored the game's final five runs, the last one just about as improbable as you can imagine (aside from the truism that if Nelson Cruz is up with a chance to end the game, you might as well pack up your belongings), and taking Harden off the hook for the meaningless loss.
Harden's record as a Ranger: 5-5, 5.58 in 18 starts and two relief appearances.
But, hey, remember that note on the back of his 2010 Topps card? "Rich has winning stuff; all he needs is a little help from his friends. In the 51 career starts in which he's gotten at least four runs of support while he was in the game, his record is 39-0."
He's now 41-0 in those games!
Hey, nobody was more excited about Harden when he signed here. He seemed to be every bit as good a risk as Colby Lewis, and certainly brought more upside. His contributions were few (maybe a saber-type can quantify whether his impact was in fact negative, as he averaged under five innings a start and thus burdened the bullpen beyond reason), and in spite of it Texas is headed for territory that it hasn't seen in 11 years and that it figured Harden would lead them to, if the club was to get there at all.
I remember how pumped I was when I saw Harden and Mike Maddux walking together toward the bullpen mounds behind the batting practice field in Surprise six and a half months ago, with thoughts of 15 or 17 contract-year wins once Harden inevitably got those low March gun readings out of his system and was ramped up for the games that counted. Spring training will do that for you.
So will Fall Instructs, if you allow yourself to think in the long term. I baked at Rangers Ballpark this afternoon (it was so hot that I thought the game ended on a run-scoring strikeout), only to realize as I looked at the temperature readings that I'm headed for an extra 25 degrees of heat tomorrow. If I'm a little dizzied out there in Arizona, I might start to predict really big things for Hanser Alberto or Justin Grimm, though you know me well enough by now that I'd probably do that even in conditioned air.
Tampa lost today, and New York lost two minutes ago, so the Rays' lead is still half a game, and for all relevant purposes 1.5 games.
Catch you next from Surprise, with lots of thoughts on a good number of the five dozen young players getting their final work in for the year, plus plenty of discussion about what lies ahead for the older guys, whose season has a far less predictable end date than the crew at Instructs, or than Rich Harden's career in Texas.
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(c) Jamey Newberg