David Price could easily have let the Texas Rangers live inside his head. Entering Monday night’s Wild Card tiebreaker, Price had been miserable against Texas, and downright awful at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. I ignored it in my preview of the game, and not by accident. Those small-sample match-up stats tend not to mean much, and introducing them tends to create a narrative that undeservedly drives discussion of the game both before and afterward. You can bet players are aware of those numbers, though, and so Price had some mental hurdles to clear, in addition to the challenge of beating a right-leaning Rangers lineup comprised of several guys who hammer lefty pitching.
He cleared them all, it seemed, in a flying leap. In 118 pitches, Price cut through the Rangers and helped the Rays advance to the real, live Wild Card game, striking out four, walking one and allowing just two runs in a complete game.
Unlike Price, Evan Longoria had no reason to fear anyone entering Monday night. The opponents sent a left-handed pitcher to the mound, in a good park for hitting home runs. That was trouble for Texas from the start. Longoria is, quietly, among the game’s very best power hitters. In a home park that firmly curtails home runs, Longoria hit 32 this season, along with 42 inside-the-park extra-base hits. He’s seen as a very good player, but that sells him short. He’s elite, especially as a power hitter.
That power was on display Monday night. Longoria’s two-run home run looked, for a long time, as though it would be the margin of victory for the Rays. Only a late-inning gaffe from a gassed Tanner Scheppers changed that.
This game unfolded as predictably as possible. The Rangers made managerial mistakes (A.J. Pierzynski got the start against a lefty over Geovany Soto, for one thing), and baserunning mistakes (both Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler got picked off by Price, trying to create havoc on the bases without regard for the ability of their opponent to fight back), and the Rays won by leveraging their top-end talent perfectly.
As a team, the Rangers swung and missed only four times all night. I noted in the preview that they’re one of the league’s best teams at making contact, and with a lefty on the mound facing mostly righties, it was inevitable that they would put the ball in play. It was also unlikely, though, that putting the ball in play would end all that well for them, and indeed, they had just seven hits on 28 balls in play.
Along with the decision to start Pierzynski (and not to pinch-hit for him in the ninth inning, either with Soto or with injury-limited lefty-mashing Jeff Baker), Ron Washington must answer for another bad call that cost Texas. With starter Martin perez just getting by as the innings drifted along, Washington had Alexi Ogando—who has been shifted from role to role a handful of times over the last three years, but whose last three appearances were starts—begin warming up in the top of the fourth inning. Ogando never did sit down again, although his bullpen work was intermittent, before being called in to replace Perez—with one out in the sixth.
Having been thoroughly jerked around, Ogando proceeded to give up two doubles and two walks. The Rays scored once and had a chance for more, but with a three-run lead, Joe Maddon elected not to pinch-hit for Jose Molina with the bases loaded and two outs. That was the right call, even if it did soften the blow of Washington’s mismanagement for Texas.
Ron Washington doesn’t trust anyone. That is the only reasonable explanation for his quick hook of Yu Darvish and Derek Holland—the Rangers’ two best starters, by far and away—in the last two games of the scheduled regular season. It’s also the only reason to have a guy who hasn’t even been working in relief warm up seemingly interminably, before sending him in. Washington failed several times, during what was a miserable month of September for the Rangers, to put his players in a position to succeed at crucial moments. This is just one more example.
I’ll preview the Rays’ Wild Card matchup with the Indians soon, but for now, the team deserves recognition for winning 92 games and reaching the postseason. They’re in a bit of trouble going forward, but they’re a very good team, with terrific (delightful, really) positional depth and three (maybe four, if you like Jeremy Hellickson) very solid starters. When they play their game, as they did Monday night, they’re baseball’s most enjoyable team.Next post: A Long Time Coming: Reds and Pirates Preview
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