Good fortune helps Rangers survive Game 2, even series with Rays
The Rangers were held scoreless through the first 12 innings of the series
James Shields' wildness and a lucky break ignited Texas' offense in the 4th
The Rangers will have to play a lot better as the series shifts to Tampa Bay
ARLINGTON, Texas -- There's a line Ron Washington uses every so often. "That's the way baseball go," he likes to say. The Rangers manager says it as a way to explain a unlucky bounce or an inexplicable losing streak. Washington had some bad breaks during his playing career -- he tore up his knee early in his career and was released from the Twins in 1987, just before they won the World Series -- and he knows how cruel and strange and random the game can be.
Texas strutted into the postseason as the hottest team in the American League (they went 14-2 to finish the month), with an offense that posted an otherworldly .916 OPS in September and a pitching staff on a roll. But for the first 12 innings of the ALDS against the Rays they looked awful. They couldn't pitch, they couldn't hit and they couldn't field. They were lifeless in their 9-0 loss in Game 1, and they were lifeless heading into the bottom of the fourth, down 3-0. But then, suddenly, everything changed.
Ray ace James Shields, who was cruising and seemingly headed to his 12th complete game of the year, started the inning by hitting Elvis Andrus with a pitch. Three singles, another hit by pitch, a bad call (the home plate ump called a foul ball on a nubber in front of home that was fair), and two wild pitches later, the Rangers had scored five runs, and risen from the dead.
Shields didn't pitch particularly poorly in the fateful fourth. "Stuff-wise, he had his typical stuff, his typical composure," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "it was just kind of a fortuitous inning for them"
As Washington would say, "That's the way baseball go."
The Rangers survived Saturday night in Arlington, winning 8-6 in Game 2 [Recap | Box Score], a game they desperately needed. They won even though reliever Koji Uehara, one of the their big trade deadline acquisitions, couldn't record an out in the seventh and was torched for three runs. They won even though Derek Holland, the 24-year-old they're counting on for a big October, struggled with his command, and looked more like the pitcher who crumbled in last year's World Series than a No. 2 starter. And they won despite another big night from Evan Longoria, who launched a 415-foot, three-run home run to left-center in the seventh and showed why opposing teams should start thinking about giving him the Barry Bonds treatment.
The series shifts to St. Petersburg tied, but the Rays are feeling good as they head back to the Trop, as they should. "All throughout the game, I'll tell you right now, the vibe is outstanding," Maddon said. "We are at the point where we believe we can always come back, and that's a great feeling to have."
Indeed, even after a split in Arlington, the Rays are in the driver's seat with David Price and Jeremy Hellickson slotted to start Games 3 and 4 against Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison. The signs are good for Tampa: the Rays offense, erratic in the regular season, has been raking, with 20 hits -- five home runs and five doubles -- through two games. Take away the flukish bottom of the fourth in Game 2, and the Rays have outscored the Rangers 15-3.
There was a shot of Nolan Ryan on the stadium TV screens, watching nervously, wincing in his seat, in the ninth inning with Evan Longoria facing Neftali Feliz with a runner on first. After Feliz got Longoria to fly out to center and Ben Zobrist to fly out to right, they showed Ryan standing up and clapping as the crowd around him cheered and the music blared on the stadium speakers. But as he clapped Ryan didn't look particularly pleased -- there was still a scowl on his face. Ryan knows this: if the Rangers want to be the team that ends Tampa's storybook season, they need to start playing a lot better.