April 2012

Yu Makes The Jays Blue

He’s starting to make it look easy.

Yu Darvish’s 5th major league start had the same result as three of his first four starts: a win. Darvish is now 4-0 and his ERA is darting down to the low 2′s after a seven inning, nine strikeout performance against the other main team who bid on his services in the off-season, the Toronto Blue Jays.

No Josh Hamilton? No problem. When you’re missing your big slugger, just replace him with that well-known power hitter Craig Gentry, he of the one career home runs (inside the park) and watch him tee off in the later innings for his first career MLB out of the park shot.

Back to Darvish. For a little while there, I was wondering if he had no-no type stuff. Through 3 2/3 innings, Darvish hadn’t given up a hit and had struck out seven batters. Edwin Encarnacion answered in a hurry, with a 4th inning solo shot that ended the no-hitter and the shutout bid at the same time. Yes, it was early, but when seven of the first 11 outs are of the whiff variety, you get your hopes up.

Once again, the Rangers still have not lost back to back games this season and are now 9-1 on the road so far. Darvish’s start was the 16th quality start for a Rangers starter in the first 23 games.

I think I heard Darvish and Robbie Ross are the first rookie teammates ever to start their careers at 4-0.

Joe Nathan looked like the Joe Nathan of old tonight, making quick work of the 9th inning for his 6th save.

Good pitching makes it easy not to notice that Michael Young is in an awful offensive slump right now. He did get a hit in the 9th, but he’s only hitting about a buck-30 over the past week plus.

Kyle Drabek was equally impressive for the Jays. He pitched well enough to win. Just his luck he was facing Darvish tonight.

A 4-1 win at a venue, the Rogers Centre, that has not been kind to the Rangers the past few years. Great way to start a 10-game road trip!

Week 4 In Review

Here’s a wrap-up of the week that was in Texas Rangers baseball. All stats listed are just for the previous week of play.

Rangers Record: 3-3

Overall: 16-6 (1st Place AL West)

 

Jalapeno Hot (Offense): Elvis Andrus .333/.417/.381 4 Stolen Bases

                                             JoshHamilton.316/.435/.632 2 HR, 8 RBI

Raspa Cold (Offense): Michael Young .130/.167/.174 3 GIDP

Jalapeno Hot (Pitching): Yu Darvish 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 8.1 IP, 10 K

Raspa Cold (Pitching): Derek Holland, 0-2 8.31 ERA 18 Hits, 6 BB in 13 IP

Back To Reality

It took almost the entire month, but the Tampa Bay Rays finally showed MLB the Rangers are not infallible.

For the first time in seven regular season series in 2012, and the first time in 13 regular season series overall dating back to last season, the Rangers actually dropped a series. Sunday night’s 5-2 loss to the Rays on Sunday gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 series win and bragging rights over the Rangers, the only AL team to say that in a long time.

The win actually came from an unlikely source: David Price. While Price has been considered the Rays ace for a few years now, he had never beaten the Rangers until Sunday night, going 0-6 in his career. Price also lost twice to Texas in the playoffs in 2010.

This time, the Rays pitching was up to the challenge while the Texas arms faltered. Matt Harrison had an absolute stinker on Friday night, tying a Rangers record by giving up 14 hits to the Rays, as they thumped Texas 8-4. Colby Lewis helped get the Rangers back in the win column with six strong innings Saturday as Texas won the middle game 7-2.

Sunday, Derek Holland had a bad second inning and pitched pretty well the rest of the time, but the 3-run second was all Price needed to get the win.

Here’s what impressed all weekend long- the defense. Both teams had some great defensive play. For the Rangers, there was David Murphy on consecutive fly balls in one inning on Saturday night, making a shoestring grab to his right on one tailing fly, then banging up against the left field wall on the next batter to rob certain extra bases. There was also a nifty double play when Elvis Andrus ranged far to his left to glove a grounder, then made a perfect shovel pass from his glove to Ian Kinsler, who threw on to first for the DP.

