Stepping Back From The Abyss
It sounded so easy entering the weekend. Win one game and the Angels are eliminated as an AL West title winner. Get a little help from the Mariners and two wins and the season-ending trip to Oakland is meaningless. Yet when 6 PM CDT came around, not only was the team with the AL’s best record not any closer to those goals, they were staring at the distinct possibility of having to win two of three at Oakland to win the West and possibly being in a position to not even make the playoffs at all.
When the weekend started, the magic number for the Rangers was 3 to win the West and only 1 to eliminate the Angels from title consideration. Friday night, the series against the Angels started out well enough, even with the Angels throwing their ace Jered Weaver at them. Ryan Dempster gave up a first inning run, and while the Rangers weren’t scoring right away, neither was Weaver putting them away. The Rangers had runners at first and second with one out in the second, but couldn’t plate a run. Dempster gave up a second run in the third, but was still showing glimpses of being able to go deep in the game. Another run in the 4th made it 3-0 Angels, but Texas responded in the bottom of the inning to make it 3-1. The game was still within reach.
A 4th run in the 6th chased Dempster, but it was still only 4-1. It was the 7th when things got out of hand. Robbie Ross surrendered a 3-spot, making it 6-1. Even though Texas got home runs late from Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz, the game was out of reach. LA took Game 1 7-4. Meanwhile, the A’s beat the Mariners, narrowing the Rangers lead in the West to 3 games. Magic number remains 3 and 1.
Saturday the rains came. Waiting as long as they could, the Rangers went four hours past the scheduled starting time before finally calling a rain-out and scheduling a day-night doubleheader for Sunday. It sure looked like the Mariners were going to hand the Rangers an assist, as they headed into the 9th with a 4-2 lead on the A’s. Oakland, though, tied the game on a home run in the 9th and a 3-run shot in the 10th ended it. Magic numbers remain at 3 and 1. Oakland now pulls within 2 1/2 games.
Game 1 of the twin bill featured a rematch from a week and a half before: Yu Darvish vs. Zack Greinke. The first time they met, a Beltre homer in the top of the 9th handed the Rangers a 2-1 win in Anaheim. This time, Texas reached Greinke early when a Nelson Cruz missile to left gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead. The Angels answered with a run in the 3rd, but RBI from Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre made it 4-1 after 3. After the 3rd, Greinke found out his name was misspelled on his game jersey. Once he got that fixed, he was lights out the rest of the way.
Darvish, meanwhile, wasn’t as sharp as he’d been his previous six outings, but was getting outs when he needed to. The Angels added single runs in the 6th and 7th to make it 4-3, leaving the win in the capable hands of the Rangers’ late-inning bullpen. Alexi Ogando got 4 outs to bring us to Joe Nathan time in the 9th. Nathan had blown only two saves all season. After a 1-out single-walk sequence, Nathan buckled Mike Trout with a strike 3 swinging. Two outs. Got it in the bag, right? Wrong. Torii Hunter hit a gap double to left, scoring two runs and making it 5-4 Angels. Three outs later, LA had their second straight win. A couple of hours later, Oakland swept the Mariners to pull within a game and a half. Magic numbers still 3 and 1.
Going into the nightcap, the simple truth was if Texas lost, Oakland would be just a game behind and Texas would have to win two of three on the road to win the West. A tall order. Lose two of three, lose the West. Lose three of three and possibly miss the playoffs. Game 2 was a must win.
Derek Holland got the start and promptly gave up four runs in the first to put Texas in a 4-0 hole. The abyss was visible and the Rangers were ready to fall into it. They got a run back in the first to make it 4-1, then added two more on back to back home runs from David Murphy and Mike Napoli to make it 4-3. Holland was gritty after the first, retiring seven straight at one point to keep it within reach. In the third, back to back singles put Rangers on first a second. After a force made it two away, Napoli unloaded his second bomb of the night, a 3-run shot to make it 6-4 Rangers. Holland gave up hits but no more runs. In the 6th, Napoli would add a 2-run double to make it 8-4, giving him 6 RBI on the night. Everything looked like it was in the bag and going back the Rangers way. Not so fast.
In the 7th, Holland gave up back to back singles with one out. After getting the second out, Dutch served up a treat to Howie Kendrick, a 3-run shot to left that cut the lead to 8-7 and sent Holland to the showers. Here we go again. Robbie Ross got the last out of the inning.
The 8th belonged to Koji Uehara. It took 23 tense pitches, but Uehara struck out the side in the 8th. Koji has now pitched 9.1 innings of 1-hit ball with 16 strikeouts over his last 12 appearances. Top of the 9th, guess who’s back? Joe Nathan. Fresh off blowing the save in Game 1, he had a chance at redemption.
Nathan got Albert Pujols to pop out. Then he walked Torii Hunter. That’s how the blown save started in Game 1, with a 1-out walk. On an 0-2 pitch, Mark Trumbo sent a shot into right field, but right at Nelson Cruz. Two outs. With an 0-1 count, Nathan then got pinch hitter Kendrys Morales to foul out in a play in which Mike Napoli and Mike Olt nearly collided. The win was finally secured.
The Angels can no longer win the West mathematically (they couldn’t anyway because of the Rangersd and A’s playing each other in the final 3 games but that’s beside the point). The magic number is down to 2. Either Oakland or Texas will win the West. If Texas wins 1 game, it’s the Rangers. If Oakland sweeps, it’s the A’s. The only way the Angels can make the playoffs is for them to win their last three while the Rangers sweep Oakland. Not likely.
I truly lost some of the belief in my team after the 5-4 loss in Game 1 of the doubleheader today. The Rangers helped me get some of it back in Game 2 and clinched their third consecutive playoff berth in the process.
One more win, guys. You can do it.