So here we go. Thirteen things:
1. We all read it and heard it and thought it ourselves, waterlogged with serious doubt, that Texas, losers of a staggering 15 of 20, would need to win six of seven at the very least, and it turned out they needed all seven.
We can all rattle off a dozen games that felt like should have been Rangers wins in 2013 but weren’t, and a handful of wins they should have lost. The point: Every single one of 162 counts, and this year, they all brought us exactly to this week, and then when they counted the most, in the or-else sense, Texas battled and won.
Imagine if this team, the way it played the last week, had managed to win just one more game, maybe two, during that brutal 5-15 start to the month. It still would have been a bad 20-game stretch, but Texas in that case might have been the team waiting to find out today who its opponent for Wednesday’s Wild Card game would be.
Or if the ninth-inning home run Adam Rosales hit on May 8th for Oakland had been correctly judged a home run, rather than a double. If the umpires had gotten it right, which they failed to do even after reviewing replay, the A’s would have tied the Indians on the play, but instead they fell to Cleveland, 4-3, knocking them back to 3.5 games behind Texas in the West, and we rejoiced. If Oakland had won, today we’d be looking at a first-ever three-way tie between Wild Card contestants Cleveland, Texas, and Tampa Bay, in which case the Indians would have hosted the Rays today, with the winner advancing to Wednesday’s Wild Card Game, and the loser heading to Arlington for a win-or-go-home game tomorrow to determine the second Wild Card team.
Imagine, on the other hand, if the Rangers had only won six of seven (five of which they trailed in) this week. Only six of seven.
Their next game would be next year.
2. The seven straight wins to end the schedule is a franchise best. Thing is, it’s schedule-ending, but not season-ending. Today’s play-in contest counts as a regular season game. Gotta make it eight (which would match the Rangers’ longest win streak of the season), or the record goes away, not to mention the worse thing.
Gotta make it nine, of course, or 2013 ends the same way 2012 did, even if it will feel different because of the brand of baseball it took at the end to get there.
There will be (and have been) whines in other markets that the Rangers were able to cakewalk through this final homestand because they got Houston and Los Angeles on the schedule, two teams they went 32-6 against this season (meaning they went 59-65 against everyone else). That ignores the fact that the Angels had gone 23-9 (all without Albert Pujols) coming into the season-ending series against Texas, boasting baseball’s best record over those five weeks.
That included a series win against the Rangers on September 6-8, despite which Texas beat the Angels 15 times in 19 tries in 2013, the second-highest victory total the franchise has ever had against one opponent in a single season. The Rangers defeated Seattle 15 times in 2011 (the year before Kyle Seager’s first full big league season), and beat the Astros 17 times this year.
Over the season’s final seven days on the schedule, as Texas went undefeated against the Astros and Angels, Cleveland went undefeated against the White Sox and Twins (in fact, won 10 straight going back to its series against Houston), and Tampa Bay — thankfully — went only 5-2 against the Orioles, Yankees, and Blue Jays (8-2 if you include the whole Baltimore series).
So over the final seven scheduled days, the three teams who will now fight for the American League’s Wild Card slot against Boston in the ALDS went 19-2. That’s pretty extraordinary, no matter who the opposition was.
The Rangers’ run — which culminated with the club’s 50th come-from-behind victory of the season, most in baseball and most in franchise history (previous best: 45) — gave Texas 91 wins through 162 games (and considering the 5-15 start to September, there was certainly a chance coming into the month that they would have eclipsed the franchise record of 96 wins, set two years ago). No other team in baseball has won at least 87 games in each of the last five seasons. Only Texas and tonight’s opponent, Tampa Bay, have won 90 the last four years.
And only one of those two teams will officially be a playoff team 15 hours from now.
3. I didn’t see a single pitch of yesterday’s game (this is where I was instead), but I’m not one of those guys who can try quarantining myself all day so I can watch it cold later. I kept up with every pitch result via the MLB At Bat app. The Aces swept their doubleheader as the Rangers were taking care of the Angels, a great day of baseball that had me fired up to watch the recording of the big league game late last night.
Naturally, when I saw on my phone that Ron Washington had lifted Yu Darvish with two outs in the sixth, having thrown just 84 pitches with no tomorrow, so lefty Neal Cotts could face left Josh Hamilton, my first thought was last year’s Wild Card Game, when Wash pulled Darvish with two outs in the seventh, and just 91 pitches of tread, so lefty Derek Holland could face left Nate McLouth.
Since I wasn’t watching the game, I didn’t know if there was a physical issue — there’s been one hinted at in the press lately, and there was a mound visit from Jamie Reed in the second inning — but if there wasn’t one, I couldn’t figure out why you’d take the ball from Darvish in that game. He’d held the Angels to four hits — a first-inning single promptly erased by a double play and followed by a Mike Trout home run, and a sixth-inning single erased by a double play and followed by another single — and just two walks. He punched out eight in 5.2 frames. He’s Yu Darvish.
