Saturday, October 16, 2010

Yanked around in Game 1

No one said it would be easy. For either team.

When the Texas Rangers jumped on top of New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia early, perhaps the DFW metroplex was again lulled into a false sense of security, an eerily similar feeling to being up 2-0 over Tampa Bay in the Division Series. But just as the Rays put a serious scare into Texas by winning the next to games in Arlington, the Yankees beat up the Rangers' bullpen for six unanswered runs to steal Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, 6-5, at Rangers Ballpark.

Josh Hamilton, who struggled in the previous postseason series, blasted a three-run homerun off Sabathia in the first inning, and Michael Young added a two-RBI hit in the fourth, Sabathia's last inning of work. Texas held a 5-0 lead and had vanquished the Yankees aces, something that isn't likely to happen again in the series.

Blowing the lead -- thanks to the shaky relief pitching of Darren Oliver, Darren O'Day, Clay Rapada and Derek Holland -- is not only big because it cost the Rangers a playoff game, putting the Yankees a quarter of the way toward the World Series. But it also creates major concerns about pretty much any Rangers relief options from this point forward. And short of using starting pitchers on their 3rd day of rest to work a relief inning, Texas is stuck in the position of having to dance with who brung 'em.

Take a look at how the Rangers pitchers did last night:

Texas Rangers
C Wilson7.0633241104-683.86
D Oliver0.002220013-5---
D O'Day
(L, 0-1)
C Rapada
(B, 1)
D Holland2.020001037-210.00
C Wilson pitched to 2 batters in the 8th; D Oliver pitched to 2 batters in the 8th; D O'Day pitched to 1 batter in the 8th; C Rapada pitched to 1 batter in the 8th

You couldn't ask for a better start from CJ Wilson in Game 1 of the ALCS. He completely out-dueled Sabathia. Not too shabby for a former right-handed second baseman before Cliff Lee came to town. But once he left the game, trouble came calling from the bullpen.

Three pitchers in the eighth inning failed to record an out. Oliver, O'Day and Rapada combined to pitch 0.0 innings. Oliver walked two batters, O'Day gave up a two-run hit to Alex Rodriguez, and the Yankees piled it on for five runs in the frame.

Frankly, if it weren't the Rangers, a franchise with such a low bar throughout its history, there might be more of an outcry. Or perhaps it's because it's the 27-time World Champion New York Yankees who not only field a team of nine gazillionaires, but also have the spirits of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and so many others also lingering each time they take the field in the postseason. As the Rangers are finding out, to defeat the Yankees, you have to defeat baseball history.

Not to start handing out participation ribbons at this point, but before we declare the Rangers chances in this series slim-to-none, it's important to realize all this organization has accomplished and how rare it may truly be. Not only is the hired gun Cliff Lee a free agent in the offseason, but even if he is re-signed, there are no guarantees that Texas would be able to return to the ALCS next season, let alone get past New York to reach the fall classic.

The most glaring example for a DFW sports fan is the 2005-06 Dallas Mavericks who reached the NBA Finals, and despite blowing a chance to go up 3-0 in the series, it seemed almost a given that Dirk and Co. would return to the NBA Finals again for another shot at a Championship. But as the years have gone by (it will have been five years this season since that run to the finals), the Mavs haven't reached even the conference finals since. More and more, it seems that season was a one-shot wonder, which makes it all the more important for the Texas Rangers to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and punch the Yankees in the mouth in Game 2 tonight.

The Yankees will always compete. Texas shouldn't take their division rival Angels' struggles of this season for granted. That organization will reload. Oakland is picking up steam as well, meaning a repeat as AL West Division Champs isn't a lock by any means (and the Wild Card is essentially reserved for someone in the AL East). The Rangers may not get another shot at something like this, which is all the more reason they must fight back against New York tonight.

Going back to the Bronx trailing 0-2 with the next three games to be playing at Yankee Stadium means the series may not make it back to Texas. The Rangers have their opportunity in front of them, and we don't know when or even if they'll ever get another shot with this core of players.

With their backs against the wall and still winless at home in the playoffs in franchise history, tonight the Rangers need it more than ever. The eyes of Texas will be on them.

It's time.

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