It is strange that an early May game against a team that lost 101 games last year can seem critical.
But last night's game really had the feel of a critical game. Not playoff, or even pennant-race intensity, but...you didn't get the sense this was some regular old early May game. This felt like a game between a couple of teams that realize they could be playing meaningful baseball in September and know that they each have a really nice opportunity right now to put some distance between themselves and a hurting Anaheim team.
Kevin Millwood did yeoman's work yesterday, logging 7+ innings and throwing strikes. Yeah, he gave up 5 runs, but that's going to happen when you go out there and throw strikes. Sometimes balls will get caught and runners will be stranded and you'll strike out 4 guys in 8 innings and allow just a run, and sometimes you'll have games like yesterday, that balance those out. But it was another solid outing from a guy who looks a lot more like the Millwood the Rangers signed and who they saw in 2006 than the Millwood we've seen the past two years.
Evan Grant says it was a game where everyone did something, and quotes Michael Young as calling it a "team win." Grant also praises the bullpen for closing out the game, but I think Ron Washington deserves some credit, as well...during the top of the 8th, I said I would send Millwood out there to face Mike Sweeney, then bring in C.J. for Russ Branyan, and then go with Frankie for the final four outs.
I also didn't think that would happen...I figured that either Washington would go with Millwood for the full 8th, or he'd bring in C.J. immediately. But Washington managed the pen aggressively, and to his credit, is willing to use Frankie for more than an inning at a time. And if you think about it, Sweeney/Branyan/Beltre in the 8th is a crew you are going to be more concerned about than the bottom of the M's lineup in the 9th.
This is a different type of Ranger team than in years past. And over at Lookout Landing, Jeff took note:
Elvis Andrus, by the way - holy crap. That's exactly why he's up here, and that's exactly why he's not going to go away.
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After Andrus' incredible diving effort in the ninth, the play that's going to fade into the background is a play that might've made just as much of a difference. Down 6-4 in the bottom of the sixth, Adrian Beltre came up with a man on second and pulled an inside fastball towards the 5-6 hole. It looked like it was going to get through when Michael Young made a magnificent stop and threw in time to get Beltre at first. If that gets through, it's either 6-5 or there are men on the corners. Instead, Millwood got help from his defense and was able to end the inning by getting Jose Lopez to do something stupid. These aren't the Matt Kata Rangers. Not anymore.
I think I have a new LSB tagline.
Andrus's defense has been hit and miss so far this season -- sometimes spectacular, but with too many mistakes mixed in -- but his offense has been a pleasant surprise so far, and Ron Washington is planning on keeping him in the #2 spot in the lineup until Josh Hamilton returns.
Hamitlon, meanwhile, played catch yesterday and says he's at 85% right now, but wants to be at 100% when he returns, rather than come back prematurely and risk aggravating the injury. Given the depth the Rangers have in the outfield and DH spots right now, and given that Hamilton wasn't exactly in a groove at the plate when he went down, I think they have the luxury of taking their time getting him back.
Tim Cowlishaw has a glowing column up about Ian Kinsler. Ian is pretty good.
Richard Durrett has some thoughts on yesterday's game, and notes that the Rangers are 5 games better than where they were after 25 games last season.