The Rays flashed the leather Sunday, all in one inning. In the bottom of the 6th, Adrian Beltre took Price deep, only to have BJ Upton make the catch right at the center field wall. Michael Young followed with one of those patented seeing eye singles. Except this time, Desmond Jennings came on and caught it on his shoetops for out number two. Nelson Cruz then hit a gapper toward right that Ben Zobrist managed to flag down for the third out. Three batters, all could have had hits, none did.

The Angels had already lost when Sunday’s game began, so the Rangers knew if they won, they’d be ten up already on Los Angeles. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

Weird stat of the day: Rangers manager Ron Washington turned 60 yesterday. The Rangers are now 0-6 on Wash’s birthday. Plus he got ejected as well. Hope the cake tasted good at least.

Josh Hamilton was pulled in the third inning Sunday with back pain. He says he wants to be in the line-up Monday night against the Blue Jays, but I tend to doubt it. A night game Sunday followed by a long flight from Texas to Toronto probably doesn’t do wonders for one’s back.

The good news: Texas still hasn’t lost consecutive games this season. Yu Darvish gets the ball Monday to try to keep that record intact.

Pudge Part 2

Here are some pictures from the Ivan Rodriguez pre-game ceremony prior to Monday night’s game with the New York Yankees. Pictures courtesy of 18-Year-Rangers-Fan, who watched the spectacle from the upper deck at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

The Ceremonial First Pitch. In this case, it was a throw from Pudge behind the plate to second base.

 

Pudge With Original Teammate Nolan Ryan

Pudge With His Original GM, Tom Grieve

Pudge With His Original GM Tom Grieve

     

Opposite Directions

Texas Rangers Series 2012

Chicago White Sox (Home): Won 2-1

Seattle Mariners (Home): Won 3-1

Minnesota Twins (Away): Won 3-0

Boston Red Sox (Away): Won 2-0

Detroit Tigers (Away): Won 3-1

New York Yankees (Home): Won 2-1

 

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Series 2012

Kansas City Royals (Home): Lost 1-2

Minnesota Twins (Away): Lost 1-2

New York Yankees (Away): Lost 1-2

Oakland A’s (Home: Lost 1-3

Baltimore Orioles (Home): Won 2-1

Tampa Bay Rays (Away): Lost 0-2 (One game to go in series)

I’d like to meet the person who put down a bet in Vegas before the start of the season saying this would happen. They say pennants aren’t won or lost in April. Maybe so, but a tone sure can be set in April. Right now, the Rangers are beating everybody and they’re doing it every way possible. They’ll bash you, they’ll outpitch you, they’ll play better defense than you. In 41 years of watching this team, I’ve never…NEVER…seen a Rangers team with this much swagger.

This One’s For Yu

It took four starts, but Rangers fans have finally seen the future, and the future is Yu.

Yu Darvish pitched his first gem as a pitcher in the United States, dominating the Yankees in a 2-0 win. Darvish got stronger as he went, getting all three outs in the seventh via strikeout. For the night, he gave up seven hits in 8.1 innings with two walks and ten strikeouts. Darvish’s fastball, in the lower 90′s most of the night, was hitting 95 in the 8th inning.

This was the pitcher the Rangers paid over $100 million for in the off-season and tonight he showed why Texas was willing to shell out that kind of money when they could have gotten CJ Wilson to come back for less.

The key to the game came early, in the third inning. Nursing a 1-0 lead, Eric Chavez got the Yankees first hit of the night with a clean single to right. Russell Martin followed with a walk. Derek Jeter proceeded to lay down a bunt down the first base side. Darvish started signalling for first baseman Mitch Moreland to field it, but by the time he realized the play was his alone, it was too late. Jeter was on first with a bunt single and the bases were loaded with nobody out. With a 2-2 count, Darvish threw a 78 mile per hour slider that froze Curtis Granderson in his tracks for strike three. One out. Two pitches later, Darvish got A-Rod to ground to third for a 5-3 double play. End of inning, end of threat.

