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Thoughts on a 6-4 Rangers ALDS Game 2 win

Rangers 6, Blue Jays 4

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Rangers 6, Blue Jays 4

  • I'm not even sure where to start with all this.
  • I mean, six months ago, I was worried that my 82-80 prediction for the 2015 season was going to be overly optimistic.  And here we are, up 2-0 against the best team in the A.L. (ignore the slight advantage the Royals have in wins, the Jays are the best team in the league) and heading home with the opportunity to close out the ALDS with just one win.
  • You know how sometimes you just get a good feeling about a game?  Like, the Rangers may be down a run or two, or may be tied, or something, but its just a game where you get a good vibe, and it feels early on like a win?  And then there's the flip side of that, where at a certain point, even if it is tied or close or whatever, its a game that just feels like its going to be a loss?  Well, today's game felt like it was going to be a loss.  I think it was in the top of the fourth, when Marcus Stroman, having settled down after a rocky start, was mowing down Rangers hitters, that I started thinking, yeah, we're probably heading back to Texas with a split.
  • And that was fine...I mean, let's be realistic.  If you are starting off a series with two games on the road, a split is a very good outcome.  Yeah, taking two in Toronto would be great, but expecting that or being unhappy if you don't get that is being greedy.  You take one of two in Toronto, look to take both games in Texas, and if you only split in Texas, at least you have Cole Hamels on the mound for Game 5 back in Toronto.
  • Speaking of Hamels...he allowed 4 runs in 7 innings, and watching the game, I didn't feel like he was all that sharp.  But then I look at the box score...7 IP, 6 hits, 6 Ks, 0 walks, just 2 earned runs.  114 pitches, 70 strikes, 15 first pitch strikes to 27 batters.  Hamels allowed 4 runs, but he allowed 4 runs while pitching a really good game.
  • There were shades of last Sunday in the first inning, when Josh Donaldson took Hamels very deep with one out and no one on in the first, reminiscent of Albert Pujols going long against Hamels on Sunday in the first inning.  Unlike on Sunday, however, when Hamels shut down the opposition after that, two more runs came across in the second inning, turning what had been a 3-1 lead into a 3-3 tie.  Hanser Alberto booted a Troy Tulowitzki grounder to start off the inning, and then Chris Colabello ripped a shot down the line in right field that bounded into the seats for a ground rule double.  Russell Martin then hit a hard hit ball to right that initially looked like a fly out...but the ball kept carrying, fooling Martin and both baserunners, and when it caromed off the wall and back to Shin-Soo Choo, the runners had been tagging and Martin had been trotting, meaning that Choo was able to hold Colabello at third and keep Martin at first.  Kevin Pillar then hit a hard hit ball to third base that Alberto was able to field and start a double play on, though Colabello scored with the tying run.
  • Even though Ryan Goins grounded out to end the inning, between the Donaldson homer and the hard hit shots in the second, I think I mentally just assumed Hamels wasn't Hamels today, and once Stroman settled down and retiring Rangers, it seemed like it was just a matter of time until the Jays took the lead.  A Pillar bloop double in the fifth, followed by a sac bunt and a Ben Revere single, made it 4-3 Jays, and I nodded sagely to myself as Ross Ohlendorf warmed in the bullpen recognizing that defeat was imminent, but being accepting of it, knowing that a split was sufficient.
  • This sort of mindset, I think, blinded me to what Hamels was doing.  Yes, he gave up a couple of hard-hit shots in the second that led to a couple of runs, but if Alberto fields that ball cleanly, no runs score in the second.  He cruised through the third and fourth, allowing just a Jose Bautista single, and the Pillar double in the fifth was a bloop, not a "real" double.  Hamels retired the final eight batters he faced, but with the four spot on the board after five and the memory of those early blasts ingrained in my brain, it took me looking back over the box score and really thinking about what I remembered about the game to realize...hey, Hamels actually pitched a really good game.
  • Anyway, it still looked like it would be for naught until the Rangers tied it at 4 in the eighth, which started the war of attrition between the two teams' bullpens.  Sam Dyson came in for the eighth inning, had a weird play where he couldn't field a ball back up the middle off the bat of Revere that went for a single, but got out of the inning anyway.
  • On the telecast, Jim Kaat was saying he thought it should be an error, and apparently Eric Nadel did, too.  Kaat is a legendarily great fielding pitcher -- he won 16 Gold Glove awards -- and so he probably has a higher standard for pitcher fielding than many do, but I think you have to grade on a much different curve for pitcher fielding than for infielders.  An infielder is standing there, primed, ready, waiting to react to a ball coming to him when the ball is hit.  A pitcher is finishing his follow through, is off-balance, and also has to deal with a mound of dirt that throws him off and can trip him up.  The Revere single that Dyson didn't field looks easier than I think it really is, since Dyson it was to Dyson's arm side, meaning his momentum from the follow-through was taking him the other way, and trying to switch your momentum and backhand a ball while stumbling over a hill of dirt isn't as easy as a shortstop charging a chopper.
