1. Alexi Ogando the win, Justin Verlander the loss, Neftali Feliz the save. It happened on April 11, the Rangers' 9th win of the season, and last night, the club's 100th victory in 2011.
Billed, as it should be, as Number One starter vs. Number One starter, it turns out neither Verlander nor C.J. Wilson was great last night. Texas worked Verlander for more than 20 pitches per inning, with Ian Kinsler setting the tone brilliantly. The Rangers didn't chase his filth out of the zone (he threw a hair under 60 percent of his pitches for strikes), making him come back in with fastballs. They shortened up when it was called for (particularly Mike Napoli on a 2-2 single to lead off the second and Kinsler on a 1-0 single the other way to score David Murphy, who had tripled, later in the inning).
For all his considerable greatness, Verlander hasn't been very good in his last four starts, three of which have been post-season efforts. In those four games, he has a 1-3, 5.85 record, surrendering 19 hits (three home runs) and eight walks in 20 innings.
(You can bet Verlander - who did say that he figured something out mechanically during the first rain delay and would have returned to the mound had Texas come back up to bat before the second delay - will be a strong consideration for a Game Four start on short rest now, maybe depending on how Games Two and Three go. Rick Porcello's 22 pitches last night shouldn't endanger his Game Four availability, but Verlander's 82 ought to make it more likely that he's brought back Wednesday, which would also put him in line for a short-rest assignment in a Game Seven.)
Wilson threw an even lower percentage of strikes (57 percent), issuing five walks (one intentional) in 4.2 innings, and while he had good stuff, especially with his breaking ball, he wasn't sharp. He allowed six of the first 11 Tigers to reach base, couldn't get 10th starter Ryan Raburn out - a crime considering he bats ahead of Miguel Cabrera, Detroit's one mega-threat - and after walking Raburn and Cabrera to load the bases in the fifth with one out, he had an 0-2 count on Victor Martinez (a lifetime .176 hitter against Wilson) before uncorking a wild pitch to bring a run home and shave the Texas lead down to 3-2.
Including his six scoreless innings against Tampa Bay in his first career playoff start (Game Two against the Rays last year), Wilson has a 1-3, 4.76 record in six post-season starts.
But for the most part on Saturday night, Wilson wiggled out of trouble, and that's what rotation bulls do.
2. After that Wilson wild pitch, which was followed by an intentional walk and the second rain delay, the Texas bullpen allowed two more baserunners the entire way: 4.1 scoreless innings, one hit (a bunt single in the ninth), one walk, eight strikeouts. Verlander induced nine swinging strikes in his four innings of work. Wilson, six swinging strikes in his 4.2 frames. Rangers relievers: 15 swinging strikes in 4.1 innings.
Mike Gonzalez, Ogando, Darren Oliver, Mike Adams, and Feliz were each, in one way or another, absolutely dominant. (Detroit's pen was tremendous, too: four scoreless innings, one hit, no walks, two strikeouts.) Baseball fans rarely credit their team's manager for orchestrating his bullpen beautifully, but man, last night's relief succession was brilliant stuff. . . .
. . . with an exclamation point from Good Nef shutting things down. A heavy dose of Closing 101.
Napoli, who has caught Feliz all year and was hitless in five trips against him (two strikeouts) as an Angel, said after the game that it was the best he'd ever seen out of Feliz.
Darren O'Day tweeted, after the game: "Feliz's last fastball to Austin Jackson was the singular most impressive pitch I've ever seen. Painted down/away at 101 mph for the K. WOW."
Wilson's responsive tweet: "Wish I could do that."
3. Texas has beaten the Tigers four times in 2011. Ogando has earned all four wins.
Not sure why he wasn't getting loose the minute play resumed after the first rain delay concluded, but I'm not going to get too hung up about that. Especially because if Ogando (who did begin warming but only after Wilson had encountered trouble) had relieved Wilson somewhere in the double-groundout-double-walk-walk-wild pitch-groundout sequence before Magglio Ordonez was intentionally walked, then he'd have been the pitcher of record when the second delay halted action for more than an hour, and almost certainly would not have been able to come back to finish the fifth, and pitch the sixth, and pitch the seventh.
Different game, in that case? I don't even want to think about that.
Ogando has now pitched in nine playoff games in his career, five last year and four this month: one run on six hits and two walks in 10.2 innings, with 13 strikeouts. He's been extraordinary, one of the Rangers' absolute weapons in this year's playoff run.
4. While Raburn and Ramon Santiago were Detroit's unsung heroes (yes, Delmon Young might have been Detroit's playoff Napoli, but Raburn was outstanding last night in his place), David Murphy (what a sequence) and Nelson Cruz stepped up and punished Verlander from the bottom third of the order.
Meanwhile, Josh Hamilton does look "deliriously tired" at the plate, flicking at fastballs and refusing to lay off breaking stuff down and away, and you can bet Adrian Beltre will start to see fastballs above the zone, particularly when behind in the count. As Beltre showed in Game Four in Tampa Bay, though, things can turn around in an instant for guys like that.
On the other end of the defensive spectrum from Beltre (what a night with the glove, again), did Ordonez's effort on the Murphy triple make anyone else think of Vladimir Guerrero's right field work in last year's World Series?
You almost can't even think about taking Ordonez's bat out of the lineup tonight, especially against a lefthander, but asking him to navigate a potentially puddled outfield could get adventurous. And DH belongs to Victor Martinez (who, by the way, ran like a hobbled Bengie Molina on a big 5-4-3 double play in the third).
5. I saw a "Napoli Ever After" sign in the Ballpark, and it seems Fox ran a graphic with that title during the telecast, too.
6. ESPN's Howard Bryant wrote a sensational column yesterday describing Ron Washington's influence on the mindset of this team, and you really ought to take 10 minutes to read it. It's a tremendous piece of writing.
I participated in an ALCS preview with a USC digital news site called Neon Tommy: http://www.neontommy.com/news/2011/10/mlb-playoffs-alcs-qa-rangers-and-tigers-writers.
But read the Bryant column if you only have time for one.
7. Derek Holland vs. Max Scherzer vs. the elements tonight.
Rain delays bite, especially when you're at the ballpark with young kids. Enough of those. The scene in the concourse during the two delays last night reminded me of Game Three against the Yankees in 1998, maybe the most depressing baseball experience of my life.
But this Rangers team, in so many ways, is completely different from those late-'90s playoff teams.
I'll take weather concerns over worrying whether Texas could manage to get a baserunner to third base, or to get a big out from its bullpen, the things the first generation of Rangers playoff baseball gave us.
Sure hope we play tonight.