1. In what has been an outstanding 14-year career in the big leagues, a week ago Adrian Beltre had appeared in fewer playoff games than Alexi Ogando. It had been seven years since his lone post-season, a one-and-done job with the Dodgers in 2004 in which Los Angeles was ousted by the Cardinals in four NLDS games. In 16 trips to the plate, Beltre had four hits, none for extra bases. Or one fewer than Cliff Lee had in last year's World Series.
"Today he stepped up and put us on his back," said Wash of his third baseman minutes after the celebration had been taken from the Tropicana Field mound to the visitors' clubhouse. "He's one of our leaders, and today he led us."
Adrian Beltre is an extraordinary baseball player, one who I'm on Twitter-record calling my favorite Texas Ranger. Ever. The defense and the slug come first for me, but there's so much more. The energy and passion for the game, the tenacity, the quirkiness, the ability to step up in big moment.
The moment was the biggest yet for Beltre yesterday. After a batting practice session that Wash noted (and Beltre acknowledged) was "different," he swung at only four pitches in four at-bats during another tremendously intense game. The first three swings put the ball over the fence, each a majestic display of power.
Just like Mike Napoli did in the season finale in Anaheim -- nailing down a win that sent Tampa Bay to Texas rather than Texas to New York for Round One -- and again in large part on Monday, Beltre provided nearly all the Rangers offense on Tuesday, putting the team on his back.
He talked after the game about his winter decision, after narrowing his list down to two or three teams, to sign with Texas because, in his mind, the Rangers gave him the best chance to win something. With Beltre's hat trick, it was the other way around on Tuesday.
He joins Babe Ruth, George Brett, Reggie Jackson, and a couple others to have hit three bombs in a post-season game.
And he now joins Ogando, Michael Kirkman, and Julio Borbon as players to have celebrated the completion of a big league playoff series.
2. Josh Hamilton joked before the game, when asked about the game Napoli had on Monday and how he and Beltre had managed to more than fill the void left by Vladimir Guerrero's departure from the lineup, that "We're gonna look at who we can get from the Angels next year." The point was about Guerrero's arrival first and then Napoli's, I think, but maybe he meant Beltre, too -- considering the off-season rumors that Los Angeles and Beltre had substantial mutual interest in a deal (remember that Peter Gammons suggested last week that Beltre was begging the Angels for a job) before Texas swooped in.
Which, of course, was followed by the Angels moving Napoli (a player that Wash said yesterday is a "consummate winner, a player who will run through a brick wall, in Ian Kinsler mode") to the Blue Jays in a deal for Vernon Wells, an effort to boost offense that plainly didn't.
Presuming that the Angels and Rangers were among the "two or three teams" that Beltre talked about yesterday, it's sort of remarkable to think about the fact that his ultimate decision, and the step-up by Rangers ownership, led to both Beltre and Napoli being here -- and very likely to the Rangers being here.
3. Yes, Jim Sundberg called Kinsler's game-opening bomb ("Good luck; here we go; Kinsler home run") and then called Beltre's first home run ("Got another feeling here: Beltre's gonna hit a ball real hard").
4. Two prescient comments by Joe Maddon before the game, one macro and one micro: (1) "[The Rangers] are very formidable. They are not easy. . . . They have a lot of different kinds of weapons offensively and defensively and you can't make the mistakes we made [in Game Three] . . . otherwise they will beat you." (2) Jeremy Hellickson has been getting his fastball up to 92 miles per hour lately and "when he is at that range, his changeup really works well off that . . . if he is throwing his changeup off that, he will have himself a good day."
If the Rays' stadium gun was accurate, I don't think Hellickson hit 92 all day. Lots of 89-91.
5. Thad Levine told a great story on the Ben & Skin Show (ESPN 103.3 FM) Tuesday morning, noting that Cliff Lee sat down with Matt Harrison a year ago when Harrison was left off the post-season roster and told him that the Indians had done the same thing with him in 2007 -- and he went on to win the AL Cy Young in 2008. Use it as motivation.
Lee did a lot of good things here, not just on the playoff mound. The club misses having him at the top of the rotation, obviously, but considering that his return to Texas certainly would have meant no Beltre (the difference in whose salaries covers Napoli's 2011 contract as well), it's hard to gripe about the fact that Lee moved on, even if you were up for giving him a crazy seven-year commitment.
Plus, Lee made C.J. Wilson better and Derek Holland better and Matt Harrison better and, I'm sure we'll learn as time goes on, others, too.
Harrison's strikeout stuff and high pitch count shortened his day, but Holland was entrusted with bullpen duty for the day, given the fact that it was his day to throw between starts and he wasn't going to be used again otherwise in this series. Before the game, Wash said everyone in the bullpen would be available for Game Four: "This is the playoffs. . . . It's no time to be concerned about [stiffness or pitch counts]. They're all available. My arm is tired from throwing a lot of BP, but I'm going, too."
The lift Holland and Alexi Ogando gave the already superior Texas pen yesterday was immeasurable. The Rangers used three-fifths of their rotation in Game Four, and each of the three pitchers was hugely instrumental in the win.
6. For what it's worth, there were three game decisions that I wasn't crazy about:
(a) I would have pinch-hit Craig Gentry for David Murphy when the Rays brought lefthander Matt Moore in to pitch the fifth inning and, presumably, to go deep into the game. Murphy isn't great against lefthanders. In what was then a one-run game, having Gentry in the outfield would have improved the defense. Gentry had seen Moore (strikeout and hit-by-pitch on Friday). Texas would still have had Endy Chavez available to run for someone later if necessary. Murphy fanned. He would later draw a walk off Moore in the seventh -- but Gentry wasn't called on to run (and play three innings of defense). Finally, in the ninth, after a Murphy single, Gentry came in to run and then play center field for the final three outs.
(b) I was sort of surprised Wash went to Mike Adams with one out in the seventh, unless Texas had Holland on a strict pitch count, which is a real possibility. But give Wash credit there: He wanted Adams right back on the mound after Monday's disaster -- especially considering that he was summoned to face Desmond Jennings, who had taken him deep fewer than 24 hours earlier -- but it's a move that could pay off big in the next series.
(c) As great as Ogando looked in the eighth, and as many pitches as Neftali Feliz had thrown Monday, I thought maybe Ogando should have been allowed the chance to start the ninth. But Wash is big on bullpen roles, and the ninth belongs to Feliz.
7. David Price said earlier in the series that the Texas lineup has "five Longoria's." The Rays barely had one of them in this series. Longoria is a phenomenal player, but he disappeared for the most part against Texas.
Speaking of The Trop, the "Meatballs" scene shown on the video board before the game -- "It just doesn't matter if we win or we lose! It just doesn't matter!!" -- um, what? Seriously? I'd have been livid if I were in a Rays uniform.
8. Maddon said after the game that he's "getting a little bit tired of this, but I want to congratulate the Texas Rangers." Wash said "there's one thing that the Rays can do -- they can play baseball. And they did that for nine innings today."
What a game, and what a series.
As for who I want next, I go back and forth on that, but there's two things I'm sure of -- I love that New York and Detroit are going five, and I'm pretty damn sure neither the Yankees nor the Tigers are licking their chops about running into the Texas Rangers.