  • Anyway, Jake Diekman pitched the 9th and 10th without incident, and then Shawn Tolleson pitched the 11th, and then came out for the 12th.  Tolleson gave up a single to start the 12th to Colabello, with the Jays then sending in Dalton Pompey to pinch run.  With Chris Gimenez (not known for his arm) behind the plate, it seemed inevitable that Pompey would run, but Martin popped out and Pillar struck out with Pompey still stuck at first base.  Then, with Goins up, Pompey stole second easily, putting the winning run in scoring position.  Then, Pompey stole third easily, putting the winning run 90 feet away.  This was when I started thinking, this is ball game.  A wild pitch, an error, an infield dribbler no one can field...Pompey would be able to score, because he was allowed to go to third uncontested once there were two outs, and that would be that.
  • Of course, that wasn't that.  Pompey was stranded at third when Goins grounded out to Odor to end the inning.
  • Bottom of the 13th, and Keone Kela came into the game, pitching in back to back games for the first time in almost a month, and for only the second time since mid-August.  Kela got Revere on a grounder to first, and then threw a pitch to Josh Donaldson that Donaldson turned on...for a minute, I thought it was gone, but it was a twin of the Encarnacion foul last night, a deep blast down the line that went foul only after scaring all the Rangers fans.
  • Of course, because this wasn't the usual night, we couldn't just move on from the foul ball.  Donaldson stood at the plate watching the ball, and then turned and said some things to Kela -- reports indicate he was apparently upset because he thought Kela quick-pitched him, though given that he hit the ball a mile, I'm not sure why he should be that upset.  Anyway, Donaldson shot a "fuck you" at Kela, and acted in the general jackass manner that Donaldson tends to act on the field, the manner that usually doesn't get more than a stinkeye from the opponent.
  • However, Donaldson didn't realize who he was messing with.  Kela didn't just glare back before stomping behind the mound and throwing down a rosin bag...he instead removed his glove and started walking towards Donaldson with arms extended to either side, the universal "You want some?  You wanna go?" sign of adrenalized young males around the world.  Donaldson, preferring to show a desire to fight where there are plenty of people around him to hold him (and his opponent) back, opted not to challenge Kela, the benches cleared, there was milling around, and then Kela got Donaldson to ground out.
  • The most amusing part of that, though, to me, was how the Rangers reacted after the groundout.  Donaldson turned and headed back to the dugout without looking at Kela, while Gimenez and the infielders all seemed to converge towards Kela...its like they knew what was possible there, and they all wanted to make sure the Hawaiian Washingtonian from Compton didn't try to instigate anything more.
  • NOTE -- I was reminded in the comments Donaldson struck out, but Gimenez didn't catch the ball, and thus had to throw him out at first.  My bad.
  • And the drama still wasn't done.  Kela pitched around Jose Bautista, who took him deep yesterday when Kela challenged him on a high 1-2 fastball, and the Bautista walk brought up Edwin Encarnacion.  Encarnacion hit a blast deep to center field, and...I'm not sure how to explain this.  Delino DeShields was playing deep anyway, and he was trotting back towards the fence.  And I couldn't tell if it was a casual trotting because he had the ball measured and was getting under it and was going to catch it, or if it was the casual trotting of an outfielder who knows the ball is gone, and has been taught not to show up his pitcher by acting like there's no chance it stays in the park.  As it turned out, DeShields was trotting because he had it measured, and he caught it just a couple of feet shy of the wall.  Five more feet, and Encarnacion would have ended it.
  • But instead, it went to the 14th, where the Rangers took the lead, and Ross Ohlendorf came into the game in the final inning with a two run lead, looking to save a big win, for the first time since Saturday, when he was on the mound for that godawful meltdown against the Angels on national television.  But everything was fine this time, Ohlendorf struck out the first two batters, hit a guy, then struck out Pillar to end the game and pick up the save.
  • Ross Ohlendorf is now tied with Sam Dyson and Darren Oliver for 2nd on the Rangers' all-time postseason saves list.
  • From the 4th inning through the 13th inning, each team scored just 1 run.  That's kind of nuts.
  • Early on, it looked like the Rangers might run away with it.  Delino DeShields started the game with a double, and then Shin-Soo Choo singled him home.  Prince Fielder singled, sending Choo to third.
