Thursday, October 28, 2010

Walk 'Em, Texas Ranger (SF leads TEX, 2-0)

Holy heck, that was terrible.

My initial reaction to that game is going to be one big blur plus the most embarrassing meltdown in DFW sports playoffs since the Mavs were up by 13 points with 6:28 left in Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals. This was worse than the Cowboys going down 21-0 in the first quarter to the San Francisco 49ers in the 1994 NFC Championship Game. The Texas Rangers bullpen looked like they were trying to raise money for cancer or AIDS or some other cause because they sponsored a walk-a-thon in the eighth inning, coercing a 7-run frame from the San Francisco Giants en route to a 9-0 loss in Game 2 of the World Series.

Texas is now down 0-2 in the best-of-seven series, and while this is not over by any means, we are coming to find out that Rangers starting pitching must be counted on to go eight innings and hand the ball directly to Neftali Felix. Don't even let another reliever breathe on the ball at this point.

[Bullpen] It was a strong effort by Darren O'Day in the bottom of the 8th inning to keep things close for Texas. Despite a lengthy at-bat by Andres Torres to lead off the inning, O'Day got him fishing for a slider outside for the first out. Three pitches later, he retired Freddy Sanchez before Buster Posey singled up the middle. Ron Washington went back to the bullpen for Derek Holland to face Pat Burrell. One day after O'Day looked rather ordinary in Game 1, it was nice to see him bounce back in Game 2.

On the flip side of that coin, Holland threw 11 straight pitches outside the strike zone and walked three consecutive batters to push a third run across for the Giants. It seemed the ghost of Rick Ankiel usurped the body of Derek Holland and went to work. Wash replaced a nervousfaced Holland with Mark Lowe, but Ankeil's spirit remained on the mound. Lowe walked Juan Uribe to make it 4-0 Giants, and Edgar Renteria worked the count full for before smashing the Giants into the win column in Game 2 with a two-run single through the left side of the infield. The Rangers could have scored two runs in the top of the ninth. Maybe the 3 or 4 they would have needed. But with Renteria's single making it 6-0, that pretty much iced this one.

And as if their was any doubt Michael Kirkman surrendered a two-run triple to Aaron Rowand as the Giants took an 8-0 lead in the bottom of the 8th. Andres Torres, who led off the inning seemingly a half hour earlier, singled to make it 9-0 before Sanchez struck out to end the embarrassment. FOX's Tim McCarver said it perfectly: "The Giants are winning with pitching again, but not theirs."

The Rangers bats went silent for the second straight night, and while it's not crazy to think they could have put two runs across in the top of the ninth inning with Cruz/Kinsler/Murphy due up (plus Vlad Guerrero available as a pinch hitter), they had no purpose in even stepping in the batters box in the ninth with the game already out of hand.

Even in the World Series, an 0-2 deficit is not insurmountable. Not all is lost. It only seems that way right now.

Had the Rangers not just taken all of us on emotional rollercoaster series against Tampa Bay and New York, perhaps I wouldn't be handling this as well as I am right now. It's not panic time yet, but it's getting close. With each playoff series, the losses hit extremely hard and the wins float the fans onto cloud nine.

But in a city where the prized Dallas Cowboys are 1-5, the Rangers bullpen appeared to be working their hardest to leapfrog them for the honor of Most Embarrassing Sports Entity in DFW.

Second-guessing baseball is such a crapshoot because you can have the exact right strategy that for whatever reason is executed near-perfectly and still lose in this game. But what I cannot understand is why Ron Washington felt compelled to lift Darren O'Day from the game with two outs and a runner on first with backup outfielder Nate Schierholtz due up. O'Day is a righty, Schierholtz is a lefty, so bringing in Derek Holland does ostensibly provide the benefit of a lefty-lefty match up, but if a guy is pitching well, then frankly it just doesn't matter what side of the plate the batter is on.

Some other thoughts on Game 2 of the World Series:

+ Correct me if I'm wrong here, but is Giants pitcher Matt Cain the grown up version of the kid from the movie Bad Santa? It's entirely possible.

+ Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland combine with a nice stab 'n snag in the Bot 1. Kinsler fielded well in Game 1, especially when he had to range into shallow right field to get to a blooping fly ball and then flung it back to Elvis Andrus at second base to double off a runner. At times, he can make the Rangers fans cringe like on his error on a ball he should have let Nellie Cruz take against the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS, but when his defense is on, it's a huge boost to the Rangers right side of the infield.

+ Everyone always says football is a game of inches, but Kinsler's double in the fifth inning off Matt Cain hit the top corner of the centerfield wall. Literally one inch higher or farther, and Texas would have held a 1-0 lead. David Murphy followed with a line out for the first out, and Matt Treanor grounded out to short for the second out. With first base open, Cain intentionally walked Mitch Moreland to get to pitcher CJ Wilson who grounded out to end the frame with the game still locked in a scoreless tie. That's not a "missed opportunity" as much as it is really unfortunate luck. Sure enough in the bottom of the fifth, Edgar Renteria took Wilson deep for a solo shot and a Giants 1-0 lead.

+ CJ Wilson was as good as Texas could have asked for, especially considering the uncharacteristically short outing from Cliff Lee in Game 1 on Wednesday. He tossed six strong innings, allowing two runs off three hits with four strikeouts and a pair of walks before a blister prompted his removal from the game. He pitched well enough to win, but the Texas bats went silent.

+ Edgar Renteria say frack you! His solo homer in the fifth turned out to be all they needed, and he finished with 3 RBI, going 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored as well.

+ The Rangers had their best chance to strike back in the sixth inning. Trailing 1-0 with one out, Michael Young and Josh Hamilton hit consecutive singles, and a Matt Cain wild pitch advanced them to second and third base with Nelson Cruz at the plate. Cruz popped out and Kinsler flew out to right to end the inning and the last realistic Rangers threat.

Game 3 is on Saturday at the comfy confines of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and while the all-time stats say they are 2-7 at home in the playoffs, the have won their last two home games in post-season play. Texas will need Colby Lewis to pitch like the faux-ace who dominated the Yankees for a pair of wins in the ALCS, including the clinching Game 6. A loss in Game 3 and the series is essentially kaput. Lewis has proven he has what it takes to get the job done from the mound, but the bigger concern is the Rangers offense.

Vlad Guerrero will return to his role as the designated hitter, and the Rangers line up will return to it's normal form of Andrus-Young-Hamilton-Guerrero-Cruz-Kinsler-Murphy/Francour-Molina-Moreland. That should help in putting runs (or in Game 2's case, run) on the board in the middle games of the series. Once the claw-happy offense can get back in rhythm, the rest should fall into place for the American League champions.

Come Saturday night, Texas will have to display the heart of a champion. It wouldn't kill them to have the offense and bullpen of at least a contender either.

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