Continuing our weekly series on key moments in the Rangers' push for the playoffs...
The Rangers just wrapped up a huge 4 game series against the Anaheim Angels, and this was a series that initially looked like it was going to be disaster for the Rangers. After Roy Oswalt had an awful start in Game 1, a 15-8 loss where the final score makes the game look much closer than it actually was, Derek Holland got out-pitched by Jered Weaver in Game 2, with the Rangers falling, 6-2.
Then in Game 3, Yu Darvish had a disaster inning, a 6 run top of the third that seemingly set the stage for the Angels to win again and be in position for a sweep. The Rangers managed to rally, managed to get close, but they went to the bottom of the ninth down 7-6, with Anaheim's seemingly untouchable closer, Ernesto Frieri, on the hill.
After Mitch Moreland flied out to start the 9th, the Rangers' chances of winning, in terms of WPA, were down to 12%. Ian Kinsler, who had been struggling for the last two months, came to the plate, and patiently watched a pair of balls go by. Then, at 2-0, Kinsler turned on a fastball from Frieri and launched a ball that left no doubt, off the bat, that it was gone...a deep drive to left field that tied the game at 7, and gave Frieri his first blown save as an Angel.
Elvis Andrus then doubled to left field, setting the stage for Josh Hamilton or Adrian Beltre to be a hero, but neither batter could get Elvis home, a breakdown that looked fatal with Joe Nathan allowed a leadoff homer to Chris Iannetta in the top of the 10th. When Albert Pujols then hit a two run homer to give the Angels a three run lead, the Rangers' win expectancy was down to 4%, and it looked like all the momentum in the A.L. West was heading back to Southern California.
But once again, as has been the hallmark of this team, the Rangers fought back. Nelson Cruz launched a moonshot to lead off the bottom of the 10th, a 449 foot bomb that is one of the longest homers in TBIA history. The Rangers then put two runners on, on an error and a walk, to chase Frieri and bring Jason Isringhausen into the game. Isringhausen promptly gave up a single to Mike Napoli to load the bases, then a single to Mitch Moreland to bring home one run and get the game to within one. Ian Kinsler, in position to be the hero for a second time that night, instead popped up on the first pitch he saw from Isringhausen, bringing no runners home.
That set the stage for Elvis Andrus. Bases loaded, one out, Elvis was patient, working the count full. On the payoff pitch, Elvis swung, and off the bat, my heart leapt into my throat...for a half-second, it looked looked like a hard grounder to an infielder, the type of ball that the Angels would be able to turn two on, an inning-ending, game-ending double play. In that half-second, I contemplated how much worse that sort of loss would be than what I was expecting, getting my hopes raised, having the opportunity to win, only to see my hopes dashed.
I was wrong, though. Elvis's hard hit ball bounded down the left field line, much like his ninth inning double did. There was no play in the outfield that could be made...David Murphy scored from third, Craig Gentry scored from second, the Rangers had won one of the most amazing, remarkable games of the season in a thrilling, walkoff fashion. And what looked to be a devastating loss instead was an amazing victory.
After yesterday's 15-9 victory, the Rangers are up 4.5 on Oakland and 5 on Anaheim. What looked like a potentially crippling series instead has seen the Rangers hold serve. And if the Rangers make it back to the playoffs, the Ian Kinsler home run, the Elvis Andrus game-winning single, will be looked back on as one of the turning points of the season.