  • Then things got wacky.  Mitch Moreland hit a hard chopper to first base.  Colabello, instead of touching first base and then throwing home, simply threw home.  Choo ran back towards third base, chased by Russell Martin, who threw to Josh Donaldson.  Donaldson could snag the throw, however, and the ball went into left field, allowing Choo to score.
  • That brought Elvis Andrus up, and everything went to hell, because Elvis tried to bunt.  Elvis tried to bunt twice, actually, and both went foul.  Because bad things happen when you bunt, and the universe punishes you when you try to give a free out to a young pitcher struggling in the first inning, this ended up being a turning point in the game.
  • Elvis hit a chopper the other way to first base, advancing the runners on the out, bringing Josh Hamilton to the plate with runners on second and third and one out.  Hamilton was in perfect position to blow the game open.  Instead, he hit a grounder to first.  Colabello, recognizing the error of his ways from the time before, touched first base to get Hamilton, and then ran at Fielder.  Fielder was slow breaking from third, then broke, then stopped to go back, but by the time he decided to go back, Mitch Moreland had committed to go to third.  That meant Prince was trapped, and a second and third, one out situation turned into an unassisted double play by the first baseman.
  • Rougned Odor single-handedly generated a run in the second inning.  Odor walked to lead off the inning, and then Chris Gimenez chopped one of those high, bouncing balls in the infield that the pitcher and all the non-first baseman infielders converged upon behind the mound.  Stroman grabbed it and threw to first, getting Gimenez, but Odor, seeing that all the infielders were congregated by the mound, never stopped at second, and ran straight to third, getting in ahead of the throw to a retreating Donaldson.  The Blue Jays challenged the play, because it looked like Odor might have stopped touching the bag for a microsecond while Donaldson had the tag on him, but the replay showed that when Odor was off the bag that brief moment, Donaldson's glove wasn't on him (it was before and after), so the call was confirmed.  Delino DeShields then hit a shallow fly ball to center field, which Odor tagged on.  Kevin Pillar's throw home looked like it might be in time, but Odor did a masterful job tagging home plate with his right hand while avoiding the tag with his left, and the Jays ended up not even challenging it because it was so clearly the right call, and, I'd like to think, because it was such an awesome slide that the Jays realized it should be rewarded.
  • Then the Rangers topped hitting for a while.  After Elvis's bunt attempts, Stroman didn't allow a hit again until the sixth, when Elvis finally broke the curse that he put upon his team by singling with Mitch Moreland on first (via a walk) and two outs.  Josh Hamilton struck out swinging, of course, but still, Elvis had at least removed the bunt hex, and so the bats could start going again.
  • As a side note...I saw a lot of complaints about Josh Hamilton on Twitter, people complaining about his hapless at bats and saying he has to start hitting.  Hamilton is now 0 for his last 30 in the postseason, but I feel like some of the criticism is misguided.  Josh Hamilton isn't a good hitter anymore, and expecting him to be a good hitter in the postseason isn't realistic.  There were folks upset that Jim Kaat was comparing him to Dave Kingman during the telecast, but the guy I was thinking of in regards to Hamilton is Mark Trumbo...a slugger who strikes out a ton, doesn't walk, and hits some home runs.  That's what Josh Hamilton is now.  Hamilton had a 732 OPS for the Rangers this season.  Since the start of 2013, he's got a .255/.312/.428 slash line in 1199 plate appearances.  He's not team-carrying Josh Hamilton from the two World Series teams.  He's David Murphy, or a lefty Mark Trumbo.  He's a role player, a decent platoon outfielder who you are hoping will get hot and do some things.  People need to stop acting like coming back to Texas is going to make Hamilton play like the guy who we saw five years ago.
  • Anyway...moving on...
  • DeShields singled off of Stroman in the top of the 8th, and with five lefties due up over a stretch of six hitters, the Jays went to their top lefty reliever, Brett Cecil.  Shin-Soo Choo bunted, seemingly more for a hit than for a sacrifice, and while he was out, DeShields went to second.  Prince Fielder struck out swinging, which brought up Mike Napoli, pinch hitting for Mitch Moreland.
  • Now, Jeff Banister didn't ask me...but if he had asked me, I would have suggested that Napoli hit for Prince Fielder.  Fielder hasn't been hitting since the All Star Break, he doesn't hit lefties well, and with Moreland due up next, it was unlikely that the Jays would pull Cecil for a righthanded pitcher.  Plus, that allows you to keep Napoli in the game at DH and leave Moreland in the game at first base, which is a better defensive alignment than Napoli at first base.  If Adrian Beltre were able to hit (and reports indicated he was swinging a bat in the late innings, trying to get loose and begging Banister for a chance to pinch hit), I'd have suggested having Beltre hit for Moreland, or possibly for Prince, but if Napoli was your one bullet, I'd have used him for Prince, not Moreland.