You can argue he’s not Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander or David Price or Felix Hernandez or Cliff Lee. But Jered Weaver or Zack Greinke (fair equivalents in stature, I’d argue) wouldn’t have been pulled from yesterday’s win-or-go-home game, not with two outs in the sixth in what had been an effective performance.
I watched the entire game late last night, figuring Darvish’s short day would make more sense when I did.
The righthander, if a bit characteristically erratic on the day, was really good. The Reed visit in the second inning didn’t seem like a big deal. The 27-year-old looked strong the entire time he was on the mound. He was clearly not happy to be removed from the game.
But the pen was set up, Cotts against Hamilton seemed like a great matchup (more so because of Hamilton’s futility against lefties than Cotts’s splits, which are fairly even), and the sixth inning, I suppose, was a fairly stressful one. (The double play that preceded the Erick Aybar single and Trout walk was brilliant, from Ian Kinsler’s decision to Mitch Moreland’s athletic completion of the play, but if Andrew Romine had thought to make baseline contact with Kinsler after his throw to first, which would have been an easy maneuver, that inning could have blown up.)
It was easy for me to watch the inning unfold at 11 p.m., knowing how it would turn out. I knew that even though Cotts would allow Hamilton to tie the game, he would stop the scoring there, and the Angels wouldn’t score again all day. And that the Rangers, after the requisite 1-0 Darvish deficit into the bottom of the fifth, not only scored in that inning but would also go on to score in the sixth and the seventh and the eighth.
I knew I wouldn’t have to write about October 5, 2012 again this morning (this bullet point notwithstanding) and wouldn’t have to think about September 29, 2013 in the same way until long after Yu Darvish retired from baseball.
I’ll just say that, on top of 100 other reasons, I sure hope the top of the sixth wasn’t Darvish’s final work of the season, and that he’s trotting from the dugout to the Fenway Park mound in the bottom of the first on Friday.
4. Wash told reporters that Martin Perez and Matt Garza were available if needed yesterday, and theoretically that makes Garza and Alexi Ogando available tonight. With the possible exception of Robbie Ross, who threw 20 pitches yesterday, the entire bullpen should be at the club’s disposal in relief of Perez tonight, even if taking Darvish out yesterday after just 5.2 innings seemed to threaten that possibility.
Cotts, facing two batters, threw just nine pitches. I was surprised he didn’t come back out for the seventh, but again, that all turned out well, as Ross did a solid job.
Tanner Scheppers threw just nine pitches himself. All strikes. (The 1-6-3 double play that the former shortstop started was as money as Kenny Rogers used to be on that play.)
And Joe Nathan threw just nine pitches.
Jason Frasor got loose but didn’t enter the game.
The pen — which allowed one run (0.44 ERA) on 10 hits and seven walks in 20.2 innings of work in this seven-game win streak, fanning 31 — sets up well tonight.
Scheppers, by the way, is tied with current Rays reliever Jamey Wright (2008) for the most appearances in a season (75) by a right-handed reliever in Rangers history. He’s also tied with Mike Adams (2012) for the most holds in a season (27) by a Rangers reliever.
If Scheppers breaks those two marks tonight, that’s probably good news.
5. I still crave a long-term solution at catcher for this team, but A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto have driven in 92 runs and hit 33 doubles and 26 home runs (.438 slug) this year. They’ve thrown better than I expected they would.
I still don’t like some of the things Pierzynksi does defensively and his pitch selection as a hitter is brutal, and Soto’s double pump and dirt-smoothing after nearly every pitch drives me crazy, but those two have done their job this year, and I’d like to see at least one more of those Soto blasts this season where he puts his head down emphatically and sprints to first the instant he launches a no-doubter.
6. I got a text from a national writer during the game, asking: “Am I crazy, or is Craig Gentry suddenly becoming a factor?”
I wrote back: “Absolutely. He’s what LAA thought Bourjos would be.”
Last night, reader John Short reminded me that when I wrote the “Steppin’ up” report on September 13, I went through 15 candidates to step up for Texas over the final 18 games and get the team to 162+ . . . but didn’t mention Gentry.
Over Gentry’s last 10 games, which Texas won nine of, he’s hit .472/.513/.583 in 40 plate appearances, and stole 10 bases in 10 tries.
Dude has stepped up. He’s a factor.
7. When I finally saw the replay of Kinsler driving Gentry in with a single through a drawn-in infield in the seventh yesterday, extending the Texas lead to 4-2, it struck me how easy the swing path was, how different it looked from a typical Kinsler cut.