The Yankees would get a runner to second in the 4th and the 5th, but the threat ended almost as soon as it began. One sequence to Nick Swisher in the 4th stood out. Darvish got a called first strike on a curve Swisher thought was out of the zone. The umpire disagreed and it set Swisher up for the rest of the at bat. Another curve had Swisher feeling he had to swing. He missed. Strike two. An almost identical pitch came next. Swisher swung and missed again for strike three.

When Darvish gave up a one out single to Swisher in the 9th, he left to thunderous applause from 47,000 plus fans. Joe Nathan came in, threw one pitch and got a game-ending double play for his fifth save and Darvish’s third win.

To be sure, the Yankees Hiroki Kuroda pitched a good game too. Only problem was, Kuroda gave up two runs, the first on an Ian Kinsler lead-off home run in the 1st.

In another highlight, Elvis Andrus’ behind the bag snare of a Russell Martin grounder followed by a full turnaround and strike to first was his 212th consecutive chance without an error, a new Rangers record for a shortstop. Elvis has been known to make mental errors leading to bad throws on easy plays, but he’s been mentally sharp all season long so far and has played flawlessly in the field.

Monday’s loss to the Yankees was tolerable because of the ceremonies honoring Ivan Rodriguez’ retirement. One night later, a rookie had his official coming out party. Life is good in Arlington, Texas.

 

 

Pudge

June 20, 1991. I was getting ready to watch another Rangers game on TV, this one a road contest against the Chicago White Sox. It was the first full year of the Bobby Valentine era.

Rangers fans had some hope in 1991. Nolan Ryan was heading the rotation. Jose Guzman was having a good year and Kevin Brown was coming off back to back 12-win seasons. The offense was shaping up as one of the more prolific ones the Rangers had ever had, with Juan Gonzalez in his first full season as a Ranger, teaming up with veterans Rafael Palmeiro, Julio Franco and Ruben Sierra.

Overall, the Rangers were doing OK. They were in third place in the West at 33-27, but only four games off the lead. They did have a weakness, though, at catcher. The names Geno Petralli, Mike Stanley, Chad Kreuter and Mark Parent weren’t making anyone forget Jim Sundberg, the best catcher in Rangers history.

It was on June 20th, 1991 the Rangers decided to make a change. They called up a 19-year-old catcher and announced he would be in the starting line-up against the White Sox that game. This youngster, who had just gotten married in celebration of the call-up, was a kid named Ivan Rodriguez.

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, Future Hall of Famer

I had no idea who this kid was. I was a Texas Rangers fan, but I’d never paid real close attention to what was going on in the Rangers minor league system. The TV announcers at the time (Merle Harmon and Norm Hitzges maybe?) said Rodriguez, like Juan Gonzalez and Ruben Sierra, was part of the Rangers new pipeline of talent from Puerto Rico. That was the extent of my knowledge.

What I did know was it was a pretty decent pitching match-up: Kevin Brown for the Rangers vs. Black Jack McDowell for the White Sox.  For awhile, it was a pitcher’s duel. Through six innings, the Rangers were nursing a 1-0 lead. Rodriguez flied out and grounded out in his first two at bats.

More importantly, Rangers fans saw something in the top of the 5th inning. With one out, Joey Cora was hit by a Kevin Brown pitch. Cora decided to try to steal second two pitches later. Cora failed. Rodriguez fired a perfect strike to second to nail him, keeping the Rangers on top, 1-0.

Texas would up the lead to 2-0 in the top of the 7th on a Juan Gonzalez home run, but Brown ran out of gas in the bottom of the inning. The Chisox tallied three runs to go up 3-2.