  • In any case, Napoli replaced Moreland, and John Gibbons went out to the mound, and I assumed he was going to pull Cecil for Mark Lowe.  But he left Cecil in the game...that surprised me, and I thought it was a mistake, but C.J. Nitkowski makes a good case for why it was the right move, and really, it isn't like Mark Lowe is someone you'd normally figure anyone is going to feel real good about bringing into a key late-game playoff situation anyway (says the guy whose team put Ross Ohlendorf in for the save in extra innings today), but regardless, the move (or non-move) didn't work, Napoli singled home DeShields, and the game was tied.
  • Napoli promptly got picked off, even though throwing to first base with Napoli on normally makes announcers hoo-haw at the notion of having to hold Napoli.  But even that ended up backfiring on the Jays, as Cecil ended up tearing a calf muscle while executing the rundown on Napoli, and he's going to miss the rest of the playoffs.
  • Nothing interesting happened in the 9th or 10th innings.  Or if it did, I don't remember.
  • The Rangers had a rally going in the 11th, when Prince Fielder walked (bringing Will Venable into the game as a pinch runner), then Mike Napoli walked, and then Elvis hit a fielder's choice to bring up Josh Hamilton with runners on first and third with two outs, and the opportunity once again to be a hero.  Hamilton flew out, though, albeit a hard fly out...and anyway, bad things happen when Hamilton homers in extra innings in a playoff game, so its probably just as well the ball didn't go any farther.
  • Other than a Venable single, nothing happened with the Rangers bats until the 14th, when Latroy Hawkins came into the game.  Hawkins is 42 years old, by the way.  Grant Brisbee noted on Twitter that Darryl Strawberry faced both Hawkins, who pitched today, and Jim Kaat, the geriatric former pitcher who was announcing tonight's game.  Keone Kela, Delino DeShields, Rougned Odor and Hanser Alberto -- four Rangers who all played key parts in tonight's game -- were all born AFTER Hawkins was drafted and signed by the Minnesota Twins.
  • Elvis and Hamilton both hit the ball hard to start the inning, but both of them made outs, and we were steeling ourselves for marathon baseball and more innings and all that, and then a two out rally erupted.  Rougned Odor had an infield single to third base, on a ball that probably would have been an out but for the shift the Jays were using.  Chris Gimenez then singled to right, and Odor took a big turn, went back to second, Jose Bautista threw behind him, Odor got back safely, but then maybe came off the base, and for the second time in the game the Jays challenged whether or not Odor was tagged when he came off the base for a microsecond, and while the replay showed he probably did come off the bag, it wasn't incontrovertible, and so the call stood.  You can see video and read Brisbee writing about this play on the front page of LSB, where I put his piece up.
  • Anyway, the Jays went from possibly out of the inning to having two on and two outs, and Hanser Alberto, the sort-of goat of the game (remember, hours earlier, he booted a grounder that led to two unearned runs scoring), coming up.  Alberto hit a sharp single into center, scoring Odor, and Rangers fans were happy.  Then DeShields hit a routine grounder to shortstop, maybe a little weaker than usual, but pretty routine...but Troy Tulowitzki was playing back (remember, the turf in Toronto makes balls go faster, so you have to play a little deeper), and though he charged and made a good throw, DeShields (the fastest player in the league in terms of mph going to first base) beat the throw, bringing an insurance run home, and the Rangers had a two run lead and we were all happy.
  • In thinking about what this team is like, I think about 2010.  You know, in 2011, the Rangers had gone to the World Series the year before, and while not everyone thought they would be great -- remember, Lance Berkman said he signed with St. Louis instead of Texas because he didn't think the Rangers had the pitching to be good again, and said the Rangers overpaid for Adrian Beltre -- there at least was a sense that they were a legit contender...some folks were picking them to win the West again, some weren't, but everyone expected them to at least be in the race.  But in 2010, like in 2015, the Rangers were an afterthought.  The team was in bankruptcy, their top two starters were Rich Harden and Scott Feldman, they were not expected to do anything.
  • But in 2010, like in 2015, the Rangers exceeded expectations for a while (even though in 2015, exceeding expectations meant being around .500 in July).  And in both seasons, the Rangers went out and got a lefthanded ace.  And in both seasons, the Rangers ended up winning the division, albeit with a win total that normally isn't enough to win the division.
  • And in 2010, just like in 2015, the Rangers had to go on the road against an A.L. East team and beat David Price in Game 1.  And in 2010, just like in 2015, the Rangers scored 5 runs in Game 1 of the ALDS while beating Price, and in 2010, just like in 2015, the Rangers scored 6 runs in Game 2.
  • Hopefully, we can deviate from the 2010 script in Sunday by winning Game 3, and ending the ALDS early.