It hasn’t been a typical Kinsler season, but the lightning-quickness in the hands is still there, and I would love to see a few more squared-up balls hit on the ground.
8. So, yeah, that Josh Hamilton helmet-doffing gesture to a booing (and “Baseball Town”-chanting) crowd yesterday, his final act of the 2013 baseball season. That was weird. And I guess we all have enough history with that guy to know that weird is the norm.
Los Angeles Times writer Mike DiGiovanna described the moment this way: “The 2013 season ended for Josh Hamilton on Sunday much the way it started, with the Angels outfielder being booed off his old home field, only this time the former Texas Rangers star had a curious reaction, one that seemed to mock the Ballpark in Arlington crowd.”
Hamilton said after the game there was no sarcasm involved, that his intent was to let Rangers fans know he still loves them, no matter what.
9. So it’s Texas and Tampa Bay again, just like it was on the Rangers’ path to the World Series in 2010 and 2011. I’m not sure the Rangers are the unmovable object to the Rays or their fans that the Yankees were to Texas in the late ’90s, but there has to be a little bit of a “not again” feeling in Tampa, at least among the fan base.
Again, these are the only two teams in baseball that have won 90 games four straight seasons, despite major turnover on each roster. The clubs are deep and are run well. One of them, tonight, will be the first 91-win team to miss the playoffs since the Indians in 2005.
The home team has won five of the last six one-game tiebreakers in Major League Baseball.
On the other hand, Tampa Bay is sending its ace to the hill, while Texas is giving the ball to a back-of-the-rotation rookie.
But about that . . . .
10. The thing about Price and Perez is that, if any of the many Price-to-Texas trade rumors had come to fruition the last few years, Perez probably would have been sent the other way. I’m not sure the Rangers would be willing to include Perez any longer, though if they would entertain the idea of trading the 22-year-old at this point at all, it would only be in a deal for Price or a similarly positioned number one starter.
Since July 31, Perez is 7-2, 3.05 in 11 starts, holding opponents to a .251/.309/.387 slash in 73.2 innings.
Over the same period, Price is 3-3, 3.15 in 11 starts, holding opponents to a .257/.286/.352 slash in 74.1 innings.
That’s not at all to suggest Perez is a better pitcher or a more reliable big-game commodity than Price. Far from it. But given the economics and controllability, Perez is extremely valuable.
More importantly, for the moment, he’s pitching very well and has demonstrated a fairly unflappable mound presence. The Rays (nine total plate appearances) have basically never seen him. It doesn’t feel like he’s going to be overwhelmed by tonight’s assignment.
As for Price, he obviously won’t be either, but he’s 1-4, 5.98 against the Rangers in eight career regular season starts, plus 0-3, 4.66 in three playoff starts (each of which was in Florida). He’s 1-2, 10.26 in four Rangers Ballpark starts, yielding 25 hits and eight walks in 16.2 innings pitched. The rosters have changed, of course, but Alex Rios (.435/.500/.870 in 26 plate appearances) has as healthy a history against the Rays lefthander as Adrian Beltre (.346/.346/.577 in 26 plate appearances) or Elvis Andrus (.407/.515/.407 in 33 plate appearances) or Gentry (.364/.417/.455 in 13 plate appearances).
11. Or Nelson Cruz (.429/.478/.905 against Price in 23 plate appearances, including three home runs).
Cruz is back.
And you can bet he’ll be in tonight’s lineup. Likely at DH. Probably hitting sixth.
It’s not quite October, and it’s not quite the playoffs, and David Price isn’t quite Advanced Fall Instructional League pitching (against which Cruz went 9 for 27 the last week or so, with six of his nine hits going for extra bases, and more importantly earning good marks from Baseball Prospectus’s Jason Cole in terms of the state of his bat speed and condition), but this is where Cruz has historically most made his presence felt.
It’s very good to have Nelson Cruz back.
12. From last October 4:
The battle cry a year ago, after the franchise’s first World Series run had fallen short, was the questionably catchy “11 in ’11.”
The amount of time this year that I dreamed we could be talking about “12 in ’12” for the Rangers lasted only half a day longer than Oakland’s perch atop the AL West.
But hey, that’s where we are.
Kinda weird. Following 162, there were “11 things” in ’11.
Last year, because of the Wild Card Game, it was “12 things” in ’12.
Now, because of the Tiebreaker Game and the Wild Card Game, we are looking at “13 things” in ’13.
13. And really, to be fair, this year it’s been “20 things.” Because while Texas now needs 13 wins to hoist the big trophy, the club needed all of the last seven to get to this point.
The Rangers have won seven straight Game Seven’s. With another Game Seven scheduled tonight and, if it ends well, another Game Seven on Wednesday in Cleveland.
It’s another year of 162+.