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Thoughts on a 5-3 Rangers win

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Rangers 5, Astros 3

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Rangers 5, Astros 3

  • Man.
  • (deep breath)
  • Man.
  • ...
  • Where to start?
  • That was a freaky, crazy, maddening, gut-wrenching, exhausting game.
  • And there are three more to go this week.
  • Then three more in Houston.
  • I don't know how I'm going to survive this.
  • I could probably write 5000 words about tonight's game.  I'm not going to, though.
  • Okay, first things first...I said I didn't like having Mike Napoli play left field.  He's never played there professionally, and you're not playing him out there to get his bat in the lineup against a lefty -- you are playing him out there so you can leave Mitch Moreland or Prince Fielder (most likely Moreland) in the lineup against a lefthanded starter like Scott Kazmir.
  • I said before the game I didn't like that move, feeling Moreland doesn't hit enough against lefties to justify putting Napoli in left field, rather than putting Napoli at first base and having Ryan Rua or Drew Stubbs or Ryan Strausborger or even Will Venable out in left field, given the defensive dropoff.  I was especially loud about that issue on Twitter after Napoli dropped an easy fly ball in the fifth inning, a routine play that gets made 1000 times out of 1000.
  • And of course, Mitch Moreland homered in the 6th inning off of the lefty Kazmir to get the Rangers a 3-2 lead.  And then Prince -- the other guy I suggested you'd sit to get Napoli into the game -- homered in the 8th to give Texas the winning margin.
  • Lots of folks made a point of telling me I was wrong.  And in this instance, yes, it worked out.  I will still go on record as saying, though, that I don't think this is the alignment to use against a lefthanded pitcher.  And I hope Jeff Banister does something different when lefty Dallas Keuchel starts on Wednesday.
  • Anyway...the Rangers had Chi Chi Gonzalez make a spot start yesterday so that Cole Hamels could pitch the opener of this series today, as well as start against the Astros in Houston next week.  They wanted their ace to be in a position to shut down the Astros off the bat.  And so what happened, off the bat?  Jose Altuve, the second batter of the game, hits a homer off of Hamels to give Houston a 1-0 lead, and then Hamels tries to throw a back-foot breaking ball to Jed Lowrie, the #4 hitter, on an 0-2 pitch and hits him.  Not the start you were looking for.
  • Hamels retired the side in the second, allowed a pair of runners on an error and a single in the third but escaped, then retired the side in the fourth.  Then the bizarre fifth inning...
  • Top of the fifth, score tied at 1, Valbuena popped up to start the inning, and then Jake Marisnick doubled to left-center.  Hamels threw to first on an attempted appeal play, but the home plate umpire apparently said he didn't come to a full stop on the mound before throwing to first, ruling a balk and sending Marisnick to third base.  With the infield playing in, George Springer hit a wicked hopper to first base...Moreland double-clutched then threw home, seemingly in time to get Marisnick, but the speedy Astro outfielder dove around the attempted tag by Chris Gimenez, giving Houston a 2-1 lead.
  • Next came the Napoli error, a routine can of corn where Napoli simply closed his glove to early, and instead of two outs and a runner on first, there were two on and just one out.  Fortunately, Hamels was able to pitch around it, getting Carlos Correa to hit into a fielder's choice and Jonathan Villar to fly out.
  • More problems for Hamels in the sixth, as Colby Rasmus and Evan Gattis hit back to back singles to put runners on the corner with no one out for Hank Conger.  Hamels got Conger to hit a wicked shot to third base, enabling Adrian Beltre to freeze Rasmus at third before throwing to second, with Rougned Odor still having time to turn the double play while Rasmus had no choice but to hold.  After a Valbuena HBP, Marisnick struck out to end the inning.
  • Hamels was given a lead in the bottom of the sixth, and seemed in position to hold it in the seventh, as he was able to retire Springer and Correa between an Altuve single to bring up Villar.  Villar was able to work a walk, however, and then on a 3-2 pitch Rasmus lined a single to right field to bring home Altuve and tie the game.
  • At that point, with Keone Kela warming, Hamels over 100 pitches and righty power hitter Evan Gattis due up, I was sure Banister would go to the pen.  But Hamels stayed in the game, and got Gattis to fly out to end the inning.
  • Jake Diekman entered the eighth inning with a tie game, and retired Conger and Valbuena, but then walked Marisnick, leading Banister to bring Kela in to face George Springer.  Kela got to 2-2 on Springer, and then threw two perfect pitches that were on the edge of the strike zone...and both were called balls by home plate umpire Gerry Davis, who seemed to have a less than stellar game behind the plate today.  Kela then struggled to get near the strike zone his first couple of pitches to Altuve -- I believe he fell behind 3-0, but I could be wrong -- before getting Altuve to fly out to end the inning, setting the stage for the Rangers' 8th inning comeback.
  • Once Texas took the lead, Shawn Tolleson came into the game for the 9th, but even then, there was some scariness.  Carlos Correa led off the inning with a single, bringing up Villar as the tying run.  Villar hit a chopper to Odor, however, and Odor ran at Correa and tagged at him before throwing to first.  Odor didn't tag Correa, but Correa was called out for running out of the baseline, and the double play cleared the bases and registered a pair of outs, setting up Tolleson to fan Rasmus to end the game.
  • Whew.  I'm exhausted thinking about all that.
  • The Rangers first run came courtesy of a defensive mistake by the Astros, as Jed Lowrie dropped an easy popup by Prince Fielder to lead off the inning.  Napoli singled to put runners at first and second, but then Moreland fanned and Elvis popped up, bringing Rougie to the plate.  Odor smoked a ball to the left-center field wall, scoring Prince, but an outstanding throw by Marisnick and terrific relay by Correa got the ball home in plenty of time to get Napoli out at the plate, ending the inning and preventing the go-ahead run from scoring.
  • Texas missed out on another opportunity in the third, when a Chris Gimenez walk and a Shin-Soo Choo HBP were sandwiched around a DeShields K.  Kazmir threw the ball away at second on an attempted pickoff, putting runners on second and third with one out for Beltre and Prince.  Alas, Beltre chased what would have been ball 4 on a 3-2 pitch to pop out, and Prince chased a 2-0 pitch as well, popping it up to end the inning, stranded the two runners.
  • The sixth inning saw the Moreland home run that tied the game, a two out shot that also brought home Prince, who had singled with one out.  Then there was the Prince two run homer to dead center in the eighth inning that brought home Beltre and gave the Rangers the final margin.
  • I beat up on Banister here regularly, so its only fair to call out A.J. Hinch for a baffling decision.  Hinch had Oliver Perez, a lefty, pitch to Choo to start the inning, and then brought righty Will Harris in to face Beltre.  Beltre singled, and the next three batters were Prince Fielder, Drew Stubbs and Mitch Moreland.  Lefty Tony Sipp was warming, and while Harris has been good against lefties this season, this seemed like the type of situation where you'd go get Sipp...you'd want the lefty against Prince and Moreland, and it isn't like you're afraid of Stubbs facing a lefty, right?
  • Nope...Hinch left Harris in the game, and Harris gave up the blast to Prince that won the game.  Sipp didn't come in until Moreland was due up...and Moreland, of course, blasted a double off of him.
  • September pennant race baseball, man.  Its insane.