In the 8th, Chicago got a 1-out single from Warren Newson. Looking for an insurance run, Newson took off on the next pitch. Another perfect throw from Rodriguez to second. Newson was out. The kid was 2-2 throwing out runners in his major league debut and looked to have a cannon for an arm.

Top of the 9th, White Sox still up 3-2. Bobby Thigpen walked Rafael Palmeiro, then gave up back to back bombs to Ruben Sierra and Julio Franco to put Texas up 5-3. Two outs later, with runners on 2nd and 3rd, the rookie stepped to the plate and hit a single on a 2-1 pitch to plate the final two runs of the game.

1-4 with 2 RBI and two runners caught stealing. That was the first time I saw Ivan Rodriguez play. 21 years later, Pudge will be honored today at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and throw out the first pitch in his official retirement ceremony. Sometime in the near future, his #7 is bound to be retired (sorry, David Murphy).

Nolan Ryan was the first man to enter baseball’s Hall of Fame wearing a Rangers uniform, but much of his glory came before he even donned a Rangers uniform. Five or six years from now, Pudge Rodriguez will become the second man to wear a Rangers uniform to the Hall, but he’ll be the first to do so after coming through the Rangers system first before entering the Rangers dugout.

Pudge spent the first 12 years of his career with the Rangers and had a brief stint at the end of the 2009 season. With Texas he had a career .304 average with 217 Home Runs, 842 RBI, 81 steals, an MVP Award in 1999, 10 of his 13 career Gold Gloves, six of his seven Silver Slugger Awards, ten of his 14 All-Star Games berths and for his career caught 46% of all runners who tried to steal on him. That stat doesn’t even cover the number of runners he picked off first before they even had a chance to steal. He is baseball’s all-time leader in games caught.

Tonight he receives the first official thanks for a job well done. The next official one will be in Cooperstown.

Thanks for the memories, Pudge.

Week 3 In Review

Here’s a wrap-up of the week that was in Texas Rangers baseball. All stats listed are just for the previous week of play.

Rangers Record: 5-1

Overall: 13-3 (1st Place AL West)

Jalapeno Hot (Offense): Josh Hamilton: .462/.516/.808 3 HR, 11 RBI

                                     MikeNapoli.440/.481/1.080 5 HR, 10 RBI

 

Raspa Cold (Offense): Mitch Moreland .167/.286/.167 4K in 12 AB

 

 Jalapeno Hot (Pitching): Colby Lewis: 1-0, 2.57 ERA, 0 Walks, 9 K in 14 IP

 

 Raspa Cold (Pitching): Koji Uehara, 7.71 ERA, 2 HR in 2.1 IP

Best. Road Trip. Ever.

8-1. The Rangers first road trip of 2012 was the best in their entire history, an 8-1 trip through Minnesota, Boston and Detroit that has now left no doubt this team still has its sights firmly set on getting to the post-season again.

13-3. The best 16-game start in Texas Rangers history.

This team is playing so well, even their negative statistics take a positive tone. To wit: The only Rangers starter to have a loss on their record is Neftali Feliz, who dropped the 3-2 decision in Game 2 of Saturday’s doubleheader with the Tigers. So what Rangers pitcher is the only one with a complete game this season? Feliz, of course, in Game 2 of yesterday’s doubleheader.

The Rangers have lost only three times in 13 games, all by one run. In other words, at the 10% point of the season, Texas has been in EVERY game to the end. Nobody has blown them out.

To be certain, there are still red flags. Red flag #2 cropped up in Game 1 of the twin bill Saturday, when Adrian Beltre tweaked his hamstring. Beltre doesn’t think it’s serious and expects to only miss a few games. I’d love to take his word for it, but Beltre missed almost a month towards the end of the regular season in 2011 with a bad hammy and you can’t help but worry he is going to start having these problems more and more as he moves into his mid-30′s. Maybe he will only miss a few games this time. But maybe he’ll have another problem later on in the season. Texas has already had enough problems with Nelson Cruz’ hamstring problems (5 DL trips in 2 seasons). They don’t need another one.

Red Flag #1, Joe Nathan, got the save in the series finale Sunday, but Rangers fans had to breathe a sigh of relief when Prince Fielder just missed getting a hold of Nathan’s first pitch. Instead of a walk-off two-run homer, Fielder ended up with a foul out just a couple of feet short of the right field foul pole.

Robbie Ross, meantime, continues to lead a charmed life. The only rookie on the pitching staff is now 3-0, all the wins coming on this road trip. The only other Rangers rookie to approach Ross in recent years is Alexi Ogando, who started his Rangers career in 2010 with wins in each of his first three appearances, along with a base hit in his first major league at bat in Interleague play.

Best of all, Texas won today in a game which they easily could have lost. They were facing the one pitcher known to always give Rangers hitters fits: a rookie left-hander whom they’d never faced before. Drew Smyly gave up a first inning home run to Josh Hamilton, but that was his only blemish as he went six strong, giving up 5 hits and striking out 7 Rangers. Fortunately, Colby Lewis pretty much matched him, throwing seven innings of 2-run ball. Lewis has only walked one batter all year in 19.2 innings. Still, Lewis trailed 2-1 when he departed the game. It took an 8th inning walk to Elvis Andrus, followed by a wild pitch, error and Hamilton sac fly to tie it up. Then a bases loaded squeeze bunt in the 11th that ended up becoming an Alberto Gonzalez infield single proved to be the deciding run of the game.

It was the Rangers only trip to Comerica Park in Detroit this season. The only way they see it again is if it’s a playoff game, which could very well happen.

Best road trip ever and no chance to savor it. The Yankees visit Arlington tomorrow night. No rest for the weary. This fan, though, will savor it for the next 24 hours.

Six Feet Under

A couple of days ago, I tweeted that it WILL get harder but I like seeing my team at the top of the hole looking down while my main competition is looking up from 4 1/2 feet in the hole.

Now the hole is six feet deep. Again, I have no expectation it will always be this way, but it sure is sweet.

The Angels are proving to have a significantly shallower bullpen than the Rangers. So far, even the starting pitching for Texas has been superior to the vaunted Angels staff. Texas starters have yet to lose a game (8-0 at this point) and the Rangers lead the majors in run differential, although the 15 run beatdown of the Red Sox Tuesday has a lot to do with that.

You could make the case the Rangers have feasted on the White Sox, Mariners and Twins. While that is part of the story, the other part is the Angels are losing to the Twins, the A’s and the Royals. Beat the teams you should, break even against the rest is the recipe for a pennant. The Angels aren’t beating the teams they should and the Rangers are.

What’s scary to think about- this Rangers team hasn’t even hit its stride offensively, but it’s starting to come around. Just days ago, Mike Napoli was hitting .118. In just three games, he’s hit four home runs and a double and upped his average into the .270′s. Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus have yet to get going. The Rangers running attack has actually been pretty dismal thus far. Ian Kinsler has been caught stealing two of three times, plus he got picked off first last night. Craig Gentry is 0-1 stealing. The Rangers as a team have only four steals in 12 games, and two of those belong to Yorvit Torrealba and Adrian Beltre.

Without a doubt, the starting pitching won’t continue to be this good. Oh, they’ll be good, but they’re throwing quality starts out there at a level I don’t think can be sustained over the long haul. But the offense still has room for growth.

Texas is now 5-0 on the road. The only better start by a Rangers team in road games was 23 years ago, when they started 6-0. They have a chance to match that record tonight when they visit the Tigers in Detroit with Yu Darvish getting the ball for the opener.

Texas has a 4-game rematch of the ALCS with the Tigers this weekend. The Angels play the A’s at home tonight, followed by three games at home against the Orioles. If Texas ends this week with a larger lead than they have now, the Angels could be in a heap of trouble, even if it is only April.

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